By JIM ABRAMS

Hunters checked a total of 19,088 wild turkeys during the 2019 spring hunting season. When compared to the 22,635 harvested in 2018, this equates to an approximate 16% decline in the harvest figures.

Ohio’s 2019 spring wild turkey season was open from Monday, April 22, to Sunday, May 19, in the south zone; and from Monday, April 29, to Sunday, May 26, in the northeast zone, while the youth season was April 13 to 14. Hunters reported taking 17,770 birds during the 2019 wild turkey south zone and northeast zone hunting seasons compared to 20,775 birds in 2018. Youth hunters took 1,318 birds during the 2019 youth season compared to 1,860 in 2018.

While turkey populations and hunter success vary greatly from county to county, this has not always been the case. Not so long ago, every county from Adams to Wyandot shared exactly the same number: zero.

When Ohio was first settled, the wild turkey was a common sight throughout the massive forests. As the state was settled and human populations grew, so did the need for wood-building materials, pulp for paper, and cleared land for farming.

By 1904 these factors, as well as unregulated hunting, led to the bird’s disappearance from our landscapes. In the 1950s, Ohio biologists Bob Donohoe and Charley McKibben began studying ways to bring the turkey back. Their research led to new approaches in wild turkey management.

Between 1956 and 1971, 397 trapped wild turkeys were released into 16 forested sites in southeast Ohio. These original birds were live-trapped in a number of cooperating states: West Virginia, Alabama, Texas, Kentucky, Missouri, Florida and Arkansas. In 1960, Ohio was showing increasing localized populations, so turkeys were also trapped and relocated from those sites.

After capture, they were promptly shipped by a variety of methods for release in areas that were determined to be “turkey friendly.” This was interpreted to be wooded locations of at least 9,000 acres. In May 1966 the population had grown to the point that a hunting season was set (the first in over 64 years) and was limited to just a few counties in southeast Ohio.

The success rates of those early hunts are of some comparative interest. For the first seven years, hunters brought a total of 264 birds home for a Thanksgiving-style meal.

The early work of Donohoe and McKibben continued with expanding the turkey releases into northwest Ohio. These occurred annually between 1990 and 2010. Those birds originated from native stock trapped as close by as Richland County.

Today, contrary to earlier information, it has been found that the eastern wild turkey can establish itself in areas that have as little as 15% forestation. This is the type of cover found in many parts of the Great Black Swamp areas of northwest Ohio.

Have Donohoe and McKibben’s efforts (along with those they helped to mentor) been successful?

Today there are approximately 180,000 wild turkeys in Ohio and, this spring, hunters harvested birds in each of our 88 counties for that total of 19,088 birds.

Northwest Ohio harvests for 2019, with the 2018 numbers in parentheses, were: Allen, 73 (71); Crawford, 67 (63); Defiance, 197 (223); Fulton, 116 (109); Hancock, 34 (38); Hardin, 95 (86); Henry, 62 (69); Lucas, 69 (75); Ottawa, 5 (0); Paulding, 69 (71); Putnam, 64 (58); Richland, 318 (340); Sandusky, 19 (18); Seneca, 154 (151); Van Wert, 20 (23); Williams, 226 (232); Wood, 21 (19); Wyandot, 84 (87).

The only reason I ever played golf in the first place was so I could afford to hunt and fish.” — Sam Snead

Along the way:

Over the last decade, sales of shooting sports-related items have been driven by purchasers’ interest in modern sporting rifles. As manufacturers stepped up production to help fill the many niche markets for big game and precision target rifles, prices have come down and sales have slowed considerably.

This slowdown may be attributed to a combination of the rifle purchases reaching something of a saturation level along with the political climate.

Southwick Associates, a market research and economics firm specializing in the hunting, shooting, sportfishing and outdoor recreation markets, has reported a shift during the 2018 marketing season.

Southwick observed an 11% uptick in spending within the overall hunting and shooting sports market during 2018. Despite well-publicized decreases in the firearm and ammunition categories, 2018 sales for accessories and support equipment grew, driving the overall market to a total of $21.3 billion in retail sales.

According to Southwick’s most recent report, the increases they have tracked are due to shooters and hunters accessorizing and updating their previous purchases. This has included firearm parts, optics, shooting accessories and hunting equipment categories. Other categories tracked include ammunition, apparel, reloading, blackpowder and storage.

What does this mean for conservation? Certain sporting goods-, optics-, angling-, boating-, firearm- and ammunition-related sales include a special tax generated through the Dingell-Johnson and Pittman-Robertson acts.

Nearly 80 percent of the funding for the annual budgets of state fish and wildlife agencies originates from hunting and fishing license fees along with Pittman-Robertson and Dingell-Johnson dollars. Without it, most states would be unable to maintain programs that sustain healthy populations of fish and wildlife. They would also be unable to meet public demand for outdoor recreation or support hunter education and shooting programs.

The habitat acquisition and improvements made possible by this money have allowed some species with large ranges, such as black bears, elk, cougars and others, to expand those ranges beyond where they were found prior to the acts’ implementation.

Important game populations have also had a chance to recover and expand. Species that have come back from the brink since the acts’ implementation include white-tailed deer, Canada goose, wild turkey, wood duck, American bison and pronghorn antelope.

Step outside:

• The Arbor Day Foundation has released a tree-identification book. Its new book can help you identify trees in a simple step-by-step process. The book, “What Tree Is That?”, is available for a $5 donation to the nonprofit tree-planting organization. To get your full color copy, visit arborday.org or send your name, address and $5 for each guide to: Arbor Day Foundation, What Tree Is That? 100 Arbor Ave., Nebraska City, NE 68410.

• Today: Youth fun day, noon to 4 p.m., Mount Blanchard Gun Club, 21655 Delaware Township 186. Range and firearms safety and shooting activities are open to all shooters 18 years of age and younger. New shooters are encouraged to attend.

• Today: Kids youth fishing derby, begins at noon, Fostoria United Sportsmen’s Club, 1324 U.S. 23 N, Fostoria. Hot dogs are available for the kids, and grilled half-chicken dinners will available for $8.

• Tomorrow: Sporting clays, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., UCOA, 6943 Marion Township 243, Findlay.

• Thursday and Friday: Trap and skeet, open to the public, 5 p.m., UCOA, 6943 Marion Township 243, Findlay.

• June 23: Mixed target archery shoot, registration opens at 8 a.m., Field and Stream Bowhunters, 11400 Allen Township 109, Findlay. Contact Harold Spence at 419-423-9861.

• July 21: Amateur Trap Association registered competition, 10 a.m., Fostoria United Sportsmen’s Club, 1324 U.S. 23 N, Fostoria. Breakfast and lunch will be available.

Abrams is a retired wildlife officer supervisor for the state Division of Wildlife in Findlay. He can be reached at P.O. Box 413, Mount Blanchard 45867-0413 or via email at jimsfieldnotes@aol.com

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