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Wild turkey season starts this weekend with a youth hunt in the South Zone. Photo by Chris Young.

DNR turkey biologist: Good reason to be optimistic this spring

March 29, 2013 at 10:37 AM

The State Journal-Register

Paul Brewer, wild turkey program manager for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, is optimistic hunters will have a successful spring wild turkey season.

Youth season opens this weekend in southern Illinois, and young hunters take to the field April 6-7 in the northern two-thirds of the state.
“There are pretty good numbers of turkeys out there,” he said. “I am optimistic for a good season.”

Last spring, Illinois turkey hunters bagged 15,941 birds, less than 700 off the record setting year of 2006 when hunters killed 16,605.
It can be difficult to say for sure how the Illinois population of wild turkeys is doing, and Brewer said there were some initial concerns because the number of poults (young turkeys) compared with the number of hens counted was down.

“Our brood surveys showed another decrease in our poult-to-hen index,” he said.

Part of the decrease could be tied to the timing of the surveys. Surveys are conducted at the same time each year so results are comparable.

But last year, spring got off to such an early start, observers were having difficulty spotting the young turkeys because crops were planted early and grew high enough to hide them by the time the surveys started in early summer.

“We had a good, and early, hatch in the spring, and we already were seeing some pretty good-sized (young) in early summer,” he said.

Also, Brewer said dry conditions probably caused many of those young turkeys to flock to permanent sources of water, and away from roadsides where they are more easily counted.

Observers who help DNR monitor turkey populations range from landowners to mail carriers.

“When we were reintroducing turkeys we would ask landowners in the area if they would keep track of hens and poults they saw together and the hens they saw by themselves,” he said. “Some of these folks have been watching for years.”

Brewer said wildlife biologists, conservation police officers, state parks staff, soil and water conservation district employees and others send in 500-600 cards with their observations each year.
“Recently we’ve asked the National Wild Turkey Federation chapters if their volunteers would look, too.”

Besides the number of turkeys, weather plays a big role in hunter success.

“We tend to look at harvest a lot,” he said. “If the opener is a cold and wet day, especially on weekends, or if we get a cold and wet weekend where it is miserable for guys to be out, it can really set harvest back.”

Brewer said concerns about March being cold should not cause too much of a problem.

“On cold days the general feeling is gobblers are less vocal and tougher to hunt,” he said. “That seems to be able to change on a day-to- day and week-to-week basis.”

Nicer days can change the activity level to some degree, he said, but length of days and the amount of sunlight is a much greater factor.
“I don’t expect anything abnormal in turkey behavior due to some cold weather in March.”

Chris Young can be reached at (217) 788-1528. Follow him at

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I wonder how much bobcats are preying on turkeys and their poults?

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 03/29 at 01:59 PM

Like all ground nesting birds, wild turkeys are subject to predation from bobcats, opossums, foxes, raccoons, snakes, hawks, weasels, skunks, coyotes, and roaming dogs and feral cats.  Since hardly anyone traps anymore, the only effective predator control that benefits turkey populations are those die-hard predator hunters.  Thanks to them, we actually have some areas in Southern Illinois with decent turkey populations.  Since most birds taken in the Spring turkey hunts are two year old males, its the hatch two years ago that we should be concerned about.  That year was an excellent hatch with many hens raising 5 or 6 poults, each. We have seen some large winter flocks of birds in the Shawnee N.F. this year, that, and the great hatch from two years ago, should make this years Spring hunt a great hunt with a lot of birds available.

I agree with Brewer’s statement about concerns of March being cold should not cause too much of a problem.  The later seasons in the Southern Zone should be the best hunts this year because of all the cold, dreary days we’ve had this Winter and Spring.  By this time last year the turkeys had already nested.  The winter flocks have not even broken up yet down here.  Looking forward to a great turkey season this Spring.  Good luck to all.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 03/29 at 11:16 PM

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