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Illinois hunting and fishing

Illinois turkey hopes running high

May 16, 2010 at 05:02 AM

Illinois hunting and fishing

As recently as five years ago, Chad Hunziker was still driving to Missouri every spring to hunt wild turkeys.

Not any longer. These days he saves gas money by chasing gobblers in central Illinois. And the Eureka hunter still eats plenty of turkey dinners.

“I’m amazed at the turkeys we’ve got just 8 miles from my house along the Mackinaw River,” Hunziker said. “What a blessing it is to have a turkey population so close to home.”

The same is true outside the Mackinaw River valley. The story of the wild turkey in Illinois mirrors that of the whitetail deer — to the point that seeing them is no longer a unique experience.

Hunting turkeys remains very unique, though. Every outing is different. Most are memorable. This year in Illinois, many were successful.

Despite three years of poor hatches, turkey hunters posted near-record totals this spring. Among those bagging birds were Hunziker and his 8-year-old son Chance (pictured above), who shot his first gobbler on April 25.

“We were in a ground blind along the edge of a corn field next to the Mackinaw River,” Hunziker said. “We talked flirting hen talk to the gobblers while they were still on the roost and the bottom was ringing with their gobbles.

“Chance was really excited. He whispered, ‘They are all around us.’ ”

Before long three gobblers approached the blind. The young Hunziker took aim at a 27-pounder with an 11-inch beard and hollered after his aim was true, scaring the other birds away and making his father laugh.

I understand. Shooting a turkey can make you want to yell.

To me what sets turkey hunting apart is the interaction. There’s no more spine-chilling experience in hunting than hearing a bird gobble at close range. That experience alone is worth braving bugs and losing sleep.

A few weeks ago while hunting near Branson, Mo., I spent 15 minutes within 20 yards of a gobbler. The bird was on a downhill slope and behind thick brush, so I never saw him. But every time he gobbled, I could picture a big white head sticking out and letting loose as he strutted and fanned.

Eventually the bird left without offering me a shot. That was one of many near-misses in a season that for me ended gobbler-less.

No matter. I’m already looking forward to this fall and next spring with optimism.

It’s encouraging to hear that candidates for the long-vacant position of turkey biologist should be interviewed this month. Any new biologist should be able to come in act like a hero, liberalizing spring permit allocations to allow more hunters to get two tags.

The new turkey guy should also be able to open more counties to the fall season, with Peoria County a long-overdue addition.

Sure Illinois will never replace Missouri as a mecca for turkey hunters. But the Department of Natural Resources would be crazy not to make it easier for hunters to hunt. 

Beyond that, we’re due for a good hatch after several uncooperative springs.

“In spite of poor reproduction during the past several years, Illinois’ turkey population has remained strong,” said DNR biologist Paul Shelton. “Weather during the next several weeks will be an important factor affecting nesting success; perhaps this will be the year that puts us over the top.” 

If that happens, there will be even less reason to make the drive to Missouri.

Your CommentsComments :: Terms :: .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

I have been hunting Illinois turkeys for 12 years and have seen a major increase in turkeys the last 3 years.  My first year I may have only heard one or two turkeys all year.  Now I go out and may hear any where between 5 to 10 gobblers. I would say the population has done very well over the past few years and the hatch this year is looking good.  One day I believe we will have a better turkey population than Missouri.  I hunted Missouri the last two years and they have a ton of turkeys.  If hunter and DNR do the right thing we too will have tons of turkeys.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 05/20 at 02:26 PM

at kirksville Mo.there has been a decline in the turkey..they reintroduced bobcats..Here in ILL. i heard and seen fewer birds this year than in the last ten yeas..i was lucky enough to fill my permits..

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 05/21 at 05:02 AM

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