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Illinois hunting and fishing

A pair of wild turkeys head for the hill in East Peoria earlier this winter. FRED ZWICKY/JOURNAL STAR

Time to talk turkey

March 29, 2009 at 03:06 AM

Illinois turkey dates

North Zone seasons Youth: Saturday and next Sunday First: April 13-17 Second: April 18-23 Third: April 24-29 Fourth: April 30-May 6 Fifth: May 7-14 South Zone seasons Youth: Ends today First: April 6-10 Second: April 11-16 Third: April 17-22 Fourth: April 23-29 Fifth: April 30-May 7

After driving around a corner Tuesday, all I could do was stop, smile and stare.

Standing along Dogtown Lane were two long-bearded male wild turkeys. One gobbler was in full strut, puffed up with tail feathers on display for all to see — at least until I grabbed for my camera. Even after they moved into nearby timber, the big birds lingered along the edge, seemingly unconcerned about my presence.

That will change soon. Youth turkey season opened this weekend in Illinois’ South Zone and starts Saturday in the North Zone. Between now and mid-May, more than 90,000 hunters will flock to the timber in hopes of shooting a bearded bird. By the time hunting ends, most turkeys will be wise to the ways of gun-toting interlopers. How hunters will fare is not so clear.

Last year gobbler chasers shot 15,159 birds, second only to the 16,605 shot in 2006. Topping those totals could be tough this spring thanks to two straight sub-par turkey hatches. Cold, wet conditions are hard on young turkeys and unfortunately that’s what the big birds encountered in Illinois the last two years.

“If I was a betting man, the amount of gobbling — even compared to last year — will probably be somewhat less,” said Paul Shelton, head of forest wildlife in Illinois. “That’s obviously heavily dependent on the weather. But given that we’ve had two (poor hatches) in a row, we’re looking at having a fairly small 2-year-old class out there.”

Those two-year-old turkeys are typically most vocal, Shelton said. Then again, there won’t be many dopey jakes around, either. Shelton bases his assessment on declines in the annual poult-to-hen index.

An average poult-to-hen ratio typically runs close to 2.88. Region 4 topped the state last year at 2.26, while Region 1 (including most of the Journal Star area) was at 2.08, northeastern Illinois was at 1.85, southern Illinois was at 1.83 and east-central Illinois was at 1.1.

“As a matter of fact, last year’s index was probably the worst we have on record since we’ve done brood surveys,” Shelton said. “On the upside of that is that as a general rule our turkey population is solid enough that even if we put together a few down years, it hasn’t been enough that our spring harvest has suffered from it.”

Another potential issue for turkey hunters is change in the format of future seasons.

Illinois has maintained a complicated five-season format for years in an effort to spread hunters out over a longer period of time. The benefit is fewer hunters in the woods at any given time. The downside is that the permit application process is complicated and a stretch of bad weather can seriously impact hunting opportunity.

Missouri and many other states sell turkey permits over the counter that are valid for the entire turkey season, which typically runs 20 days.

Some hunters have asked Illinois to adopt a system comparable to that of Missouri. To gauge support for such a change, the DNR is surveying turkey hunters this year.

“This is not an initiative we’re pushing for. We wanted to see how a random sample of hunters fell out on the issue,” Shelton said. “It’s an opinion-gathering thing. We want to know whether they were willing to trade a high-quality hunt with one-fifth the hunters out there for the ease of knowing they can get a permit.”

For Illinois to change its system, Shelton said turkey season would have to be shortened, hunters would no longer be able to shoot three birds in a spring and pressure on the woods would be more concentrated.

Ponder that in the weeks to come as you sit waiting for a full strutter to gobble into range and hope for a scene like this, photographed by Bob Cook of Yates City.

Illinois hunting and fishing

Then again, I’d be happy with a strutting jake like this fellow photographed by Steve Tucker of O’Fallon last week.

Illinois hunting and fishing

Or this tom in the backyard of Russ and Janice Nash of Elmwood.

Illinois hunting and fishing

Win CamoFlex

Prairie State Outdoors readers can win one of five CamoFlex systems we will be giving away in the next two months. To enter the drawing, submit a turkey hunting story and picture via e-mail to:

Turkey Tales

Stories can be about this season’s hunt or any previous season.


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

This is how far Shelton is out of touch with “reality”.  Since the state released birds on our property back in the mid 90’s we have never seen as many as we have in the past year.  This year we were seeing flocks of up to 25-30 gobblers(long beards), not one but several different groups.  Anybody wanna question this I got pics.  I was seeing major flocks of birds while hunting and I was curious if the neighbors were seeing the same. On the same days they were seeing flocks just as big as I was in different locations. I know that this probably isn’t the case in other parts of the state but in my location we must of had one hell of a hatch the past two years.  So what data can the “duck biologist” show me to prove different.  I am curious on what other guys saw this past summer and fall.  I know birds flock up in winter but I have never seen them in numbers like this.  We will see what happens next weekend when my 9 year old heads afield. If his second turkey is as good as his first then I got my hands full.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 03/29 at 12:27 PM

As much as I would like the opportunity to hunt turkey over a wider range of days, there is no way that adopting a system like that of Missouri will work in Illinois.  Two reasons being; a) the number of birds we have & b) the amount of public access.  My experience with the current system in IL is that the DNR will issue approximately 5 permits per season per 1,000 - 1,500 acres of land.  This in my opinion is fairly effective at spreading out the hunting pressure.  If we had a system like Missouri’s, I guarantee some of the state’s smaller tracts of land would see 30+ hunters on opening morning.  Good luck trying to shoot a turkey (and not get shot yourself) with those odds.  Sure you are going to have years where you run into a bad stretch of weather but I would rather take my chances with the weather than with 20-25 other hunters at the same time on 1,500 acres.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 03/29 at 01:05 PM

I’m with you bowhunter.  I ended up setting up a new stand location that was located 50 yds for a major roost.  Every morning I watched as 90 birds pitched down for the day.  For a good hr-2 hrs every morning I couldn’t hear a thing but clucking, purring and an occasional gobble.  I have seen three different groups ranging from 40 birds to 90 birds this past fall and spring.  If I can’t tag a big ol’ tom in a couple weeks, I’m going to just quit hunting.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 03/29 at 02:15 PM

The fact one person has a lot of turkeys in their yard does not mean surveys conducted statewide are wrong. And bashing Shelton for turkey survey numbers is completely misguided. Surveys are based on more than one person’s opinion.

Posted by Jeff Lampe on 03/29 at 07:17 PM

Here we go again. Wildlife Management by public opinion polls.  I’ll have to agree with ‘Coup’ on this one…..“If it ain’t broke don’t fix it.”  Why would any responsible wildlife manager propose trading off a quality hunting situation with one that allows a free-for-all out in the woods. “The benefit is fewer hunters in the woods at any given time. The downside is that the permit application process is complicated and a stretch of bad weather can seriously impact hunting opportunity.”  The current system allows for multiple turkey tags and a liberal bag limit of three birds with almost no competition out in the woods.  If someone wants to hunt turkeys now, all they have to do is apply for multiple seasons.  It’s really not that complicated is it?  Almost all of the turkey permits are sold out every year now, but the hunting pressure is spread out over a five week period so that the quality of the hunting experience is very high, while accommodating the maximum number of hunters.  Why would anyone want to cut down the bag limit, limit the number of hunter’s opportunities, and spoil the quality of the hunting experience?  Why
get worried over…...“a stretch of bad weather can seriously impact hunting opportunity.”  That’s why we call it “hunting” and not “killing.”

Some reasons why the turkey population is up and down in various parts of the State, as reported in the outdoor forums, is that bad Easter weekend ice storm of two years ago wiping out a lot of the mast that year, intense flooding last year in many parts of the State caused turkeys to lose their nests, and, since so few people trap anymore, the predation on turkey nests is a major factor.  We have found numerous turkey nests that were destroyed by predators on our farms in the last few years.  If you check out the Missouri D.O.C. website you will find that their hatch has been way down the past couple of years as well.  Anyway, have a good turkey season in Illinois this Spring and be careful out there.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 03/29 at 07:18 PM

Jeff, for your info my turkey survey wasn’t conducted in my back yard. Talk to anybody in Peoria county and I think you will get the same answer on how our areas hatch went.  Like I said, I can’t speak on behalf of the rest of the state but I can say we got plenty of birds to hunt. How many turkey biologists does this state have anyway, zero from what I understand.  Is Shelton one, last time I checked his last position before he came to Illinois was as a waterfowl biologist and turkeys aint waterfowl. Public opinion of Shelton is low. Look at the way our deer herd is managed. It might not of changed for you being new to deer hunting but I have seen LOTS of change under his tenure. Quality being first.

I wanna see facts on our turkey population, who conducts these surveys, where they are conducted.  Are they conducted by the 1 private lands biologist that has 3-4 counties under his belt?  Where do these facts come from? Shelton’s word don’t mean squat to me.  This is the same guy that claims 20-25% of bucks being taken in the LWS isn’t a significant number.  Sorry Jeff, Im with Higgins on this one.  Show me what improvements he has made over the past several years to improve turkey or deer hunting. We need more than a “yes” man in his position…..

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 03/29 at 08:33 PM

You guys have said it all very well.
One thing we all have to watch is the “turkey survey” sent out this year to some hunters. If the IDNR holds public meeting after assembling the information from the surveys we all need to attend at least one of those meeting.
From reading the actual IDNR justification for the new deer ad rules, the input from hunters attending the JDTF deer meeting and public comment taken randomly after the meetings was used to sell and justify the deer rules.
I know the IDNR reads these posts and it appears they have very little impact.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 03/29 at 09:14 PM

IDNR & Marc Miller…. PLEASE leave the turkey hunting system alone.
IF, you truly want to maintain & help the turkey hunting in IL, then hire a well qualified, FULLTIME turkey biologist !!!
It has been years since the IDNR had a turkey biologist & it is LONNGGGG over due !!!!
I recently was in a meeting with a DNR biologist & I stressed my concerns over the DNR looking into totally revamping IL turkeys seasons, limits, draws, county by county management & even hunting hours.
Years & Years of management efforts, by well trained & qualified TURKEY biologist, has got us to where we are today & left us with a good turkey population & a VERY good county by county turkey management system.
I strongly hope that our IDNR does not throw all these years of work, out the window. All historical turkey data would have to be thrown out the window, IF they went & totally revamped the turkey system.
IL is NO Missouri !!!! Plain & simple.
Apples & Oranges here folks !!
My wife did get the survey & I helped her fill it out.  I hope that most of the turkey hunters, who did get the survey, are well educated on the history of IL’s turkeys restoration plan & the hunting plan our IDNR has now, that was set up in conjunction with it !!!!

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 03/29 at 10:37 PM

I would prefer to keep the permit system the way it is, maybe adding a day or two in the first three seasons.  We are not Missouri nor do we have the turkey population that Missouri has.  Yes there are certain areas of Illinois that have a higher turkey population than others just as in the deer popultaion, but that does not warrant a OTC permit system for a 20 or 30 day season.  Those of us that are fortunate to hunt in a county with high turkey population a OTC system may not affect us but those who hunt on what limited public lands there are in a counties with a smaller turkey population would be affected. You would have hunters bunched together hunting the same Tom. OTC permits would also limit those who recieve multiple permits in a season and that would affect those that hunt a high turkey population area on public or private land.  What we need is an experienced turkey biologist.  Let them conduct a survey and figure out what type of system is better for the turkey populations say in Fulton county compared those populations in Lee county. Personally I would like to see them change the hunting hours instead of changing the seasons.  Weather has affected breeding certain counties in Illinois over the last two season compared to others.  Those affected area have less Jakes and 2 year olds leaving the Toms to stick with the hens longer into the morning and early afternoon before setting out on their own.  End the day at 3pm instead of 1 as a start.  And the season that definately needs to be changed is the youth season. Add a few more days or make it two weekends in a row. Yea they may get the first crack at the birds but two days dosen’t cut it exspecially with the weather being the way it has for the last few years.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 03/29 at 11:05 PM

Many of the concerns that have been raised about doing away with the lottery system are certainly justified, and I would never be in favor of changes that damaged the resource.  That is why I heartily agree that we need a turkey biologist in the DNR who can study those impacts and help us make an informed decision.  I appreciate the comments about our history of turkey recovery, but the majority of the state is no longer in the restoration phase, and spring hunting has little impact on the overall population (although it can affect the gobbler age structure).  With that in mind, I think we need to look at the positive impact on hunter recruitment and retention a change like this could make.  Every year I try to introduce several new people to turkey hunting.  This is a tedious process that requires me guiding them through every step, and forcing them to decide what week and county they can hunt months in advance.  This is absolutely a barrier to a new turkey hunter getting started.  A shorter season, even 3 weeks, would provide an equal number of days in the field as our current system, and would help out the weekend warriors who can’t take time off work.  Plus, you could back up the start date of the season (a good thing for the population to be sure most hens are bred before gobblers are killed) and allow the youth weekend to take place a week or two later, which might help avoid the weather issues we faced this past weekend in the southern zone.  I want to be clear, that I think the lottery system would still be needed for state owned lands.  But I’m not so sure the hunt quality would be heavily impacted on private land. By making assumptions that hunt quality would be sacrificed, Mr. Shelton obviously thinks so. But would more tags and hunters really matter if the landowner does not allow more hunters to access his land?  The landowner determines the number of hunters and hunt quality on private land, not the number of tags sold.  And if I’m wrong, is it really a “quality” hunt if you don’t have to work for your bird?  I get a lot of satisfaction out of fooling an educated tom, don’t you?  Here’s another way to look at it.  Right now we basically have 5 opening days.  Anyone with a tag for a certain season is going to hunt hard on their respective opening day and probably much of the week.  Under a general season, you may have a lot of people out there the first day and week.  After that, many will have tagged out, had their fill, or given up.  I’m not saying I am 100% on board with the possible changes.  But I truely believe hunting opportunity should be maximized whenever possible as long as the resource can handle it.  And if we are truely worried about population impacts, we could still issue county specific permits that can be used over an entire general season.  As hunters, we talk a lot about our concerns for our declining numbers and lack of interest from youth.  But how often do we act on an opportunity to make a difference in that arena?  Thanks for the article and the chance to comment, Jeff.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 03/30 at 01:30 PM

Like deer population densities, it depends on where you are in the state for turkeys, and where you are in a particular county for that matter.  I can’t understand why the DNR thinks that blanket rules can properly manage the wildlife in this state.  Hunting is much different in southern Illinois than in northern IL, and there are at least 2 different micro-climates between north and south.  County by county management may not be needed, but more then 2 zones are needed to properly manage both deer and turkeys.  Personally I think they need to take the current DNR regions and divide regions 1 and 4 into thirds.  This would be a pretty fair representation of the different habitat zones in Illinois.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 03/30 at 03:06 PM

I would like to see the youth season at least 2 weekends or all day for the 2 days we have now.  With the weather that we’ve had the last couple of years, what’s more discouraging to a youth than to get a permit and not be able to go because of bad weather.  If you think about it, they only have approx. 12 hours to hunt those two days.  It’s hard enough to kill a bird sometimes in 5 days.  Everyone says that they can get a regular season permit.  Well they still only have two days to hunt because I’m not pulling them out of school to hunt during the week.  Our youth get the short end of the stick on both turkey and deer.  I thought the youth was supposed to be our future hunters.  It doesn’t look like they care about keeping them very interested in hunting.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 03/30 at 04:13 PM

I love how the DNR is going to survey turkey hunters to see what they think about changing the current, ridiculous, season / permit system in IL.  How about asking those of us who don’t / can’t hunt turkeys in Illinois.  I moved to Illinois from Ohio (which has one season) in 2006 and haven’t hunted a turkey here yet because of this stupid and unnecessary seasons and permit system.  There is absolutely no reason why a 20 day season and simplified permit system would not work.  Mr. Shelton and the DNR leaders need to get there heads out of the sand. Its call “recruitment and retention” for a reason!  The Illinois DNR stinks at it.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 03/31 at 07:34 AM

Raygun, you must not like hunting turkeys that much.  It’s not that hard.  Get on the DNR webpage, it takes 2 minutes to fill out an application and you’ll get a tag in the mail.  After you receive that tag, fill out another application and you’ll probably get another tag.  I don’t know about Ohio, but a 20 day season will not work on public land in IL without severally limiting the number of permits issued.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 03/31 at 07:53 AM

Mafitz, I have been on the web site and looked at what to do.  But how about this, buy your turkey permit, find a place to hunt, and have 20 days to do it?  IL wants you to pick your season, pick your county, and wait for their approval tag to come in the mail.  Then you can try to schedule your vacation to go to the place DNR has approved for you to go.  And if you’re lucky, you’ll get the time off from work. Of course you can’t ask your kids to go because they are in school and have other obligations during the limited time to all the mighty DNR has granted you.  As for the argument that this will not work on public land, I don’t buy it.  But if you must restrict the use of public land, then you can have special permits (We all know how much the People’s Republic of Illinois likes rules) for the public land we all pay for. The only bright spot about Illinois is that Wisconsin is worse.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 03/31 at 07:53 PM

Raygun, it’s not that hard to get your vaction scheduled once you know what season you drew.  Get your app in early and more than likely your going to get your first or second choice.  Plus the results are up well in advance of the seasons starting. Plenty of time to get required time scheduled.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 03/31 at 09:44 PM

Raygun, suck it up.  This is Illinois, not Ohio.
Its pretty easy in this state to get a permit and like Fulton said, if its in early enough, you can plan it.  We don’t need anymore changes when it comes to turkey seasons. We have already had enough of our natural resources screwed up.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 04/01 at 08:54 AM

FultonCtyHunter, with all do respect, I know where I work, what my vacation days are, how to apply for them, and how easy or hard it is to get off at certain times of the year.  I appreciate your trying to help, but you do not have this knowledge.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 04/01 at 02:44 PM

Ilbowhunter: You write “suck it up.  This isn’t Ohio”.  Wow, what a well thought out defense of the status quo.  The term “Childish” seems to come to mind.  Here’s a question:  In your first posts you go on and on about how the state is flooded with turkeys because you see them everywhere and that Mr. Shelton and the DNR don’t know what they are doing.  BUT then you defend the state’s ridiculous season and permit system because you don’t want to screw up the state’s (in reality YOUR) hunting.  Which is it, do you support the DNR turkey management or not?

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 04/01 at 02:47 PM

Jeff2020, is that supposed to make me feel better.  Having one season and hunt when you can is not going hurt the turkey population, but may “infringe” on those who think they have private ownership of the state’s natural resources.  I find it interesting how no one addresses the recruitment and retention issues with these overly complex seasons and permits.  I guess we have enough hunters now.  Or is it just those selfish one’s who wish to keep the next generation out.  Me, me, me right?

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 04/01 at 02:48 PM

raygun, Illinois turkey season has been like this since it opened up.  Turkey season dates are not a real convienent thing for alot of us that work weekdays so you either take vacation or pick a season that starts on a weekend and hope you tag out in two days.  Its as simple as that. Maybe you should do a little research on Paul Shelton before you start asking me questions like you have.  Then you will see why I do not favor any changes in our current system.  There are a total of 5 turkey seasons and multiple days to hunt and “yes”, we do have alot of birds in my area. All because we care about the wildlife that lives on our property and we do our best to create habitat and control predators. In which the state doesn’t pay for, I do.  I own my land so I do care about my hunting, thats what I bought it for.  Oh by the way, read my post more closely, doesn’t say anything about the rest of the state, just that my area has alot of birds.  By the way, I will have my 9 year old out this weekend introducing him to his second turkey season and my buddy is taking a friends son out so don’t even go there with me on being selfish and keeping it all to me, me, me.  Hell , I would even take out Jeff2020’s son if he had one. Want a longer season, buy 40 acres and get a landowners tag.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 04/01 at 07:03 PM

I’m with raygun on this one.  Getting just one weekend to turkey hunt is ridiculous.  Have your separate rules for public land to spread people out.  But for private land, let us hunt!

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 04/02 at 10:42 PM

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