MIA gobblers

For the first time in memory, I have ended my turkey hunting before harvesting a bird or the season coming to an end. It’s the third spring in a row where birds are MIA on a farm where turkeys used to thrive; land that we have hunted successfully for more than a quarter century.

It’s no secret that turkey populations are lower across much of Ohio, which the Ohio Division of Wildlife (ODOW) attributes to (wet, cool) spring weather conditions that adversely affects post-hatch turkey poult survival. I can see that reducing the number of turkeys on the landscape, and over the years I have witnessed the same on the farm in question. But a complete collapse of the local population? That’s something I can’t wrap my head around.

Many hunters are pointing to the rise in local populations of bobcats. In fact, a listener of mine just posted an excellent video showing a bobcat that had attacked and chased a pair of turkeys being called in by a hunter. The bobcat actually climbs the tree in a failed attempt to get to the birds. I have yet to see a bobcat while hunting in Ohio, but coincidentally caught one on a trail cam where we hunt two years ago, about the same time that local turkey numbers plummeted. 

That said, a recent study of bobcat stomach contents (See Spring 2022 issue of ODNR’s Wild Ohio magazine) show that birds represent less than 5% of the bobcats’ diet. Or at least the stomach contents of those bobcats studied, which were primarily road kills. Coincidentally, we have seen an increase in bald eagle numbers that corresponds to the demise of our local turkey numbers, and biologists I talked to didn’t rule out predation of poults by raptors such as eagles and hawks.

Frustrated turkey hunters also are pointing fingers at the fall season, which permits the taking of not only gobblers, but hens and poults as well. That may be a factor in some areas where fall hunting is popular, but in my case no one hunts turkeys in the fall on the farm I frequent.

When I uprooted the turkey blind I left a lone hen decoy, under the eye of a trail camera, to see if I could document any turkey activity yet this season. Actually, as I do when setting up trail cams for deer or turkeys, I mounted my primary camera facing the decoy to capture any images of predators or live turkeys, and hid the other camera, which is directed to the trial camera, to photograph any two-legged hunter who might be tempted to harvest my primary cam and decoy… 

Speaking of turkeys, Ohio hunters harvested 7,551 birds during the 2022 spring hunting season as of Sunday, May 1, according to the ODNR. That total includes results from the two-day youth season April 9-10, the first nine days of the south zone since the April 23 season opener, and the first two days of hunting in the northeast zone, which opened April 30. 

Hunters have harvested an average of 10,759 birds during the same time during the three preceding years (2019 to 2021). Hunters checked 9,745 birds during the same time in the spring of 2021.

The top 10 counties with the most checked wild turkeys in 2022 are Guernsey (224), Tuscarawas (223), Muskingum (213), Columbiana (212), Harrison (208), Belmont (203), Jefferson (198), Carroll (186), Monroe (186), and Coshocton (185).

Ohio has two zones for 2022 spring wild turkey hunting: the south zone and the northeast zone. The south zone’s season is open until Sunday, May 22. The northeast zone (Ashtabula, Cuyahoga, Geauga, Lake, and Trumbull counties) will remain open until Sunday, May 29. Complete information is available in the 2021-22 hunting and trapping regulations booklet.

A total of all wild turkeys checked by hunters in each of Ohio’s counties through Sunday, May 1, 2022, is shown below. These results include nine days of hunting in the south zone, two days in the northeast zone, and the youth hunting season. The first number following the county’s name represents the 2022 harvest, with the three-year average for the corresponding dates shown in parentheses. Harvest numbers shown below are raw data and are subject to change.

Adams: 177 (262); Allen: 38 (47); Ashland: 93 (112); Ashtabula: 132 (145), Athens: 146 (260); Auglaize: 14 (23); Belmont: 203 (335); Brown: 168 (259); Butler: 86 (126); Carroll: 186 (227); Champaign: 46 (56); Clark: 14 (11); Clermont: 132 (210); Clinton: 33 (47); Columbiana: 212 (268); Coshocton: 185 (288); Crawford: 32 (28); Cuyahoga: 0 (1), Darke: 38 (40); Defiance: 92 (128); Delaware: 50 (68); Erie: 16 (25); Fairfield: 59 (67); Fayette: 3 (7); Franklin: 5 (13); Fulton: 56 (68); Gallia: 184 (256); Geauga: 44 (67), Greene: 16 (12); Guernsey: 224 (327); Hamilton: 50 (61); Hancock: 14 (23); Hardin: 53 (55); Harrison: 208 (277); Henry: 21 (39); Highland: 156 (239); Hocking: 122 (173); Holmes: 119 (151); Huron: 38 (71); Jackson: 127 (234); Jefferson: 198 (275); Knox: 133 (200); Lake: 14 (24), Lawrence: 111 (150); Licking: 140 (212); Logan: 81 (67); Lorain: 53 (75); Lucas: 34 (32); Madison: 4 (5); Mahoning: 84 (118); Marion: 18 (23); Medina: 60 (71); Meigs: 184 (336); Mercer: 12 (13); Miami: 23 (16); Monroe: 186 (344); Montgomery: 9 (19); Morgan: 134 (222); Morrow: 81 (87); Muskingum: 213 (315); Noble: 173 (275); Ottawa: 0 (1), Paulding: 37 (44); Perry: 138 (182); Pickaway: 3 (14); Pike: 100 (126); Portage: 100 (152); Preble: 70 (67); Putnam: 17 (35); Richland: 108 (150); Ross: 145 (193); Sandusky: 13 (16); Scioto: 89 (176); Seneca: 63 (81); Shelby: 22 (29); Stark: 134 (162); Summit: 33 (42); Trumbull: 92 (123), Tuscarawas: 223 (312); Union: 38 (28); Van Wert: 17 (10); Vinton: 114 (197); Warren: 45 (62); Washington: 176 (313); Wayne: 67 (70); Williams: 113 (123); Wood: 12 (14); Wyandot: 45 (52). 2022 Total: 7,551. Three-Year Average: (10,759)

Special turkey hunting opps were successful

Pike and Blue Rock state forests were the settings for two recent special hunts organized for disabled hunters to enjoy the outdoors while hunting for wild turkey. The Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) Division of Forestry hosts these hunts annually in Pike and Muskingum counties.

The 15th annual Wheelin’ Sportsmen hunt for wild turkey at Blue Rock State Forest was sponsored by the National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF) Wheelin’ Sportsmen program. The ODNR Divisions of Forestry and Wildlife worked with the Y-Bridge Longbeards and other chapters of the NWTF to coordinate the event with donations and volunteer efforts from many local individuals and businesses. Twenty-three hunters participated, and three turkeys were harvested during the event. More than 50 guides helped with the hunt.

The Thunder in the Hills wild turkey hunt was held for the fifth year at Pike State Forest. Fourteen hunters participated, and two turkeys were harvested during the event. The ODNR Division of Forestry hosted the event with cooperation from the Clinton County Chapter of the NWTF and the ODNR Divisions of Wildlife, and Parks and Watercraft. Approximately 50 organizations assisted with donations and volunteers.

Hunters at both events provided their own shotguns and ammunition, as well as the necessary licenses and permits. Guides were provided for each hunter. The participating hunters were from various parts of Ohio, with several being disabled veterans.

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