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.
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."
Weather — or not
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 twitter.com/ChrisYoungPSO. Read more outdoors coverage on Prairie State Outdoors.
Spring wild turkey hunting dates
To evenly distribute hunters throughout the season, drawings are held and hunters in Illinois are assigned permits for one of five mini-seasons.
The North Zone includes everything north of Bond, Crawford, Effingham, Fayette, Jasper and Madison counties. The southern one-third of the state is within the South Zone.
2013 North Zone dates:
1st Season — April 15-19; 2nd Season — April 20-25; 3rd Season — April 26-May 1; 4th Season — May 2-8; 5th Season — May 9-16
2013 South Zone dates:
1st Season — April 8-12; 2nd Season — April 13-18; 3rd Season — April 19-24; 4th Season — April 25-May 1; 5th Season — May 2-9
Youth Season dates:
2013 North Zone — April 6-7; 2013 South Zone — March 30-31