"Bayou Bill" Scifres
Dedicated to the conservation and enjoyment of Indiana's natural resources
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Talkin' Turkey. . .2002
Copyright © 2002 by Bill Scifres

Increases in wild turkey hunting range and better hunting opportunity usually results in increased harvest, says Steve Backs, wild turkey biologist for the Division of Fish and Wildlife (DFW). 

If you find that hard to believe, all you have to do is take a cursory glance at the turkey hunting range and total bags of the big birds in the last 19 seasons. For the record, and to save you the task of researching this theory, Hoosier turkey hunters have chalked up 19 consecutive harvest records--starting in 1983 when an estimated 984 hunters reported a harvest of  93 birds while hunting 12 half-days in 18 counties. 

Ten years later--in 1993--an estimated 15,673 hunters reported taking 3,500 birds while hunting 19 days in 48 counties. 

Eight years later-- in 2001--an estimated 33,000 hunters reported taking 9,975 birds while hunting 19 days in 74 counties. 

This adds up to the fact that Backs knows of which he speaks, and he tells us that Hoosier turkey hunters will try their luck in 90 of the state's 92 counties when this year's 19-day season opens April 24. The only counties closed to turkey hunting this year are Rush and Shelby counties. 

Backs points out that while hunting will be legal in all other counties of the state, turkey populations will be sparse in some of them. 

Projecting the things he has learned about turkeys and turkey hunters in the past, Backs says, more or less prophesying (or at least estimating) that some 44,000 hunters this year may take 12,000 birds. 

However, Backs points out that there are extenuating circumstances. For one thing, he says that while the turkey-hunting range and hunting hours will be increased, so will the price of the hunting license for the first time in 14 years. 

Here he alludes to the fact that the price of the turkey hunting license has jumped from $14.75 last year to $23.00. Tab for the non-resident turkey-hunting license remains at $114.75 and probably will not factor into the situation either way. The big question: will the increase in the turkey license fee deter an increase in the number of hunters. 

The reference to extended hunting hours alludes to the fact that a recent regulation change will permit hunting from half an hour before sunrise to sunset. For many years hunting was legal only until noon and hunters had to be out of the field by 1 p.m. 

This set the stage for some fine morel hunting and fishing in the afternoons. However the effect of extended hunting hours (all-day hunting) may  be negligible. Male turkeys tend to clam up as the sun gets higher in the morning. Although males may not gobble much late in the morning and throughout the afternoon, they still roam the woodlands and it would not be surprising if a number of birds are "drygulched" by still-hunting tactics. 

Still another change in turkey-hunting regulations this year will make it unlawful to hunt with "electrically powered or controlled decoys." However, decoys powered manually still are legal. 

With these facts at hand, the big rub with turkey hunters still will be the age-old question of where to hunt. But wherever that may be, success may be pinned on how well the hunter does his pre-season scouting. 

Sure, there are hunters so well attuned to habits of the birds they will be hunting that pre-season scouting is not paramount to success. There are others who are just plain lucky. 

Still, the most successful turkey hunters spend many pleasant hours scouting the flock they will hunt--even the individual Tom. And chances are good--barring unforeseen circumstances--that their hunts will end soon after daylight on opening day. Many try to know where the bird they will hunt is roosting when darkness comes on the day before their hunt. 

So where should the potential turkey hunter plan to hunt this year--or any year? 

If harvest figures from the past can be used as a yardstick for measuring best counties of the state for turkey hunting, it would seem logical to hunt a county that is no more than five counties north of the Ohio River, starting with Warrick County and moving eastward to Switzerland County. In essence, this is the southern third of the state which, naturally enough, also is the state's  most heavily forested region. Noting that the wild turkey is primarily a bird of the woods, this is nothing more than logic. 

The hardwood hills of  Southern Indiana is where the DFW's modern-day wild turkey management program started back in the 1950s. 

However, The DFW's program has been successful in spreading the range of the big bird up the western side of the state and even into the northern-tier counties. 

Still, 26 of the 31 counties that gave up more than 100 birds in last year's season are south of an extended imaginary line that follows Indiana Highway 46, which runs east-west through Bloomington and Columbus. 

Here, in order of most birds, are the counties that gave up more than 100 birds last year: 

1: Switzerland, 476; 2: Jefferson, 370; 3: Perry, 349; 4: Dearborn, 337; 5: Orange, 327; 6: Parke, 320; 7:  Crawford, 277; 8: Ripley, 275; 9: Washington, 257; 10: Harrison, 225: 11: Greene, 241: 12: Franklin, 218; 13: Warrick, 215; 14:  Martin, 204; 15: Brown, 197; 16: Lawrence, 195; 17: Clark, 180; 18:  Pike, 177; 19:  Jennings, 172; 20: Jackson, 165; 21: Spencer, 156; 22: Sullivan, 148; 23: Monroe, 148; 24: Dubois, 142; 25:  Ohio, 142;  26: Owen, 138; 27: Starke, 114; 28:  Putnam, 110; 29: Warren, 109; 30: Fountain, 102; and 31: Scott, 101. 

But there are many other counties of the state that offer very good turkey hunting and it may be smart to find birds in such areas because competition will be less a factor. 

In the final analysis, good wild turkey hunting in Indiana is where you find it, however incidental your discovery may be. 

For example, I recently ran into a niece and the first thing she said was I have a picture to show you, Uncle Bill.

Shot from her living room window (less than 30 miles from Monument Circle in Indianapolis), the picture showed a dozen or so beautiful wild turkeys in her lawn. She explained that they saw them often in the woods across the road.  [Click here to see those lawn turkeys.]

"You should come out and see them some time, Uncle Bill," she said. 

"How about early some morning at mid-April?" I said, with tongue in cheek. 

[Note: This contribution appears in the March 2002 issue of the Raghorn News.]

All columns are copyrighted by Bill Scifres and may not be reproduced in any form without prior permission from the author.  For reproduction permission and media usage fees, contact: Bill Scifres, 6420 East 116th Street, Fishers, IN 46038, E-mail: billscifres@aol.com

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