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
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
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
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,
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
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
[Note: This contribution
appears in the March 2002 issue of the Raghorn