An estimated 48,000 wild turkey hunters this spring are expected to
take an estimated 12,200 birds in the season that opens April 23 and continues
through May 11.
This fearless prognostication by Steve Backs, Hoosierland's official
wild turkey biologist (he works for the Division of Fish and Wildlife,
a k a DFW), includes the notion that the harvest figure will amount to
a 21st gobbler high-water mark since 1984 when an estimated 1,205 hunters
took 104 birds in a hunting range that covered 18 counties. Range for this
spring's 19-day season will include 90 of the 92 counties--only Rush and
Shelby counties, where restoration work continues, will be closed to hunting.
The total bag of 10,575 birds taken last year in the same 90 counties
was achieved by an estimated 42,300 hunters.
"Last year's brood production was about average, many turkey populations
are still growing and expanding into new range, and hunter interest is
still growing, especially in areas where new hunting range was recently
opened," says Backs.
"The summer 2002 production index was good news considering the
high incidence of inclement weather (heavy rains) that occurred throughout
the state during the April and May nesting season. The rainy weather generally
subsided by Memorial Day and remained relatively favorable to poult (young
birds) survival during the first part of June. The summer drought conditions
that occurred in late-July to September throughout many regions of the
state raised some concerns but based on past history, late summer droughts
may have actually enhanced turkey poult survival. The severe drought of
1988, which began during the spring, significantly reduced herbaceous ground
cover and invertebrate foods leading to poor production. Herbaceous cover
and invertebrate foods were quite abundant during the critical early brood
period of 2002."
Reserved turkey hunts will be conducted at 16 public properties this
year, but the deadline for applications for these hunts was March 15. Thus,
hunters hoping to outwit a wise old gobbler will have to try their luck
on other public lands or on private property
So where does one go to bag his bird this year? If harvest figures
of last year's hunt can be used to find good hunting opportunity, it might
be a good idea to consider the following counties which racked up harvest
figures of 300 or more birds. They are Switzerland 571, Jefferson 467,
Dearborn 422, Perry 409, Harrison 387, Orange 366, Parke 359, Washington
354, Greene 346, Ripley 326, Crawford 325, Jennings 317, Franklin 316,
Lawrence 315, and Warwick 313.
All of these counties attract hunters like honey draws flies, bears,
raccoons and assorted other critters--including man. Thus, if a hunter
can find a flock of turkeys in a county that is little known for this springtime
activity, some pre-season scouting could pay off handsomely. Moreover,
hunting such an area could bring solitude even if the big bird does not
come your way.
How does one go about pre-season scouting?
It helps to have some prior knowledge on the presence of birds, but
any wooded area in a county that produced birds in the 2002 season could
be hosting birds now. So what does the turkey scouter look for?
When I scout for turkey I do not expect to see a bird. But you don't
have to see wild turkey to know they are about.
Look for large scratch patches in the forest floor. As a wild turkey
feeds it rakes the leaves back to uncover insects, worms and other items
of food, including small nuts (like beechnuts) and acorns. A wild turkey
scratch will often cover more than a square foot and usually will be oblong
Droppings also tell stories about the presence of wild turkey, and
it has been said that the droppings of the gobbler may take the form of
a "j," which reminds me of a not-so-funny story.
One day back in the early days of turkey hunting in Hoosierland (it
must have been in the early '70s), Phil Hawkins, my Franklin hunting buddy
(as good a turkey hunter as I have ever known) and I were scouting in the
Mogan Ridge Area of Perry County.
Nobody (at least not we Hoosiers) knew much about wild turkey in that
era and we were looking mostly for scratchings in the forest floor. And
we were finding them.
But we also were looking for droppings because we had heard that the
droppings of gobblers took the form of a "j," and that those of the hen
I found a beautiful "j" that was obviously from a big healthy gobbler.
I was so impressed that I picked it up (it was rather solid and in great
condition--white and black). I put it on a bed of cotton in a clear plastic
artificial lure box that I carried for saving interesting things I found
in the outdoors.
That night, when I got home about midnight my wife was still up. She
was madder than "the old wet hen" because I had been gone since the wee
hours of the morning at a time when there was much yard work to be done.
I presented my scouting prize as a peace offering.
Moral: No matter how beautiful you may think it is, as a substitute
peace offering for a box of chocolates, a few posies, or just a genuine
"sorry, Honey," a gobbler's "j" dropping is a badly-beaten also ran.