Unseasonably cold weather or simply a contracted flock size are both suspects but whatever the reason, Ohio’s turkey hunters posted an anemic 1.04 percent harvest gain for the first week of the statewide spring wild turkey-hunting season.
Ohio’s spring wild turkey-hunting season began April 20th and will end May 17th. For the first two weeks hunters can legally take a bird up until noon. For the second half of the four-week-long season Ohio’s turkey hunters have the opportunity to be afield from one-half hour before sunrise to sunset daily.
Last year Ohio’s total spring wild turkey-hunting season harvest was 16,568 birds.
Now back to the current spring season’s first week of business. As reported via the Ohio Division of Wildlife’s electronic game check system, hunters killed 8,158 bearded (almost all males, also called “gobblers” or “toms”) wild turkeys. The comparable 2014 first-week harvest was 8,074 birds.
Nor can the harvest numbers for season’s first week be minimized as to their overall importance. Statistics available from the Wildlife Division indicate that fully46 percent of all legally taken and reported turkeys during the spring season are killed in the first week.
That figure falls to 18 percent for the second week, 16 percent for the third week, and 11 percent for the fourth week. Another 9 percent is taken during the two-day/youth-only spring season.
Looking more closely at any number of the traditionally high-harvest counties, more than a few of them recorded deep plunges in their respective first week turkey kills.
Among them was Ashtabula County which saw a precipitous drop of 22.92 percent. The actual numbers were 253 birds killed during the 2014 season’s first week and 195 birds reported as being taken for this spring season’s first week.
Other first-week only declines noted were: Adams County – down 8 percent, or from 200 birds (2014) to 184 turkeys (this year); Brown County – down 12.9 percent, or from 186 to 162; Hocking County – down 20 percent, or from 145 birds to 116 turkeys; Geauga County - down 20.33 percent, or from 123 birds to 98 turkeys; Lake County – down 33 percent, or from 36 birds to 24 turkeys; Guernsey County – down 5.47 percent, or from 256 birds to 242 turkeys; Tuscarawas County – down 19.26 percent, or from 244 birds to 197 turkeys; and Trumbull County – down 4.43 percent, or from 203 birds to 197 turkeys.
However, what salvaged the 2014 spring wild turkey-hunting season’s first week numbers was strong showings in any number of other counties. And part of that riveting came from counties in northwest Ohio. This area has never been declared an Ohio turkey hunting hot zone.
Even so first week turkey harvest gains were reported in Defiance County – up 44.71 percent, or from 85 birds (2014) to 123 turkeys (this year); Fulton County - up 61.54 percent, or from 39 birds to 63 turkeys; Williams County – up 17.43 percent, or from 109 birds to 126 turkeys; Seneca County – up 25.81percent, or from 62 birds to 78 turkeys; Paulding County – up 24.24 percent, or from 33 birds to 41 turkeys; and Hardin County – up 64.29 percent, or from 28 birds to 46 turkeys.
Still turkey numbers must be shored up by high-value counties. Leading in that category were such counties as Clermont – up 19.40 percent, or 134 birds (2014) to 160 turkeys (this year); Vinton County – up 43.31 percent, or 127 birds to 182 turkeys; Washington County – 29.90 percent, or 194 birds to 252 turkeys; and Licking County – up 11.83 percent, or 169 birds to 189 turkeys.
As to how the rest of the spring season unfolds is a matter of conjecture and speculation. Yet if history says anything than Ohio will again see a drop in the all-spring season wild turkey harvest.
Ohio’s high-water harvest mark for the spring wild turkey-hunting season was in 2001 when hunters killed 26,156 birds.
Since that season 14 years ago the spring season wild turkey harvest has fallen down a general sloping decline with only an every-now-and-then bump that never reached more than 23,421 birds (2010), let alone shattered the 2001’s glass ceiling of 26,156 birds.
Not surprisingly then sales of turkey permits have retreated as well. The greatest number of spring wild turkey-hunting permits ever sold in Ohio was 94,989, occurring in 2003.
Last year the Wildlife Division issued 68,959 such turkey tags, itself a figure that shrank from the 72,330 spring wild turkey-hunting permits sold in 2013.Jeffrey L. Frischkorn
Jeff is the retired News-Herald reporter who covered the earth sciences, the area's three county park systems and the outdoors for the newspaper. During his 30 years with The News-Herald Jeff was the recipient of more than 100 state, regional and national journalism awards. He also is a columnist and features writer for the Ohio Outdoor News, which is published every other week and details the outdoors happenings in the state.