Opening weekend turkey numbers down in Ohio

Water and Wings by Ken Parrott

Ohio hunters harvested 3,315 wild turkeys during the opening weekend of the south zone spring hunting season on April 23-24, according to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources Division of Wildlife.

This is the second year that spring turkey season began on a Saturday instead of the traditional Monday opener. Ohio hunters checked 3,875 turkeys during the 2021 opening weekend. The average harvest during the first two days of the previous three seasons is 3,974 birds.

The top 10 counties for wild turkey harvest reported during the opening weekend of the 2022 south zone include: Guernsey (110), Harrison (104), Tuscarawas (104), Carroll (101), Belmont (93), Meigs (92), Adams (89), Brown (88), Jefferson (88), and Muskingum (86).

Despite having near perfect weather for the opener (which is the exact opposite of what happened for the youth season), the statewide harvest numbers were way down which is unfortunately the trend we have been seeing lately. Not only are the turkey numbers down in Ohio, but it sounds like the problem is consistent across much of the U.S. I saw one older tom and called in one jake on the opening day. In normal years, the jakes would be numerous enough to run in packs, and if you called one in, you would call in several.

There is a lot of discussion of what is causing the decline in turkey numbers. I have heard it blamed on coyotes, several back to back cold springs, and even avian flu. My unscientific guess is a combination of those things but the biggest culprit in my mind is the explosion of the raccoon population which are notorious nest raiders.

I can’t take a walk in the woods any more without seeing several raccoons every time I adventure out. Just on my walk in the dark on the opening day of turkey season to where I was going to set up, I counted nine raccoons that I ran into and saw two more feeding in the field feeding after the sun rose. There just aren’t many natural predators for an adult raccoon except for humans and we aren’t hunting and trapping them any more like we used to. With fur prices so low that it really isn’t worth hunting or trapping them any more, the population has exploded.

The trickle down effect is ground nesting birds like turkeys and waterfowl are taking a beating trying to maintain their population. Something definitely needs to be done to try and curb the raccoon population and I am hoping the Division of Wildlife starts having serious discussions about what can be done.

The Division of Wildlife has issued 38,971 wild turkey permits that are valid throughout the spring hunting season. In addition to the opening weekend results, youth hunters harvested 1,103 wild turkeys during Ohio’s youth season on April 9-10.

Wild turkey hunting in Ohio’s south zone is open until Sunday, May 22. Hunting in the northeast zone, comprised of Ashtabula, Cuyahoga, Geauga, Lake, and Trumbull counties in Ohio’s snow belt, is open from Saturday, April 30 to Sunday, May 29. Find additional information in the current hunting regulations.

The spring hunting season limit is one bearded wild turkey. A turkey is required to be checked no later than 11:30 p.m. the day of harvest using the HuntFish OH mobile app, the automated game-check system, by phone at 877-TAG-IT-OH (877-824-4864), or at a participating license agent.

The free HuntFish OH mobile app provides convenient resources while out in the field. HuntFish OH is available for Android and iOS users through the app store. Wild turkey hunters can use the app to check a harvest, even without a connection. When a hunter checks game without a clear signal, information is recorded and stored until moving to a location with better reception. Users can also purchase licenses and permits and view wildlife area maps through the app.

Anyone interested in learning to hunt or becoming a mentor to a new hunter can visit the Wild Ohio Harvest Community page for information on how to get started, hunting-related workshops, as well as special hunting opportunities for mentors and new hunters.

Wild turkeys were extirpated in Ohio by 1904 and were reintroduced in the 1950s by the Division of Wildlife. Ohio’s first modern-day turkey season opened in 1966 in nine counties, and hunters checked 12 birds. The turkey harvest topped 1,000 for the first time in 1984. Spring turkey hunting opened statewide in 2000, and Ohio hunters checked more than 20,000 turkeys for the first time that year. More information about previous turkey seasons can be found in the Spring Turkey Harvest Summary.

Until next time, Good Hunting and Good Fishing!

Water and Wings by Ken Parrott

Ken Parrott is an Agricultural Science teacher with Northmor High School.

Ken Parrott is an Agricultural Science teacher with Northmor High School.