The spring hunting seasons for wild turkeys will open in Ohio and Michigan next week, supplying further evidence of one of the most successful restoration efforts in North America.
Before settlement and agriculture were prevalent in this region, wild turkeys inhabited the forests of Ohio and Michigan and were a common food source for the Native Americans living here. As a result of habitat loss from overhunting and when much forest land was being converted to crop production, wild turkeys essentially had disappeared from both Ohio and Michigan by about 1900.
In 1954, wildlife biologists in Michigan released wild turkeys that had been trapped in Pennsylvania into the Allegan State Game Area, northwest of Kalamazoo. By about 10 years later, Michigan’s wild turkey population had reached an estimated 2,000 birds, and in 1965 Allegan County hosted the state’s first fall turkey-hunting season.
Additional turkeys were brought in from Missouri and Iowa, and soon a spring hunting season was added in a few Michigan counties. About 30 years ago, the Michigan wild turkey population had reached a point where biologists could capture birds and move them to other areas throughout the state.
By the year 2000, about 100 years after they had been wiped out in the state, the wild turkey was considered re-established throughout Michigan. The population is estimated to be more than 200,000 today.
In Ohio, Division of Wildlife biologists obtained wild turkeys from West Virginia, Missouri, and Kentucky and reintroduced them in the Buckeye State in 1956, in state forest lands in Vinton County.
Additional releases followed in other areas, and a limited spring hunting season took place in Ohio in 1966. Working in conjunction with volunteers from the National Wild Turkey Federation, wildlife biologists have trapped and transplanted wild turkeys throughout Ohio, and the bird is now found in all 88 counties.
If the state were halved diagonally, from Conneaut to Cincinnati, the eastern parcel would hold the most turkey habitat and population, with the heavily forested counties in eastern Ohio being home to the highest densities. Most northwest Ohio counties have smaller and more widely dispersed populations of wild turkeys.
Overall, Ohio has an estimated 200,000 wild turkeys, and a strong 2012 hatch is expected to offset what was a weaker hatch in 2011. Hunters harvested 17,657 wild turkeys during the 2012 youth hunt and spring turkey seasons.
“Ohio has a good population of wild turkeys and offers some great opportunities for a spring hunt,” said James Zehringer, director of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources. “The wild turkey is a true conservation success story ... and we hope to continue to build on our turkey hunting tradition.”
The wild turkey is the largest upland game bird in Ohio and Michigan, with a mature adult male turkey, known as a gobbler, weighing up to 22 pounds and standing more than 3 feet tall. Females, or hens, are slightly smaller.
The feeding habits of the wild turkey are varied, with nuts, berries, leaves, and other vegetation, and insects making up the majority of their diet. A group of turkeys is not a flock or a gaggle but is called a rafter.
Ohio holds a special youth wild-turkey hunting season on Saturday and Sunday, with the statewide spring-season opener on Monday. The Division of Wildlife expects about 70,000 hunters to take part in the wild turkey spring season, which ends on May 19.
A change in the tagging procedure for this year will require hunters to make their own game tag and include their name, date, time, and the county where the bird was harvested and attach the tag to the bird.
The “Turkey Hunting Resources” page at wildohio.com contains detailed information on the changes to the game-check procedure. Hunters are also reminded to report a turkey harvest via the automated game-check system, which allows them to use wildohio.com or ohiogamecheck.com or call 1-877-824-4864. They also can make a report through any licensing agent. Hunters are required to check harvested turkeys by 11:30 p.m. the day of harvest.
WILD GAME DINNER: The DeMars Point Hunting & Fishing club will host a game feed on May 16 at the clubhouse located at 5376 State Route 53, between Fremont and Port Clinton. The all-you-can-eat event is open to the public and will feature perch, duck, venison, and more. There will also be raffles, games, and prize giveaways. Tickets are $20 and available from Rick Nemecek at 127 W. Perry St. in Port Clinton or by calling 419-732-3624.
Contact Blade outdoors editor Matt Markey at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6068 .