Ohio Turkey Harvesting Numbers Continue Downward Despite Hunting Spikes

by Jon D. B.

In a year of record hunting numbers and harvests, Ohio wildlife officials are stunned to find their fall turkey numbers remain low.

After 2020, the mass resurgence of hunting is set to outlive the first social distancing age. Huge gun sales to new hunters backs this claim. So why, then, is Ohio continually seeing downward trends in their turkey harvests?

The final numbers for the state’s 2020 fall turkey harvest sits at 1,063, which is lower (again) than in recent years. And if gun manufacturer American Outdoor Brands Inc.’s numbers are to go by, America is in for 1 million+ new hunters.

In 2020, as social distancing quickly became the norm, hunting license sales saw an enormous boost alongside gun purchases. Where, then, are all the turkey hunters?

Less Turkeys: Less Harvests

Ohio Division of Wildlife’s biologist Mark Wiley spearheads the state’s turkey management. According to his studies, Wiley says the past few years have seen lower numbers of turkey chick survival. In essence: less turkeys in the wild means less turkeys harvested by hunters.

Poult (chick) survival is impacted in many ways, “but mostly by cool and/or wet springs,” the Sandusky Register explains through Wiley’s research. “Young poults have an especially difficult time with thermo-regulation and the spring of 2020 was exceptionally cool statewide.”

“Also, since many of the nests are located along wooded stream banks (riparian corridors), rainfall events that are heavy enough to cause flooding can wash away nests and/or drown poults,” the Register continues. “Spring surveys placed the number of poults per hen (PPH) at 2.2 this year, down from the 10-year average of 2.5. There seems to have been something suppressing their recruitment in the years that the weather is not a factor.”

In addition, local authorities suspect coyotes, bobcats, and other turkey predators are responsible for lower turkey populations. Decreases in turkey populations within recent years have been accompanied by an increase in predator sightings – which typically means healthier, albeit braver, populations.

Wiley clarifies, however, that such predators have not been “formally implicated nor exonerated at this time.” Moreover, it is actually the onset of “nest robber” populations that more frequently impact turkey poults. Raccoons, skunks, opossums, foxes, and rat snakes will empty turkey nests completely. And none of this accounts for the great amount of raptors North America hosts. Turkey chicks are easy targets for birds of prey, and larger hawks, eagles, and owls will take down adults, too.

Time to Repopulate for Turkey Hunting?

All of this points Wiley, and Ohio state colleagues, to considering re-stocking wild turkeys. Oft-hunted portions of the state saw a large re-introduction of wild turkeys in 2004. There isn’t enough conclusive data on the success of this re-stock to warrant immediate action, however.

Instead, Wiley is hopeful that their other programs will boost poult survival numbers. These programs, such as aiding the bottom-side of the food chain on which turkeys themselves feed, are currently underway.

In turn, balance would return. And as a result, state turkey hunting harvests would be on the rise once more, as well.

[H/T Sandusky Register]