Indiana’s 45th annual statewide spring turkey hunting began last Wednesday, April 23, and DNR wildlife research biologist Steve Backs is expecting harvest results similar to last year.
Hunters may kill one male or bearded turkey in the spring season, which runs through May 11. A two-day youth season this past weekend gave young hunters a chance to bag a bird before the regular season opened.
In 2013, hunters harvested 11,374 birds in 89 of Indiana’s 92 counties. Harrison County led the way with 512 birds.
“I expect hunters to take 11,000 turkeys, plus or minus a thousand,” Backs said.
Indiana instituted turkey hunting in 1970. In 2010, a record 13,742 birds were taken.
Backs said harvest numbers are trending slightly downward in recent seasons, because the turkey population in Indiana and the entire eastern United States is stabilizing. Turkey populations have grown steadily over the last 50 years after states reintroduced the birds to areas where they had been eliminated by loss of habitat and unregulated subsistence hunting.
“We’re still going to have a good turkey season, but after a few decades of ever increasing harvests, our turkey population growth is stabilizing with a lower level of annual production, something seen in many other states,” Backs said.
Wild turkeys were eliminated from Indiana by the early 1900s. A reintroduction program from 1956 to 2004 released almost 3,000 wild-trapped birds throughout the state. Today, roughly 60,000 hunters pursue turkeys in Indiana.
Now natural disease and predators are catching up with the restored turkey populations, Backs said. Turkey eggs and poults are vulnerable to predators ranging from blue jays to coyotes.
“Predators eventually learn there’s something new on the menu,” Backs said.
Weather could also play a role in harvest numbers. The especially frigid winter may have killed more turkeys than normal. And, the slow start to spring will mean there is less vegetation in the woods than normal, making it easier for turkeys to see an approaching hunter.