Chris Young: As deer hunting drops, turkey hunting rises
Even in tough times, turkey hunting keeps growing in popularity.
When the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service crunched the numbers from its last study on participation in hunting, fishing and outdoors recreation in 2006, it found overall hunter numbers had declined from 14 million in 1991 to 12.5 million in 2006.
But within those numbers, there was this news: Participation in wild turkey hunting rose.
“I think there are positives that can be taken away from (the survey),” says Kent Adams, a regional biologist with the National Wild Turkey Federation based in Effingham, Ill. “The picture is sometimes painted more bleakly than it really is. There are more women hunters today, for example.”
And the most recent numbers suggest the start of a recovery. The Fish and Wildlife Service says the number of paid hunting license holders in 2009 rose to 14.9 million.
Those numbers brought a collective sigh of relief from hunters concerned about the future of their sport.
Bill Privette, a turkey hunter and author from Jacksonville, N.C., says the proliferation of outdoors programming on cable television deserves some of the credit.
“You’ve got 24 hours of hunting and fishing — and primarily deer and turkey hunting,” he says. “That probably has more to do with it than anything.”
Privette is the author of three humor books on turkey hunting, and a fourth is underway. Many of the tales are drawn from his experiences hunting in central Illinois during the decade he served at Christ Episcopal Church in Springfield, Ill., starting in 1992.
Adams says the turkey hunting resurgence owes it to restoration efforts of the past 50 years.
“Here it is fairly new,” he says. “Every spring and fall season, I always find someone new to take, and it’s not just kids.”
Deer hunters may see flocks of turkeys from their deer stands and decide to give the sport a try. Privette says he believes most turkey hunters are deer hunters first.
“It used to be that you deer hunted in the fall and winter and you got out the bass boat and went bass fishing in the springtime,” he says. “And I think, more and more, deer hunters are turkey hunting a little bit in the spring before they fish.”
Turkey hunting requires stealth and knowledge of the quarry’s habitats — same as when deer hunting, Privette says. And turkeys have become more numerous in the last half-century.
“Hunters tend to forget the bad old days weren’t that long ago,” Adams says. “The recovery of the wild turkey has been just phenomenal. We’re at a point in history that the wild turkey restoration is complete.
“There is only 2 to 3 percent of available habitat in North America that doesn’t hold turkeys. If they can be there, they are already there.”
Beyond the numbers are turkey hunters who are simply crazy about their sport.
“The turkey wins 90 percent of the time, so why would you keep going?” Privette asks. “It’s a passion, and I never get tired of it. It’s always changing and never boring.”
Privette says he is a die-hard breed of turkey hunter who pursues the birds in spring and fall.
“We’re just addicted, I guess,” he says. “Plus, my buddies will tell you there’s something wrong with us. We’re a little off balance.”
Adams says turkey hunting is becoming more accessible to those who have never tried the sport.
“Turkey hunting has always had a mystery about it,” Adams says. “I think there used to be some feeling of intimidation, but there is a lot more information available today. There are books and DVDs where you can get the basics in an hour.”
And because there are enough turkeys to go around, successful hunters don’t feel like they have to keep all the good spots a secret.
“There definitely is more willingness to share,” he says.
Privette says he has been out scouting, trying to find some birds to pursue with his 8-year-old grandson at the upcoming youth hunt.
“I’m seeing a lot of turkeys, and they are gobbling,” he says. “It’s my favorite time of the year.”
Chris Young can be reached at 217-788-1528.
Wild turkey subspecies:
1. Eastern: Eastern United States, including Illinois
2. Osceola: Florida
3. Merriam’s: Mountain states
4. Rio Grande: South-central United States, including Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas
5. Gould’s: Along the Arizona and New Mexico border with Mexico
-- Source: National Wild Turkey Federation