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Illinois outdoors: Turkey season underway, a young story

Stories cone with turkeys as naturally as gobbles reverberate and tails fan.

Take Curt Pazdro, who set up this turkey tale from near Springfield during the youth season on April 3.

Spring turkey hunting is underway in Illinois. The first regular season in the south zone opened last Monday; the first season in the north opens Monday. Each zone has five regular seasons, which run through May. Hunters may hunt until 1 p.m., something birders and morel hunters should note.

The youth turkey seasons came on the last weekend in March (south) and the first weekend in April (north). Harvest during both youth seasons was up from last spring.

“A cluster of jakes and one tom approached the decoy, but immediately sensed something was wrong,’’ texted Pazdro, who was hunting with his son Wyatt, 13, of Channahon. “We couldn’t get a clear shot at the tom. The four jakes re-approached with the tom but were too tight together.’’

Toms are mature male turkeys, jakes are young male turkeys.

“After a short while, one of the jakes stepped out and Wyatt got a clear sight of the tom and took his shot,’’ Pazdro said. “Success! It was the perfect end to a special day.’’

Wyatt bagged his 17-pound tom.

Turkey hunting in Illinois is both something miraculous and something that appears to have peaked.

When turkey reintroduction was started in Illinois, it was thought turkeys were strictly woodland birds. Instead, they took hold in all 102 counties over the next half century. Spring hunting is allowed in 100 counties. It is doubtful that spring turkey hunting will ever open in Cook or DuPage counties.

When I started doing the outdoors for the Sun-Times, turkey harvest was on an increase each year. But then it began to plateau. Overall harvest (spring and fall) peaked in 2006 at at 18,054; spring season harvest peaked in 2010 at 15,836.

There are some signs that the population is leveling off or even declining slightly The poults/hen index in 2006 was at 2.77; in 2015, it was very low at 1.70.

Though harvest spiked a little last spring (14,103), which was up 4.4% compared to that of the 2014 season (13,513).

Weather significantly impacts both hunters and turkeys during the spring season and the early part of turkey hunting in Illinois has started cold, wet and windy. It will be curious whether the spike in harvest during the youth seasons will be matched by a spike during the regular seasons.

But the experiences and resulting stories will keep building.

Pazdro summed up the overall experience of turkey hunting.

“That morning at first light we heard gobbles and my son Wyatt and I looked at each other knowing we were going to have a good day,’’ he emailed. “ `I love you Dad,’ he said to me, and that was the greatest feeling ever.’’

NOTE: As of Thursday, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources was having some trouble with hunters registering harvest online. If the system prompt asks for more information, the hunter should give it. Hunters may also register by phone at (866) 452-4325.