Turkey season still on

There are people who cook turkeys only for a special occasion, like Thanksgiving, but Jeremy Steinkamp is not one of them.

Nor does the Brownstown hunter limit himself to the grocery-store selection or cost per pound. This time of year, his shopping center is the woods.

“Turkey hunting is my biggest passion,” Steinkamp said.

At 44, Steinkamp has hunted for turkeys for about half of his life. There is only a one-bird limit for spring turkey hunting, and while it is a mixed metaphor, Steinkamp said he has only been skunked one year.

The Indiana Department of Natural Resources Division of Fish and Wildlife annual youth turkey hunt is scheduled for Saturday and Sunday for those 17 and under and accompanied by an adult. The main spring season is April 22 through May 10.

Wild turkeys are available for harvest through shotgun, bow and arrow or crossbow, bearded hens or males, anywhere in the state.

“I never have had to leave Jackson County,” Steinkamp said.

Steinkamp’s plan is to accompany sons Jayden, 17, and Jaycob, 14, on their youth hunts first, perhaps helping them call, and then going out after his own bird.

“They love it,” Steinkamp said of his sons.

Last spring — Indiana’s 50th spring harvest — turkeys were harvested in 91 of 92 counties, and the total take was 12,014, up from 11,306 in 2018. The harvest increased in 61 counties, dropped in 21 and 10 counties saw no change.

“We were kind of happy about that,” said Steven Backs, a department wild turkey and ruffed grouse research biologist.

Overall, in recent years, the take has leveled off and reproduction has dropped, especially in the southeastern part of the state, he said.

Due to the cornonavirus pandemic, the department is not sure what participation will be like this season. Between the illness, stay-at-home governmental directives and social distancing, it is murky how many people will venture out to hunt.

Predicting what will occur is a reach, Backs said.

“I guess I’d have to default that nothing is normal this year,” he said. “It could be a big jump (in active hunters) because nobody is going to work or that nobody is going out.”

This year, the Indiana DNR is introducing an interactive website at in.gov/dnr/fishwild/10340.htm, giving hunters access to the harvest information as it is acquired by the state.

This spring, because of the pandemic, it is unlikely out-of-state hunters will turn out in force, Backs said. Some are such dedicated turkey stalkers they pool together all of their vacation for the year and spend a month in the field. Those people make plans well ahead of time.

“We still get guys who just want to get away from home,” Backs said, “but the message this year is stay at home.”

The harvest will probably be “plus or minus” of 11,000, he said.

“If it’s better, aren’t we lucky,” he said.

The 1970 wild turkey hunt is regarded as the first “modern spring hunting season,” a 2015 report that was written by Backs said as part of a history of turkeys in Indiana.

In the early days of American settlement and the United States, turkeys proliferated in forests in the eastern portion of the country. As woods were cleared in favor of city growth, the turkey gradually disappeared as a common bird in many states. By 1900, wild turkeys had been wiped out in Indiana and elsewhere.

Indiana initiated an effort to repopulate the state with wild turkeys in 1956. The birds were trapped in other states and loosed in forests in southern Indiana. Between 1956 and 1979, turkeys were released at 17 locations. As the number of turkeys grew, more counties were opened for spring hunting.

There have been 185 releases across the state, Backs said.

The number of birds increased, and the landscape acquired thousands of turkeys through transplants and reproduction.

Whether it is for turkey hunting or another wilderness pursuit, Backs said the policies that have confined Americans to their homes during the COVID-19 national health emergency might produce a different long-term result.

“I hope there is a newfound appreciation for the outdoors,” he said.

Steinkamp already has that outlook in his DNA. Between his own efforts and his sons’, he is counting on several meals from their kills. His mouth watering, he has dusted off his collection of recipes and been sharpening his gobble calling so the keen-eyed and wary turkeys don’t elude him.

The enthusiasm for the new season was obvious in Steinkamp’s voice.

“I like talking turkey,” he said.

He could not help working that phrase into the conversation.

And eating it, he could have added.