Illinois Eastern Turkey Hunt: The Place To Go For Trophy Birds
Eastern turkeys are large birds, and they are especially common in Illinois, making it the ideal destination for Eastern turkey hunters, guides, and outfitters. Illinois also serves as an excellent springboard for beginning hunters.
The average adult male Eastern turkey, known as a gobbler or tom, stands 3 to 3.5 feet tall and weighs 18 to 24 pounds. Female Eastern turkeys (hens) are smaller, typically 2.5 to 3 feet tall and weigh 8 to 12 pounds. Both sexes have dark, iridescent feathers that display shades of red, purple, blue, and green. However, hens have an overall lighter appearance because their breast feathers are tipped with brown, while those of a tom are tipped with black.
Besides being larger and darker, toms can generally be distinguished from hens by their leg spurs, beards, wattles, caruncles (wart-like growths on the neck), and snood (fleshy appendage above the beak). During the Illinois spring, the wattles and caruncles of a tom may be bright red, white, or blue. While Eastern turkey hens have wattles, caruncles, and a snood, but they are not as large or well developed as those of an Eastern turkey tom.
Eastern turkeys inhabit the deciduous, mixed, upland and riparian woodlands of Illinois, which hunters not only find pleasant and varied, but also an excellent challenge for snagging a trophy Eastern turkey. Grasslands and woodland-grassland edges – like many of those also found in Illinois – are very important for nesting and brood rearing, and as such, are less appropriate for hunting.
Eastern turkeys were eliminated by human activities from Illinois by 1910. Between 1959 and 1967, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources obtained wild-trapped turkeys from Mississippi, Arkansas, and West Virginia. These Eastern turkeys were released in small groups at in southern Illinois. The reintroduced Eastern turkeys successfully established breeding populations, producing enough offspring that a trap-and-transfer program could be established. Between 1970 and 2000, Illinois biologists relocated over 4,700 turkeys to 99 counties. Today, the Eastern turkey is a resident in every county in Illinois. The largest populations of Eastern turkeys occur in the southern, western, and northwestern counties, totaling approximately 150,000 Eastern turkeys in Illinois.
The Illinois Spring Turkey season set a new record. Hunters harvested a statewide total of 16,140 Eastern turkeys this spring, topping the previous record of 15,563, set in 2004. The first modern turkey season in Illinois, in 1970, had a total harvest of 25 Eastern turkeys. Top counties for Eastern turkey hunting were Pike (708), Jo Daviess (564), Adams (560), Macoupin (468) and Fulton (444).