Former Noble County Councilman Mike Toles poses with a turkey he shot this spring in Noble County. Indiana recorded a record turkey harvest in 2020 with 14,490 birds taken statewide. Photo provided
Former Noble County Councilman Mike Toles poses with a turkey he shot this spring in Noble County. Indiana recorded a record turkey harvest in 2020 with 14,490 birds taken statewide. Photo provided
Turkey hunters gobbled up a record number of turkeys in 2020 — with three northeastern Indiana counties among the state’s top 13 producers.

Indiana hunters harvested a record 14,490 turkeys in the 2020 season which concluded May 10. That broke the state mark of 13,742 which was set in 2010, according to DNR wildlife biologist Steve Backs.

Northeastern Indiana certainly did its part in contributing to that record year, with three counties ranking in the top 13 for number of turkeys harvested.

Greene County led the state with 402 turkeys harvested, according to the DNR. Dearborn County was close behind at 396.

In northeastern Indiana, Steuben County ranked sixth with 345 birds harvested, down slightly from its prior four-year average of 347 turkeys taken. In the last four years, the highest number was 262 turkeys bagged in Steuben County in 2016. In 2019, Steuben hunters claimed 330 birds.

Noble County came in a eighth with 336, up more than 22% from its four-year average of 275, and a good jump from 2017 when its previous four-year high of 317 birds.

DeKalb County ranked 13th with 295 turkeys taken, or 9.2% above its most recent average.

LaGrange County saw a 10.1% drop off from its prior four-year average with 226 birds. Whitley County hunters bagged 114 turkeys, well above its four-year average of 97.

Backs said COVID-19 may have played a big factor in the state’s record-setting year.

Backs said there were a lot of Hoosiers who had increased hunting time available because they were not working due to the pandemic. More youngsters were hunting because schools were not in session.

“We saw a big upsurge in license sales this spring,” Backs said. “They saw the same thing in other states.”

Another factor which played into the high yield in 2020 was the weather, Backs said.

The cool temperatures kept the bugs to a minimum, so the pesky critters were not driving hunters out of the woods.

“We had good weather,” Backs said.

Backs said LaGrange County’s 10.1% dip shouldn’t be too concerning.

“We see periodic fluctuations in counties like this,” Backs said.

Turkey program history

The state began its turkey population restoration program in 1956, according to Backs. The restoration efforts ended in 2004.

The process began with collecting wild, trapped birds each year in the months of January and February and transplanting them to other areas of the state.

The Indiana Department of Natural Resources opened a turkey season for hunters in 1970.

In the last five years, the state totals have ranged from a low of 11,306 turkeys harvest in 2018 to 2020’s record-breaking total.

In the four years prior, the state had seen an average of 12,116 turkeys taken.

“It has been a success story,” Backs said of the reintroduction of wild turkeys into the Indiana ecology.

Backs said a big question would be what effect the 2020 hunting season numbers would have on the program, but he didn’t seem too concerned.

Most of the birds taken during a typical turkey season are 2-year-old males, Backs said, so next year’s success will be dependent on — among other factors — the crop of this year’s 1-year-old birds.

Backs said a problem with having a record-setting year is that hunters begin to expect those kinds of totals year-in and year-out, and that just doesn’t happen.

The biggest impact on the bird population, according to Backs, is the survival rate of newborn turkeys.

The average turkey has a brood of 12 young, and for a healthy population to continue, experts like to see, on average, 2 1/2 of those young turkeys survive to maturity.

A bumper year would see a 50% mortality rate, according to Backs.

The weather plays a big factor in the survival rate of young turkeys. A single, extended heavy rain which occurs from Memorial Day until July 4, could lead to a mortality rate of 80% of young turkeys, he said.

Once the turkeys reach maturity, they are fairly resistant to cold temperatures. A problem can arise when there is a snow pack of 8-10 inches for an extended period of time, limiting turkeys’ access to food, but that hasn’t been an issue in Indiana in recent winters.

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