Illinois Department of Natural Resources
February 2022
February 1, 2022
Photo by Tyler Donaghy.

Spring 2022 Turkey Hunting Preview

By Luke Garver

While it may be hard to imagine looking out your window now, spring is right around the corner. That means it’s almost time to match wits with Illinois longbeards. It can be difficult to predict, with any certainty, how the spring wild turkey season will go. That has especially been true the last two seasons.

A tan, brown, and black wild turkey cautiously walks through a green grassy area.
Photo by Matte Poole, USFWS.

In 2020, following a dramatic drop in reproductive success according to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources’ 2019 brood survey, we expected a slight dip in the harvest total. However, as most of us are aware, the pandemic resulted in a great number of hunters taking to the field, and spending more days afield, as social gatherings were nearly all cancelled. It should also be mentioned that 2018, unlike 2019, was a good year for reproduction so there were many two-year-old birds on the landscape in 2020. It appears that a combination of high reproductive success in 2018 and higher-than-normal hunters afield were the main causes for Illinois’ highest spring wild turkey harvest since 2012.

As reproductive success saw a slight uptick during the summer of 2020, it was easy to assume we might see a high harvest total once again. This was not the case, however, and Illinois turkey hunters reported a lower harvest total than the previous three years. We saw a higher-than-normal number of hunters applying in the early lottery period for the 2021 season. It is quite possible that many hunters purchased permits in the early lottery periods and by the time the seasons rolled around social calendars filled up and hunters had less time to spend afield. Lower hunter effort was a speculative cause for lower harvest totals in many other states as well.

A graphic indicating how to learn more information regarding turkey hunting 2022 season dates, harvest reporting details, and regulations. A photo of a brown and black wild turkey moments after a gobble is at the top of the graphic, and text is below the photo.
Photo by Gary Kramer, USFWS.

Looking ahead to the spring 2022 season there are reasons to be optimistic. Illinois saw the wild turkey reproductive success increase for the second year in a row. There appears to have been a particularly noticeable boost in eastern Illinois where the recent periodical cicada hatch was most pronounced. This may result in higher numbers of both jakes and two-year-old toms compared to previous years. 

Fingers are crossed that we start to see some assemblage of “normal” in our social lives this spring and everyone can get back to their typical hunting routine. The big wild card is, and always will be weather, of course, especially during the Youth Season (March 26-27 and April 2-3, 2022) and those early season segments. These two seasons really set the tone for harvest for the rest of the season. 

All known variables point towards a good season in 2022 and it’s reasonable to assume harvest totals will fall somewhere between the 2020 and 2021 totals.

Luke Garver is the Wild Turkey Project Manager with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, Division of Wildlife Resources.