By Tom Cross –
Do you want the good news or the bad news first?
The good news is that Adams County’s turkey population seems to be rebounding after a couple of lean years. This past turkey season which was open from April 24 through May 21 resulted in 503 turkeys being bagged by Adams County hunters, which is up over 16 percent from the 2016 harvest of 432 gobblers.
Cooperative weather for the most part probably played a role in getting turkey hunters afield. Statewide the numbers were up as well with 21,015 turkeys bagged across Ohio, that’s up 18 percent from last season when hunters took only 17,793 gobblers. Local numbers were up as well. Brown County hunters bagged 425 gobblers for a 22 percent jump from last season. Clermont County turkey hunters took 418 birds, up slightly from 2016. Highland County had 456 gobblers tagged for an 18 percent increase from last year. Scioto County turkey hunters harvested 299, that is up from last year’s 270 turkeys. Pike County hunters took an even 300 gobblers this spring and that too is up from last year’s harvest.
After disappearing from the Ohio landscape for nearly 50 years, turkeys were introduced back into Ohio during the mid-1950’s. Ohio’s first modern day turkey season was in 1966 in nine counties, including Adams County. That first season 12 gobblers were check in.
I bagged a nice tom the last week on season that had an 11-inch beard, 1-inch spurs and weighed 18 pounds. He was with another big tom in the middle of an open hay field strutting and gobbling. I crawled on my hands and knees to a big autumn olive at the edge of the field which I stood in the middle of and called sparingly. Slowly the big toms made their way to me, three steps and a gobble. The tallest bird, who would stretch his neck out looking for a hen or any sign of trouble was about two inches taller than his buddy. When he walked with his head down, his beard would touch the ground. At about 40 yards the ol’ tom stretched out his neck again, surveying his surroundings, when I let go with a blast from my side-by-side and down he went. His partner, not quite sure what had just happened, ran around confused before taking flight across the field and into the safety of the woods. I was so far back in the sticks my uncle Ronnie drove his truck around to the nearest road to pick me up. The old gobble has been dressed, frozen and is awaiting Thanksgiving when all the family will be able to enjoy this delicious feast from the forest.
Now the bad news is that hunting and fishing license on Ohio residents could be going up in price. Currently Ohio resident fishing and hunting licenses cost $19. Deer and turkey tags are $24 each. Ohio Senators Kevin Bacon and Matt Dolan have introduced a budget amendment regarding a license fee increase. Under Bacon and Dolan’s amendment, Ohio residents would see a $5 increase in both deer and turkey permits to $29, and a $5 increase in resident fishing license to $24. No increase was proposed for hunting licenses. For non-residents, a $50 increase in non-resident annual hunting license to $175, a newly established non-resident deer permit would cost $75 (total cost for a non-resident deer hunter to take one deer $250) and a $10 increase in annual non-resident fishing license to $50. Only five licenses are proposed to increase and a new non-resident deer hunting permit would be established. The last license increase was 14 years ago.
A lot of controversy has been brewing in Columbus concerning the increased license fees to resident hunters and fishermen. Ohio Department of Natural Resource (ODNR) Director James Zehringer has gone on record with a letter opposing any increase to Ohio residents, saying “Raising fees on Ohioans should be the last option not the first. At ODNR we remain committed to finding more effective and efficient ways to manage the state’s resources. We need to make tough choices to keep costs down and responsibly manage the funds Ohioans have entrusted to us.” Zehringer goes on to address the shrinking number of hunters and fisherpersons, “Participation is critical to ensuring Ohio’s hunting, fishing, and trapping heritage lives on, and it forms the foundation for the economic benefits that result.
Continued decline in the number of Ohioans participating in these traditional activities risks a generation growing up without them. The related economic impact (equipment, supplies, lodging, fuel, food, etc.) will also decline. The challenge facing Ohio’s sportsmen and women is not just dollars and cents, but the shrinking number of their fellow citizens who hunt, fish and trap. Increasing the cost to participate is not the solution at this time. Instead, we must work together to find innovative ways to grow the sport and pass on our love of hunting, fishing, and trapping to the next generation.”
Needless to say Zehringer’s letter has met with a wall of criticism from a small army of supporters who feel the time is right to increase the cost of hunting and fishing license. This includes a number of outdoor writers, National Wild Turkey Federation, the Ohio Wildlife Counsel, The Ohio Legislative Fund and others are lining up behind the Division of Wildlife (DOW), setting up what seems to be a showdown between DOW and DNR. Some in the outdoor press have even gone as far as calling for Zehringer’s resignation.
In an open letter to Governor Kasich from Brian Koch, editor of “Ultimate Upland”, he calls for an increase of $7 for a resident hunting license, tie all license fees to inflation, a mandatory habitat stamp of $10 for anyone accessing public hunting or fishing land, and calls for the Division of Wildlife to be a cabinet level position.
I spoke with State Senator Frank LaRose about the cabinet level position for DOW and he said “No way was that going to happen.”
One small measure of unity has surfaced between DNR, DOW and the Ohio Senate, and that is they feel the pressure to increase non-resident license fees. At what cost the final bill for non-residents hunting and fishing license has yet to be determined. The final bill for Ohio residents to hunt and fish is still being fought over. Please let your state senator know how you feel about this.