Indiana has great turkey hunting— if you know where to go.
In much of Indiana, turkeys are harder to find then hen’s teeth, pun intended. In other areas, it’s hard to keep track of all the gobbling as dawn breaks.
Turkeys are adaptable and generally like the same foods and gravitate towards the same habitat as deer. In fact, it’s not uncommon to see turkey while deer hunting or deer while turkey hunting. Some of the best turkey, and deer areas are located where there’s a blend of mature mast-producing hardwoods, lush green pastures rich with insects, early successional forest, and agriculture.
While turkeys are adaptive, they are also a creature of habit, so once a flock finds an area they like, they usually stay in the territory generation after generation. Unless something catastrophic occurs, such as a new housing addition or strip mall moves in, the same places that have been great for turkey hunting year after year, will be a hotspot again this year.
While much of Indiana has the potential to have good turkey populations, some areas do not provide enough year-round food or cover to hold turkeys. An example would be the open farm country of central Indiana. Once the crops are harvested, you’ll find more turkeys at the local butcher than in the small woodlots that remain.
On the other hand, the almost impenetrable hilly sections of southern Indiana provide everything required for a healthy turkey population, including solitude during breading season.
The question is how to find the good areas.
The answer; make a database of the yearly harvest broken down by county. Divide that by the amount of square miles in each county, and compare each county against the overall state average. The goal is to find in which counties the turkey hunting is better than average, or much better than average.
In the spring 2016 turkey season, 12,081 turkeys were checked in. Divide that by the number of square miles in the state of Indiana and the answer is a state-wide average of .34 turkeys harvested per square mile (PSM). Using the average PSM factor, search and find the top ten counties to hunt. The higher the PSM rating, the better your odds are of bagging a gobbler.
10. Harrison County – With a PSM of .75 it is no mystery why Harrison County has great turkey hunting. Large tracts of unbroken forest and tendrils of crop lands make great forage and cover for growing turkeys.
9. Scott County – The wooded ravines that dominate large areas make Scott County a great turkey breading ground with a PSM of .78.
8. Orange County – Steep hillsides and a heavy lacework of forest dominate Orange County. The majority of the county is mature forest and much of it has public hunting opportunities in the Hoosier National Forest. Orange County has a PSM of .79.
7. Starke County – Situated not far from the urban sprawl of Lake and Porter Counties, Starke County has lots of large wooded tracts and bottomlands that support nice turkey populations. It has a PSM of .80.
6. Jefferson County – Dominated by the rugged Ohio River drainage, Jefferson County has a PSM of .90. The southern end of Big Oaks National Wildlife Refuge plunges into the center of the county.
5. Crawford County – Like Orange County to the north, Crawford County is heavily dominated by steep forested valleys with a patchwork of agricultural areas. This adds up to great turkey habitat and is why they have a PSM of .93.
4. Dearborn County – With a PSM of 1.08, Dearborn County turkey hunters triple the state average. It’s not hard to see why. With rich farm fields and pastures divided with deep ravines, filled with mature mast producing trees, the turkeys don’t have far to go to fill their craw or escape hunting pressure.
3. Ohio County – At a PSM of 1.16 Ohio County is a small but powerhouse turkey producer. Like its neighbors, Dearborn and Switzerland Counties, it is one of the top turkey hunter destinations of the state.
2. Steuben County – Part of Indiana’s northeastern lake country, Steuben County has a great patchwork of woods, bottoms, lowlands, farm fields, and pastures. It’s good for big deer, and great for turkey with a PSM of 1.17.
1. Switzerland County – The state’s hotspot for deer is also the top producer of wild turkeys. The wooded breaks that drain into the Ohio River are rugged and keep many hunters near the roads and out of the deep woods. With such ideal conditions combined with a natural refuge situation, Switzerland County quadruples the state average with a PSM of 1.40! Splinter Ridge Fish and Wildlife Area straddles the Switzerland/Jefferson County line is very popular with turkey hunters.
Hoosiers harvested turkeys in 89 of the 92 counties in spring of 2016, so if you’re not near the counties we outlined, look around in your area. The best turkey habitat is a patchwork of fields, grasslands, and varying-age forest. In Indiana, this is most often found in hilly areas and along rivers. Use a program like Google Earth to find those places.
Scouting is a year-round task. If an area looks prime, drive around and watch for flocks of turkeys feeding in harvested fields or “bugging” in pastures. Ask mail carriers, farmers, and Indiana Conservation Officers where they see turkeys. Just keep in mind that turkeys follow the food, so they can move around during the seasons.
Many folks join the National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF) and then join a local chapter to hook up with local hunters like yourself. If you have your own property, work to make it prime turkey habitat. If you build it, they will come.