When you think about great deer and turkey hunting in the Midwest, your mind will paint a picture of the bottomlands of southern Illinois or the meandering woodlots of Missouri or Iowa. You likely picture Ohio or the rolling bluegrass of Kentucky. While up flying with my grandpa earlier this week I saw a different picture, though. I saw what has become one of the best areas for hunting in all the land. Nestled amongst all of these legendary hunting areas is an often overlooked outdoor promise land: Indiana.
It wasn't long ago that I laid my eyes on the first turkey that I'd ever seen on our southern Indiana farm. I believe it was about 14 years ago to be exact. Two or three hens and about nine poults crossed my driveway. I remember watching in awe as seeing those turkeys on the farm was akin to discovering Bigfoot. If you talk to the generation before me, they would tell you the chance of spotting a deer in the 1970's was about the same. Through restoration efforts and the availability of great habitat and farmland, everything is much different now. The bucks keep getting bigger and the long beards more plentiful with every passing year. In fact, Indiana was seventh in the number of entries to Boone and Crockett Club between 2005 and 2010 for whitetail. Saskatchewan, Kansas, Alberta, and Texas are just a few of the fabled big buck destinations that Indiana sits above on that B&C list.
I started turkey hunting four years after spotting those first turkeys. On that very farm, I connected with a nice long beard on my first trip to the turkey woods. Every year since then for the last ten years, I have harvested a spring gobbler on that farm. Additionally, I have been fortunate enough to take others out to those turkey woods chasing the once mythical birds. Sharing their excitement as a bird approaches is as good as being behind the trigger. Indiana continues to have great turkey harvests as the top 5 seasons based on number of birds killed have all come in the last 7 years!
As I touched on earlier, the deer hunting has exploded in Indiana. Not only do we have a lot of deer, we have a very healthy deer population as illustrated by the Boone & Crockett records. Indiana has a wide forage base with white and red oaks, endless crops, and thick undergrowth including green briar making up a lot of our deer population's diet. One of the most important things for growing big bucks is habitat. You could drive a short distance in nearly any rural area in Indiana and find fence rows, native grasses, and great looking woodlots. The exceptional areas in our state are near the river basins of the Ohio, Wabash, White, and Muskatatuck. All along these areas you will usually find a great combination of food and habitat for deer. All of that and I haven't even mentioned the Hoosier National Forest that spans for 202,814 acres across the south-central portion of the state. The big woods areas like the Hoosier National Forest are home to huge stands of oaks and other hardwoods with ridges, saddles, and fingers running all over. Every year these areas cough up braggin' sized bucks for hunters. It has plenty of turkeys and habitat for them too. Forty years ago, wild turkeys were actually reintroduced to Indiana in the Hoosier National Forest.
"Remember...We all live downstream." That is a line that all of us have heard on television concluding Bass Pro Shops commercials before. I used to think of that as having only a short term message to all of us. That is, don't pollute our waterways or landscape with trash and toxins so you don't negatively affect others down the road or river. However, the evolution of our outdoor heritage shows that this slogan is much more long term. We are the one's downstream of the millions of hunters, fishermen, and outdoor enthusiasts that have come before. They worked hard to help establish an opportunity for us to enjoy record numbers of healthy game animals. Let's make sure that we stay on the right track and make the outdoor life twice as good again in the next 50 years!
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