QUINCY -- A difference in the wild turkey population was a factor in Illinois and Missouri getting different grades from Realtree's Turkey Hunting Nation.
Illinois' smaller population and underabundance of permits for non-residents led to it receiving a "C," while a population of more than 300,000 birds and plenty of public land to hunt helped Missouri receive a "B" from the Realtree staff.
Grades are based on a variety of factors, including wild turkey population, cost and availability ot permits for residents and nonresidents and accessibility to public lands.
A decrease in Illinois' turkey population didn't help its grade. According to National Wild Turkey Federation data, Illinois had an estimated population of 103,153, which was sizable decrease from the 150,000 estimated population a decacde ago.
Better poult production recently is improving Illinois' population, which led to 15,000 birds being harvested in 2016.
Although the cost for a non-resident license and permit seems high, there is access to public lands for hunters who draw a permit. Illinois is blessed with 700,000 acres of public land -- 290,000 of which are comprised of tracts of federal ground and the 280,000-acre Shawnee National Forest in southern Illinois.
Illinois does have a 28-percent success rate as well, which should have lended itself to a higher score.
According to Realtree's M.D. Johnson and Steve Hickoff, they gave Illinois its grade based on "consistently poor hatches, the lottery challenge, non-resident turkey permit cost and inconsistent population estimates."
In Missouri, the estimated turkey population is 317,000 and its been stable in recent years. And with more than a million acres of public-access land, hunters have been able to harvest more than 47,000 turkeys each of the last three years.
The cost of licenses and permits is relatively inexpensive, especially for youth. The cost of a permit for the youth hunt ($9.50) is the same for residents and non-residents.
"Personal experience includes Missouri trips for some of the most intense gobblers I've ever hunted," Hickoff wrote.