If you, like me, are a traveling, wild-turkey hunter, do you ever stop and wonder what states offer the best odds of a successful trip? To me that assessment begins by looking at those states where hunters shoot the most longbeards, annually. I mean, you have to have some gobblers if the traveling hunter is going to have a chance, right?
The harvest numbers below come from the National Wild Turkey Federation, and are taken from the 2014 season. The list runs in descending order by the number of birds harvested.
There’s more than corn, cows and pheasants here? Oh yeah. Nebraska is home to nearly 145,000 wild turkeys, and the population seems to just keep growing and growing. In 2014 hunters took 18,960 gobblers, and there is a fair amount of public land to explore. In 2017, archers will love the early bow-only season that runs March 25 to May 31; shotgun hunters can attack birds April 16 to May 31. There’s also a fall season that runs September 15 to January 31, 2018. And get this — you can take three birds in the spring, and two more in the fall. www.outdoornebraska.gov/hunting.
With three species of turkey living here — mostly Rio Grandes (500,000), but are also some Merriams (500) and Easterns (8000) in places, the generous bag limit in the Lone Star state varies depending on where you hunt. The only real downside: there is scant public land to hunt. The season runs from late March through early May. Hunters shot 19,941 birds in Texas in 2014. www.tpwd.state.tx.us.
In 1997 there were only about 400 wild turkeys taken each year in Michigan, with a success rate of maybe 10 percent; in 2014 that number jumped to 31,377 from an estimated population of 200,000. There are also some 4 million acres of public land available to turkey hunters. In 2017 the spring season runs April 17 to May 31, but there’s a catch. You have to draw a tag. Applications are due February 1 and results available March 6. There’s also a fall season. www.michigan.gov/dnr.
Kansas turkey hunting has enjoyed rapid growth during the past decade. Wild turkeys were reintroduced into this state back in the 1960’s. Today, Kansas is home to two sub-species of wild turkeys: an estimated 175,000 Rio Grandes, 87,500 Easterns, and 87,500 hybrid wild turkeys. In 2014 hunters shot 31,400 gobblers. There’s a fair amount of public land to hunt here too. In 2017 there’s an April 4 to 12 archery-only hunt followed by the April 13 to May 31 regular season. www.ksoutdoors.com/Hunting.
Not the biggest state by land mass, but there are nearly 249,000 Easterns roaming the landscape here. In 2014 hunters harvested 32,586 of them during a spring season that begins the first weekend in April and runs nearly six weeks (there’s also a fall season. Public land is plentiful, including the Cherokee National Forest. https://www.tn.gov/twra.
There’s more than thick-antlered bucks roaming the Badger State including an estimated 350,000-plus Eastern wild turkeys. In 2014, hunters killed 37,804 turkeys during a season that runs from mid-April to late May. Hunting ends at 5 p.m. daily, and the limit is one male or bearded turkey. http://dnr.wi.gov.
Home to between 400,000 to 450,000 Eastern turkeys, sportsmen and women shot 40,600 Alabama turkeys in 2014. The season runs roughly from March 15 through April 30, with a limit of one gobbler per day, and five during the combined fall and spring seasons. Plenty of public land is available. www.outdooralabama.com.
There are more than 210,000 Eastern wild turkeys in Pennsylvania, which helps the state remain in the top five in overall harvest virtually every year. In 2014 hunters shot 41,260 turkeys. The season runs April 29 to May 31, with the daily limit at one, and season limit at two. (A hunter’s second spring gobbler may only be taken by persons who possess a valid, special wild turkey license.) From April 29 through May 13, legal hunting hours are one-half hour before sunrise until noon; from May 15 through 31, legal hunting hours are one-half hour before sunrise until one-half hour after sunset. www.pgc.state.pa.us.
Home to an estimated 335,000 Eastern turkeys, hunters took 44,106 of them in 2014. With one of the most liberal spring seasons around, turkey hunters can chase gobblers from late March through mid-May (no fall season, though). Georgia has more than 1 million acres of public land for do-it-yourselfers. www.georgiawildlife.com/hunting.
Home to more than 317,000 Eastern turkeys, hunters harvested 47.603 of them. That’s more than any other state despite the fact that hunting ends at 1 p.m. daily. There’s a two-bird limit, and the season runs from mid-April through early May. www.conservation.state.mo.us.
There is more to killing a wild turkey than hunting a state with top turkey harvests. After all, those harvested birds were shot by the other guy. We care about birds we can shoot, right? So while a list of harvest numbers by state is a good place to start your research, consider adding other parameters too: bag limit, season length, amount of public land available to hunt and the cost of a guided hunt (if that’s the way you choose to go), etc.
Are you planning on traveling to hunt gobblers this spring? If so, where? On public or private land? Share your plans with me at firstname.lastname@example.org.