Photo courtesy of Travis Faulkner.
My son could barely sit still during the long pre-dawn drive to the isolated regions of the Daniel Boone National Forest. This area consists primarily of hardwood ridges, laurel thickets and jagged cliff lines. You’re definitely not going to find manicured fields and lush green food plots here, but certain hard-to-reach pockets of cover are still loaded with loud-mouthed gobblers nonetheless.
The winding gravel back road finally ended at the point of an overgrown clearcut that joined a mature stand of open timber. The leaf litter on the ground looked as though a team of wide-bladed bulldozers had pushed it around, and the turkey sign was red-hot. We stood motionless outside of the truck waiting to hear the first sounds of the morning, but the faint song of a whippoorwill was the only sound in the woods.
My son, James, decided to take out his owl call and make some noise. The second series of throaty hoots triggered a limb-shaking gobble from the deep hollow just below the strip of hardwoods. Quietly, we eased into position and patiently waited for things to really start breaking loose.
All of a sudden, several pesky hens from across the ridge began tree yelping and cackling from their lofty perches, causing the fired-up gobbler to absolutely lose his mind. Double and even triple gobbles were powerfully erupting in rapid secession. At this point, I could actually hear my son breathing just about as loud as the echoing gobbles. Within seconds, a chestnut brown tail fan that was stretched out like a sail appeared just below the back corner of the woods.
A few soft yelps were all it took to generate a thunderous double gobble from the poor lovesick fool. The longbeard paused every few feet to break into a stunning full-strut stance, which only added to the intensity of the moment. My son took one last deep breath before squeezing the trigger and ending one heck of a public-land hunt.
Over the years, I’ve been fortunate enough to chase longbeards all across the country, but my home state of Kentucky is second to none when it comes to public-land turkey hunting. On that note, let’s take an in-depth look at some of the Bluegrass State’s best public-land destinations, including some high-impact strategies that will allow you to tag a pumped-up gobbler this spring.
2009′s PRIME PUBLIC LANDS
As you’ve probably already heard, the Commonwealth recorded another record-setting spring turkey harvest last year. In addition, Steven Dobey, our state’s leading turkey biologist, is predicting another outstanding season for Kentucky hunters this April.
Without question, the seemingly endless acres of prime public-land hunting destinations that are scattered across the state have played a pivotal role in our overwhelming success. Many of these public-land areas are covered up with turkeys and are expected to generate high harvest numbers once again this season. Pay close attention because at least one of these red-hot harvest locations is probably near your neck of the woods.
Last season, the Daniel Boone National Forest, of the Southeast Region, led the pack in public harvest totals. This 670,000-acre public-land destination offers a variety of terrain features and is expected to provide hunters with another productive spring.
The 60,000 acres of Peabody Wildlife Management Area (WMA) are located in the Green River Region. This WMA sealed second place harvest honors. Third place went to the Lake Cumberland WMA, which encompasses nearly 40,000 acres within the Southeast Region.
Hunters on the Wendell H. Ford Regional Training Center of the Green River Region were able to knock down enough birds to claim fourth place recognition. The Green River Lake WMA of the Southeast Region rounds out the top five public-land harvest list; hunters should definitely not overlook this 20,500-acre tract of ground this season.
OTHER REGIONAL HOTSPOTS
Fortunately, all of our state’s five distinct regions offer multiple public-land hunting destinations that turkey hunters can take advantage of during the spring. Now, let’s break down some other hotspot locations from each region that didn’t make the top five harvest list, but still offer excellent hunting opportunities.
Longbeard addicts living in the Purchase Region need to take a closer look at the Pennyrile State Forest and the legendary Land Between The Lakes National Recreational Area this April. Residents of the Green River Region should also place the Barren River Lake and Nolin River Lake WMAs at the top of their hit lists. The Bluegrass Region’s Taylorsville Lake WMA and the Bluegrass Army Depot are both predicted to yield high harvest numbers this April as well.
Furthermore, hunters of the Northeast Region should also find plenty of gobbling action inside of the Paintsville Lake and Clay WMAs. Both of these locations boasted excellent harvest numbers last season, and this year the hunting is only expected to get better.
Finally, we end our must-hunt public-land destination list with the Big South Fork National River and Recreational Area and the Beaver Creek WMA of the Southeast Region. Hunters reported seeing a lot of jakes last season from these two areas, which should translate to plenty of mouthy 2-year-old gobblers this April.
For additional information regarding any of these locations, log on to fw.ky.us, or simply call 1-800-858-1549 to request a Kentucky Public Land Hunting Guide. Hunters can also review recent harvest statistics and view area maps online.