The ground shakes as a longbeard sounds his thunder. Steam flows from the mouth of the gobbler and rises in the cool, frosty air. The adrenaline courses through your veins as the bird goes into full strut. He takes a few more stiff-legged steps toward your setup. You click the safety as he stretches out his neck. A pull of the trigger has another Bluegrass gobbler falling.
Itâ€™s the kind of action all Kentucky turkey hunting enthusiasts hope for this year. So how likely are we to experience that thrill in 2014? Letâ€™s have a look.
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Things are currently looking pretty good in the Bluegrass. Turkeys are abundant, hunters are finding success and harvest totals were still over that coveted 30,000-mark last season. But letâ€™s take a little bit closer look and see exactly what you can expect to see this year.
First off, let me get all of you really excited and ready for opening day. It is projected that there will be very high numbers of 2-year-old birds in the woods this time around. That means lots of hard-gobbling toms coming crashing into your decoys. Those highly interactive 2-year-olds are usually the most fun to hunt.
The Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources biologist and wild turkey program coordinator, Steven Dobey, keeps an eye on the flock.
â€śThe 2012 brood survey did reflect an increase in poult production from the previous year.Â Consequently, it is likely that we will observe an increased abundance of 2-year-old birds during the spring of 2014.Â For hunters, this means there could be an increase in less dominant, but very vocal, sub-adult birds, which always makes for an exciting season,â€ť Dobey said.
At the time of this statistical compilation, brood surveys were still being conducted for 2013. So no data was available. That said, in the areas I hunt the 2013 hatch did not seem to be anything extraordinary. But it did have fairly good numbers with numerous poult sightings.
As a whole, it seems we have stable populations here in the Bluegrass. Yet, it also seems that hens arenâ€™t having quite as many offspring as in the past years.
â€śHarvest data reflects that the turkey flock is stable at the statewide level.Â The 10-year trend for brood production has showed a decline in output when compared to that of the previous 10-year period.Â However, this is to be expected as turkeys have filled in all available habitats across the commonwealth,â€ť Dobey said.Â â€śWhen that happens, these areas become saturated and habitats are only able to support a finite number of birds. So we tend to see some declines in reproductive output. Â That being said, the KDFWR is closely monitoring these trends that are not unique to Kentucky, but being observed all across the southeastern United States.â€ť
Overall, it seems that Kentuckians have a healthy and gobbler-rich flock to hunt once again this season. Due to efforts from the KDFWR, we are living the good life as turkey hunters. Numbers are good. Hopes are high. And hunters have a very good chance of filling tags this year.
NEW FOR 2014
Although there were likely other changes made after the compilation of this article, one decision was already made that may affect public land hunters. Changes not in season or regulation, but in the hunting guide and on the KDFWR Web site.
â€śAs of the fall of 2013, the public lands hunting section was removed from the Kentucky Hunting & Trapping Guide and can now be found by visiting the KDFWR Web site at www.fw.ky.gov.Â We do still have an overview of the public hunting section in our fall guide, and this contains a map of all these properties with general references. But, the online version contains more detailed information, such as specific season dates and contact information,â€ť Dobey said.
Other changes in regulation at local or statewide levels could be in place since last season. It is extremely important to re-read regulations to ensure that you are up to speed on current laws and practices. Even if you are a 30-year veteran, it doesnâ€™t hurt to make sure things are what you think they are. Preparedness is the best tool for a serious turkey hunter. This is part of that preparedness.
PUBLIC LAND PREMISE
Many individuals believe public land doesnâ€™t even hold enough wildlife to sustain a grasshopper hunter. Their argument is that the hunting is no good.
In reality, the hunting is good. The bare fact is public lands are rich with wildlife in most cases. You just have to work a little harder to determine where they are. As most of you know, not everyone has access to private land. So the only resort is public land pursuits.
â€śTurkey hunters with limited access to private hunting lands are very fortunate in Kentucky,â€ť said Dobey. â€śWe manage a host of public properties that offer excellent spring hunting opportunities all across the commonwealth.â€ť
Hunting pressure can be a little higher on public land and frustrating encounters with other hunters sometimes occur. But there is always a silver lining. You just have to find it.
â€śHunting pressure in some areas can be high on opening weekend,â€ť Dobey said, â€śbut often that pressure drops considerably for the remainder of the season. While the birds can be a little more educated on some of these public lands, this can offer hunters a great opportunity to test their skills against birds that have had every call on the market thrown their way.Â Ultimately, these situations provide some of the most valuable hunting lessons available for spring turkey hunters.â€ť
Kentucky has really flexed its muscle as a prime turkey hunting state over the last few years. Numbers are high. In fact, they are higher than every state touching our borders.
â€śIn 2013, Kentucky hunters ranked No. 1 among all seven surrounding states in birds killed per square mile during the spring season. This is a tremendous accomplishment that speaks highly of our statewide flock, and to the commitment of turkey hunters in the commonwealth,â€ť Dobey said.
THE FAB FIVE
Before we look deep into each region, letâ€™s highlight the top five overall counties from last season. Not surprisingly, they all came from the Green River Region. This statistic is likely due to the lush river bottoms and abundant agricultural fields available in this part of the state. Flocks are larger and turkey populations are flourishing.
Only two of the top five made the 700 birds harvested club. Logan County reined victorious for the second year in a row with 749. Coming in second and also breaking 700 was Muhlenberg County with 744. Hart County was next on the list with 656. There was a tie for fourth. Grayson County and Hardin County each registered a whopping 642 birds bagged.
Want your county to be part of the Fab Five this season? Then get out there and spend some time in the woods. At the end of the day, turkey hunting isnâ€™t about numbers or â€śbeing the best.â€ť
But it is fun to be able to rub it in when you sit down with your buddies at the breakfast hangout.
The Purchase Region, the smallest of the five regions in the state, has 14 counties. Even with this relatively low number, it still produced 3,759 turkeys last spring. Of these, 3,724 were males and 35 were females.
Those counties in the top 10 list within the region were Christian (539), Crittenden (525), Livingston (367), Graves (364), Caldwell (342), Trigg (314), Calloway (239), Marshall (200), Lyon (190) and Ballard (169). McCracken, Carlisle and Hickman turned in more than 100 each. Fulton brought up the rear with 60 birds harvested.
The Purchase Region has numerous WMAs that produce good numbers gobblers each year. The Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area is the top piece of public ground in this region. Last season 55 birds were taken on it.
The Pennyrile State Forest also produced well with 32 turkeys. The Clarks River NWR was the third best with 19. The West Kentucky WMA contributed 18. Both the Ballard WMA and the Lake Barkley WMA had 15 taken each.
GREEN RIVER REGION
The Green River Region is comprised of 25 counties. There were a grand total of 10,534 birds shot during the 2013 spring season in this region. There were 10,437 males and 97 females harvested during this season.
The top 10 counties for overall harvests in the Green River Region were Logan (749), Muhlenberg (744), Hart (656), Grayson (642), Hardin (642), Hopkins (633), Breckinridge (587), Ohio (554), Butler (493) and Warren (476).
Allen fell just short of the top 10 list with 441. There were numerous others to check in more than 300 birds. Todd, Barren, Monroe, Webster, Metcalfe and Edmonson were those counties.
The Green River Region presents public land turkey hunters with an excellent chance at a bird. The Peabody WMA is undeniably the top dog with 213 harvested birds last season.
Coming in second was the Wendell H. Ford Regional Training Center with 69. That said, it is not technically open to the general public. It is by permission only.
The Yellowbank WMA turned out 28. Sloughs WMA and the Barren River Lake WMA wrapped up the top five with 21 and 20.
The Bluegrass Region is composed of 31 counties. During the 2013 spring season a total of 6,396 birds were taken within them. Of those, 6,293 were male and 103 were female.
The top 10 producing counties were Pendleton (465), Owen (392), Shelby (340), Madison (328), Henry (324), Washington (297), Nelson (277), Anderson (270), Marion (269) and Clark (258). Other counties yielding more than 200 birds were Grant, Harrison, Garrard, Spencer and Boone.
The Bluegrass Region isnâ€™t the best destination for public land hunting, but it still holds some good opportunities. The Taylorsville Lake WMA is the best in the region with 46 documented kills in 2013. The second highest was the Kentucky River WMA with 16. Next was the John A. Kleber WMA with 12. Fourth and fifth were the Veterans Memorial WMA and Griffith Woods WMA with 11 and 10.
There are 29 counties that compose the Southeast Region. A respectable 7,749 birds were taken over the course of last season. Most taken were males (7,668); there were also 81 bearded females harvested.
The top 10 producing counties for this region were Pulaski (552), Wayne (481), Adair (424), Green (392), Cumberland (391), Lincoln (344), Whitley (339), Rockcastle (328), Casey (326) and Laurel (325). Both Knox and Taylor surpassed the 250 mark as well.
Turkey hunters in the Southeast Region have it good. They undeniably have the best public land turkey hunting right there in their backdoor.
The Daniel Boone National Forest produced 593 harvested turkeys for the 2013 season. In second was the Green River Lake WMA with 48. A close third was claimed by the Lake Cumberland WMA with 47. The Boone Forestlands had 35 and the Beaver Creek WMA had 26.
A total of 21 counties are represented in this region of the state. From those, hunters harvested 4,060 birds. All but 29 of those were gobblers.
The best counties from the Northeast Region were Pike (374), Morgan (351), Carter (278), Bracken (270), Lewis (253), Lawrence (231), Bath (216), Rowan (189), Greenup (176) and Floyd (174). Menifee, Nicholas, Fleming, Elliott and Johnson also gave up respectable numbers of wild turkeys.
The best tract of public land in thei region last season was the Clay WMA. Hunters shot 41 birds on that property.
A very respectable 25 turkeys were killed on the Paintsville Lake WMA. The Fishtrap Lake WMA was nipping at its heels with 24. The Yatesville Lake State Park and Lawrence County Recreation Area totaled 21. Fifth on the list was the Grayson Lake WMA with 18.
The 2014 Bluegrass state gobbler preview doesnâ€™t look like a bad one at all. In fact, it looks pretty darn good for those of us who are hitting the woods this April. Make sure to be a part of the tradition Kentucky is building on this season. Help the Commonwealth to keep its status as a prime destination for wild turkeys. Show the rest of the states that we have it all right here at home.
The new season is upon us. Gobblers are sounding thunder on many ridge tops. Strutters can be seen working field edges down in the swampy river bottoms. Longbeards are getting hot and heavy in the Bluegrass. Nowâ€™s the time to get out there for some hunting!
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