2012 Kentucky Turkey Forecast

2012 Kentucky Turkey Forecast
The author, right, and his mother pose with a pair of dandy gobblers they killed on opening day in the Ozarks. Photo by Tony Kalna Jr.

Over the past several years, the Bluegrass State has consistently been recording jaw-dropping spring turkey harvest numbers. The commonwealth is absolutely crawling with these wild birds.

As a diehard hunter, it's extremely difficult for me not to take a few sick days during the spring when Kentucky longbeards are puffed-up, fired-up, and ready to gobble. It's a pretty safe bet that most gobbler addicts across our state feel the same way throughout the month of April.

On that note, let's talk a little turkey and take an inside look at how Kentucky hunters faired this past spring. In addition, we will also breakdown the hottest harvest regions and counties of 2011, before finally taking a sneak peak at what the experts are forecasting for the upcoming season. All of this information should allow you to formulate a productive game plan that keeps you right in the middle of the April turkey action.

TRACK RECORD

As mentioned earlier, overall turkey harvest numbers across the entire Bluegrass State have consistently been high each and every spring. However, factors such as weather conditions, hunting pressure, predator mortality, and previous hatch rates can all have a major impact on hunter success.

This is exactly why annual state harvest figures have a tendency of fluctuating from season to season. For instance, the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources recently reported that the 2011 spring harvest totals were slightly down from the record-breaking 2010 season.

According to Steven Dobey, the KDFWR turkey biologists, 2011 harvest figures fell 10.8 percent from 2010, when hunters checked-in a staggering 36,097 birds.

"A slight decline in overall spring harvest numbers was entirely expected due to the historic statewide rainfall amounts that were observed from April to May," Dobey noted. "At the conclusion of the 2011 season, I was very surprised to see that hunters still tagged 32,191 turkeys. Despite poor weather and bad hunting conditions, this was actually the second highest spring turkey harvest on record, which is very impressive."

Consequently, Dobey attributed last spring's high harvest numbers to the state's resilient and healthy turkey flock, along with the persistence and determination of hunters across the commonwealth. Furthermore, the Bluegrass State is loaded with excellent turkey habitat and countless acres of public land.

Inevitably, all of these factors are why Kentucky continues to generate high harvest numbers every spring.

With that being said, let's take a quick look at some of the specific regions and counties that were red-hot and full of turkeys last season.

RED-HOT LOCATIONS

As mentioned earlier, we've been blessed with a flourishing turkey population across every corner of the state and all points in between. However, there are several counties that routinely dominate the commonwealth when it comes to high harvest numbers. For the most part, these counties rank at the top every year, because each one encompasses ideal turkey habitat and consistent food sources.

The following counties led the state in total harvest last spring, and these same areas are expected to have repeat performances again this year. More than likely at least one of these counties is located within a short drive from your home.

Counties of the renowned Green River Region filled the first five slots at the very top of the state's turkey harvest list. Hart, Logan, Hardin, Grayson, and Muhlenberg counties led the entire commonwealth last season.

The Bluegrass Region's Owen County took the No. 6 spot and Breckinridge County of the Green River Region came in seventh. In the Southeast Region, Pulaski and Wayne counties filled the eight and nine slots, with some very impressive numbers. Finally, Crittenden County of the Purchase Region finished out the top 10 harvest list.

GREEN RIVER REGION

Almost all of our state's regions were represented in the top 10 harvest counties. However, the Green River Region had six counties in that elite listing. Needless to say, this entire region is full of turkeys.

A mix of agricultural food sources, hardwood timber, and excellent brood-rearing habitat are what makes this area so hard to beat during the spring season. The Green River Region has an abundance of everything turkeys need to flourish.

The region's prime habitat creates a large carrying capacity, which is clearly evident at the end of each turkey season. For the past several years, the counties of the Green River Region have consistently dominated the Bluegrass State in total harvest.

Hart County earned a No. 1 ranking with 658 birds tagged. Logan County missed first place honors by only three turkeys. Hardin, Grayson, and Muhlenberg counties were all over or near the 600-bird mark.

PURCHASE REGION

The Purchase Region only contains 14 counties, but turkey hunters definitely should not overlook the area. There is no shortage when it comes to fired-up, gobbling longbeards.

Last spring, Crittenden County led the region with a total of 519 turkeys. Hunters in Graves and Christian counties harvested a combined total of 843 birds to take second and third place regional honors. Livingston and Calloway counties also had impressive springs by chipping in another 605 turkeys, to gain respectable fourth and fifth place regional rankings.

According to the KDFWR, the counties of the Purchase Region offer hunters some amazing turkey hunting opportunities. With each passing season, the hunting only seems to be getting better, and this trend is expected to continue.

A drive through the Purchase Region during a rainy day to check out the fields reveals a ton of turkeys hanging in these open areas. Over the past several years, I've personally seen staggering amounts of birds on virtually all of my trips to the area.

SOUTHEAST REGION

I grew up hunting the rugged and beautiful mountain country of the Southeast Region. During my early childhood years, there simply were not any turkeys around my hometown. However, after the KDFWR's successful stocking program, the woods are now full of gobblers and hens. Flock numbers have steadily grown and spread across the region like a wildfire in the middle of a dry windstorm. In recent years, areas that previously never held any birds have strong populations.

Overall hunter success rates during the spring season have dramatically increased, and the gobbling action seems to be picking up every April. As a matter of fact, the Southeast Region had two counties that broke into the top 10 harvest list during 2011. Together Pulaski and Wayne counties accounted for 1,044 turkeys last season alone.

Other honorable mentions that rounded out the top regional harvest list are Cumberland, Rockcastle, and Laurel counties.

In my neck of the woods, hunters in Whitley County also put up an impressive number by checking in a total of 316 turkeys.

Green, Adair, Casey, and Lincoln counties averaged well over 300 birds apiece.

Stats like these make the counties of the Southeast Region well worth a look this April.

NORTHEAST REGION

The last section of the state covered is the Northeast Region that is made up of 21 counties. In the past, this region has not received as much attention as other portions of the commonwealth.

However, this entire area provides hunters with some excellent hunting opportunities throughout the spring. The top five counties last year yielded a harvest of 1,541 turkeys. Good hatch reports have already been filtering in from the Northeast Region, and hunters should expect another action-packed season this spring.

The top five harvest counties last year were Pike, Morgan, Lawrence, Bracken, and Carter. However, the KDFWR urges hunters also to check out Lewis, Rowan, Bath, and Menifee counties. All of these locations recorded respectable numbers last spring and early indicators point toward another good season for 2012.

BLUEGRASS REGION

At the center of the state lies the enormous Bluegrass Region. During the spring of the year, hunters can expect to hear a lot of echoing gobbles throughout all of the 31 counties that make up this region.

Last season, the top five regional counties here posted a grand total of 2,154 toms killed. The KDFWR is also expecting to see high-harvest figures here again this spring.

Owen County ranked No. 1 for regional harvest with 536 turkeys during the 2011 season. Pendleton, Shelby, Henry, and Washington counties were not too far behind, with a combined average of more than 400 turkeys apiece.

Hunters also should take a look at Madison, Nelson, and Anderson counties, because all three of these areas have consistently been yielding impressive numbers over the past few seasons.

2012 TURKEY FORECAST

According to Biologist Steven Dobey, there is no reason why Kentucky hunters should not anticipate another outstanding season.

"Once again, I think folks hunting in the Bluegrass State will experience yet another incredible spring in the turkey woods," he said.  "As is always the case, the statewide success will largely be determined by weather. If we have a few nice, sunny weekends in April, then I fully expect to see extremely high harvest levels that should be comparable to both the 2010 and 2011 seasons."

Furthermore, Dobey believes the current statewide in-the-field surveys are setting the stage for another phenomenal season.

"While we did have a decent reproductive year in 2010, hunters should recall the fantastic reproduction that was documented in 2008, when the brooding season overlapped with a historic cicada emergence. As a result, we're still seeing the direct effects of the overwhelming nesting success that occurred that year.

"In addition," he continued. "Kentucky simply holds fantastic turkey habitat from one end of the commonwealth to the other and the state is geographically situated such that we experience weather patterns that are very favorable to wild turkeys."

HUNTING OPPORTUNITIES

Consequently, Dobey also strongly feels that each of Kentucky's five regions provide good private and public land turkey hunting opportunities.

"Personally, I have to say that the quality of our state's turkey hunting is second to none," the biologist pointed out. "There are countless acres of both private and public land that contain ideal habitat and healthy populations of birds.

"While it's generally expected that our public lands receive more hunting pressure than private ground, these areas still offer an equally good chance to punch one or both of your gobbler tags. Plus, all of these intensely managed wildlife management areas and other tracts of public ground are easily accessible and spread out across the entire state in every region, which is extremely convenient." Dobey concluded.

According to the KDFWR, there are currently no proposed changes to the statewide turkey season structure for the 2012 spring season.

However, there is one change relating to public land hunting opportunities. It primarily deals with the Otter Creek Outdoor Recreation Area, which is a newly acquired 2,221-acre property in Meade County. As the name implies, this outdoor recreation area is not a WMA. But it is a property managed to host all kinds of outdoor pursuits, including turkey hunting.

On this area, statewide requirements and harvest limits apply, except that shooting hours during the spring turkey season are from 1/2 hour before sunrise to noon each day. The area also is closed to horseback riders until noon to avoid any user conflicts.

For more information about the Otter Creek Outdoor Recreation Area or any of Kentucky's other public lands, go online to www.fw.ky.gov.

Based on last season and the outlook for this spring, you can feel confident about our state's 2012 turkey hunting prospects. Now, by planning ahead and hitting the woods with a strategy, you can significantly increase your chances of knocking your two longbeards in the dirt beginning in April.

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