Two Gobblers And Two Months
September 30, 2010
That's how Kansas' spring turkey season shapes up this year -- a good indication of good hunting and plenty of birds to go around! (April 2009)
Turkeys are plentiful throughout their range in Kansas, and hunting success proves it. The author and his good friend Eric Johnson took these two Eastern gobblers on the same morning. Photo by Marc Murrell.
Turkey hunters in the Sunflower State have had it good for many years now. Bird numbers have been improving in many parts of the state and the success rate has been impressive. And considering spring hunters can take two bearded birds, there are plenty of opportunities to take to the fields and experience plenty of action. The 2009 season promises to be another good one in most regions of Kansas, although there are some areas that haven't seen good production in recent years. Regardless, the chances to kill a Kansas turkey this spring are still good if you do your homework and know where to look.
Jim Pitman, small-game coordinator for the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks, says that as a whole, the state's turkey population has kind of leveled off over the last three or four years, "but it's still really high."
"But there's a lot of variability across the state as the southeast and the northeast have been on a bit of a decline due to several years in a row of poor production," he added.
Most of the variability that Pitman referred to is a result of Mother Nature not necessarily cooperating.
"Three of the last four years have been extremely wet in the eastern third of the state, and the rains have come in June, which is the prime period for nesting and raising poults," he said. "Rain and flooding are detrimental to turkeys."
There are two subspecies of turkeys in Kansas, according to Pitman, and each is found in geographically different types of habitat. A genetic study done several years ago compared samples from Kansas birds to known subspecies from other states.
"We've got two pretty distinct populations in the Rio Grande west of the Flint Hills, and the Eastern subspecies are east of there," Pitman said. "And then we've got a huge area in the Flint Hills from north to south that is hybrids of the two."
Kansas turkey populations flourished during the middle of the last century after extensive trapping and transplanting efforts by the KDWP. Those efforts have been just about abandoned now, as most suitable turkey habitat in the state has birds. The only exception is for areas considered by some to have too many birds.
"We're moving some nuisance birds from the Hutchinson area near the airport and town and taking them places," said Pitman, "but we're not specifically catching birds for restocking."
Kansas' turkey hunters killed 35,040 birds in the spring of 2008, which was a record high. However, past years' harvests were in that ballpark and have remained stable over the last four or five years.
"There have been some regional variations and we saw some huge declines in the southeast last spring and some big increases in the north-central part of the state," Pitman said.
The statewide turkey success rate remains around 60 percent where it's hovered for quite some time. The number of hunters chasing turkeys each year has stayed in the neighborhood of 42,000. One thing Pitman found interesting when looking at his data was that 72,000 different people buy turkey permits in Kansas, which seemed odd to him.
"It seems like over the last three years, only about 25 percent of our turkey hunters bought a permit every year," Pitman said. "I've always thought that was kind of unusual, but that's what other states have found, too, in that there are a small percentage of the total that are every-year turkey hunters."
Kansas turkey hunters can buy two turkey permits, but according to Pitman, that second bird doesn't make up much of the overall harvest.
"About 25,000 hunters kill a bird," Pitman said. "And then about 25 percent of those hunters actually take a second bird, which is roughly about 6,100 hunters killing two turkeys."
Archery hunting in Kansas is getting more popular. Some hunters find that shooting a turkey with a shotgun isn't all that difficult any more and just want more of a challenge. But what has likely made a huge impact on archery's popularity is the special season for archers before the regular firearms season. Kansas' archery hunters that were successful accounted for 8.7 percent of the total harvest for 2008, which equated to 3,025 birds taken.
"Back in 2006, before we had the special archery season, our harvest was 1,400," Pitman said. "So, we more than doubled our archery harvest, and I suspect that special season had a lot to do with that."
Personally, I think the early archery season is a great opportunity. Before it, I'd killed one turkey with archery equipment. But over the last decade, I got to thinking about the distances at which I'd killed gobblers with a gun. Anything under 40 yards was a given, and I'd killed most birds at less than 20 yards. I was convinced on 90 percent of them that an arrow would have had the same result. Plus, the advent of pop-up portable blinds has revolutionized the ease of turkey hunting with a bow.
I was anxious to take part in the first archery-only season in 2007 and experienced a picture-perfect hunt on a mature tom on opening morning. He strutted all the way across a plowed field right to the decoys. The shot was 17 yards; he slowly walked away and died less than 20 yards later. I smoked another longbeard even closer at 15 yards a week later and my season was wrapped up. With bowhunting action like that, my shotgun is likely done turkey hunting.
The 2008 season was even more impressive. Opening morning found me surrounded by no fewer than 60 turkeys as they were still bunched up. The group paraded by and my arrow whiffed just under a longbeard that was skirting my decoys. Turkey fever got me, but more likely, it was a yardage-judging problem -- or lack thereof. I ranged the next hen to come by at 26 yards and her boyfriend in full strut got an Easton A/C/C special delivery from my Mathews DXT. A few weeks later, I called in another pair of longbeards and tag No. 2 was filled as well.
The archery season also coincides with special youth/disabled hunting opportunities. Kids 15 and under can hunt turkeys under the supervision of adults 18 years or older. This youth season has been extremely popular, as well, and 5,331 people hunted during this season last year.
Kansas' turkey hunting takes place on private land. Most of the state is privately owned, with hunting access getting more difficult to obtain over the last decade or so. It's a bit easier for spring turkey hunters to get permission, especially far away from the major metropolitan areas such as Kansas City, Topeka and Wichita.
For those without private land connections, the KDWP has an option in the form of the Spring Turkey Walk-In Hunting Area program. Patterned after the highly successful fall WIHA program, it leases private land for public access.
"I think we had about 160,000 acres open to public hunting last year," Pitman said of the Spring Turkey WIHA program. "Most of it is up in that north-central and northeast part of the state.
"About 15 percent of our turkey hunters indicated they hunted on these areas and that amounts to about 6,300 hunters using our WIHA properties. About the same percentage of our harvest is taken on WIHA, so considering 160,000 acres, we have a lot of birds taken off those areas."
The 2009 archery-only and youth/disabled season will be April 1-7. The regular season will begin on April 8 and run through the end of May. Turkey permits cost residents $20.50 for the first one and $12.50 for the second one. Hunters aged 16 to 65 must have a Kansas hunting license, which is $20.50. Resident youth under 16 get a 50 percent discount on their turkey permits and don't need a hunting license. Non-resident turkey hunters pay $32.50 for the first spring turkey permit and $22.50 for the second one. A non-resident hunting license is $72.50. These permits are valid for one bearded bird and are available from license vendors, KDWP state and regional offices as well as online at www.kdwp.state.ks.us.
As far as a prediction for the 2009 spring season, Pitman points to a couple of areas as bright spots.
"In the north-central and northwest part of the state, we had good production again last year, and that's been several years in a row that we've had good production. That's been some of the best turkey hunting in the state and I look for that to continue."