Bluegrass State 2006 Turkey Forecast

Bluegrass State 2006 Turkey Forecast

How are things shaping up in our state for the coming spring season? Read on for top counties to hunt this year in your neck of the turkey woods! (March 2006)

It felt good to be back in the mountains of southeastern Kentucky during the spring. As a boy, I grew up climbing these same mountains while toting a single-shot .410 shotgun and trying to keep up with my father on those cool October morning squirrel hunts.

Waiting for daylight, I sat patiently looking at the splendor of the mountains during the onset of fall when the leaves change to gold and crimson colors. My mind began to drift back to the memories composed of the sights, sounds and smells of the woods from numerous November mornings spent in a tree stand and waiting for a glimpse of a bruiser buck that was just over the next ridge.

Finally, winter is now giving way to spring and the mountains are undergoing a major metamorphosis. The woods are suddenly alive and light green buds have replaced the once barren gray limbs of the trees. Flowers and other green plants are sprouting up everywhere. Songbirds fill the warm spring air with a welcoming chorus. Suddenly, a loud, booming gobble echoes across the ridge and reminds me that the mountains are experiencing another dramatic change from my childhood days.

Back then, there was no gobbling in the spring, simply because there were no turkeys. Now, thanks to the efforts of the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources (KDFWR) and National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF), everyone in the Bluegrass State can enjoy the adrenaline-inducing sound triggered by the gobble of the majestic Eastern longbeard. This addictive sound is what keeps me in the spring woods and forces me to call in sick to work on occasion during April.

In fact, don't tell my boss, but that is exactly what had happened on this particular hunt. The weather forecast was just too good and with one tag left to fill, I had no choice other than to take a sick day. Before I could tell my legs to move toward the longbeard, another thundering gobble filled the early morning air. Quickly, I flopped down in front of a white oak tree, which was wide enough to conceal my outline. I desperately tried to control my breathing before hitting the gobbler with a series of soft raspy yelps from my mouth call.

The longbeard forcefully interrupted my series of calling with a throaty, coarse gobble, which seemed to rattle and shake the ground. Next, I could hear the gobbler kicking and scratching through the dry leaves tormenting me with every step as he approached my position. As I waited for the longbeard to finally make an appearance, my mind was flooded with anticipation and my poor heart was racing at the pace of a marathon runner with the finish line in sight.

My shotgun was already pointing at the opening of an old logging road where I thought the gobbler would enter. Suddenly, out of the thick undergrowth, the longbeard marched into the opening in full strut with a rainbow-colored head that seemed to glisten in the early morning sun. I steadied my bead and gently squeezed the trigger, ending another sensational season in the mountains of southeastern Kentucky. Without question, the Bluegrass State offers some topnotch turkey-hunting opportunities. In fact, you would be hard-pressed to find any better turkey hunting than we currently have right out our back door.

SENSATIONAL SEASON

Kentucky turkey hunters once again experienced another phenomenal season last spring. According to the KDFWR, hunters were able to tag an impressive 25,517 birds last year alone. Just how good is the turkey hunting across the Commonwealth?

Recent statistics show that Kentucky turkey hunters experienced a remarkable 31 percent success rate last spring. Furthermore, the level of turkey hunting in Kentucky has improved immensely over the past few years, generating an explosion of participation among our state's hunters. Ask any turkey biologist or hunter and they will tell you that Kentucky offers some sensational hunting.

Just about everyone who turkey hunts knows and has a deep respect for Harold Knight of Knight and Hale Game Calls when it comes to the topic of hunting, especially turkey hunting. Knight has over 50 years experience chasing after longbeards to his credit. In fact, this Kentucky native has successfully harvested gobblers all across our great nation. Knight secured a piece of turkey-hunting history by taking the first official world-record turkey in Butler County back in 1979. Harold's knowledge, experience and woodsmanship skills make him a longbeard's worst nightmare!

As a prominent member of the outdoor industry, Harold Knight has hunted just about everywhere and anywhere you can find turkeys. With that in my mind, how does Knight rate the turkey hunting in the Bluegrass State in comparison with other areas?

"I would have to say that the turkey hunting in Kentucky is topnotch. Without question, my home state has to be one of my favorite places to hunt each spring. It's just the atmosphere; I love the sound of a spring whippoorwill before daylight, the long hardwood ridges, winding creek bottoms, and the open green fields that serve as a reminder that I am home," Knight explained.

"Furthermore, Kentucky has excellent resources and solid populations of turkeys across the state. During the reintroduction-stocking program, the last set of birds that were released came from Missouri. These gobblers are beautifully marked, large in size, and very vocal in the spring. This is the type of bird that a turkey hunter dreams about running into in the spring. I started hunting turkeys in Kentucky back in the 1960s at the Land Between The Lakes. I have watched the turkey hunting in the Bluegrass State develop over the years and grow into a turkey-hunting powerhouse. Kentucky turkey hunters have access to some of the best turkey hunting around," Knight said.

Knight has traditionally focused his turkey hunting in the western counties of the state close to his home. However, he has always wanted to try other regions, especially the mountainous counties of the Southeast Region. The Knight and Hale team have tagged more than their fair share of Kentucky longbeards over the years. Last spring, Knight was able to fill one of his Kentucky tags with a bow on film. This hunt created some awesome footage that you can check out on the Knight and Hale video series this season. Harold is already fired up for this spring and you can bet your bottom dollar he will be hitting the turkey woods of the Bluegrass State hard this April.

I don't know about you, but I can relate to how Harold Knight is feeling. I am pretty pumped up for this season myself. With that in mind, what can turkey hunters expect this spring across the Commonwealth?

All indications are pointing toward another productive upcoming season this April. With sol

id hatch recordings and results from the 2005 spring statewide harvest report, the state's current turkey population is holding steady at around 200,000 birds. The KDFWR turkey biologists rate Kentucky's wild turkey population as stable and secure. With impressive turkey numbers like these, where exactly are the best places in the Bluegrass State to fill a tag this spring?

SOUTHEAST REGION

Over the past few seasons, the turkey hunting across the Southeast Region has continued to improve. In fact, I have been fortunate enough to fill all of my spring tags around my home in several areas throughout Whitley County for the past several years. In addition, I have also noticed more and more turkeys in the woods during fall squirrel and deer hunts. Many hunters across other counties of the Southeast Region have been reporting similar accounts. This region should continue to yield high numbers of birds and the hunting will only get better.

During the 2005 spring season, there were several counties of the Southeast Region that recorded impressive harvest numbers. For example, Pulaski, Cumberland, Wayne, Rockcastle and Whitley counties all hit around and above the 300-bird harvest mark last year. Hunters in Pulaski County tagged 388 birds, which secured the No. 13 spot in the entire state in total harvest. Cumberland County was not too far behind with 352 filled tags, ranking it as the No. 15 county in the state in total harvest.

Hunters should not overlook Casey, Bell, Jackson, Lincoln and McCreary counties this spring as well. All of these areas reported solid harvest numbers last season and are expected to generate impressive numbers again this April. Are you still wondering how good the turkey hunting is across the state?

Consider this: The Southeast Region, despite its success, was unable to produce a county that broke into the 2005 top 10 harvest counties. Nonetheless, I promise you the turkey-hunting opportunities in this region are still first-rate. These statistics simply show that statewide the turkey hunting is awesome. Hunters can take advantage of 26 different wildlife management areas (WMAs) and countless acres of the Daniel Boone National Forest. In fact, there were 589 turkeys checked in from the Daniel Boone National Forest alone last season.

NORTHEAST REGION

The Northeast Region has turned some heads over the years by putting up some solid harvest numbers. For instance, during the 2005 spring season, Bracken, Pike, Carter, Lawrence and Morgan counties boasted respectable harvest numbers. Bracken County led the region, as hunters bagged 310 birds here last season, which ranked the county as No. 19 in total harvest in the entire state. All of these counties are expected to have repeat performances again this spring.

However, hunters should also be sure to check out Mason, Lewis, Nicholas, Rowan, Floyd and Greenup counties this April. These counties all recorded decent harvest numbers and show a great deal of potential for hunters this season. Expanding turkey populations and excellent hunting opportunities are exactly why hunters need to take a close look at the counties of the Northeast Region. Furthermore, Dewey Lake WMA in Floyd County and Yatesville Lake WMA in Lawrence County provide hunters with some first-rate public-land turkey hunting.

BLUEGRASS REGION

The Bluegrass Region encompasses several counties in the central part of the state that have been red hot in recent years. Did you know that Pendleton County broke into the state's coveted top five total harvest counties last year by recording an astonishing 510 turkeys? Even more impressive is the fact that both Owen and Hardin counties reported harvests well over the 400-bird mark. Without question, the turkey hunting in the Bluegrass Region has been explosive to say the least.

Other counties in the region yielded high harvest numbers as well. In fact, Grant, Nelson, Anderson and Henry counties all hit around or over the 300-bird harvest mark. These numbers simply translate to a target-rich environment for Kentucky turkey hunters. The good news is that these same counties are predicted to be hotspots once again this season. In addition, the Bluegrass Region offers some excellent public-land hunting on the Taylorsville Lake WMA, which encompasses 11,672 acres of land to chase after longbeards.

PURCHASE REGION

The Purchase Region, in the far western end of the state, has always been known for its outstanding whitetail hunting. In fact, many Kentucky hunters make an annual pilgrimage out west each year to take advantage of the fine deer hunting opportunities. However, a lot of turkey hunters are beginning to take notice of this region's remarkable hunting as well. For good reason, the Purchase Region encompasses several counties that have developed into turkey-hunting hotspots. These areas have been producing some head-turning harvest numbers over the past couple of seasons.

For instance, hunters in Crittenden County were able to drop over 500 turkeys last season and secured a spot among the state's elite top five harvest counties. Furthermore, Livingston, Christian, Graves and Caldwell counties all checked in with high harvest numbers during the 2005 spring season. All of these counties were able to hit around or over the 300-bird mark, which is not too shabby by any standards. With that in mind, what can hunters of the Purchase Region expect this year?

According to the KDFWR, hunters can look forward to another productive and successful spring season. These same counties should once again yield similar harvest numbers this April. Hunters should not overlook Trigg and Calloway counties, which have the potential of generating some phenomenal hunting opportunities. Trigg County encompasses Lake Barkley WMA, which offers some solid public-land turkey hunting. Hunters should also check out the Pennyrile State Forest in Christian County, which provides access to over 17,000 acres of prime turkey hunting that is completely open to the public.

GREEN RIVER REGION

The counties of the Green River Region have dominated the state in total turkey harvest for quite some time. Amazingly, three of the state's top five harvest counties last year were all from this prolific region. Ohio County led the entire state with a staggering 619 turkeys being checked in by hunters last spring. Muhlenberg County came in a close second with 579 confirmed kills, and Butler County chipped in with 513 birds to seal the No. 3 spot of total harvest in the state.

Are you impressed yet? If not, the statistics get even better! The Green River Region produced eight of the Bluegrass State's top 15 total harvest counties. Hunters should definitely make a mental note of counties like Logan, Breckinridge, Grayson, Hart, and Hopkins, all of which are expected to have repeat performances again this spring. Hunters will also want to take advantage of the fine public-land hunting that is available inside the Barren River Lake WMA. With over 14,000 acres to roam, hunters should have no trouble finding a fired-up longbeard this spring from this area.

Kentucky turkey hunters can expect another phenomenal season statewide this spring. Now's the time to break out the calls, organize your gear, pattern your shotgun, and hold on tight for a heart-pounding season that promises to get your blood pumping

and adrenaline flowing. The long, dreary days of winter are finally over and opening day will be here before you know it! The only question is: Are you ready? Good luck and good hunting.

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