Scouting Public-Land Gobblers In Our State

Scouting Public-Land Gobblers In Our State

In the Ft. Knox Wildlife Management Area, the Daniel Boone National Forest and three other areas, you'll find some of our state's best turkey hunting on public land.(March 2008).

Photo by Ralph Hensley

Soon, tom turkeys all across Kentucky will be calling for mates. Hunters who are enchanted with this huge gobbling bird of the deep forest know that now's the time to scout for turkeys. This is prime time to ramble through the tall timber of backwoods terrain to search for sign.

Once again, Commonwealth hunters did well in the turkey woods last spring. Although the numbers were down slightly from the previous year, primarily due to weather conditions, hunters still reported over 24,000 wild turkeys harvested for the spring 2007 season -- as compared to nearly 29,000 birds taken during the 2006 spring season.

"The drop in harvest numbers from the spring 2006 season and spring 2007 was exclusively a product of the weather," said Steven Dobey, Turkey Programs Coordinator for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources (KDFWR).

"When you look at the harvest data for last spring's season, in the first two days, the harvest was down 40 percent from the first two days of the previous year."

Dobey noted that the cold, snowy weather conditions not only kept many hunters out of the woods, but also forced turkeys to seek shelter from the sleet and snow.

As for Kentucky's wild turkey numbers for the upcoming season, he said, "The turkey population is in great shape."

The top five counties reporting the most harvested birds during the 2007 spring season were:

'¢ Ohio County, with 492 turkeys,

'¢ Hardin, with 468,

'¢ Muhlenberg, with 454,

'¢ Logan, with 450 and

'¢ Butler, with 443.

The breakdown according to hunting preference was firearms (24,019), archery (203), muzzleloader (83) and crossbow (15).

For hunters looking for a place to hunt wild turkeys -- or who just want to try someplace new -- our state offers numerous public-hunting areas from one end of the state to the other.

From large tracts of land with ideal turkey habitat within the Commonwealth -- such as Daniel Boone National Forest -- down to relatively small tracts, you have numerous wildlife management areas (WMAs) to choose from.

Now's the ideal time to begin scouting for the upcoming spring hunt, which opens April 12, 2008 and runs through May 4.

For hunters searching for public lands on which to scout and plan a turkey hunt, the following five public wildlife areas will provide you with access to turkeys, regardless of where you are located in the Bluegrass State.

Let's take a closer look at a selection of these public tracts loaded with wild turkeys: the Daniel Boone National Forest, the Pennyrile State Forest, and the Paintsville Lake, Fort Knox and Peabody WMAs.

In certain of these areas, specific guidelines are in place to regulate hunting.

Becoming familiar with the regulations and permits will assure an enjoyable and quality gobbler hunting experience. (Continued)

DANIEL BOONE

NATIONAL FOREST

Eastern Kentucky holds over 670,000 acres of public hunting grounds in the federal lands of the Daniel Boone National Forest.

From its boundary with Tennessee -- primarily in McCreary and Whitley counties -- the Daniel Boone NF's large forested landscape stretches to Lewis County at the northern tip.

Another section of the forest is in Clay and Leslie counties as well.

This wild turkey paradise is divided into four districts: Cumberland, London, Stearns and Redbird.

Daniel Boone NF also encompasses the 7,600 acres of the Pioneer Weapons Hunting Area -- where hunting is limited to longbows, crossbows and muzzleloaders -- in Bath and Menifee counties.

Most of the Daniel Boone NF is mountainous and rugged. Hunters coming to this area for the first time are cautioned to take into consideration their physical limitations and plan accordingly.

This area is almost completely forested with steep terrain. Some flatlands are found along river and creek bottoms and along ridgetops.

Miles and miles of hiking trails are available, with streams and small lakes scattered throughout the region. Access to various sections of the forest is relatively easy, with numerous state and county roads leading into and crossing the national forest areas.

But much of the land within the forest's boundaries is still privately owned. Hunters should become familiar with the property lines separating private and public lands.

When planning a turkey hunt in an area the size of Daniel Boone NF, it's best to have a focus for finding quality hunting regions.

Obtain information from the KDFWR. Their turkey biologists are extremely helpful in helping hunters zero in on quality turkey habitat.

To obtain a map and additional information from the rangers at Daniel Boone NF, write to Daniel Boone National Forest, 1700 Bypass Road, Winchester, KY 40391; or call (859) 745-3100.

PAINTSVILLE LAKE WMA

Another top wild turkey area in eastern Kentucky is the Paintsville Lake WMA.

Located in portions of Johnson and Morgan counties, approximately four miles northwest of the town of Paintsville, this scenic region offers over 12,000 acres of public land.

This is two-thirds hardwood forest with some old fields scattered about. Rolling, wooded hills are the primary turkey habitat of this region, and the lake helps round out the water needs of this ideal turkey country.

Best access is from old U.S. Route 460 with several perimeter roads available to hunters.

For hunters unfamiliar with this WMA, talking with local residents can help cut down on trial-and-error scouting time. A wealth of information is also available at local gas stations and bait stores.

Even though many of these folks may not hunt turkeys, they'll more than likely have a hunter in the family. This region's friendly

people are usually more than willing to help point a stranger in the right direction.

Keep in mind the three requirements for turkey hideouts: trees, water and some open areas. Try to locate at least six possible hunting areas that show signs of turkey activity.

The reason for scouting as many locations as possible is that come opening day, another hunter may beat you to a specific area. Or toms may not be calling in one area, yet in another location, they may be gobbling up a storm.

As the saying goes, it's good to have a back-up to the back-up when it comes to hunting grounds.

For scouting unfamiliar terrain, one of the handiest references is a good topographic map. Many department stores now carry a state-specific topographic atlas that's broken down according to a statewide grid.

The Atlas & Gazetteer published by DeLorme is an excellent topographic reference. Back roads and waterways are shown in detail on these maps, along with the makeup of an area's terrain.

Familiarity with maps and topography can only better your odds of finding gobblers, and such information can help prevent the extremely uncomfortable situation of getting lost.

If you happen to get turned around in the backwoods, a reliable compass and accurate map in your old daypack can be worth their weight in $50 bills.

For additional information on Paintsville Lake WMA, call 1-800-858-1549.

FORT KNOX WMA

If hunters are willing to take the time to follow the guidelines required to hunt at Fort Knox, they will be well rewarded with excellent turkey-hunting opportunities.

With over 109,000 acres of land just 30 miles south of Louisville in portions of Hardin, Bullitt and Meade counties, Fort Knox provides premier wild turkey habitat.

In order to gain access to this region, all users of the area must check in at Hunt Control Headquarters, in Building 112 on 11th Avenue and Binter Street in Fort Knox.

The guidelines make it clear that this is an active military reservation, and "access is only by a strictly controlled and rigidly enforced system."

Once you obtain the appropriate permit, you'll have access to a variety of scenic turkey terrain, with 120 miles of roadways throughout the reservation.

Hardwood forests cover the broad ridgetops. Rolling upland, narrow valleys and steep-to-sloping cliffs combine to create some of the best turkey strutting grounds in central Kentucky.

When on a scouting expedition to Fort Knox, and any other public lands, look for obvious signs of turkey activity.

Turkey scratchings are unique, in that even a lone gobbler can tear up a good section of ground in his search for nuts, seeds and insects. A flock of feeding turkeys can tear up an entire hillside.

In forested areas, look for leaves upended in small piles close together.

In areas where tracks are distinguishable, keep in mind that an adult tom's middle toe is generally more than 2 1/2 inches long, whereas on jakes and hens, the middle toes are less than 2 1/2 inches long.

While scouting, another sign to look for are turkey droppings. Any one turkey can leave up to 20 or more droppings a day. A hen's droppings usually have no set form, but a tom's often have a J-shaped hook at the end.

Such details can help you pinpoint a gobbler's locations, as opposed to following a flock of hens.

To obtain more information on the rules and regulations on hunting at Fort Knox, contact Fort Knox Military Reservation, Attn: Hunt Control Office, Fort Knox, KY 40121-5000; or call (502) 624-2712.

PEABODY WMA

Right in the heart of the most productive wild turkey hunting to be found anywhere within the Commonwealth lies the nearly 64,000 acres of the Peabody WMA.

This public hunting area lies in Ohio and Muhlenberg counties, two of the top five turkey harvest counties from the 2007 spring season.

Hunters unfamiliar with the Peabody region should note that in many areas, it contains some extremely rugged terrain.

The terrain is primarily reclaimed coal-mine land. Deep pits and high ridges with many excavated ridges and strip-mined pits are found throughout this area.

Several access points area available to hunters from state Routes (SRs) 70 and 369 as well as from U. S. Route 62. The Gibraltar tract in Muhlenberg County has a waterfowl refuge that is closed to all activities year 'round.

A few other tracts also have waterfowl tracts, but these locations are open after March 15.

The Peabody WMA presents great opportunities for turkey hunters, but pre-season scouting is a necessity due to the unique terrain. A user permit is required and can be purchased wherever Kentucky hunting and fishing licenses are sold.

Although the land is rugged in places, the abundance of water has helped establish turkeys within this acreage. Locating roosting sites is a good approach in this area.

Remember that when scouting an area, it's best not to call to the gobblers. The turkeys will become wary when exposed to pre-season calling. But don't worry about spooking the turkeys simply by walking through their feeding and roosting grounds.

Though gobbler calling is not recommended, owl hoots or crow calls in the evening can help locate roosting sites during your scouting trips. Hike or drive to high-ground regions and try the owl or crow calls for a response.

Gobblers are ordinarily quieter in the evenings, yet such calls will bring out these birds' fighting instincts, and you'll often hear a response.

For more information on access to and maps of the Peabody region, as well as advice on where to hunt at this WMA, write or call the KDFWR in Frankfort.

PENNYRILE

STATE FOREST

Another west Kentucky public turkey land is the 15,468-acre Pennyrile State Forest in Christian County, offering quality wild turkey habitat,

Eight miles south of Dawson Springs, the Pennyrile SF offers an additional opportunity for turkey hunters in the form of Pennyrile Forest State Resort Park, where food, lodging, camping and other recreational facilities are available.

Pennyrile, as its names suggests, is primarily forested, hilly terrain with many roads and trails throughout the region. Scouting a turkey habitat like Pennyrile makes for an ideal opportunity to combine a family out

ing with turkey scouting.

Hiking the woodlands during these pre-season outings offers plenty of fun for the whole family while the turkey hunter has ample opportunity to find turkey sign.

This also allows the sportsman to educate future hunters in what to look for concerning wild turkeys. The difference between a juvenile male -- a jake -- and a mature gobbler is a good distinction to teach.

When young people hear the word "beard," they automatically think of the red-pinkish area around a tom's head and throat. Instead, teach them to look for the clump of long, coarse beard hair on the front of the gobbler's breast. That's a good way to acquire help in spotting toms while out scouting.

When scouting woodland areas like Pennyrile, search out the turkeys' food sources. Adult wild turkeys are omnivorous, which is one reason behind their amazing reestablishment across the eastern United States. They will eat just about anything.

When in season, acorns are a favorite food of these birds. They will also feed on seeds and the nuts of pine and beech trees.

In farming regions, turkeys will eat corn, oats, barley, wheat and sunflowers. But in forested regions -- their primary habitat -- the staples of the turkey's diet are insects and other invertebrates.

During spring, turkeys will feed on leaves and grasses, and in summer, fruits and berries as well.

For more on the turkey-hunting opportunities at Pennyrile State Forest, as well as the many other public hunting lands available throughout the Bluegrass State, contact the KDFWR in Frankfort.

Success during the spring turkey season depends on your knowing the birds' daily activities.

At daybreak, turkeys will be in their roosting trees.

When the toms start gobbling, hens will give out soft yelps. If you're in the right place at the right time, this is truly when the hunt begins.

If weather conditions are good, the birds will fly off the roost when the light is good enough for them to feel safe. If the woods are dark from overcast skies or fog, turkeys may stay on the limbs for a couple of hours after daybreak.

When a tom gobbles first thing in the morning, he's usually trying to attract hens.

If a hen doesn't come to his roosting area, he will fly down and go to his strutting area. In hilly terrain, this often means ridges and points.

In more open areas, toms will often strut along the edges of open fields.

Nearly all consistently successful turkey hunters agree: Knowing where the tom turkeys roost and where they strut will provide the best opportunities for a good shot.

A convincing call, a few decoys and appropriate camouflage all play a part. But pre-season scouting to find where the birds live is the primary objective in bringing home a gobbler for the table.

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