Our State's Top Turkey Counties

Let's take an inside look at turkey hunting in Kentucky and highlight the best harvest counties within each region. One of these picks is surely near where you hunt! (March 2009)

Turkey hunting across the Commonwealth has dramatically improved over the years and continues to get better. The author and his son, James, pose with a fine gobbler, which the young hunter bagged last season. Photo courtesy of Travis Faulkner.

It's funny how I can still remember every detail of my first successful turkey hunt in the Bluegrass State. It seems like only yesterday when I, as a teenage boy, watched that first longbeard bust out into a full-strut pose and heard its ground-shaking gobble.

That was all it took to forever change something deep inside of me.

These days, my son James shares that same passion and burning desire to get out there during spring. Along about March, we both come down with longbeard fever. And it seems like with each passing season, the symptoms only get worse.

At this point, I've tagged a ton of thick-bearded gobblers from across the country, but a strutting longbeard still has what it takes to make me come completely unraveled.

Lately, I've enjoyed watching my son grow into a turkey-tagging machine. I love spending time with my boy James and my father Jim in the springtime woods. During the last Kentucky spring season, James, my father and I made it tough on the longbeards. Consequently, during the youth weekend, James was able to punch his tag with a monster gobbler packing a paintbrush for a beard.

Later that spring, my father and I filled both of our tags while hunting in mountainous Whitley County.

In the western part of the state, other hunters -- like my good friends Harold Knight and David Hale -- also experienced a phenomenal year.

Last season, in fact, Harold and David both tagged out in western Kentucky, as did several of their grandchildren. Harold and David were able to watch their love for spring turkey hunting come full circle as Connor and Tyler Knight, along with Blake and Dylan Edmonson, all dropped the hammer on nice birds in their home state.

It's amazing how good turkey hunting across the Bluegrass has become in recent years!

When I was a boy, all we had to hunt in mountain country were squirrels, rabbits, grouse and a few scattered pockets of quail. Back then, there weren't that many deer. And until my late teenage years, I didn't even see my first turkey.

These days, a hunter would be hard-pressed to drive anywhere in the commonwealth and not find good numbers of turkeys. Without question, the restoration efforts, conservative bag limits and intense management practices of the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources (KDFWR) have transformed our state into a premier turkey-hunting destination.

Hunters across the Bluegrass State experienced another phenomenal spring last year and tagged a staggering 27,064 birds statewide.

On that positive note, let's take a quick look back at where last spring's top harvest counties were -- and check with the experts to see where this season's hotspots should be.

TOP HARVEST COUNTIES

Statewide, the top six harvest counties all put up some impressive numbers during the 2008 spring season. Last year alone, Hart, Muhlenberg, Logan, Ohio, Grayson and Crittenden counties each recorded over 500 birds. These amazing statistics add up to well over 3,000 tagged turkeys in these six areas alone.

This coming spring, these numbers are only expected to get larger.

Another head-turning fact: Of the six top harvest counties, five are all from the legendary Green River Region, which consistently leads the pack in overall harvest numbers and shows no sign of ever slowing down.

Steven Dobey is a wildlife program coordinator for the KDFWR. According to him, several key ingredients enable a county or region to produce high harvest numbers.

"A combination of factors contributes to a region's overall potential of for wild turkeys. Most of those factors are related directly to the surrounding habitat. Food, an obvious consideration, comes in the form of natural items or agricultural crops.

"Equally important," he stressed, "are the individual types of habitats in a given county or region. For an area to successfully maximize its potential, there must be roosting, nesting and brooding habitats for turkeys."

Consequently, Dobey feels that all of our state's traditionally top harvest counties yield large numbers of birds due to these factors.

Areas encompassing combinations of prime habitat consisting of fields, agricultural crops, thickets and hardwoods will naturally generate consistently higher harvest numbers.

Last year's top six harvest counties are all loaded with ideal habitat and food sources that can sustain a lot of birds. Most of the top harvest counties have large sections of agricultural cropland with an abundance of roosting trees and brooding cover.

This is exactly why these six counties are able to dominate the state's harvest totals, season after season.

REGIONAL COUNTY BREAKDOWN

One great thing about the Bluegrass State during the spring is that you needn't go very far to get on a loudmouth gobbler. All five of the state's regions contain counties overflowing with turkeys and which offer fantastic hunting opportunities.

Acres of private and public land provide hunters with some of the finest turkey hunting in the nation.

Exactly where are the top harvest counties are across the state? See the following regional breakdown. You can just about bet the farm that the counties from these regions will have repeat performances this year as well.

Green River Region

Last spring, as we mentioned earlier, the Green River had five counties ranking in the top six in total harvest. Muhlenberg County led the way, with 572 birds being tagged and bagged. Grayson, Hart, Logan and Ohio counties finished out the top five in regional harvest, with over 500 birds each. All of these counties have the perfect combination of habitat and food, thanks to the rich farmland that surrounds the area.

This spring, according to the KDFWR, hunters should hit anothe

r grand slam, and harvest numbers are expected to be extremely high.

Purchase Region

In the far western part of the state lie the counties of the Purchase Region. This area offers some excellent spring turkey hunting. In fact, Crittenden County broke into the top five in the entire state last season, taking top harvest honors in the Purchase Region with hunters tagging and bagging a total harvest of 503 birds.

Crittenden County was followed by Graves, Livingston, Christian and Calloway counties. You shouldn't overlook these top five this April -- during the 2008 spring season, they gave up 1,913 turkeys.

Bluegrass Region

In recent years, several of the Bluegrass Region's counties have been hitting the charts with some pretty impressive numbers. Last season was no different: This remarkable region's top five counties of accounted for a harvest of more than 1,800 turkeys tagged. With a total of 493 turkeys, Owen County barely missed the 500 mark. With 427 harvested birds, Pendleton County wasn't too far behind. Shelby, Washington and Boone rounded out the top five, and this spring's numbers are expected to grow even larger.

Northeast Region

For years, the counties of the Northeast Region have probably received less statewide attention when it comes to turkey hunting. However, several counties tucked away in this often-overlooked region consistently put up solid harvest numbers.

For example, hunters in Morgan County were able to knock down a total of 339 birds to take first-place honors last season. Carter County came in second with 294 turkeys tagged. Bracken, Pike and Lawrence finished out the top five in total harvest, with just under 300 birds each.

Hunters claimed a total of 1,360 gobblers from these counties. Things are looking good, and harvest numbers should climb steadily for this coming season.

Southeast Region

A total of 29 large counties make up the Southeast Region, and in each one, hunters can find solid numbers of turkeys. Last spring, in fact, the top five harvest counties saw a total of 1,690 birds harvested by sportsmen.

Pulaski County sealed the first-place position with 404 turkeys, and neighboring Wayne County came in second with 340 gobblers. To round out the top five spots, Adair, Green and Cumberland counties averaged more than 300 birds each.

This spring, the Southeast Region is definitely an area that hunters should not overlook.

REGIONAL BRAGGING RIGHTS

In the spring of the year, as we pointed out earlier, you just about can't go wrong hunting any of the county in the state's five turkey-filled regions. However, if you want to know how each region stacked up compared to the others, you need to check out these statistics.

As far as total harvest goes, counties of the legendary Green River Region dominated the entire state, with 8,223 turkeys being checked in last season alone.

This region has been known as a turkey-hunting powerhouse because many of its counties encompass what's considered to be perfect turkey habitat with abundant food sources.

Second-place honors go to the counties of the Bluegrass Region, thanks to the 6,011 turkeys taken by hunters last spring. Many people believe that this area holds some of the state's finest turkey hunting. It's hard to argue that point with impressive numbers like these.

The counties of the Southeast Region didn't miss the second-place ranking by many birds. In fact, just over 200 filled tags separated the Bluegrass and the Southeast regions.

During the 2008 spring season, hunters punched a total of 5,789 turkey tags. Indications are good that this year should even be better.

The Northeast Region chipped in with a total of 3,816 turkeys to take a fourth-place ranking in overall statewide harvest. Many folks feel that in these counties, the hunting pressure may not be as intense as in other areas across the state -- which could be a huge advantage for hunters looking to get away from the crowds.

Finally, the smaller Purchase Region finishes out the top five rankings with a total of 3,234 harvested turkeys. However, you must consider that the Purchase Region only has 14 counties and is the smallest of all the state's regions.

By no means does a fifth-place ranking in total statewide harvest suggest a poorer quality of turkey hunting. This area traditionally holds its own when it comes to spring turkey hunting, and this trend is expected to continue.

HOTTEST PUBLIC-LAND DESTINATIONS

Another great thing about turkey hunting in the Bluegrass State is our easy access to acres of prime public land. All five regions encompass land set aside for public use, and some of these wildlife management areas (WMAs) have been intensely managed for hunting.

During the spring, I typically hunt several public-land areas across the state. When it comes to overall numbers of birds, these locations can be just as good as private land. If you don't have immediate access to private land this spring, you might want to look into hunting the following top harvest public-land areas.

The Daniel Boone National Forest in the Southeast Region led the state as the hottest spring turkey-hunting destination. When April rolls around, hunters here have access to approximately 670,000 acres of land to chase gobbling longbeards. Many state and county roads lead into or across this vast territory. Turkey hunters can also take advantage of marked hiking trails and forest roads that cut through these heavily wooded areas.

The terrain consists primarily of mountainous land dropping off into deep river and creek bottoms. Some sections of the Daniel Boone National Forest can be rough, but if you're not afraid to walk a little, you can put some distance between you and the competition. This area is loaded with birds and should definitely not be overlooked by hunters this spring.

Another prime public-land hunting destination would have to be the Peabody WMA, located in the Green River Region. Last spring, hunters in this WMA checked in enough birds for it to claim the No. 2 spot in total public-land harvest.

Currently, there are nearly 60,000 acres of excellent turkey-hunting habitat within this WMA's boundaries. Hunters will find high wooded ridges, deep hollows, reclaimed coal-mined land and strip pits. A variety of terrain features on Peabody provides just about everything that's needed to produce consistently high numbers of birds. In addition, you will also be hunting deep inside the state's leading turkey-harvest region.

This spring, hunters in the Purchase Region need to take a look at the Land Between the Lakes National Recreational Area. Last year, this public-land area placed third in total harvest and is expected to produce another outstanding harvest this s

eason as well.

Longbeards have over 100,000 acres of land stretching across both Trigg and Lyon counties where they can break into full strut and show off in front of the ladies.

Without question, the Land Between the Lakes National Recreational Area is one of the hottest public-land destinations in the state.

OUR 2009 SPRING FORECAST

The good news is that hunters across the Bluegrass State have access to countless acres of prime turkey-hunting land that holds exceptionally large numbers of birds, year after year. However, for this upcoming spring, the experts are predicting a record-breaking season.

According to Steven Dobey of the KDFWR, the 2009 spring season could shatter previous records.

"This April should be phenomenal due to the high reproductive output observed statewide this year," he said. "Weather and other factors have generated average harvest numbers for the last couple of seasons. There should also be a good number of 2-year-old gobblers in the woods.

"However, a record-setting harvest will still depend on weather conditions and hunter participation during April and May."

If news like this doesn't get you fired up and ready to drop the hammer on a longbeard, you might want to reach down and check your pulse. With a potentially record-setting year on tab, right now's the perfect time to start breaking out the gear and start practicing your calls.

Before hitting the woods wide open this April, remember to check out last year's leading harvest counties and public-land hunting areas. These locations were red-hot last spring and are expected to produce high turkey numbers again this season.

Good luck and good hunting!

Find more about Kentucky fishing and hunting at KentuckyGameandFish.com

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