Kentucky's Top Destinations for Fall Turkeys

Here's a region-by-region breakdown on where you'll find exceptional turkey hunting during our state's fall season. At least one of these hotspots is apt to be near you!

By Brian Grossman

When the subject of turkey hunting comes up in conversations among hunters, chances are the discussion will include talk of gobbling longbeards, strut zones, toms, as well as the sights and sounds of springtime. The allure of heart-pounding, run-and-gun action that spring turkey hunting can provide is strong, but for Kentucky's turkey hunters, it is not the only game in town.

Thanks to a booming population of birds in the Bluegrass State, the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources (KDFWR) has been generously providing sportsmen with the opportunity to harvest fall turkeys for the last four years. Up until the 2003 season, fall shotgun hunters were limited to five days in early December. Last season, however, the KDFWR tacked on an additional five days in late October, doubling the length of the season and giving Commonwealth hunters their first chance to harvest their very own meal for the Thanksgiving table.

Despite the additional days, the growing numbers of turkeys, and the ever-increasing ranks of spring turkey hunters, the fall season remains largely underutilized. In all three years of statewide fall shotgun turkey hunting (the first year was limited to 40 counties), the harvest has hovered around the 2,000 mark. It did increase by 473 birds in 2003 from 1,804 to a season total of 2,277 with the extra five days of hunting. Tack on an additional 528 turkeys taken with archery equipment, and the total 2003 fall turkey harvest comes to just 2,805 birds. Despite these meager harvest numbers, a shortage of birds is definitely not the problem.

"We are harvesting about 1 percent (of the fall turkey population) now," said Jim Lane, turkey program coordinator for the KDFWR. "We can still increase hunting opportunity with a target harvest being 6 to 8 percent of the fall population."

In an effort to do just that, the KDFWR has added an additional four days of shotgun hunting this fall, increased the bag limit to two birds, and will allow fall turkey hunters to use dogs for the first time in Kentucky. Even with all the additional opportunities, though, the key to increasing the harvest will most likely hinge on the ability to increase the low number of turkey hunters who are presently taking advantage of the fall season.

Most likely one of the real culprits behind lower hunter numbers has to do with the multitude of hunting opportunities available at this time of the year. Many would-be fall turkey hunters are busy bowhunting whitetails or chasing small game instead. Add to that the unfamiliar techniques required to successfully hunt fall turkeys and the lack of gobbling activity, and it becomes easy to see why some are hesitant to give this relatively new season a try.

This is not to say, however, that the ranks of fall turkey hunters are not growing. "The number of fall gun permits sold for 2001 was 8,941," advises Lane. "In 2003, about 11,000 people bought a fall turkey firearm tag or a sportsman's license." That is a 23 percent increase over the last three years and correlates closely with the harvest increase during that time frame. As turkey numbers continue to increase across the state and more hunters give fall turkey hunting a try, it is a sure bet that the popularity of the fall turkey season will grow by leaps and bounds.

If you love to turkey hunt and have not given the fall shotgun turkey season a try, then you are overlooking a great and enjoyable hunting opportunity on some low-pressured birds.

Don't have a place to go? No problem! With a healthy population of birds statewide, you can be assured that there are some public hunting opportunities for fall turkeys near you. Here is a region-by-region breakdown of Kentucky's top destinations to fill your fall shotgun turkey tags this season.

The state has expanded the fall turkey season to more days and new areas, plus allows the use of dogs while hunting fall birds. This is an attempt to get more sportsmen interested in this exciting season. Photo by Ralph Hensley

BLUEGRASS REGION

When it comes to fall turkey hunting, no region in Kentucky is better than the Bluegrass. The area encompasses three of the top five counties for fall turkey harvest and five of the top 10. These include second-place Anderson County where 69 birds were harvested last year; third place goes to Hardin County, with a harvest of 64 birds; and fifth place is held by Owen County, which checked in a respectable 57 birds. All together, Bluegrass Region hunters took an impressive 842 birds last fall, nearly one-third of the entire fall harvest. Public-land hunters have a few exceptional options within two of the top counties as well.

Anderson County contains a portion of Taylorsville Lake Wildlife Management Area (WMA), which also extends into neighboring Spencer and Nelson counties. The area consists of 11,672 acres of prime turkey habitat, with a good mix of open ridgetops, thick secondary growth and mature oak-hickory hardwoods. There are also small patches of clover and the occasional wheat fields that dot the open areas around the WMA.

While Taylorsville Lake WMA receives a good deal of hunting pressure, fall shotgun turkey hunters are more likely to encounter archers or small-game hunters than they are other turkey hunters. Keep in mind that the first two days of the December fall turkey season has traditionally coincided with Taylorsville's deer quota hunt weekend, which closes the area to all other use.

Also, a portion of the WMA is closed as a waterfowl refuge from Nov. 1, through the last day of February. Be sure to check your hunting guide for specific season dates and regulations for the WMA before heading out to the field. Further questions regarding hunting Taylorsville Lake WMA can be directed to the area office at (502) 477-9024.

The Kleber WMA in Franklin and Owen counties and its neighbor, Rich WMA, also in Owen County, combine for a total of 4,142 acres of excellent fall turkey hunting opportunity. Both areas consist of steep hillsides, narrow ridgetops, and floodplains with a good combination of forest, brush and open grasslands. Like Taylorsville Lake WMA, both Kleber and Rich WMAs can receive heavy hunting pressure at times, and both have their deer quota hunts the same weekend in December as Taylorsville. Again, be sure to check your hunting guide for specific dates and regulations, or contact the local office at (502) 535-6335 for additional information.

GREEN RIVER REGION

If there were a close runner-up to central Kentucky for fall turkey hunting, it would be the Green River Region, with a total fall harvest of 693 birds last season. The

remaining two of the top five counties for fall turkey harvest are in this region, including No. 1 Ohio County, with 74 birds harvested, and No. 4 Muhlenburg County, where sportsmen checked in 58 birds. It just so happens that 60,000 acres of public hunting opportunity exists here in the form of the Peabody WMA.

Peabody WMA is a unique area in terms of its terrain. Much of the acreage is reclaimed coal land with numerous excavated ridges and water-filled strip mine pits. The terrain can be rough and varies from swampland to high ridges and deep pits, with a mixture of open grasslands and timbered wood lots.

Hunting Peabody WMA requires a $12.50 user permit that can be purchased wherever hunting and fishing licenses are sold, and it is one of the few WMAs where primitive camping is permitted. Be aware that portions of the area are closed as waterfowl refuges from Oct. 15 through March 15, so be sure to obtain a map and check your hunting guide for additional regulations. Questions regarding the WMA can be directed to the local KDFWR office at (270) 273-3568.

SOUTHEAST REGION

The Southeast Region, with the third highest fall turkey harvest in 2003, offers hunters good turkey numbers in a much more rugged and remote setting. With the ruggedness of the terrain and a high percentage of forested area, the chance at solitude is a real possibility in this region. Standout counties include Pulaski, with 47 birds checked in; Lincoln County, with 31 birds; and Jackson County with a harvest of 30 birds. Public land is plentiful in the Southeast Region with a large portion of Daniel Boone National Forest's (NF) 670,000 acres falling within its boundaries.

The Daniel Boone NF is made up of heavily forested, mountainous terrain with many sections that are steep and rugged. There are many U.S., state, county and forest roads that lead into the area, and several recreational areas maintained by the Forest Service offer camping. The area is dotted with sections of private land within the forest's boundaries, so getting a map from the Forest Service is a must before heading out after turkeys.

Hunters unfamiliar with the vast expanses of the Daniel Boone NF may want to narrow their search for a starting point by giving Mill Creek WMA a look. Mill Creek consists of 13,558 acres that are located within the forest boundaries in Jackson County.

The terrain is similar to that of the surrounding forest with steep slopes and long, narrow ridgetops. Timber covers a majority of the area with approximately 30 acres of openings. The fall turkey season is open on both Daniel Boone NF as well as Mill Creek WMA under statewide regulations and season dates. No special user permit is required. For further information on hunting Mill Creek WMA, contact the local KDFWR office at (606) 287-7836.

NORTHEAST REGION

With a 2003 fall turkey harvest of 481 birds, the Northeast Region offers similar hunting conditions and opportunities to that of its southern counterpart. The top county was Morgan, with an impressive 51 birds harvested last fall. Rowan County followed with a harvest of 40, while Carter County sportsmen checked in 33 birds.

This region also has a good deal of public hunting land, with the majority consisting of the remaining portion of Daniel Boone NF. Portions of the forest fall within two of this region's top three counties - Rowan and Morgan.

Despite the fact that Nicholas County did not rank high on the fall turkey harvest list, biologist Lane suggests that hunters not overlook Clay WMA, which falls inside the county's boundary. Clay WMA consists of 4,901 acres of primarily woodlands with approximately 1,700 acres of cleared fields. The terrain is steep to rolling and there are old roads, trails and miles of maintained roads intersecting the area.

In previous years, the first three days of the December portion of fall gun turkey season have been closed on Clay for their annual pheasant quota hunts. Be sure and check your new 2004-2005 Hunting Guide for specific season dates and regulations on the WMA. For further information on the area, contact the local KDFWR office at (606) 289-2564.

PURCHASE REGION

Far western Kentucky has traditionally had lower turkey numbers than other parts of the state. This is primarily due to its higher percentage of open agricultural land as opposed to the more forested areas that eastern wild turkeys prefer. That does not mean, however, that western Kentucky hunters do not have some excellent opportunities to fill their fall turkey tags. Crittenden, Caldwell and Livingston counties all had good harvests during the 2003 fall turkey season, checking in 55, 44 and 37 birds, respectively.

Hunters on this far end of the state may want to look to the Pennyrile State Forest to try and fill their fall turkey tags. Pennyrile consists of 14,654 acres in Christian, Hopkins and Caldwell counties and is managed for sustainable timber production by the Kentucky Division of Forestry. The terrain consists primarily of steep, hilly, forested land with rocky bluffs and outcroppings. The habitat includes a mix of oak-hickory and pine woodlands with old fields and native grasslands scattered throughout the forest.

Hunters choosing to hunt Pennyrile have the benefit of nearby camping and lodging accommodations in the Pennyrile Forest State Resort Park. For more information on hunting Pennyrile State Forest, contact the regional office at (270) 753-6913.

SUMMARY

No matter where you live in the Bluegrass State, chances are you are not too far from some excellent fall turkey hunting opportunities. Kentucky has good numbers of birds across the entire state, and public hunting opportunities exist in every region. While the areas mentioned in this article are the top picks for the 2004 fall season, huntable numbers of turkeys can be found in most counties and WMAs throughout the Bluegrass.

Regardless of which area you choose to hunt this fall, remember that your success will rely heavily on scouting and knowing the area that you intend to hunt. If you can learn where the birds prefer to roost and where they're likely to feed, then you have greatly increased your odds of putting a turkey on the table. It is about as much of a sure thing as you can get when it comes to the unpredictable nature of hunting.

A fall firearm turkey permit or sportsman's license is required, and the bag limit is two either-sex birds, only one of which may be taken per day. Remember that season dates and regulations can differ on wildlife management areas, so be sure and check your 2004-2005 Hunting Guide before going afield.



Discover even more in our monthly magazine,

and have it delivered to your door!

Subscribe to Kentucky Game & Fish


Magazine Cover

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Temporary Price Reduction

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Get the top Game & Fish stories delivered right to your inbox every week.