Face it. If you are a Sooner turkey hunter, the drought is not your friend! This cataclysmic, long-term weather event has wreaked havoc on our landscape, drying up ponds and killing trees and vegetation. Its trickle-down effect is manifested with declining numbers of game animals. Fawn production is down in the western parts of our state, and no doubt turkey recruitment has suffered as well. Thank goodness deer and turkeys are resilient creatures and will bounce back, because times have been tough out west.
In other parts of the state, Oklahoma turkey hunting numbers are stable, with some areas actually reporting growing numbers. That is good new if you are bent toward turkey hunting. All the bad news aside, the coming season is shaping up to be a decent one.
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RIO GRANDE OUTLOOK
Though I encountered fewer turkeys than in previous seasons, the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation biologist Rod Smith stated some pretty amazing facts about Rio Grande turkeys. “Looking at the long-term trends, Rio Grande turkey populations show us an important message,” he said. “Though turkey numbers have decreased in the past few years due to adverse weather conditions during nesting and brood rearing, our turkey numbers are still above the mean average for the past 20 years, and more important, above the expected line of growth. What happened was we experienced a rapid, unsustainable growth spurt between 2001 to 2006, the result of several back-to-back years with ideal conditions during the reproductive seasons. So really the message is, after the up and then the down, we are about where we would have expected if things progressed normally the past 10 to 12 years.
“Field reports generally indicated good reproduction last summer with more turkeys heading into winter than the previous year,” he continued. “With almost no reproduction in 2011 and fair reproduction in 2012, I anticipate fewer numbers of older birds this spring. I also suspect we will see more jakes than in the previous two years.”
Outfitter James Scott of Kiowa Creek Outfitters, (580) 243-1522, located near Hammon, says he expects another great season. This northwest outfitter leases 10,000 acres of prime land for both deer and turkeys.
“I am seeing good numbers of turkeys in my area,” he said. “Last spring, I had eight turkey hunters that took three toms each. I expect to do just as well, this spring!”
Our western counties’ flock estimates are as follows: Alfalfa 1,170; Beaver 500; Beckham 3,100; Blaine 3,042; Caddo 3,322; Cimarron 140; Comanche 2,255; Cotton 2,835; Custer 220; Dewey 2,776; Ellis 1,650; Greer 3,100; Harmon 2,900; Harper 1,675; Jackson 2,287; Jefferson 1,400; Kiowa 1,128; Major 3,085; Roger Mills 1,650; Stephens 1,100; Texas 220; Tillman 5,093; Washita 1,500; Woods 2,385; and Woodward County, which led all others, an estimated 5,630 turkeys.
EASTERN TURKEY OUTLOOK
ODWC biologist Jack Waymire paints a prettier picture for hunters heading to Southeastern Oklahoma for the 16-day season. In fact, he is hopeful the turkey hunting in his “back yard” will return to the prominence it once held. In 2007, numbers were at a 15-year high, with more than 7,500 birds.
“The reproduction in the southeast was good,” Waymire said, speaking of last season. “In fact, it was the best since 2005! The jake harvest increased last spring but there should be more 2-year-old toms available for the 2014 spring season. There should be good numbers of jakes also! If we can see reproduction like this or better for the next couple of years, we should observe turkeys expanding their range and beginning to fill in some of the voids caused by several years of poor reproduction.”
ODWC data points to the poults/hen brood survey increasing from 1.9 in 2012 to 3.2 in 2013. In 1987, the number was 6.4. Winter flock estimates place the number of eastern turkeys at 3,744 birds. That can be broken down as follows: Atoka 645; Bryan 50, Choctaw 11; Coal 141; Latimer 93; LeFlore 557; McCurtain 500; Pittsburg 927; and Pushmataha 820.
Harvest numbers in the southeast counties last spring were: Atoka 91; Bryan 41; Choctaw 21; Coal 36; Latimer 50; Le Flore 141; McCurtain 125; Pittsburg 104; and Pushmataha 132.
CENTRAL REGION FLOCK ESTIMATES
Flock estimates for the central region were as follows: Canadian 1,400; Carter 1,000; Cleveland 450; Creek 2,100; Garfield 750; Garvin 400; Grady 1,125; Grant 600; Hughes 750; Johnson 800; Kay 425, Kingfisher 2,975; Lincoln 700; Logan 2,000; Love 1,100; Marshall 75; McClain 750; Murray 300; Noble 800; Okfuskee 1,000; Oklahoma 165; Okmulgee 500; Osage 2,000; Pawnee 720; Payne 750; Pontotoc 1,400; Pottawatomie 920; and Seminole 2,100.
NORTHEAST REGION FLOCK ESTIMATES
County flock estimates were as follows: Adair 1,050; Cherokee 1,500; Craig 1,325; Delaware 190; Haskell 1,480; Mayes 350; McIntosh 1,390; Muskogee 1,300; Nowata 2,000; Ottawa 260; Rogers 410; Sequoyah 2,100; Tulsa 160; Wagoner 490; and Washington 900.
Last season harvest totals were: Adair 65; Cherokee 86; Craig 75; Delaware 40; Haskell 60; Mayes 24; McIntosh 58; Muskogee 51; Nowata 60; Ottawa 37; Rogers 15; Sequoyah 70; Tulsa 13; Wagoner 36; and Washington 47.
PUBLIC LAND TURKEYS
For hunters without private land access, the best bet in north-central Oklahoma is Kaw WMA, located near Ponca City in Kay County. Kaw WMA spans 16,254 acres and features hardwood bottoms surrounded by ODWC-planted feed fields. Nearly a third of the county’s annual harvest is taken off of this WMA. This public area surrounds much of Kaw Lake, and hunters are allowed one tom. Last season Kaw hunters took 14 turkeys.
Another great spot is Lexington WMA located in the heart of the state just east of Purcell. This 9,512-acre refuge yielded 15 gobblers last season.
No doubt, the most popular public spots in the southeast are the Three Rivers and Honobia Creek WMAs. Combined, these units total 325,000 acres, with residents between the ages of 18 and 64 required to pay a $40 annual user fee to hunt. The units yielded 41 gobblers last season.
Two good spots in the northeast are Cherokee GMA and Cherokee PHA which gave up 20 turkeys last season. Both units are in Cherokee County.
Another set of nearby WMAs are the Ouachita LU (LeFlore Unit) and the Ouachita MU (McCurtain Unit). The units combined produced 17 bearded birds last spring.
A good spot near Lake Eufaula is James Collins WMA near Quinton. That public area has premium eastern turkey habitat, with several openings recently added. James Collins yielded 19 toms last season.
Much of Western Oklahoma is privately owned, and so finding hunting opportunities can be tough. Land holding good numbers of deer and turkeys sometimes leases at upwards of $10 an acre. With leased lands bringing a premium, hunting public lands is a great option.
Public-land hunting opportunities are available at several wildlife management areas, including the 30,710-acre Black Kettle WMA, located near Cheyenne, 14,877-acre Canton WMA, located near Canton, 4,800-acre Ellis County WMA, located near Arnett, 5,418-acre Fort Supply WMA, located near Woodward, and the 15,000-acre Packsaddle WMA north of Roll.
Words to the wise: Black Kettle — being one of the largest and best-known public hunting areas in the nation — receives an incredible amount of hunting pressure from both in-state and out-of-state hunters.
Last year, the Oklahoma State Chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation spent $150,503 in habitat and educational projects to benefit wild turkeys and hunting programs — bringing the organization’s total expenditures to more than $4.3 million dollars and impacting more than 200,000 acres! That’s a good reason to become a member of the NWTF, if you aren’t already a member.
In the western part of the state a mastication project is under way at Black Kettle WMA in conjunction with the ODWC and the U.S. Forest Service. Invasive, red cedars and an overgrowth of brush will be removed around roosting locations. That improvement will be more conducive to the long-term growth of existing turkey populations.
Regional NWTF biologist Gene Miller said the project fits in nicely with the NWTF’s new “Save the Habitat. Save the Hunt.” initiative.
“The NWTF seeks to conserve/enhance 4 million acres, recruit 1.5 million new hunters, and open 500,000 acres of new, high-quality hunting lands across the nation to sportsmen over the next several years,” he said. More information on the initiative can be found at www.nwtf.org/Save-the-Habitat-Save-the-Hunt/.
In addition, Packsaddle WMA in Ellis County had fireguard renovation work done, while Cross Timbers WMA in Love County had fireguard establishment work. Of note, turkey nets and trapping supplies were purchased for statewide work.
The eastern part of the state also had several notable habitat enhancement projects completed. Pushmataha WMA had a prescribed burn affecting 5,000 acres, and Cookson WMA located in Adair and Cherokee counties received a fireguard enhancement. There was a prescribed burn of 2,800 acres at the Well Hollow Walk-In Turkey Hunting Area, located in the Ouachita National Forest in LeFlore County. In addition, prescribed burning equipment was purchased for the Okmulgee WMA to enhance the wildlife habitat there.
Miller said the NWTF has dedicated $143,593 in additional funds for state projects in 2014.
SEASON DATES, BAG LIMITS
Spring turkey season opens April 6 and runs through May 6 statewide, except in the southeast region which runs April 21 through May 6. The southeast region consists of Coal, Atoka, Pittsburg, Pushmataha, Choctaw, Latimer, LeFlore, and McCurtain counties. The season limit is three toms, defined as any bearded turkey regardless of sex.
A special Youth Spring Turkey season runs March 29-30 statewide, except the southeast region which has a youth hunt April 19-20. The limit for both youth seasons combined is one tom turkey.
For general season bag limits in the county you hunt, check the state hunting regulations booklet.
Turkeys should be found in good numbers in all their traditional areas around the state. Good concealment and sitting still is critical when hunting turkeys. Sometimes calling sparingly works best when gobblers are henned up. Remember, never wear the colors red, white, blue, or black — the colors of a gobbler — while hunting.
All turkeys east of I-35 must be checked, but online checking is available at www.wildlifedepartment.com.
Remember that after the harvest hunters are required to tag their toms. Lifetime license holders must affix their name and hunting license number to their turkeys, while annual license holders must also include the date and time of harvest, and complete the “Record of Game” section on their license form.
Be safe and good hunting!
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