As old man winter loosens his grip on the Peach State, hunters are setting sights on turkey season. Now is the time to scout out hunting areas and make plans for putting turkey on the table this spring.
Turkey hunting season opens statewide in Georgia on Saturday, March 23, 2013, and runs through May 15. The bag limit is three gobblers per season.
The Georgia Department of Natural Resources, Wildlife Resources Division estimates the turkey population at around 335,000. This number has held fairly steady since 2010, according to Kevin Lowrey, wildlife biologist and the wild turkey project coordinator with WRD.
This population is remarkable when you look at Georgia's gobbler history. Until the 1900s, wild turkeys were plentiful in Georgia, but habitat changes and subsistence and market hunting extracted a heavy toll on the population. By 1973, fewer than 17,000 wild turkey roamed the state.
Things looked up in the 1950s when the state began releasing pen-reared birds in hopes of restoring populations. But, things didn't go as planned. The pen-reared birds lacked survival skills, and they were either eaten by predators or just starved to death.
In 1973, DNR began a serious restocking program. During this time, more than 4,800 birds were relocated to 400 locations around the state. In 1996, the program was deemed a success and restocking ceased. Today, wild turkey can now be found in all 159 counties in Georgia.
Now, WRD focuses its resources on management activities that benefit wild turkey and other wildlife. DNR maintains and enhances habitat by thinning and burning pine stands, planting warm and cool season wildlife openings and other activities. Biologists also advise private landowners on how best to create and maintain healthy turkey habitat on their property.
- The NWTF offers a more detailed hunt guide with exclusive, member-only information prepared by NWTF biologists and field staff. To access this information please join the NWTF.
In addition, WRD conduct three annual surveys to examine turkey trend. The turkey hunter phone survey gathers information on hunter demographics and harvest statistics. Secondly, the Spring Brood Survey measures turkey reproduction and helps wildlife biologists predict the spring season.
"The brood survey allows us to see when something is going wrong," says Lowrey. "As long as we can explain why something went wrong with a turkey season then we're good. It's when we can't explain it that it is bad."
Finally, the Hunter Cooperative Survey collects data from hunters about hours hunted, number of turkey spotted, harvested, etc. DNR analyzes this data and uses it to predict the next season.
The National Wild Turkey Federation plays a big role in state turkey management. DNR and NWTF have a great partnership in Georgia.
"In recent years, we've been able to purchase lots of big equipment with Superfund money," says Lowrey. "In the past two years, NWTF dollars have allowed us to fund one day laborer per regions for 17 weeks each year."
This has been a huge help for turkey management and a big morale booster for staff exhausted by years of budget cuts.
So what does the spring turkey season have in store for Georgia hunters? According to Lowrey, the spring of 2012 had nice weather patterns and an early green up which generally lends itself to a better than average hatch, but that was not really the case last year. Therefore, the forecast for the 2013 season is somewhat mixed.
"The Piedmont and Ridge and Valley regions have had above average reproduction and are likely to have a good season," says Lowrey.
There has also been fair to good reproduction in the mountains for a number of years though a mast failure in 2011 meant the birds did not expend a lot of effort on spring mating.
"I think there are a lot more birds in the mountains than were represented in the harvest survey," Lowrey said.
The Coastal Plain region had a good hatch in 2010 followed by a terrible hatch in 2011. The 2012 season was pretty good, but since the hatch was low in 2011 there will be a lot fewer of the vocal two-year-old birds available.
The Piedmont is generally the most productive area of the state, says Lowrey. It's been the 'bread and butter' for the turkey population for years with consistent production and good habitat. The area has undergone some transformations in recent years, however, that have negatively impacted the turkey. Turkey habitat has taken a hit from development and increasing number of pine stands. DNR has been working to educate private landowners on how to maintain good turkey populations in pine stands and agricultural lands with the goal of maintaining the turkey population in this region.
So where should you hunt this turkey season? Most sportsmen hunt on private land, either their own or with permission from a land owner, but the state also offers an array of good hunting opportunities in all regions.
Georgia has 90 huntable tracts on WMAs that encompass more than a million acres. Hunters can access these prime hunting lands for the cost of a WMA stamp. While WMAs make up a mere 3.7 percent of the state's total wild turkey range, nearly 18 percent of Georgia's turkey hunters reported using public lands during the 2012 turkey season. During last season, 12,906 turkey hunters signed in on 85 WMAs
Using the 2012 harvest statistics as an indicator for the 2013 season, let's take a look at the various physiographic regions in Georgia to see where the best hunting spots are.
RIDGE AND VALLEY
Located in extreme northwestern Georgia, the Ridge and Valley region is dominated by a series of limestone-substrate parallel ridges forested with a mix of pine and oak/hickory. The soils are fairly productive for wildlife, but the steep ridges make hiking in and out challenging. The hunter success rate in this region for 2012 was 9.5 percent.
The 15,029-acre Berry Harvest WMA, near Rome, had the highest harvest per square mile with 2.13. All told, 224 hunters signed into the area and harvested a total of 50 birds on this ever-popular WMA. This adds up to a respectable 22 percent rate of success.
Pine Log came in with the second highest harvest per square mile at 1.64. The 371 hunters on this 14,054-acre tract harvested a total of 36 birds for a 10 percent rate of success. The 19,951-acre Crockford-Pigeon Mountain WMA had 386 hunters that harvested 31 birds. John's Mountain WMA is another massive hunting tract in this area with 24,849 acres. All told, 261 hunters signed into John's Mountain in 2012 bagging 21 birds for an 8 percent success rate. The first two weeks of hunting on John's Mountain are quota only.
The DNR does not collect harvest data at the county level. However, Polk and Floyd counties had the highest turkey population estimates in recent surveys.
BLUE RIDGE MOUNTAINS
Encompassing the state's northernmost counties, the Blue Ridge Mountain region is characterized by less-fertile soils and steep terrain. The overall success rate for this area during the 2012 hunting season was 4.4 percent.
The WMA with the highest harvest per square mile was the 2,255-acre McGraw Ford, in Cherokee County, where 154 hunters harvested six birds with a total of 1.7 turkey harvested per square mile. Cohutta WMA had the highest total of birds harvested at 21 total birds harvested, which translates into a 7 percent success rate. Coopers Creek WMA and Chestatee WMA both had 11 total birds harvested. On Dukes Creek, 19 hunters harvested 3 birds for a 16 percent rate of success.
For hunters with access to private lands, Fannin and Gilmer counties had the highest number of turkey sighted in recent surveys.
Located in the state's midsection, the Piedmont region has produced a lot of birds over the years, and is consistently among the most productive regions in the state. The region's granite-clay soils are highly productive wildlife habitat. The forested areas are predominately an oak/hickory mix with large areas of pines as well. Hunter success for this region was 10.3 percent for 2012.
Looking strictly at harvest per square mile, some of the smaller WMAs such as the 800-acre Vaughter and the 2837-acre Wilson Shoals had the highest number of turkeys harvested per square mile at 4.8 and 4.7 respectively. However, the 37,820-acre Cedar Creek stands out with the highest total number of turkeys harvested at 78. The 729 hunters on this area had an 11 percent success rate. Paulding Forest's 568 hunters killed a total of 65 birds, also an 11 percent success rate.
The 37,500 Redlands WMA is always a big time produces according to Lowrey. In 2012, a total of 533 hunters signed into this area harvesting 46 birds. Dawson Forest WMA and Lake Russell WMA are also consistently good. In 2012, there were 60 turkeys harvested on Dawson Forest and 45 on Lake Russell WMA. The 6,015-acre Rum Creek WMA is another good area to try. Located near Forsyth, 67 hunters harvest 20 birds for a nearly 30 percent success rate. Greene and Harris counties recorded the highest turkey populations in the Piedmont region.
UPPER COASTAL PLAIN
Characterized by mature forests interspersed with wildlife openings, the Upper Coastal Plain region has one of the more recently restored turkey population. This region had the highest success rate during the 2012 hunting season at 10.8 percent.
DiLane WMA was the highest producing area with 8.5 turkey harvested per square mile. A total of 130 hunters harvested 57 turkeys for a success rate of 44 percent. DiLane is an 8,100-acre WMA with a mixture of agricultural fields and forested areas. It is quota only for the first two weeks of the season and hunters need to submit applications for the quota hunt by Feb. 15, 2013.
The 19,700-acre Chickasawhatchee WMA had the second highest total of birds harvested at 36. The 295 sportsmen who hunted this area had a 22 percent success rate. There is a popular and highly successful quota hunt on this area each year. Located in Baker, Calhoun and Dougherty counties, this WMA sits adjacent to the old Seminole WMA and has lots of plantation style longleaf pine stands along with some slash pine stands that need to be converted, says Lowrey.
Yuchi WMA in Burke County had 21 birds harvested by 239 hunters for an 8 percent success rate, and the 161 sportsmen who hunted Beaverdam WMA harvested 18 birds for an 11 percent rate of success.
In the Upper Coastal Plain region, Burke and Washington counties had the highest number of turkey sighted during population surveys.
LOWER COASTAL PLAIN
The southeastern corner of Georgia, including the coastal counties, makes up the Lower Coastal Plain region. Flat and typified by wet, sandy soil that is low in fertility, the area is made up primarily of pine forests in the uplands and gum and shrub swamps in low lying area. Overall, this region had a 9 percent success rate.
Tuckahoe WMA is a 15,105-acre tract found in Screven County. A total of 40 turkeys were harvested from this area in 2012, the most in any of the Lower Coastal Plain Counties. The 232 hunters on this area had a 17 percent success rate and harvested 1.7 birds per square mile.
Moody Forest WMA had 70 hunters who harvested 11 birds for a 15 percent success rate. Sansavilla WMA had a 14 percent success rate with 137 hunters harvesting 19 birds. Big Hammock WMA has had lots of attention for turkey management, according to Lowrey, and there were 11 birds taken from this area for a 9.5 percent success rate.
Lowery also suggests Paulk's Pasture WMA as a good bet.
Private land hunters may be interested to learn that Ware and Charlton counties were had the highest population estimates in this region.
Arkansas turkey hunting is still on life support, but it's showing remarkable signs of improvement. After a record year in 2003, Arkansas fell to 9,000 birds harvested in 2012 — 11,000 less birds in a 10-year span. The state has responded by cutting back on hunting opportunities, and it feels confident numbers will slowly rise.
For more information about turkey hunting in Arkansas, be sure to check out the 2013 G&F turkey hunting forecast.
The turkey population in most areas is robust this year and hunter success should be high. As usual, several factors will come into play, including the timing of breeding phases and inclement weather. The turkeys are there and the trick is to persist until you find yourself in the right place at the right time.
For more information about turkey hunting in California, be sure to check out the 2013 G&F turkey hunting forecast.
With the ability to hunt two species of wild turkey in the same state, Florida hunters definitely have an edge. Although Florida doesn't do statewide turkey assessments, officials believe numbers will be as strong and impressive as last year.
For more information about turkey hunting in Florida, be sure to check out the 2013 G&F turkey hunting forecast.
Turkey populations for 2013 are estimated to be around 335,000, which has remained steady since 2010. The numbers are very solid — even more impressive when you consider they were around 17,000 in 1973. Much like last year, hunters in Georgia can expect a great chance at a turkey again in 2013.
For more information about turkey hunting in Georgia, be sure to check out the 2013 G&F turkey hunting forecast.
It's hard to conceive of a better place to hunt turkeys than the Great Plains region. You can buy multiple permits across states, seasons are liberal in length and you can hunt Rios, Easterns and Merriam's in the same state. It doesn't get much better than that.
In Nebraska, 32,520 permits were issued and 21,419 turkeys were harvested in 2012 — that's a 62 percent success rate, well above the national average (25 percent).
For more information about turkey hunting in the Great Plains region, be sure to check out the 2013 G&F turkey hunting forecast for Kansas , Nebraska
, North Dakota and South Dakota.
Illinois turkey numbers in 2012 grew to 15,121, which was better than an already impressive showing in 2011. Will the same trend prove true in 2013? According to biologists, turkey numbers are still strong, but the state DNR is taking a wait-and-see approach.
Northern Illinois typically provides the best harvest numbers, with 8,935 turkeys taken in 2012. The southern part of the state was still at an impressive 7,006 turkeys harvested. Biologists in Illinois predict that turkey numbers in 2013 will be the same, or slightly improved, from last year, which is great news for hunters.
For more information about turkey hunting in Illinois, be sure to check out the 2013 G&F turkey hunting forecast.
Despite warmer conditions in 2012, hunters killed 12,655 turkeys in Indiana, which made for a solid year. Does that mean 2013 is set up to be a great year? Biologists in Indiana are hesitant to make that bold of a prediction, especially since brood numbers haven't been that great in recent years. This has mainly affected the number of jakes harvested.
Even with some of these concerns, state biologists are optimistic about turkey production in 2013.
For more information about turkey hunting in Indiana, be sure to check out the 2013 G&F turkey hunting forecast.
Turkey harvest numbers were up slightly in 2012 from the year prior — a positive trend for turkey hunters in Iowa. With a robust youth season and strong adult harvest numbers the last couple of years, state officials think 2013 is going to be a strong year as well.
For more information about turkey hunting in Iowa, be sure to check out the 2013 G&F turkey hunting forecast.
With strong survival and nesting numbers in 2012, officials in Kentucky are predicting another solid year in 2013. Despite two years of odd weather, Kentucky has maintained strong numbers all around. Officials also believe a dry spell actually helped more than it hurt.
For more information about turkey hunting in Kentucky, be sure to check out the 2013 G&F turkey hunting forecast.
According to biologists, this spring's hunting in Louisiana should be a bit tougher than last year's. In some areas the birds had a hard time in the spring of 2011, resulting in both poor nesting success and adult bird mortality. That doesn't mean the turkey population is in trouble, but it does mean hunters may be in for a couple of years of more challenging hunting.
For more information about turkey hunting in Louisiana, be sure to check out the 2013 G&F turkey hunting forecast.
Michigan has not had a banner turkey hatch in several years, but it looks like 2012 may provide just that. As a result, Joe Robison of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources predicts 2013 will be a fantastic year for turkey hunters.
With an already impressive population of right at 200,000 birds in 2012, Robison predicts that number will increase this year. Also, Michigan has a high success rate — 36 percent — which should make for an exciting turkey hunting season.
For more information about turkey hunting in Michigan, be sure to check out the 2013 G&F turkey hunting forecast.
Minnesota had a great spring for nesting in 2012, something that should bring great turkey hunting this year. While in the past hunters had to traverse to the southern part of the state if they wanted to bag a turkey, numbers have rapidly expanded all across the state.
"I'm thrilled with what turkeys are doing in Minnesota," Tom Glines, National Wild Turkey Federation regional director, said. According to Glines, lottery tags are up 10 percent in many areas, and 20 percent in others. All that means lots of opportunity in 2013.
For more information about turkey hunting in Minnesota, be sure to check out the 2013 G&F turkey hunting forecast.
Mississippi boasts one of the largest wild turkey populations in the country. And with over a quarter million of these birds scattered from the Tennessee line to the Gulf of Mexico, hunters should have no problem finding a gobbler to chase on opening morning.
For more information about turkey hunting in Mississippi, be sure to check out the 2013 G&F turkey hunting forecast.
The Missouri Department of Conservation estimates the state's current spring turkey population is at around 300,000 birds. Unfortunately, poor production in recent times has caused a decline in the turkey population, due to abnormally wet periods during nesting and hatching periods. However, because the last two years were so good in terms of production, it is likely 2013 will be a high water mark, which is great news for hunters.
For more information about turkey hunting in Missouri, be sure to check out the 2013 G&F turkey hunting forecast.
There are no two ways about it — New England is stocked full of turkeys, which is great news for hunters in 2013. With an estimated turkey population of 214,000, hunters have great chances to tag a bird. Maine has the highest numbers, while New Hampshire, Vermont and Massachusetts are not far behind.
For more information about turkey hunting in New England, be sure to check out the 2013 G&F turkey hunting forecast.
While turkey hunting numbers should remain somewhat steady, early data in North Carolina suggests the downward trend of turkey populations may continue into the 2013 season. Almost 20 percent of turkeys harvested in 2012 were jakes, which means less mature turkeys this year. State officials also recommend hunting federal lands, though permits are required for these particular hot spots.
For more information about turkey hunting in North Carolina, be sure to check out the 2013 G&F turkey hunting forecast.
Ohio looks to be in good shape for the 2013 turkey hunting season, with great populations of birds across the state. Officials estimate 2013 and 2014 will both be great years, with harvest rates predicted to be around 18,000 birds.
For more information about turkey hunting in Ohio, be sure to check out the 2013 G&F turkey hunting forecast.
Depending on what happens with the drought, Oklahoma officials predict the 2013 turkey season will be a mirror of what happened last year. The state had solid numbers, despite obviously dry conditions. That said, the drought definitely had a negative impact on overall turkey numbers state wide. Numbers are still strong — 55,747 turkeys in the western region alone — but down 9 percent from last year.
For more information about turkey hunting in Oklahoma, be sure to check out the 2013 G&F turkey hunting forecast.
States like Oregon and Washington, both in the Pacific Northwest, have an optimistic turkey outlook for 2013. The southwest corner of Oregon is the state's typical hot spot for turkey hunting, and it looks good this year as well. Since 2011, the Melrose unit in southwest Oregon has a 51 percent success rate, which is well above the national average.
Washington figures not to be far behind, with a success rate of 36 percent last year and a harvest of 5,600 birds. The hottest areas are in northeast part of the state.
For more information about turkey hunting in the Pacific Northwest, be sure to check out the 2013 G&F turkey hunting forecast.
Pennsylvania turkey numbers have continued to rise and fall over the last few years, but the good news is results have been consistently stable. According to officials with the Pennsylvania Game Commission, population numbers have dropped off a little, but that was after a roaring boom in the 2000's. They also predict a solid year for turkeys in 2013.
For more information about turkey hunting in Pennsylvania, be sure to check out the 2013 G&F turkey hunting forecast.
When most sportsmen think of Colorado, Wyoming and much of the Rocky Mountain region, they think of monster mulies and bugling elk. And for good reason. But with a turkey hunting success rate of 25 percent in Colorado — on par with the national average — and 70 percent for non-residents in Wyoming, it's also a great place to track down a turkey.
For those hunters lucky enough to draw a limited tag, there is usually a success rate of 55 percent. Hunting Rio Grandes is a bit tougher, as the tag usually takes about 3 to 4 years to acquire.
For more information about turkey hunting in the Rocky Mountain region, be sure to check out the 2013 G&F turkey hunting forecast.
After two productive years for wild turkeys, South Carolina looks to be in good shape for the 2013 turkey season. According to state officials, some of the best places to hunt are public land areas like those in the Sumer National Forest. With good production since 2010, these areas are full of 2-year-old gobblers.
For more information about turkey hunting in South Carolina, be sure to check out the 2013 G&F turkey hunting forecast.
Coming off great turkey harvest years in 2010 and 2012 — with 37,000 and 33,789 birds harvested, respectively — things look good again for Tennessee in 2013. Amazingly, Tennessee harvested 30,000 birds every year for the last decade, which says a lot about its ability to produce great turkey hunting year after year.
For more information about turkey hunting in Tennessee, be sure to check out the 2013 G&F turkey hunting forecast.
Virginia state officials believe the state is in the midst of a leveling off period, which means consistent turkey harvest rates statewide. Turkey populations have dropped by about 1.2 percent over the last decade, but harvest numbers have remained strong.
For more information about turkey hunting in Virginia, be sure to check out the 2013 G&F turkey hunting forecast.
In 2012, West Virginia saw a fairly substantial decline in turkey harvest numbers, which was probably affected by low brood numbers dating back to 2009. Likewise, state officials believe a strong hatch in 2011 should translate into much improved harvest numbers for 2013.
For more information about turkey hunting in West Virginia, be sure to check out the 2013 G&F turkey hunting forecast.
Wisconsin has consistently been rising in turkey production each year, and this year it looks like it has reached a place of dynamic stability — turkeys are present everywhere in hearty numbers. In 2012, 42,612 turkeys were harvested — a 6 percent increase over the previous year.
Likewise, a mild winter and early spring appear to have helped turkeys pull off successful broods, according to the state DNR. With 82 percent of broods consisting of toms last year, biologists say hunting should be great in 2013.
For more information about turkey hunting in Wisconsin, be sure to check out the 2013 G&F turkey hunting forecast.
State officials in Alabama say 2012 was a solid year for turkey hunters across the state. They predict 2013 will be much of the same, with good poult production to show for the last couple of years. As is the case in many states, quality turkey production in Alabama has come as a result of good habitat management.
Private land in Alabama offers some of the best hunting options, though a $16 permit gives you access to Wildlife Management Area lands that are also prime hunting grounds for turkeys.
For more information about turkey hunting in Alabama, be sure to check out the 2013 G&F turkey hunting forecast.
According to state officials, there are around 500,000 Rio Grande turkeys living in Texas, meaning there are lots of opportunities for hunters across the state. The state also had above average survival rates, which should make for a great season in 2013.
For more information about turkey hunting in Texas, be sure to check out the 2013 G&F turkey hunting forecast.