G&F Forecast: Kentucky Turkey Hunting in 2013

G&F Forecast: Kentucky Turkey Hunting in 2013
Photo by Steve Gulledge

"The spring of 2012 was indeed an odd one weather-wise in Kentucky, but we suspect the nesting and survival of young birds should help produce another very good spring hunting season for 2013."

The words of Steven Dobey, Kentucky Fish and Wildlife's (KDFWR) Turkey Program Coordinator, are promising to the estimated 225,000 hunters who will be pursuing a gobbler this season throughout the Bluegrass State.

Kentucky has experienced two strange spring turkey-nesting periods in a row. In 2011 recall record rainfall across much of the commonwealth. In 2012, the warmth showed up in early March and remained that way, jumpstarting vegetation and insect availability and very likely the turkey breeding activity compared to normal years. Over much of the state, spring seemed to arrive almost three weeks ahead of normal. Many toms were full bore in the breeding mode and in some cases heavily henned up at the onset of the 2012 season.

KDFWR 2011 statistics indicate it as the worst spring for reproduction of wild turkeys in many years. Dobey believes the 2012 nesting success was significantly better. It almost had to be.


"It warmed up sooner and we had no big wash outs or prolonged cold spells after most of the hatch occurred," Dobey notes.


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. Please check with your local wildlife agency to confirm seasonal information before planning your hunt, as information is subject to change.

"In some areas we had reports of poults of various sizes late in the summer, which suggests some hens had successful nests very early, while others either re-nested or hatched poults much later in the spring in some regions."

There was a cold snap toward the end of the hunting season that may have gotten some nests or broods in some regions of the state. Turkeys can, however, start over if a clutch is lost.

"Weather plays such a huge role, but for last spring I believe our numbers were improved over the breeding season two years ago," he said. "That's the direction we like to see."


At the same time, given low production in 2011, hunters in some areas may notice fewer 2-1/2 year old gobblers this spring, which are responsible for a good deal of the gobbling activity, and make a significant showing in harvest numbers annually. Overall however, Dobey expects the statewide harvest total to be similar to last season in the 30 to 35,000 range.

Kentucky's previous two seasons ranked as the state's top two best seasons on record. Hunters bagged better than 40,000 toms in 2010, followed by 36,000 plus in 2011. Those were extraordinary according to the biologist.

Using harvest data and what Dobey's research shows, let's break the down the five management regions for Kentucky in more detail, and discuss the productivity and success level in each one. This gives hunters a good idea of where better numbers of birds are found, and which counties tend to provide the best harvests. We might as well start at the top.


GREEN RIVER REGION

The mid western portion of Kentucky, roughly from Henderson south to Hopkinsville, and then east to a line from Elizabethtown south to Tompkinsville makes up the very rich slice of counties in the Green River Region. This section of 25 of the state's 120 counties is overall most laden with turkeys of the five wildlife management zones. Almost one-third of the spring harvest last season of more than 10,800 turkeys came from the Green River Region. This region has led the state each of the last three consecutive seasons.

Since this portion of Kentucky had a very dry spring and summer in 2012, the chances that offspring survival was good is very likely. Hunters may find more jakes available this spring, and obviously more two-year old toms in 2014. This region is in excellent shape for turkey hunting.

More than a dozen counties in the Green River Region posted a spring harvest of 400 gobblers or better. Six counties yielded 600 or more in 2012, and represent the cream of the crop for where hunters find the best hunting this season.

Specific top producers included Hart, Grayson and Breckinridge counties with more than 400, Hardin and Muhlenberg with 750 or more taken, and Logan topped the entire state with 791 birds that fell last spring. That total represents the single-county best harvest ever in the Commonwealth. These counties should again offer exceptional turkey hunting in 2013, Dobey agrees.

SOUTHEAST REGION

The second best overall group of counties for turkey hunting is the Southeast Region. Hunters in these counties knocked down a reported 7,500 birds last season. The kill should be quite close to that volume again this spring.

"I suspect we could see improved turkey numbers in the southeast corner of the state this season because they were spared so much of the historic rain events that the western, Bluegrass and northeast regions were hit with last year," said Dobey.

"As a result, the Southeast Region likely had higher reproduction when compared to the rest of the state, hence more two-year old birds are available for harvest this spring," Dobey added.

If that pans out, several counties teetering on the brink of a 400-bird spring kill may make it over that benchmark. Hunters in Rockcastle, Laurel, Lincoln and Adair counties could join the top three above 400 in the region. Green, Wayne and Pulaski counties were best in 2012, with Pulaski leading the way as it has in past season, with better than 500 gobblers taken.

"We won't know until mid-summer, but the Southeast and Bluegrass regions have been more or less running neck and neck for second place honors for taking turkeys," said Dobey.

"Based on my expectations though, the Southeast may pull safely in the lead after this season, simply because they have had better luck with nesting conditions and their flock has improved some while in other areas it has suffered," the biologist said.

Another factor to consider in terms of choosing a good area to hunt is the terrain. The southeast has about as rough as it gets in Kentucky in terms of the lay of the land. Yet, it still ranks second in harvest. That seems to suggest that flocks are doing quite well, and hunters are connecting with their targets, despite generally tougher hunting scenarios. There are plenty of turkeys in many of these counties and hunters are figuring out just how to get to them.

BLUEGRASS REGION

Third on the list for best turkey hunting opportunities is the Bluegrass Region. The evidence of the effect of a poor reproductive year in 2011 is clear in the harvest decline in the Bluegrass counties since 2010.

This region gave up more than 8,000 birds in the state's record season, but dropped to about 7,300 in 2011 and then approximately 6,900 toms last season. Despite the decline, those counties with higher turkey numbers in the region remain the counties with the highest turkey numbers, even when reproduction tanks for a spring.

"The Bluegrass Region has six counties which consistently produce at the top of the list," said Dobey.

The best three choices for success are Owen, Pendleton and Shelby counties, though Henry, Nelson and Madison aren't far behind.

In several other counties in the Bluegrass, turkey habitat is more isolated, which means hunters have to scout and gain access to specific spots in a county where birds occur. While all counties have turkeys, not every patch of woods around necessarily has turkeys in it. Where you observed turkeys during the deer season isn't always the same place as you find them in spring. Scouting pre-season is always recommended.

Here's a bit of interesting trivia for you. In the Bluegrass Region in 2012, there were 93 reported bearded hens taken during the spring season. This is well above the level in any other region, even including the Green River region where only 77 bearded females were taken among almost 4,000 more turkeys total. Top region for bearded hens? Bluegrass, hands down.

NORTHEAST & PURCHASE REGIONS

To differentiate statistically between the Northeast and Purchase Regions concerning which is better for turkey hunting based on harvest is essentially impossible. Only 25 birds separated the two for the 2012 season. The Northeast got the nod. This season could easily be the opposite.

The Northeast Region contains seven more counties than does the Purchase. However, the top five counties in the Purchase reported more gobblers taken each than did the highest single-harvest county in the Northeast. In the Purchase to the far west, trying Crittenden, Graves and Christian counties this spring are by far your best bets. Christian County hunters reported 497 birds taken last season, while Graves and Crittenden counties eclipsed the 500 mark each.

Rounding out the top five, Livingston and Caldwell counties posted 384 and 324 birds respectively. Both of these are excellent turkey producers in both the Purchase and Kentucky as a whole.

Swinging to the far east in comparison, Pike and Morgan county hunters are finding good number of toms to play with, and both counties should fare in similar fashion this April and May with better than 300 birds taken each. Bracken, Carter and Lewis counties also are in the mix of the best in this region of 21 counties, based on their rank from last season with about 250 birds each.

Again, in some areas in these mountainous, forested counties, hunters can find a very good number of gobblers, which in other corners, birds are scarcer. Taking a morning or two before opening day to listen in the woods can make a big difference in success.

Public Lands Hunting

Kentucky offers several very good public access areas where turkey hunting is traditionally good. In the Purchase, in addition to the well-known Land Between the Lakes NRA, hunters should also check out Clarks River NWR, Pennyrile State Forest WMA and Ballard WMA.

In the Green River Region, the Peabody WMA gets top marks, followed by Barren River, Yellowbank and Sloughs WMAs. Peabody hunters knocked down more than 175 birds in 2012, while the other, smaller public lands mentioned yielded more than 20 toms each. All are good choices in this part of the state.

Moving into the Bluegrass Region, Taylorsville Lake WMA leads all other 16 public hunting areas hands down for the best turkey hunting. The Kentucky River WMA, along with Dr. James Rich and Kleber WMAs are other decent choices, although the harvest for each is generally about 10 birds.

The Northeast Region offers five very good public hunting lands, beginning with the Clay WMA just outside of Carlisle, KY. The remaining best choices are all lands surrounding a major reservoir in the region, such as Fishtrap, Grayson, Paintsville and Yatesville lakes.

To save the best for last, clearly the biggest public land area to hunt, and the one which gives up more turkeys every spring, is the portion of Kentucky in the Daniel Boone National Forest. In this massive territory, some 650 wild turkeys were harvested in 2012. The DBNF is one of the Southeast Region's best hunting gems, and with all public lands in this region combined, they were responsible for more than 1,000 hunters finding turkey hunting success last season.

"I'm can't tell you that 2013 is going to be a record harvest year for turkeys," said Dobey. "I don't see us taking a 6,000 bird jump in one fail swoop.

"I do think it will be another very successful season, and more hunters will hear jake gobbling mixing in with the older birds out there, more so than last season.

"Our breeding season was simply better last spring, more birds survived and escaped hypothermia which is Kentucky's biggest threat to young broods, and our hens were able to get on green vegetation and insects much sooner than usual, so they should have been quite healthy when nesting began," he said.

"With a combination like that, we are set for another quality season I have no doubt. Hunters will be pleased with what they find throughout most of the commonwealth," Dobey concluded.

For complete turkey season information, log on to the state website, stop by a license vendor and pick up a 2013 Spring Turkey & Squirrel Season guide, or call 1-800-858-1549 weekdays 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and speak to a KDFWR Information Specialist.

Arkansas

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.

California

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.

Florida

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.

Georgia

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.

Great Plains

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

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.

Indiana

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.

Iowa

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.

Kentucky

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.

Louisiana

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

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

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

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.

Missouri

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.

New England

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.

North Carolina

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

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.

Oklahoma

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.

Pacific Northwest

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

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.

Rocky Mountains

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.

South Carolina

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.

Tennessee

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

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.

West Virginia

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

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.

Alabama

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.

Texas

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.

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