The woods were bright enough that I didn't have to use a flashlight to maneuver my way through the timber. Just as I was approaching the corner of the upper field where I knew turkeys liked to roost, a gobbler sounded off not 70 yards away from me.
It was the second day of Missouri's 2012 spring turkey season, and I smiled as I daringly crept closer to the roosted bird. The old tom continued gobbling as I carefully placed my steps on the leaf-littered forest floor; then a second gobbler that was roosted with him chimed in.
I finally got as close as I dared and set up to watch the pasture where I was certain the gobblers would pitch off to and land. The woods fell silent, which told me the birds must have come off the roost. A few soft yelps from my aluminum friction call and the birds gobbled in the woods I was in. Apparently, they had glided off onto the side of the ridge where I was sitting and I had to spin around the tree to catch them coming in. One last double-gobble from the birds just over the crest of the hill disclosed their location. I raised my shotgun and waited for them to walk over the hillcrest.
- 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.
I could hear the leaves crunching as they got closer and their spitting and drumming had my heart pumping. Then, like two white beacons in the dimly lit woods, two big ol' gobbler heads popped over the hill. The birds were in half-strut and walking my way. Twenty-five yards, 20-yards, then the lead bird stopped and craned his neck to look in my direction. I fired. The gobbler dropped in his tracks and the second tom flew over the top of me and across the valley below onto the adjacent ridge.
My trophy was a good one as he weighed in at 20 pounds, sported double beards, and had 1-inch spurs!
That hunt was about as good as it gets anywhere in the country and that's just what turkey hunters in Missouri expect. However, spring turkey harvest has pretty much been on the decline in the Show Me State since 2004 when hunters bagged 56,882 turkeys. The low kill total came in 2011 when 38,327 birds were taken. Harvest numbers did bounce back in 2012 with a 44,766 spring harvest and, for now, turkey hunters in Missouri need not look back. The next two years should prove to be banner springs for killing gobblers!
"We've finally turned the corner," said John Burk. "We were in somewhat of a slump from 2006 through 2010 because of an unseasonably wet weather pattern, but for the last two springs in a row poult production has been up again.
Burk is the National Wild Turkey Federation's senior regional biologist for Missouri. Besides being a wildlife biologist, he is an avid turkey hunter.
"The 2013 spring season should be stellar," Burk said. "All of those jakes that were hatched in 2011 will be 2-year-old birds this year, and so hunters should experience good gobbling activity and more birds overall."
BAD NEWS/GOOD NEWS IN TURKEY PRODUCTION
The Missouri Department of Conservation estimates the state's current spring turkey population to be around 300,000 birds. Unfortunately, the Show Me State has experienced exceptionally poor production, which in turn has caused a decline in our state's turkey population. It is estimated that from 2001 through 2010 Missouri's turkey numbers declined by about 30 percent. But in some areas like northeast Missouri, those numbers may have dipped by as much as 50 percent.
"The biggest factor leading to the decline of our turkey numbers during those years was abnormally wet periods of weather during nesting and hatching time," said Burk. "At one point we were 20 inches above normal in precipitation during the critical nesting season."
That was the bad news, but like Burk said earlier, "We've turned the corner."
The number of birds we have each year depends heavily upon having good turkey production in the spring. Thankfully, the conditions of Missouri's spring nesting season in both 2011 and 2012 were near perfect, and the survey numbers reflect it. This is just the beginning of the good news.
The MDC has been conducting wild turkey brood surveys since 1959. Volunteer hunters and citizens along with MDC personnel record their personal observations of hens and poults during the months of June, July and August. Brood survey results in 2011 revealed that turkey recruitment was the highest since 2001, and 42 percent higher than the previous 5-year average; it's 21 percent higher than the 10-year average. In 2012, the brood survey resulted in almost identical recruitment with a 1.7 poult-to-hen ratio, which was 42 percent higher than the previous five-year average and 21 percent higher than the previous 10-year average.
What this translates to for spring turkey hunters is there should be an abundance of 2-year-old gobblers this spring. I like to think of these toms as kind of like teenagers. They are very vocal and aggressive, and often come to the call without hesitation.
With all the disease that has stricken our state's deer population this past year, I asked Burk about the threat of any sicknesses our turkey population may have been suffering.
"There have been some instances of fowl pox in Missouri," Burk said. "This disease is carried by mosquitoes and when you have the wet conditions we've had from 2007 through 2010 and have high densities of turkeys the disease can be an issue, but it is not a population suppressor in any way."
Although the prevalence of fowl pox in our turkey population may have been higher than normal in recent years, it has not been a factor in reducing our wild turkey numbers and is not always fatal.
"Turkeys with fowl pox will have warty-looking growths on their legs and head," Burk said. "What usually causes mortality from this disease is that the warts can sometimes obscure the bird's vision, making them more vulnerable to predators, or the warts can go internal and either suffocate or starve the turkey to death."
According to Burk, we always lose a few birds to fowl pox but it's not a population suppressor and is not a problem in our turkey flock.
I've been turkey hunting in Missouri many times in both spring and fall and have had both foxes and coyotes come to my turkey calls and even run up to my decoys as they look for a quick turkey lunch. I've also had friends tell me of bobcats that have come to their turkey calls. You don't have to be a furbearer biologist to know that the Show Me States furbearer population is booming. I'm primarily talking about coyotes, foxes, bobcats, skunks and raccoons. All of those critters prey on wild turkeys or their eggs. Just how much impact have these furbearers had on our wild turkey population and is there anything we can do to help? That's the question I asked John Burk.
"I'll say without hesitation that predators have an impact on turkey populations," Burk said. "They are definitely more abundant now than when the fur market was high and it is possible that they are having a more significant impact on our turkey population."
Burk is not only a turkey hunter, but he also is an avid trapper who has come to the conclusion that the only way to increase the interest in trapping would be to put a bounty on the furbearers.
"It would take at least a $10 bounty per animal to get an interest regenerated in trapping, and the MDC just can't afford providing such a bounty," Burk said. "So in my opinion, the best thing a person could do to help prevent predation on their property would be to provide good habitat so that the turkeys have good nesting and cover habitat, and just good habitat overall."
Those wet years we experienced recently helped to increase predator mortality in our turkey flock. Most predators hunt with their noses and when turkeys get wet they put off a strong scent. If you ever killed a wet turkey or pulled a wet bird out of a cooler you know what I'm talking about. Their wet feathers make them more vulnerable to predators that can either make a meal out of them or flush them off their nest and eat their eggs. This makes the point for good habitat.
WHAT'S HOT, WHAT'S NOT
The real estate in northern Missouri and many of the counties bordering the Missouri River have habitat that is ideal for wild turkeys. The perfect ratio of timber and open land is about 60/40 respectively, and those regions simply have the best habitat and have always been a solid producer in turkey production and harvest. However, those years of extremely wet weather during nesting season had big impacts on turkey numbers, especially in northern portions of the Show Me State. I would consider the northern region as warm and the central river corridor region as mildly hot, and the west-central counties as being hot in terms of turkey hunting prospects.
Meanwhile, farther south of the Missouri River, the Ozarks have seemed to become the new north in terms of being the state's big turkey producer.
"The southeast Ozarks has been leading the state in turkey production, even during those wet years as of late," said Burk.
In fact, the highest turkey production according to the 2012 brood survey was observed in portions of southeast Missouri where the ratio exceeded two poults per hen.
The top three counties in spring turkey harvest in 2012 were Franklin with 852 birds taken, Texas with 803, and Greene with 698.
The cold spots are few and far between when it comes to turkey hunting in Missouri, but there are a couple of places where turkey numbers are few and the habitat simply isn't conducive to supporting a large population of birds.
"Obviously the Boot Heel area has never been, and probably won't ever be, much of a hotspot for killing turkeys," Burk said. "Southwest Missouri is somewhat similar and turkey numbers just are not as strong in these places as they are elsewhere in the state."
WHERE TO GO
If you are looking for a place to hunt spring gobblers in Missouri, then look no further than the Mark Twain National Forest. That is the Show Me State's only National Forest and it encompasses nearly 1.5 million acres in 29 counties located in nine different large tracts of real estate across central and southern Missouri.
These nine different tracts are Cedar Creek, just south of Interstate 70 in central Missouri; Houston-Rolla along Interstate 44; Salem-Potosi just south of I-44; Fredericktown about an hour south of St. Louis; Poplar Bluff and Doniphan-Eleven Point in the southeast Ozarks; Ava and Cassville in southwest Missouri; and Willow Springs in south-central Missouri.
You will find just about every type of habitat you could imagine somewhere within these different tracts including ag fields, river bottoms, glades, pine ridges, and oak/hickory hilltops.
There are lots of access trails and roads located throughout MTNF that offer great places to access different sections of this large land mass. However, one of the unique and most beneficial assets that MTNF offers turkey hunters is the Walk-In Only Areas where ATVs and other vehicles are not permitted. That allows for some fantastic turkey-hunting experiences in areas that are not easily accessible, which helps keep a lot of hunters who aren't very serious out of the woods.
Missouri's 2013 spring turkey season runs April 15 through May 5, with the usual limit of two turkeys with a visible beard. This season promises to be an exciting one for hunters. The only thing that could put a "damper" on things would be a long stretch of unseasonably cool or wet weather during the three-week season, which could keep hunters out of the woods and keep the gobblers' mouths shut.
"Hunters should experience the kind of spring turkey season like they are more accustomed to in Missouri this year," Burk concluded. "It's going to be a good year."
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.