In the March 2013 issue of North Carolina Game and Fish, we analyzed the 2011 Wild Turkey Summer Observation Survey data, which helps predict the gobbler hunting opportunities in each region. Since then, the 2012 summer survey data has been compiled and that information should be even more reliable than last year's.
That's because a larger number of observers participating in the survey generated a more accurate assessment of reproduction and survival. The 2012 survey went to 6,000 participants, an increase of 23 percent over the 4,600 observers in 2011.
The 2012 summer survey showed a poults-per-hen ratio of 1.8 in the coastal plain, which is a decline from 2.0 in 2011 and dropped the productivity into the poor category from the fair category. The gobblers-per-hen ratio was 0.64, which was the highest for all three regions and well above the threshold of 0.50 biologists establish as a benchmark for predicting hunting success the following spring. The previous year, the gobblers-per-hen ratio was 0.58.
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In the piedmont region, the poults-per-hen ratio was 1.6, declining from 2.3 the previous year and falling into the poor category from the fair category. The gobblers-per-hen ratio was 0.49, still showing solid potential for hunter success during the 2012 season. The previous year, the gobblers-per-hen ratio was 0.51.
In the mountain region in 2012 the poults-per-hen ratio was 1.3, a decline from 2.0 in 2011 and falling into the poor category from the fair category. The gobbler-per-hen ratio was 0.52, a substantial increase from 0.44 in 2011. With declining mountain harvests over the previous several seasons, the increased ratio of gobblers to hens helps alleviate some of the immediate concerns of hunters this season; nevertheless, the decline in recruitment could still result in poorer hunting over the long haul.
The poults-per-hen ratio helps indicate the total number of adults and jakes that will be available in 2013. Nineteen percent of the 2012 statewide harvest and 20 percent of the 2011 harvest consisted of jakes, so one-year-olds comprised a significant percentage of the harvest. The 2012 statewide recruitment average for all three regions was poor at 1.6 poults per hen, a significant decline from 2.2 the previous year — which in turn may cause a decline in the statewide jake harvest in 2013. The decline will probably affect the mountains and piedmont more than the coast.
The coast still has some unsaturated turkey habitat and, as indicated by the 2012 summer survey, still maintains excellent gobbler carryover. While the region doesn't have the extensive public lands of the mountains, it has some game lands that dependably produce gobblers.
Changes to the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission's harvest reporting system two years ago made it easier to narrow down the best Commission game lands because hunters are asked whether they were hunting on a game land and, if so, the name of the game land.
Croatan National Forest led the coastal region's top 10 game lands for the 2012 season with 44 gobblers. Lower Roanoke River Wetlands gave up 25; Holly Shelter, 16; Bladen Lakes and Upper Roanoke Wetlands tied with 13; Suggs Mill Pond, 11; Bertie County and Chowan Swamp tied with 8; Lantern Acres and White Oak River tied with 6.
While most coastal game lands are small when compared to the vast national forests in the mountains, Croatan National Forest adds credibility to the theory that in order to produce high turkey harvests, a property must be big. Croatan's 160,724 acres in Carteret, Jones and Craven counties are open six days per week.
It has lots of pocosin habitat, which is not great for turkeys and turkey hunting. However, prescribed burns on Croatan's upland savannahs are beneficial for turkeys. Scattered food plots and several creeks that have bottomland hardwood forests along the edges of the game land are the best places to find turkeys. The best places to listen for gobblers are along the western edge, where several roads enter the game land from N.C. 58 and give access to Holston, Hunter and Hadnot creeks. Along the southern perimeter, several roads enter from N.C. 24 giving access to Pettiford and Southwest creeks. Brice Creek, which has good turkey habitat, is located at the northeastern corner and is most easily accessed from U.S. 70.
The 37,757 acres of the Upper and Lower Roanoke River Wetlands in Bertie, Halifax, Martin and Northampton counties yielded a combined total 38 gobblers. This hardwood bottomland is open for turkey hunting by permit only. Hunters must submit applications by tract. Some tracts are accessible only by water and spring flooding can hinder access.
Holly Shelter Game Land in Pender County consists of 64,743 acres of mostly poor pocosin habitat. However, longleaf pine savannahs and food plots in the interior and hardwood bottoms along the Northeast Cape Fear River provide good turkey hunting. Trumpeter Swamp is also good place to hunt.
Bladen Lakes State Forest Game Land has 33,047 acres in Bladen County. The Singletary Tract has some has excellent access and superior habitat managed in partnership between the NWTF, N.C. Forest Service and the Commission. This game land has a mixture of upland pine savannahs and bottomland hardwood forest along the Cape Fear River. It has gated roads and several fields planted specifically for turkeys. Singletary Tract gobbler hunts are by permit only. However, turkeys can also be hunted at the main tract that is open three days per week and does not require a lottery permit.
Another top turkey producer in Bladen County is the 9,588-acre Suggs Mill Pond Game Land, which requires a permit for turkey hunting. The habitat is pine/scrub oak uplands and the primary habitat manipulation is through prescribed burning.
Uwharrie National Forest leads the piedmont region game lands with a gobbler harvest of 55.
Also in the top 10 were Alcoa, with 29; R. Wayne Bailey-Caswell, 24; Butner-Falls, 22; Jordan, 19; Sandhills, 18; Shocco Creek, 10; Embro and Lower Fishing Creek tied with 9; Vance, Hyco and Peedee River tied with 6.
The 50,189-acre Uwharrie National Forest, located in Davidson, Randolph and Montgomery counties is a six-day-per-week game land. The terrain varies from hilly to rugged and is covered with hardwood and mixed pine-hardwood forests. Uwharrie has many food plots, planted roads and lots of hiking trails. It has actively managed timber stands, with regenerating areas maintained with prescribed burns.
The main reservation has a campground. Morris Mountain is a large block that has good trails. Birkhead Mountain Wilderness has good trails and primitive campsites. Many smaller outlying parcels also provide good hunting. The game land also borders Badin Lake, so some areas can be hunted from a boat. The Uwharrie River provides also canoe access to some beautiful, under-hunted territory.
Alcoa Game Land has 8,372 acres in Davie, Davidson, Montgomery, Rowan and Stanly counties and runs along the shoreline of the Yadkin River, including High Rock and Badin lakes. It yields an exceptional number of turkeys for its size. Many hunters use boats access, but there is also walk-in access from Mountain Road, River Road and other secondary roads. The habitat consists of hardwood and mixed pine-hardwood forests throughout its hilly terrain.
R. Wayne Bailey-Caswell Game Land consists of 17,788 acres in Caswell County. It is a perennial gobbler getter, with excellent turkey habitat that is intensively managed. It is a three-day-per-week game land.
Butner-Falls of the Neuse Game Land has 40,899 acres in Durham, Granville and Wake counties along Falls Lake. It has extensive archery-only zones and is accessible by water as well as from several secondary roads. The habitat consists of mixed pine-hardwoods on hilly terrain. Turkey hunting is by permit.
Sandhills Game Land offers 61,526 acres of longleaf pine savannah and lots of creek drainage habitat in Hoke, Moore, Richmond and Scotland counties. It has wildlife plantings and extensive forest management practices in place, including prescribed burning. The turkey population is dense and the road system extensive. Several campgrounds are available. Turkey hunting is by permit only.
As a counter example of big territories yielding big harvests, the 752-acre Vance Game Land on a peninsula of Kerr Lake produced (an astounding, for its size) six gobblers.
In the mountains, Nantahala led the harvest with 272 gobblers. Pisgah had a harvest of 254; South Mountains, 39; Green River and Sandy Mush tied with 29; Johns River, 13; Needmore, 8; Toxaway and Elk Knob tied with 6; Thurmond Chatham, 5.
Nantahala National Forest has 528,782 acres in Cherokee, Clay, Graham, Jackson, Macon, Swain, and Transylvania counties. The terrain is some of the most rugged anywhere in the South. However, several lakes offer excellent water access. The national forest borders Nantahala, Santeetlah, Fontana and Hiwassee lakes and primitive camping is allowed along the shoreline, making a boat hunt a good option.
Nantahala has an extensive system of roads, some of which are gated roads to allow foot travel only. An extensive hiking path network helps hunters access the backcountry. While the steeper terrain limits commercial logging operations, some timber management occurs. Anywhere there is an opening is a great place for turkey hunting. It is open for hunting six days per week.
Pisgah covers 505,217 acres. Primitive camping is allowed and necessary for hunters who want to gain access to some of the best areas. The best hunting occurs at planted turkey openings and logging roads.
The terrain runs from moderately sloped to impossibly rugged but there are many footpaths. The terrain is so rugged a hunter can have trouble getting close enough to a gobbler to call successfully.
The lower elevations have many clear-cut and thinning operations, as well as areas where ice storms have leveled trees that subsequently have been subjected to salvage operations. Controlled burns for forest enhancement and wildlife management are conducted where possible, providing topnotch areas for gobbler hunting. Pisgah is open six days per week.
South Mountains Game Land consists of 21,530 acres in Burke, Cleveland, McDowell and Rutherford counties. The terrain is similar to the lower elevations of Pisgah. It has a CURE upland research site, which also provides excellent turkey habitat. It orders South Mountain State Park, which serves as a sanctuary to allow gobblers to grow long spurs. The terrain has stands of regenerating forest to keep the turkey population high. It has many creek drainages and foot trails for hunter access. Gated roads near the primitive campgrounds are open during the turkey season to allow hunting access.
Green River Game Land consists of 14,188 acres of mixed pine-hardwood timber in Henderson and Polk counties. It has good access for a mountain game land via Green River Cove Road, Holbert Road and Hungry Road. There are several parking areas along these roads and the lowlands along the Green River have flatter terrain than that found in the mountain's national forests, giving hunters better access opportunities. It is open six days per week.
Sandy Mush consists of several smaller tracts that combine into 2,600 acres in Buncombe and Madison counties. Compared to most mountain game lands it has better vehicle and foot access, including gated trails along Turkey Creek, Bear Creek and off Cedar Hill Road. The Turkey Creek area has excellent hunting.
To apply for Commission Game Lands Permits visit the North Carolina website.
Federal lands that offer turkey hunting include Fort Bragg Army Post in Cumberland and Hoke counties and Pee Dee National Wildlife Refuge in Anson County. These federal properties require advance lottery permits for turkey hunting.
Fort Bragg's turkey harvest is conducted at the Northern Training Areas and Camp Mackall. A base orientation course and a Fort Bragg hunting license are required. For information, visit the state website.
Pee Dee National Wildlife Refuge hosts a youth hunt day and a four-day general hunt. The odds of bagging a gobbler are excellent because it is a limited-entry hunt in an area with a high turkey population. The hunt is conducted on the refuge in Anson County.
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.