I couldn't believe my eyes. The food plot I was hunting was waist high, in part due to the copious amounts of spring rains that left many feed fields too wet to cut. Spotting turkeys was a challenge. Outfitter Dale Eagon had warned me that the vegetation grew tall. I strained to see a longbeard that had gobbled so close he startled me.
My wife Donna nudged me when the tom's brilliant head appeared slightly above the rye. She was unable to shoot due to a tree blocking her, so I obliged and smacked the shrouded gobbler. I was proud of my 19-pound tom; he carried a 10-inch beard and sharp 1 1/2-inch spurs.
- 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.
A week later, I attended the Lieutenant Governor's Turkey Hunt in Woodward. My gracious hosts Rodney and Melissa Washmon took me to their farm near Fargo, where we were greeted with the lovesick gobbles of several toms roosted along a river bottom. Shortly after daylight, the gobblers gave us the slip, and so Rodney and I made a move to cut off a nice tom that was courting a hen. After a game of cat-and-mouse, Rodney put me in prime position to dispatch the magnificent longbeard that weighed just over 21 pounds.
My season was a fantastic one, just as most Sooner turkey hunters have come to expect. Read on for the rundown of what's in store for turkey chasers in the coming season.
SEASON OUTLOOK VARIES
Jack Waymire, the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation's senior supervisor, said he expects the eastern region to mirror the previous season. He says that drier weather and several poor hatches have diminished the eastern turkey's numbers.
"The drought is having a negative impact on turkey populations," he said. "If the weather improves, we should have as good or maybe a little better season."
Brood surveys for the southeast region reflected 1.9 poults per hen, representing a 1.2 percent increase. The 2012 summer brood counts revealed that 70.4 percent of the hens had poults. There were 513 total broods observed, the second highest recorded since 1977. Leading the region in the total number of broods was Pittsburg County with 210, followed by Pushmataha County with 199.
Estimates place the number of eastern turkeys in the southeast region at 3,782; representing a 30 percent increase from the 2011 count of 2,906 turkeys.
The spring 2012 southeast region harvest decreased 53.9 percent in part due to a later start, shortened season length, and reduced bag limit.
Painting a similar picture was Rod Smith, the ODWC's senior supervisor overseeing the western region. Smith said he expects the season to be fair at best. Factors indicated the drought coupled with a poor hatch during the 2011 spring is probably to blame.
"Decent reproduction last spring left us with good numbers of jakes," Smith said. "However, there will be fewer 2-year-old birds than usual."
Population estimates place the number of Rio Grande turkeys statewide at 98,066, representing a decline of 5,363 turkeys from the 2011 count. Rio Grande populations decreased 9.2 percent in the western counties, increased 3.6 percent in the central counties, and decreased 5 percent in the northeast counties.
With a reputation for outstanding turkey hunting, the western part of the state attracts hordes of hunters. This prairie-type, riparian habitat is home to scads of turkeys. Current flock estimates place the number at 55,747 turkeys, down 5,633 from last year's estimate of 61,380, reflecting a 9.2 percent decrease.
Hunting guide Scott Sanderford of Croton Creek Adventures in Cheyenne reported seeing good numbers of turkeys. "It is actually looking good out here," he said. "We are seeing good numbers of turkeys and should have some pretty good hunting this spring."
Our western counties' flock estimates are as follows: Alfalfa 1,500; Beaver 625; Beckham 3,500; Blaine 3,152; Caddo 3,282; Cimarron 200; Comanche 2,205; Cotton 2,785; Custer 240; Dewey 2,340; Ellis 1,800; Greer 3,600; Harmon 3,200; Harper 1,706; Jackson 2,287; Jefferson 1,200; Kiowa 1,227; Major 3,225; Roger Mills 1,950; Stephens 1,040; Texas 300; Tillman 5,093; Washita 2,000; Woods 2,432; and Woodward County, which led all others with 4,858 turkeys.
Central Oklahoma flock numbers have decreased to an estimated 28,554, representing a 995 bird or a 3.6 percent increase from last season. When compared to 40,775 — the estimated number of turkeys six years ago — the 2013 season will reflect a 42.8 percent decrease!
Most turkey hunting in central Oklahoma likely will be on private land. Like the western part of the state, the bulk of central Oklahoma consists of agricultural areas near woodlots surrounded by tallgrass prairie.
Though turkey numbers are up in some counties, landowner Chris Box says he is not optimistic about this spring. "I am not seeing the numbers of turkeys that I am used to seeing," Box surmised. "I am seeing an increase in hogs, and wonder if they are having a detrimental effect on the area's turkeys."
In central Oklahoma, in areas east of I-35 where birds were required to be checked, turkey chasers were rewarded last season by taking an estimated 1,293 toms, with 51.7 percent of that number, or 673 being adult toms, compared to 620 jakes.
County flock estimates are: Canadian 1,500; Carter 1,200; Cleveland 550; Creek 2,100; Garfield 1,200; Garvin 450; Grady 1,000; Grant 700; Hughes 800; Johnson 1,000; Kay 400, Kingfisher 2,800; Lincoln 700; Logan 2,000; Love 1,100; Marshall 75; McClain 650; Murray 263; Noble 885; Okfuskee 700; Oklahoma 100; Okmulgee 550; Osage 1,805; Pawnee 650; Payne 750; Pontotoc 1,100; Pottawatomie 1,026 and Seminole 2,500.
The northeast part of Oklahoma has fewer turkeys than any other area of the state except the Panhandle. The flocks there decreased 5 percent from last year. With an estimated total of 13,765 birds, the numbers are down 725 from the 2011 count of 14,490.
The northeast area is heavily wooded and home to Rio Grandes, with some eastern birds found along the counties bordering Arkansas and Missouri. This area, known as Green County, is rich in history and in beautiful forests of hardwoods. Turkey abundance varies by county.
Last season, hunters took 827 turkeys, with slightly more than half the harvest — 58.04 percent, or 480 — being adult toms, and 343 being jakes. Four bearded hens were also reported.
County flock estimates were as follows; Adair 850; Cherokee 1,400; Craig 1,250; Delaware 175; Haskell 1,345; Mayes 360; McIntosh 1,325; Muskogee 1,400; Nowata 1,700; Ottawa 225; Rogers 425; Sequoyah 1,850; Tulsa 160; Wagoner 500 and Washington 800.
Although our northeast region does not boast high overall numbers of turkeys, joint efforts by the ODWC and the National Wild Turkey Federation are continuing to improve that quadrant of the state, mostly by the addition of habitat enhancements.
The southeast part of the state encompasses nine counties: Atoka, Bryan, Choctaw, Coal, Latimer, LeFlore, McCurtain, Pittsburg, and Pushmataha. The scenery and vistas found in this mountainous region are truly breathtaking, unlike any other part of the state.
Hunters harvested 688 turkeys last season with a whopping 84.45 percent or 581 birds being adult toms.
If you have never matched wits with a long-bearded gobbler in the hills and mountains of Southeastern Oklahoma, you are in for a treat. Actually, a better word would be "education." These birds are wary, and respond much differently to calls and hunting than their western cousins do.
Southeastern flock estimates are as follows: Atoka 550; Bryan 77, Choctaw 28; Coal 188; Latimer 84; Le Flore 584; McCurtain 534; Pittsburg 1,397; and Pushmataha 340. Sadly, the 2012 fall estimate of 3,782 turkeys reflects a decrease from an estimated peak population of 7,562 turkeys during the 2007 season. Several factors contributed to this decline, ranging from drought to spring flooding and overall poor recruitment. The ODWC is trying to remedy that trend with a shorter season and reduced bag limit of one tom.
Much of Western Oklahoma is privately owned, and so, finding hunting opportunities can be tough. Land holding good numbers of deer and turkeys sometimes leases for upwards of $10 an acre. With leased lands bringing a premium, hunting public lands is a great option.
Most western wildlife management areas offer agricultural fields surrounded by Conservation Reserve Program grasslands and occasional creek bottoms with surrounding woodlots.
Public-land hunting opportunities are available at several wildlife management areas, including the 30,710-acre Black Kettle WMA, located near Cheyenne; 14,877-acre Canton WMA, near Canton; 4,800-acre Ellis County WMA, near Arnett; 5,418-acre Fort Supply WMA, near Woodward: and the 15,000-acre Packsaddle WMA, north of Roll. All those WMAs hold good numbers of turkeys.
Words to the wise: Black Kettle, being one of the largest and most well known public hunting areas in the nation, receives an incredible amount of hunting pressure from hunters.
For hunters without access to private land, the best bet in the northeast is Kaw WMA, located near Ponca City in Kay County. Kaw WMA spans 16,254 acres and is relatively overlooked. This area is highlighted with hardwood bottoms surrounded by ODWC-planted feed fields. I rate this refuge as a good bet in the northeast, due to the fact that nearly a third of the county's annual harvest is taken off of this WMA. This public area surrounds much of Kaw Lake, and hunting pressure is relatively light. Hunters are allowed one tom; last season, hunters there took 17 turkeys.
Another public hunting opportunity located in southern Oklahoma is Hickory Creek WMA. Hickory Creek is nestled in Love County between Lake Murray and Lake Texoma. This ODWC-managed unit consists of 7,363 acres of bottomland forests surrounded by native grass. Annual controlled burns help improve habitat. Hickory Creek runs through the entire length of the property, providing good roosting cover for area turkeys. Last spring the WMA yielded 21 toms.
Located just south of Hickory Creek WMA is Love Valley WMA. Love Valley, also in Love County, is 7,746 acres located on the western edge of Lake Texoma. The WMA's primarily riparian habitat varies from hardwood bottomlands to sandy river bottoms along the Red River. Turkey numbers are good, but hunting pressure can be heavy. Last season produced 10 toms.
Two popular public spots in Southeastern Oklahoma are the Three Rivers and Honobia Creek WMAs. Combined, these units total 325,000 acres. Residents between the ages of 18 and 64 are required to pay a $40 user fee to hunt these areas. The two units yielded 43 turkeys last season.
Another set of WMAs located nearby are the Ouachita Le Flore Unit and the Ouachita McCurtain Unit. The two units produced 30 bearded birds for lucky hunters last spring.
A good spot near Lake Eufaula is James Collins WMA near Quinton. This public area has premium eastern turkey habitat and yielded 13 toms last season. ODWC technician Chris Parker predicts a great spring season.
"I am seeing more turkeys than I have in the last three years," he said.
SEASON DATES & BAG LIMITS
Spring turkey season opens April 6 and runs through May 6. Those dates hold statewide except for the eight southeast counties of Atoka, Choctaw, Coal, Latimer, Le Flore, McCurtain, Pittsburg and Pushmataha which open April 22 and run through May 6.
A special youth season will open March 30-31, the weekend before the regular season statewide, except in the southeast region, with a one-tom limit. The youth season in the southeast region is from April 20-21, the weekend before the shortened season opens there.
Youth hunters are defined as being 18 years or younger, and are required to have a non-hunting adult with them. The limit for both youth seasons is one tom.
There is a spring bag limit of three tom turkeys, however no more than one turkey can be taken from the combined southeast counties of Atoka, Choctaw, Coal, Latimer, Le Flore, McCurtain, Pittsburg and Pushmataha.
Check the Oklahoma hunting regulations booklet for details on bag limits in other open counties.
* * *
For information on any of the outfitters mentioned in this article:
Eagon's Hi-Point Ranch, Dale Eagon, (580) 729-1009
Croton Creek Adventures, Scott Sanderford, (580) 497-3960
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.