Mashing the clutch and simultaneously killing the lights, the sound of gravel popping under tires stopped as the truck slowly coasted the last few yards to the field's edge. A calm, cool morning met us as we emerged from the warmth of the truck's cab. It was the first morning of Tennessee's annual youth turkey weekend and I was accompanying my stepson Ben. We were at one of our favorite Hickman County farms and knew gobblers where nearby, as I had gone several mornings beforehand to scout for this exciting day.
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It seemed almost on cue as a crow began his notorious calls and then we heard the morning's first gobbler. As he continued, more toms also joined in and then one let loose on a nearby ridge about 200 yards away. We hurriedly headed in his direction and as he kept up his vocal music, we made our way to an oak flat surrounded by two ridges and multiple points that all led down to our position. Instead of trying to advance on him uphill, we opted to stay low and coax him in and hopefully get to see him do his thing. We chose a big white oak to set up, and at the same time five to six more gobblers started talking nearby.
Ben and I patiently sat until we heard the beating wings of a fly down. I then began yelping and purring with a diaphragm, with intermittent clucks. The bird was constantly gobbling but I was afraid he would not get close enough because of a nearby ditch. There was only one spot he could cross. He seemed to be moving away from us, and all of a sudden, the gobbling went silent. Hoping for the best I told Ben to shift his body 180 degrees in case he was heading to the crossing. I thought that I could hear drumming and then a tail fan came into view from that direction. Ben still could not see the bird, but I was giving him play by play of his every move, until he finally made his way onto an old logging road in full view. I could feel Ben shaking as the tom was strutting and gobbling at 25 yards but there was a few limbs blocking his potential shot. The bird began to slowly move forward looking for his lost love and I whispered to Ben to shoot when he stopped if it was clear. The words barely made it out as his little 20-gauge Mossberg rocked the woods and the 3-inch Winchester No. 5 shot did the trick. The 2-year-old bird barely flopped as we were at his side almost instantly. It was a great morning in the Tennessee turkey woods. My stepson had bagged his first gobbler; a hefty 20 pounder sporting a 9 1/2-inch beard and 7/8 inch spurs on the same farm where I have chased the kings of spring for many seasons.
It seems each year that turkey hunting in the Volunteer State just gets better, and as 2012 numbers reflect, it was a near record year again. Falling just a little under the record mark, it was still a stellar season. Good turkey hunting can be found statewide from the Mississippi River to the mountains in the East. Several counties across the state continue to dominate with high harvest numbers and each region has counties that stand out from the rest.
It is hard to compete with a record year like 2010 with 37,000 harvested birds. As they stand, 2012 ranked fourth with 33,789 and 2011 had 34,026.
Chris Hunter, the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency Turkey Program Coordinator stated, "Tennessee seems to have hit a stable point in the turkey population and this is where we want to be. During the spring season, we harvested over 30,000 birds for the last 10 years and although small fluctuations have occurred, this is expected in a long-term stable turkey population."
Maury County was once again the overall statewide harvest leader for 2012 with 1,036 birds taken, and Greene finished just behind with 936 bearded birds harvested for the second year in a row. The remaining top ten harvest leaders included Dickson, which took 798 birds. Montgomery was next with 771 turkeys bagged, Sumner stayed in the fifth spot with 706, Rutherford dropped one spot from the previous year's list to seventh. Bedford County hunters took 670 bearded turkeys, while Lincoln County filled the ninth slot and was just behind with 649. Giles finished up the list with a respectable 637 bearded birds. Newcomers to the top ten this year included Bedford, Giles, and Lincoln, which topped 2011's eighth through tenth place finishers, Hardeman, Hardin, and Wilson counties. While Region II counties consistently rank high in harvest numbers, counties to the west and east also do very well, too, which makes it easy for hunters to find a good place close to home.
In Region I, the harvests numbers were very close together among this region's top five counties. Henry, with 696 birds taken, was just a little lower than last season but it actually moved up a spot overall. Stewart jumped to 575 birds harvested from the previous season; Hardeman had a slight decrease from the year before, but ended with 546 and incidentally knocked it out of the top ten this year. Weakley also had a very small reduction in harvest, but ended with 506. Hardin County hunters bagged 502 last spring, which was 120 fewer birds than the previous season, but still proves it is a good location for chasing gobblers year after year.
Region II boasts some excellent turkey hunting with its ideal habitat spread throughout the middle portion of the state. Rolling hills and hollows of hardwoods along with the mixture of agricultural fields, river bottoms, and plenty of good nesting areas help it to hold a lot of turkeys. Maury took 1,036 birds during the 2012 spring season and heads up this list with more than an 80-bird increase from last season. Dickson, with its harvest of 798, proves it continues to be a turkey hotspot each spring. Montgomery's 771 birds checked in helps keep its reputation of being one of the top producers year in and year out. Sumner dropped a few numbers in harvest totals but hunters still bagged 706 last season. Rutherford and its 680 turkeys checked in during the spring of 2012 rounds out the top five. Hickman, Marshall, Robertson, Wayne, and Williamson are also good producers in this region, which produce some great numbers and it is not uncommon for 500-plus birds to be taken each spring from several Region II counties.
In Region III harvest numbers were a little lower than other areas of the state, but overall several counties pushed or exceeded the 400 mark. Overton lead this region with 560 harvested, Clay was next with 460 birds, just behind was Warren that took 420 in 2012, Jackson was one bird shy of the four hundred mark with 399, and White with 397 turkeys finished the list of second through fifth respectively. This part of the state holds some of the toughest terrain to chase wild turkeys and in my opinion might be why it has lower harvest numbers. The turkeys are there and with fewer hunters after them, it could beef up your odds of tagging one.
In the eastern part of the state, Greene County continues to be a promising place to find excellent turkey hunting. When speaking with the TWRA statewide turkey biologist, he explained that Greene County's geographic features resembled a likeness to counties in the middle portion of the state. As we all know, nearly every county in middle Tennessee has healthy turkey populations, which only escalates the potential of good harvest numbers and it seems to be helping Greene County because it is always near the top in overall birds harvested. Region IV top five counties harvest rankings are as follows, Greene and its impressive 936, second for the region was Hawkins total of 571, Cocke totaled 435, Sullivan with 426 just edged out Washington, which had a harvest of 421 birds.
Many Tennessee turkey hunters rely on and use the state's many WMAs for their chance at bagging a tom each year for the freezer or the wall. Luckily, we have several at our disposal to use for recreational purposes like hunting and they are distributed all across the state. After WMA harvest numbers for 2012 were tallied up, it revealed an almost duplicate of the previous season's numbers. South Cherokee in the eastern part of the state was once again the leader with 171 bearded turkeys taken. It is a very large parcel of real estate with over 250,000 acres spread through several counties. The Yanahli WMA in Maury County was second with 107 birds harvested jumped up the list from being eighth in 2011. One of Tennessee's most famous public hunting areas is Land Between the Lakes or LBL as it's commonly referred to by outdoorsmen. It is normally up near the top each spring in overall numbers and totaled up 104 turkeys for 2012. It offers quota turkey hunts and other specified nonquota days so hunters still have opportunities even if they are not drawn for a hunt. We have to go back eastward to the Catoosa WMA for the fourth spot and it was just shy of the century mark with 98 birds harvested. Then turn around and head back west to the Milan AAP public hunting area which ended up with 80 birds last season for the number five spot. As the harvest numbers and directional cues reflect each position of the WMA in terms it proves how spread out excellent turkey hunting is across the Volunteer State. AEDC near Tullahoma moved up to sixth in 2012 with its 76 birds taken compared to 70 in 2011. Cheatham WMA near Ashland City showed a slight harvest increase bumped it up a couple spots to seventh with 74 turkeys bagged last spring. North Cherokee along the Tennessee and North Carolina border dropped in the rankings to the eighth position with 63 harvested birds reported. Chuck Swan and Oak Ridge round out the top ten WMAs with 53 and 50 total bearded turkeys taken at each area.
Biologist Hunter stated that brood survey numbers had not been fully analyzed as of this publication's deadline. He did say that poult production numbers looked good and healthy from what he had heard from several wildlife officers' reports. Some even told him it seemed to be one of the best springs in terms of poult sightings. Hunter explained that because of the dry spring we had in 2012, it gave the young birds a chance to grow and then we got the rain at the right time. That brought out plenty of insects and seedlings to help them put on weight and strengthen their bodies, which relates to better survival rates. He went on to say that the western third of the state, which also experienced a dry spring showed positive results of good poult production. The past few springs have been extremely wet and put a damper on that part of the state's turkey poult numbers, but 2012 numbers point to this spring being even better.
The harvest numbers and general sightings of turkeys across the state reflect the great condition of Tennessee's turkey population. The hard work of the TWRA and National Wild Turkey Federation has definitely shown in the last few years. Many turkey hunters from several other states travel here each spring due to the great hunting found here. I am personally astonished each spring as I begin my early scouting trips and hear multiple toms echoing through the timber. When I first began my fascination with turkey hunting well over 20 years ago, there were only certain areas that held them. Now you can virtually go anywhere in the state and see wild turkeys and hunting opportunities exist statewide. If all goes well it should be business as usual this season and quite possibly another record-breaking harvest.
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.