With another record-busting season just behind us, here's what's in store for Bluegrass State gobbler hunters this spring! (March 2010)
It was pure torture driving to work during the second week of the Kentucky spring turkey season. The songbirds were singing at least an hour before daylight that morning and there was no doubt the turkeys would be gobbling their beaks off. I caught myself at least a half dozen times glancing off the road at the distant fields trying to spot a fired-up longbeard in full strut after daylight.
Then, just before my exit, something happened that hit me in the gut like a runaway truck. A redheaded gobbler was puffed out like a helium balloon trying to impress at least three different hens. I guess making enough money to cover my house and truck payments were about the only thing that kept me from making an illegal U-turn that morning. Without question, spring turkey hunting has completely changed my life in the Bluegrass State.
It's just about impossible anymore to find an area in our state that is not covered up with wild turkeys. The reintroduction-stocking program of this magnificent game bird has to be one of the biggest success stories of the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resource Agency (KDFWR). The exceedingly high numbers of turkeys that are thriving across the Commonwealth have played a pivotal role in promoting the sport of turkey hunting.
In fact, more and more hardcore turkey hunters are hitting the spring forests every season. Furthermore, a large percentage of these hunters are consistently seeing and even tagging gobblers during these hunts. Over the past several years, turkey hunting in Kentucky has rapidly evolved from a weekend pastime to a way of life throughout the month of April.
PUTTING UP BIG NUMBERS
There is no doubt that the Bluegrass State has built quite a reputation for producing extremely high numbers in just about everything it does. For example, we are home to one of the most successful basketball programs of all time and Cat Fans across Big Blue Country kind of expect the best of everything. Turkey hunting is definitely no exception to the rule and anymore our hunters hit the field with tag punching confidence.
Once upon a time, simply hearing a pumped-up longbeard sound off at daylight was just about as good as shooting one. However, several consecutive years of high harvest numbers and expanding statewide turkey populations have ultimately changed the way we think about our hunting.
Back in the early days, you practically were forced to hunt a single mature gobbler in a given area and that was about it. The game was basically over if you messed up or made a mistake with a particular bird. Now, you're likely to hear several different gobbling longbeards within close proximity of each other on any given morning.
High numbers of birds have also changed the way a lot of turkey hunters hunt during the spring. Gradually, slow and patient techniques have changed over time to the up-tempo pace of run-and-gun strategies. Regardless of how you cut it, our state is completely loaded with birds and the overall hunting only seems to be getting better with each passing season.
As mentioned earlier, harvest numbers across the Commonwealth have consistently been high every spring. Without question, certain counties and regions have built reputations as powerhouses when it comes to jaw-dropping numbers. However, you would be hard-pressed to find a single region or county that is not producing good numbers of birds. Did you know that Kentucky turkey hunters set a new all-time spring harvest record last season? Consequently, there were 29,007 turkeys tagged across the state from mid-April until the first of May. These impressive numbers completely shattered the old record. The scary thing is that this record could potentially be broken again this spring. However, before we jump the gun, let's take an in-depth look at where our state's best turkey hunting destinations were last year.
LAST SEASON'S HOTSPOTS
Gobbling longbeards can be found from the steep mountain country of eastern Kentucky to the flat terrain of our western counties and every point in between. However, there are just some counties and regions that completely dominate when it comes to generating amazingly high harvest numbers every season. These hotspots continuously rank at the top for several good reasons. In most cases, these areas have everything turkeys need to survive, expand and flourish.
For example, most of the best locations provide turkeys with abundant food sources, excellent brood-rearing habitat, water and protective roosting sites. Having these key ingredients is what separates a turkey-tagging powerhouse from an average or mediocre hunting area.
The following Bluegrass hotspots were target-rich environments last season; most of these same locations are expected to yield super high harvest numbers again this spring. It's a safe bet that one of these counties or regions will probably only be a short drive from your home.
TOP 10 HARVEST DESTINATIONS
The state's No. 1 harvest county last season was Hardin County of the Green River Region. Hunters were able to knock down 609 birds during the spring to seal the top spot. Second-place honors went to Hart County, which is another prime time turkey tagging location of the Green River Region. According to the most recent harvest statistics, there were 587 birds reported on the state's tele-check system.
Butler County of the Green River Region was able to snag the No. 3 ranking with 538 turkeys being tagged by hunters. Can you believe another Green River Region county was rewarded fourth place? Yes, Logan County hit the charts with 515 downed turkeys to make the top four in total harvest. Finally, the Bluegrass Region's Owen County broke the Green River streak by claiming the No. 5 spot with 514 turkeys.
Muhlenberg County chipped in with 507 turkeys, and neighboring Ohio County tied with another 507 birds. Both of these Green River Region counties took the sixth and seventh place rankings last spring. Eighth place went to nearby Grayson County with 491 turkeys being tagged and bagged by hunters.
The Purchase Region was able to break into the top 10 with Crittenden County's 487 turkeys. Finally, Pulaski County of the Southeast Region rounded out the list with 483 birds being harvested last season alone. The good news is that all of these counties are likely to have repeat performances again this April and definitely should not be overlooked by hunters looking to punch an early tag.
Over the years, these key areas have consistently led the pack and the KDFWR feels that it will be a challenge to dethrone any of the top 10 harvest counties. However, expanding turkey populati
ons and excellent statewide hunting opportunities definitely makes it possible for just about any county to pull off an upset. With that being said, let's break down the top five harvest counties of each region and see exactly what areas could potentially lead the state next season in total harvest. Be sure to make a mental note and pay close attention to the following prime regional locations this April.
THE GREEN RIVER REGION
Amazingly, four out of the entire state's top five harvest counties were all located within the legendary borders of the Green River Region. I've been extensively studying and covering our statewide harvest numbers for years and this region has absolutely dominated the Commonwealth. Last spring, Hardin, Hart, Butler, Logan and Owen counties topped the regional harvest chart with ease. Muhlenberg and Ohio counties only missed the top five rating by fewer than 10 birds.
This entire area is overpopulated with turkeys and is considered by many to be the premier spring hunting destination in the entire state. In fact, last season the 25 counties that make up the Green River Region accounted for just over 8,500 birds. Consequently, the experts feel this area will have another repeat performance again during the 2010 spring season.
THE PURCHASE REGION
There may only be 14 counties inside the Purchase Region, but this area still packs a powerful punch when it comes to harvesting longbeards. There were nearly 3,300 turkeys bagged and tagged last spring deep inside this western part of the state. Crittenden, Graves, Livingston, Christian and Calloway counties led the region in total harvest. However, Caldwell and Carlisle counties just barely missed the top five list and these two locations should be hot again this April. Every season it seems this area grows a little stronger and continues to exhibit the potential of becoming a true turkey-tagging powerhouse. This past June, I spotted numerous hens with poults along field edges near several roads all around these counties. In addition, many hunters in the area reported seeing high numbers of jakes and hearing a lot of gobbling throughout the spring. At this point, all indicators are pointing toward another action packed season for 2010.
THE BLUEGRASS REGION
The much larger Bluegrass Region also tipped the scales with a productive season last spring. There are 31 counties spread across this region that are ideally suited for sustaining large numbers of turkeys. During the 2009 season, hunters harvested just fewer than 6,500 birds, according to the latest harvest reports.
Owen, Pendleton, Shelby, Henry and Nelson counties took top honors and added 1,929 turkeys to the region's total. Recent hatch information, hunter reports and seasonal harvest statistics lean toward the Bluegrass Region having another banner season this spring. Hunters looking for intense gobbling action may also want to check out Anderson and Boone counties. Both of these areas have been yielding excellent harvest results over the past few seasons.
THE NORTHEAST REGION
Without question, the counties of the Northeast Region turned some heads last spring when hunters checked in over 4,000 turkeys. These 21 counties have been producing some impressive numbers in recent years, and this past season was no exception. Carter, Bracken, Morgan, Pike and Lawrence counties earned top-dog recognition last spring and are expected to crank out high numbers again this season.
Many hunters feel that Rowan and Lewis counties also offer topnotch turkey-hunting opportunities and should be mentioned when discussing the best regional turkey hunting. According to KDFWR reports, this area should be teaming with fired-up 2-year-olds on opening day, so another great season is in store.
THE SOUTHEAST REGION
Over the years, some of my best hunting memories have been formed within the counties of the Southeast Region. I grew up hunting the flat bottomland along the Cumberland River and the steep hardwood ridges of the mountain country. With that being said, I can tell you firsthand that the turkey hunting in this area can really be intense when April finally rolls around.
Last spring, the 29 counties of this region accounted for 6,616 turkeys. However, Pulaski, Wayne, Adair, Green and Rockcastle counties led the entire pack with a combined total of 1,882 downed birds. For the past several years, turkey flocks have been expanding across this region like wildfire and there are probably more birds here now than ever before. Some of the southeastern counties have mountainous terrain that can be tough, but these steep areas can be ideal places to hookup with multiple redheaded longbeards.
Remember, many hunters across the state reported seeing unusually high numbers of jakes in the field last season. This should translate to a good number of loudmouthed 2-year-old gobblers this April, which is what we all love running into just after daylight. On several different occasions, I witnessed groups of 10 or more jakes running together causing problems. I even watched one pesky flock of juveniles whip a mature longbeard along the edge of a green field. The poor old gobbler was practically jumped on by the entire gang and was completely chased out of the country. These same birds even attacked my Carrylite Peeping Tom decoy for at least 15 minutes. I can't wait to give these bullies a taste of their own medicine on opening morning this April.
According to Steven Dobey, the KDFWR's leading turkey biologist, another great season should hit the Bluegrass State again this year. "Early hatch reports indicate solid numbers of poults being observed throughout most of Kentucky. Our hunters have excellent opportunities to fill both of their tags in basically any county or region in our great state.
"It's safe to say that most turkey hunters across the Commonwealth are probably just a short drive from huntable populations of birds. In addition, we probably have some of the best public-land hunting that can be found anywhere in the nation. There are thousands of acres that comprise the numerous wildlife management areas (WMAs) and national forest land that is scattered across the Commonwealth. Many of these areas encompass prime habitat that is tailor-made for attracting and holding large numbers of turkeys," explained Dobey.
Steven Dobey also feels that two consecutive years of good hatches will play a big factor in overall hunter success. "The poult-to-hen ratio was average to above average last spring, but it was excellent the year before. This is probably why so many hunters reported seeing large numbers of jakes this past April.
"With that being said, hunters should encounter more 2-year-old gobblers during the 2010 season. On a side note, the official spring season will start on Saturday, which should give more hunters the chance to hit the woods on opening morning. Weather and other factors can play a significant role regarding overall harvest numbers, but we are expecting another phenomenal spring season across the state," stated Dobey.
As a turkey hunter, it's hard to hear great news and predictions like that without getting your heart rate and blood pressure up a little. I don't know about you, but I've been waiting all winter long to h
ear that first booming gobble. Two years of productive hatches coupled with a lot of 2-year-old longbeards in the field is exactly what the doctor ordered. Right now is the perfect time to break out the calls, pattern your shotgun, and get ready for an action-packed season. Be sure to hit the woods hard and make something happen!