Sarah Jenkins of LaGrange with a huge tom turkey she harvested during a recent spring turkey season in Shelby County. Spring turkey season opens April 18, this coming Saturday. Kentucky is blessed with many public turkey hunting opportunities for this spring season. (Photo courtesy of Kentucky Afield Outdoors)
The wait is almost over for turkey hunters in Kentucky.
A calendar shift pushed the state’s 23-day general spring wild turkey season back this year to the third weekend in April. It opens Saturday, April 18 and runs through May 10.
Last spring, hunters in Kentucky reported taking 29,943 turkeys.
“The current five-year average of 32,759 birds harvested in the spring is the highest five-year average that we’ve recorded to date,” said Steven Dobey, wild turkey program coordinator for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. “While we see some year-to-year fluctuation, looking at it at an increment of five years, our harvest success is the highest it’s ever been, which is something hunters should be excited about.”
Spring turkey hunters may harvest a male turkey or a turkey with a visible beard, but not more than one in a day, and no more than two birds total during the season. They now have the option of using a .410 shotgun in their pursuits.
The state’s turkey flock has grown to an estimated 220,000 birds since restoration efforts ended in 1997. Each year, Kentucky ranks first or second among surrounding states in the number of turkeys harvested per square mile.
“The state of our turkey flock is exceptional when we look at it on a regional scale,” Dobey said. “Kentucky has something really special going on as far as its turkeys go, and the hunters are reaping the rewards of that.”
Top Public Lands by Region: The Daniel Boone National Forest sprawls across 21 counties in eastern Kentucky. Unsurprisingly, it produces big numbers when it comes to the spring turkey harvest.
The 497 turkeys harvested last spring by hunters on the Daniel Boone National Forest – not including the Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs) contained within it - led all public hunting areas in the state’s Southeast Wildlife Region and Kentucky overall.
“I think the Boone is a sleeper area,” said Jason Lupardus, the Midwest Conservation Field Supervisor with the National Wild Turkey Federation who has regional biologist duties in Kentucky. “There are lots of birds out there. There’s an area that I’ve been to the past two years and taken birds on and heard eight to 10 birds gobbling. It’s just a matter of going out and scouting. It’s so expansive that you have a lot of areas that just don’t get the pressure. I think anyone can go out during the year and have some success.”
Peabody WMA in the Green River Region and Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area in the Purchase Region are among his top three favorite public lands to hunt turkey in Kentucky. Both areas posted spring turkey harvest totals in 2014 that led other public lands in their respective regions. Clay WMA in the Northeast Region and Taylorsville Lake WMA in the Bluegrass Region led their respective regions in the 2014 spring turkey harvest totals.
Public Land Strategies: A general rule of thumb when it comes to hunting turkey on public lands during the spring season is the sooner you can hunt them the better.
Scouting ahead of time is the most effective way to learn how turkeys are using the landscape. It also helps a hunter identify potential set-up locations.
“If somebody outwits you that morning, then you might have to go to your second or third spot on public land,” Lupardus said. “What’s most important is spending some time out in that area and understanding what the hens are doing. If you can mimic what the hens are doing, you’ll have success.”
Can’t make it out opening weekend? A weekday or late afternoon hunt can be just as productive.
“Late afternoon is really a key spot,” Lupardus said. “I’ve harvested turkeys in multiple states all in the 5- to 6-o’clock hour.”
Did you know: Hunters in Logan County have made it the top county by spring turkey harvest total for three consecutive years. It’s entrenched in the Green River Region which stretches from Hardin and Union counties along the Ohio River down to Todd and Monroe counties along the Tennessee border. The region led the state last spring with 9,274 birds telechecked.
“That area is just special,” Dobey said. “When you look at the big picture of what turkeys need to survive, it’s much more intricate than just, do they have food or do they have trees to roost in? There, you have this perfect assemblage of habitat types. Add the agriculture component into that and it’s just a shot to the population because they have this additional available food source that a lot of other portions of the state don’t have. That can compensate for a lack of a natural food source in some years.”
Looking Ahead: The emergence of a cicada brood later this spring in the Green River and Purchase Regions west of Interstate 65 could result in a spike in the spring turkey harvest in the near future.
Hunters achieved a record turkey harvest two years after a significant cicada emergence throughout much of the state in 2008.
“That is a huge food source for turkeys and poults in particular,” Dobey said. “They feast on insects. Something like a cicada would be a goldmine. We could really see a huge increase in poult production in the western part of the state this summer which would be fantastic.”
Hunters are encouraged to consult the 2015 Kentucky Spring Hunting Guide beforehand. Available online at fw.ky.gov and wherever licenses are sold, it provides information about current regulations, licenses and permits, legal equipment, safety tips and more.
Editor’s Note: Author Kevin Kelly is a staff writer for Kentucky Afield magazine, the official publication of the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. Get the latest from Kelly and the entire Kentucky Afield staff by following them on Twitter: @kyafield.