April 13, 2023
Welcome to fourth installment of the Game & Fish Regional Strut Update, featuring expert field reports each week throughout the season from every region of the country. This week's report includes:
- In the East, Doug Howlett says Easter weekend was a cold one with little gobbler activity for many hunters, who needed patience to bag a tom.
- In the South, Josh Honeycutt says gobbling and strutting in the region is trending upward with breeding activity on the rise in many locations.
- In the Midwest, Brandon Butler says it's go time for gobblers from the Great Lakes to the prairie—good timing since many states in the region open this weekend.
- In the West, Andrew McKean says much of the region's best turkey country is still covered in snow. Target lower-elevation areas for your best chance to bag a tom.
Arkansas Youth Drops Public-Land Gobbler with 10-Inch Beard
Weather Weirdness Settling Down
- The spring thaw continues as more seasons open; turkey activity begins to normalize.
Hunters who took to the woods for Virginia's and Delaware's turkey openers over Easter weekend mostly did so in heavy jackets. The cold temps translated to reports of limited to virtually no gobbling in some areas.
Yours truly hunted in southeastern Virginia last weekend, where there were abundant gobbles for the first 30 minutes of light, but only a handful of gobbles once the birds flew down. None of the toms worked as they typically would, and getting up to try another spot often led to accidentally bumping silently wandering turkeys. Many of the Old Dominion hunters I spoke with are adamant that the early warm weather in February caused the birds to start early, and many field observations back up that assumption. Most toms were seen with a hen or two, or even other gobblers, but none of the typically large flocks that are common in the first week of the season. Though I never pulled a trigger over the weekend, I heard more shots on properties within earshot than I can ever recall on an opening weekend. At least a few hunters had things figured out.
For the most part, successful hunters are finding the most success with an abundance of patience and by "deer hunting" toms—that is, they are sitting tight for extended periods of time and letting their occasional calls or decoys staked out in a field eventually attract a bird within range. Green-up in the East's Southern tier is already occurring, allowing some hunters to set up tighter than normal to a gobbling tom's roost and hitting him fast upon fly-down. This reality should echo throughout the Northern states as seasons open and weather patterns start to normalize.
Mark Stevenson, a wildlands manager at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst in central New Jersey, is still seeing birds in large flocks, but says it appears they are starting to break up a little. That area was also hit by the cold weather that rolled into the Northeast last week and earlier, but Stevenson expects temperatures to warm and birds to start doing their thing as the Garden State's April 24 opener approaches. Across the border in the mountains of northeast Pennsylvania, Joshua Miller reports activity as "slow and sparse" so far, while acknowledging it is still a little early to start worrying about things.
West Virginia's opener arrives Monday, April 17. In that state, Larry Case has observed turkeys gobbling pretty well from the roost and then going tight-lipped once on the ground, suggesting they are likely with hens and not out seeking. Case and the hunters-in-the-know that he's spoken with all expect birds to start responding better in a week or so, especially with the weather promising to warm up.
Meanwhile, in New York, hunter Tiffany Jade has witnessed birds strutting when the weather is nice and going into ghost mode when the mercury dips. She has yet to hear a gobble upstate. Her friends, however, have reported even more strutting behavior than she has witnessed. With the state's May 1 opener still several weeks away, there is plenty of time for things to heat up.
New England News
In Vermont, near the Canadian border, guide Michael Wheeler's trail cams are showing a slowly growing number of lone toms starting to appear. Farther south, in the farm country valleys, it's common to see big groups of 10 to 20 turkeys heavily feeding. As in New York, once the weather warms the birds will start strutting more and breaking out of their large winter flocks.
"There are lots of toms around this year, definitely fewer jakes than I've seen the last few years," says Wheeler.
In Massachusetts, Gerry Bethge writes: "Poof! Just like that, the landscape seems to be devoid of turkeys. No, they didn't all die. What seems to be happening is the traditional spring shuffle (that's what we often call it anyway). Hens are looking for nesting sites and gobblers are simply following along."
Bethge expects weather patterns for the next week to stabilize, which should lead to "things getting straightened out shortly." In other words, by the time the general season opens on April 24, birds ought to be gobbling and coming to the call.
"There's some decent gobbling taking place, but nothing serious as of yet," he says. "Everything should break out in the next week."
Over in central New Hampshire, hunter Ken Fecteau Jr. says birds there have been dealing with snow as deep as a foot or more in some areas, and he has yet to hear any gobbling.
"But, with this warmer weather starting," he says, "I'm seeing more songbirds and woodcock, so it should be soon."
Meanwhile, in the far reaches of Maine, guide Chris Cobbett reports: "Snow is finally starting to clear in the fields. Gobblers are already starting to strut, so all of us hardcore turkey hunters are getting excited. I'm still not scouting much, as where the birds are now is not always where they will be in a month. As fields begin to green and flocks start settling into their spring routine, I will be out more taking attendance."
A lot appears to be dependent on the weather, which is expected to warm up just in time for the region’s next two openers: April 17 in West Virginia and April 18 in Maryland. —Doug Howlett
SHOW US YOUR LONGBEARDS!
With turkey season in full swing across most of the country, now is your chance to show off your best harvests and hunting moments in the Game & Fish Regional Strut Update Giveaway, which runs bi-weekly from April 16 to May 20. During the week of April 16, 10 submissions will receive a Jackpot call call from Primos Hunting, and the best of those will be selected to be featured in the Regional Strut Update, as well as on Game & Fish social-media platforms.
The Primos Jackpot builds on the easy-running, great-sounding pot call platform by offering a surface of Pennsylvania slate set into beautiful South American hardwood. "Pennsylvania slate has a softer surface that allows strikers to bite better," notes Matt Rice of Primos. "This easily allows hunters to create authentic turkey sounds. The Jackpot is built right here in Brookhaven, Mississippi, by turkey hunters, for turkey hunters."
From long-bearded limb hangers to big toms gobbling their heads off, we want to see them all. Use the hashtag #gafstrutreport, or message us directly on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, or email photos and details of your hunt to email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org. Good luck this season! —Keith Marlor
Gobbling and Strutting Galore
- Birds are making a breeding ruckus in many areas, but remain henned-up in others.
It's a new week, and turkey hunters across the South are out there hitting it hard. In general, birds are gobbling relatively well. Reports are that on most days they are strutting for large groups of hens, with a few birds breaking away from the bigger flocks.
By now, hunters are afield in parts or all of Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas. Of course, some areas have only opened to youth hunters, but it won't be long until everyone in the Southern states are afield.
Eddie Salter, known to many as "The Turkey Man," reports recent hatches in Alabama have the turkey population popping.
"Here in Alabama, we've had some good hatches the last couple years and it's paying off this year. The turkey population is strong this year, and hunters should have a good number to choose from," reports Salter.
A man of many states, Salter has been on the road a lot in recent weeks. "It seems everywhere I've gone so far, folks are experiencing good luck," he says. "I was in Florida recently, and the hunting there was excellent, with plenty of birds anxious to respond to calling."
Some Tough, Some Not
Scott Ellis of "Hunt Quest" lives in Florida and echoes Salter's take on Sunshine State turkeys. He says he had great luck with cooperative birds this spring. Following his success in Florida, Ellis traveled to Georgia. While he was able to punch his Peach State tag, the hunting has been tough.
"The turkeys in Georgia have been uncooperative for the most part so far. They aren't gobbling much, if at all," he says. "You've got to be creative and willing to work for your bird. We're filling tags, but they're not coming easily. You've got to really outthink birds that are unwilling to stick to the script."
Jordan Summit, with Strut Commander, has been down in Louisiana. "The youth season in Louisiana was great," he says. "The gobblers were very active, out searching for hens. We were able to call in a great gobbler one mid-day afternoon after the hens went to nest."
Aaron Warbritton of "The Hunting Public" has hunted in Mississippi and Texas, and reports the turkeys have been relatively responsive in both states. "Birds have been gobbling good, but we're having to compete with an overabundance of hens, which is understandable for early spring," Warbritton says. "It appears that there are stable numbers of birds in both Texas and Mississippi in the areas we've hunted—not unlike the last few years."
"Backwoods Life" co-host Cody Kelley reports a similar recent experience in Texas. "We're just back from South Texas, and the gobblers there were really henned-up," he says. "The gobbling that was happening has really diminished."
While things weren't exactly red-hot in Texas, Kelley is optimistic. "At the end of the trip, we started seeing some hens going to nest," he says. "I would expect it to really fire up there in the next five to seven days, with gobblers searching for hens at midday and most likely responding to calling well."
Kelley is now in Mississippi, where he reports the hunting is improving by the day. "Mississippi turkey hunting is getting incrementally better. The cold weather snap we had set them back a bit, but they are starting to gobble better mid-morning, and we’re striking a lot of birds between 8:30 a.m. and 12 p.m.," he says.
Overall, the spring turkey season is tracking as expected. Reports are that turkey numbers are up in many areas, which is great news with all the recent discussions about declining turkey populations. —Josh Honeycutt
Wild Turkey Cordon Bleu Recipe
- Stuffed with ham and cheese then smoked, this is the turkey hunter's take on the classic Swiss dish. Click here for the recipe
Birds Fired Up Across the Region
- From the Great Lakes to the prairie, it’s go time in the Midwest.
Ohio's 2023 youth turkey season is this weekend, April 15 and 16. Whatever you do, don't sleep in on Saturday morning—it looks like thunderstorms and rain may blanket most of the state the rest of the weekend.
John Wallace, an Ohio-based regional director at Delta Waterfowl, will have his kids out hunting the youth season. He says driving the backroads of his central-Ohio county is exciting right now because gobblers are strutting in fields all day long. If the weather isn't too tough on them, he expects youth hunters to have a good season. He suggests hunting the edges of fields with young hunters because there's a better chance of seeing birds, even if they're at a distance.
According to the Division of Wildlife, the outlook for the Ohio season is bright this year. Each summer they conduct brood surveys to gather information on poult survival, and they reported above-average numbers in 2021 and 2022 that should result in a strong population this spring. The average poults per hen was 3.0 in 2022 and 3.1 in 2021, with a 10-year average of 2.7.
Ohio is divided into two zones. The South Zone regular season opens Saturday, April 22; the Northeast Zone opens on Saturday, April 29. The season limit is one bearded turkey. Hunters harvested 11,872 wild turkeys in Ohio during the 2022 spring season. The top five counties last spring were Ashtabula (348 birds taken), Tuscarawas (338), Belmont (314), Guernsey (312) and Columbiana (309).
Wild Wisco Birds
Up in Wisconsin, Capt. Patrick Kalmerton of Wolf Pack Adventures is gearing up for a whirlwind of a turkey season. He has outdoor industry folks from around the country coming in to hunt with him in the central part of the state. Pat likes to entertain, and in this case, that means putting gobblers on the ground.
"I'll tell you what," Kalmerton says. "These birds up here are so ready to go. The other day, I’m putting up a blind and a gobbler comes into the field, goes into full strut. I stop and stand still. He doesn't care that I'm there. So, I start working on the blind again. He still stays in the field. Not a hundred yards away. I'm telling you, it's go time."
Capt. Pat uses a lot of ground blinds popped up right out in the middle of a field. He hunts in both pastures and picked agriculture fields. He'll have youth hunters in blinds this weekend for Wisconsin's youth hunt, which runs April 15 to 16.
"I like to be right out there in the open," Kalmerton says. "The turkeys don't care. You put your decoys 20 yards out, and those gobblers will come right in. Plus, you can see more. The kids like to look around and see what's going on."
Wisconsin's spring turkey season has six week-long periods—A through F. Period A opens April 19, and each successive period doesn't begin until the previous one ends. Period F closes on May 30.
New Kansas Regs, Same Great Hunting
Reports from early archery hunters out in Kansas are consistent: The Sunflower State remains one of the top turkey hunting destinations in the country. Jim Zaleski, a tournament bass angler from Parsons who works in tourism, says non-resident hunters are showing up to the southeast corner of the state to hunt spring birds in an area with large amounts of public land and walk-in access. The regular season kicked off April 12.
Kansas has good turkey hunting across the state. But, like most surrounding states, there's been a recognized dip in populations, especially in specific areas. Units 3, 5 and 6 have all had rule changes, including reducing bag limits from two turkeys to one.
"There are still a lot of turkeys to hunt in Kansas, and down in our corner of the state is a great place to chase them," Zaleski says. "We have a number of wildlife areas nearby offering thousands and thousands of acres of prime turkey hunting. If you use the KDWP website, you can check out maps of the areas online. Make sure to have a few options because there is a chance others may have zeroed-in on the same spot. But there is plenty of ground out there." The Kansas regular season ends May 31. —Brandon Butler
Cost-Friendly Loads That Still Knock Toms Dead
In recent years, expensive specialty turkey loads—some with price tags of $75 per box or more—have dominated the shotshell aisles. However, turkey hunters killed countless birds with loads that came before the influx of high-end TSS loads, and many of them are still available—with prices that are a fraction of those attached to shells packed with super shot. Click the button below to read our take on several potent, budget-friendly turkey shotshell offerings. —Lynn Burkhead
Click to Read: 8 Turkey Loads That Still Knock Toms Dead
Remaining Snow Will Hamper Season Openers
- Hunt lower elevations, consider private property for opening-morning gobblers.
"It's been a rough winter." That's the honest assessment of Idaho Fish and Game Upland Game Bird Coordinator Jeff Knetter, but it can describe much of the interior West this spring, which is feeling like an extended winter. Turkey season opens April 15 in more than half the Western states, and those unseasonable conditions will definitely influence success.
Much of the West's best turkey country is still draped in snow. As it melts, rivers and creeks will flood, rural roads will become impassible and turkey hunters will be congregated on smaller parcels of accessible public land. Knetter says savvy hunters will look to private land, whose owners may be getting weary of turkeys that have been hanging around farmsteads since November.
"You tend to see turkeys concentrated during winter, and a lot of times they're in privately owned fields," Knetter says. That effect is multiplied when you have a long, severe winter, which can bunch up turkeys even more. "As you plan your hunt, be thinking about the lower-elevation areas where turkeys may still be hanging out."
In California, where spring seasons opened in late March, conditions are variable. Matt Meshriy, with the California Fish and Wildlife upland game program, says the central and southern Sierra Nevada will be a mess.
"With a cold winter with record precipitation and snowpack, we expect spring reproduction to be delayed in Sierra foothill locations, where birds expended extra energy reserves" to find food in the exceptional snowpack. Meshriy says low-elevation hunting, especially in the Central Valley, will be productive.
"The long California nesting season means that conditions should still be good for production, although the green-up has come late this year," he says. But Meshriy says that the record snowmelt will "shuffle the cards in terms of the favored areas that turkeys are using as the spring season progresses."
In other words, have a plan and a destination, but then be prepared to call audibles to adjust to local conditions.
Way south in Arizona, hunters chasing the rare Gould's subspecies of turkeys must have special permits, allocated via draw last spring. But Arizona Game and Fish terrestrial biologist Rana Murphy says those permitted hunters should find very good action. She says hunting success for Mearn's quail, which occupy roughly similar habitat to Gould's turkeys, was high this winter, and the juvenile-to-adult ratio was also high.
"I'd expect we'll see similar ratios in turkey this year, as well," says Murphy, who notes that the abundant moisture in the region will disperse turkeys on the landscape.
"I expect some of the winter runoff will have extended far into the drainages, which could carry turkeys out away from the mountain ranges, but that's speculative at this point," she says.
In the Rocky Mountain foothills, roughly from Pueblo, Colo., through Wyoming and into central Montana, the late spring means hunters should think like turkeys.
"Hunters looking to get after it on opening day and the subsequent first few weeks might have a harder time finding birds where they’ve historically had success," notes Idaho Fish and Game's Knetter.
"That lush mountain meadow or that mid-elevation hillside might still be buried under three feet of snow," Knetter continues. "Wild turkeys typically spend the winter down low, then follow the snowline up as the snow recedes. With multiple feet of snow still blanketing some places, it could be several weeks before the turkeys start creeping back up to their summer homes. It may be a while before hunters start to see turkeys back in the places they hunted them during past, milder springs.”
That doesn’t mean hunters shouldn't be out this weekend, but the successful hunters will be the ones that, just like the gobblers they’re chasing, are able to adapt to changing conditions. —Andrew McKean
PLAN YOUR NEXT HUNT
Game & Fish Best Hunting Times
Search for the Best Hunting Times in Your Zip Code