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Regional Strut Update: Timely Turkey Reports from Experts Across the Country

Our turkey experts bring you the latest info to help you plan for opening day.

Regional Strut Update: Timely Turkey Reports from Experts Across the Country

Brian Lovett harvested this Mississippi gobbler after it slipped silently into his setup. (Photo courtesy of Brian Lovett)

A half-century ago, Alabama's Col. Tom Kelly, widely considered the poet laureate of the spring turkey-hunting world and a figure of legendary cult status in the woods even at age 95, wrote some seminal words that every turkey hunter can understand when he penned his epic volume, The Tenth Legion.

"The first turkey that ever came to me on the ground did it a long time ago," wrote Kelly in the book that is now celebrating its 50th year with a new limited-edition release in 2023. "I sat there with my hands shaking and my breath short and my heart hammering so hard I could not understand why he could not hear it. The last turkey that came to me last spring had exactly the same effect, and the day that this does not happen to me is the day that I quit."

It's now time for another spring turkey season as the dogwoods bloom with Easter's approach, and the dew-drenched mornings are shattered when a lovesick longbeard decides to sound off for any who would listen, declaring his amorous intentions as the sun slips above the eastern horizon.

And in the shadow of an oak tree, with a box call in one hand and my Remington 870 in the other, that will be me, smiling beneath my camouflaged mask, ready to see what additional joy these incredible birds can bring my way in the spring of 2023. After a long winter of discontent, it’s finally time to turkey hunt. Let the spring game begin. — Lynn Burkhead

This Regional Strut Update begins our exclusive 10-week series of weekly turkey hunting reports from the woods near you. As turkey seasons open across the country our turkey experts will help keep you in the know about activity and successes, tips and tactics, and great gear and how to use it. This week’s report includes:

  • In the South, contributor Josh Honeycutt reports cold weather has limited gobbling and strutting as just a handful of seasons have opened in the region. It'll be go time for gobblers throughout the region by the end of the month.
  • In the Midwest, Brandon Butler reports youth hunts will begin soon (March 25 in Illinois), before general seasons open, offering a chance for adult hunters to pay it forward to the next hunting generation.
  • In the West and East, season openers are about a month away. See our list below for each state's season dates.
Youth turkey hunter with harvest
There are few moments in the woods every year that compare to the moment that a turkey hunter, a wild turkey, and a beautiful spring day all collide. Such memories can last a lifetime. (Photo by Lynn Burkhead)

SOUTH REPORT

Cold Weather Causes Slow Start

  • Gobbling and strutting is suppressed in Dixie as cool weather dominates.

It's that time of year again. Frost and snow have given way to dew and mud. Large flocks of turkeys are breaking apart and beginning to scatter across the landscape. As the sun sets on another winter, spring dawns and a new turkey season begins. But it's off to a cold, stiff start across much of the South.

OPEN SEASONS

Currently, turkey hunters are in the field in several states. Seasons are now open in at least parts of Florida, Mississippi, South Carolina and Texas. Parts of Alabama will join the fun this weekend, and others will kick off April 1.

Brian Lovett, an outdoor writer and editor, recently had a successful, albeit tough, hunt in Mississippi's northern region, where he reports the cold weather had a negative impact on the turkeys. Still, birds gobbled—at least part of the time.

"Birds gobbled pretty well the first morning, and we came close several times," Lovett says. "At about 9 a.m., the wind picked up and the remainder of the day was tough. We managed to roost a solo gobbler that evening, but he was nowhere to be found the next morning. As luck would have it, at 7 a.m. [on day 2], we slipped into a field edge along a creek bottom and yelped for a bit. After about 15 minutes, a silent longbeard popped into view and then worked into range, and we capped off the hunt. We did not hear a gobble that morning."

Lovett reports the birds were still flocked up. One group included 12 hens and a lone longbeard. Another group had nine hens, three jakes and two gobblers. While glassing them, they saw a gobbler breed a hen. He says that bird numbers are up in the Magnolia State, and his group observed plenty of jakes, which is promising for future seasons.

Looking ahead, the weather in Mississippi is supposed to warm up later this week, so conditions should improve a bit.

SUNSHINE STATE SUCCESS

In Florida, Backwoods Life hosts Michael Lee and Kevin Knighton had recent success, too. Lee tagged out in two days. He reports gobblers were henned-up, but he was able to call to the hens to in order to bring in the toms.

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Knighton, who lives in north-central Florida, says the turkeys there aren't totally engaged yet.

"My birds act like they aren't fully committed yet," Knighton says. "They are strutting and showing off on trail cams, but there is very little gobbling in the morning and they're not responding to calls. My son has killed two, but we killed them by being in the right place at the right time—not calling them in on a string like all turkey hunters crave."

Farther north in Tennessee, the season isn't yet open, but Brenda Valentine, aka "The First Lady of Hunting," is keeping a close eye on the birds. "The turkeys here are walking around all humped up and cussing the weatherman," she says. "Soon, it will be go-time for us hunters eager to get out there and into the chase. It won't be long now.” — Josh Honeycutt

strutting tom turkey pursuing hen
Turkey seasons are beginning to open throughout the South. (Photo by Josh Honeycutt)

VIDEO

NWTF's Passion for Wild Turkey Conservation Still Burns After 50 Years

The National Wild Turkey Federation mission to conserve wild turkey and preserve hunting heritage is still going strong after a half-century. In the above video, NWTF's Jason Burckhalter talks about the group's accomplishments and future plans with Game & Fish Editorial Director Adam Heggenstaller at SHOT Show 2023 in Las Vegas. Among the accomplishments includes the recently concluded Save the Habitat, Save the Hunt initiative, which in 10 years conserved or enhanced 5.3 million acres of critical wildlife habitat, recruited 1.5 million new or lapsed hunters, and opened new access to 750,000 acres for hunting and recreation. NWTF is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.

MIDWEST REPORT

Youth Seasons Open Soon

  • Start your season right by taking a kid to the turkey woods.

When I was growing up in northwestern Indiana in the 1990s, there were no wild turkeys for me to hunt. The southern half of the state had some birds, but in my neck of the woods they'd been extirpated a century before. Fast forward to today, and Hoosier hunters harvest around 12,500 turkeys each spring, more than 100 of which are killed annually in the county I grew up hunting. Because of the efforts of dedicated conservationists in the 1980s and 1990s, the Indiana turkey population is estimated to be more than 125,000 birds—a number high enough that the Department of Natural Resources is able to offer a special Youth Turkey Season, which will run April 22 and 23.

While that opener is still about a month away, several youth seasons are set to kick off in the next few weeks. Among them are Illinois (March 25); Kansas, Kentucky and Missouri (April 1); Iowa (April 7); Nebraska and North Dakota (April 8); Minnesota (April 12); and Ohio and Wisconsin (April 15). Visit your state’s game agency website to learn more about the youth turkey season in your area.

Hunting is a huge key to successful conservation efforts. If it were not for hunters clamoring for the restoration of wild turkeys, there's a good chance my home county would still be without these amazing birds. If conservation advocates of similar ilk are to emerge in the coming generations, we must develop some of today's youth into hunters. There is no better time to do this than during youth season.

MEASURING YOUTH 'SUCCESS'

A youth season hunt is special because it's all about the kid. You have a chance to immerse a youngster in a genuine hunting experience without him or her feeling pressured to compete with experienced adults. Use these special seasons to teach youth hunters about more than pulling the trigger. Teach them about the importance of habitat, the biology of wildlife, hunting traditions and the importance of paving new ways. Put a box call in their hands and let them make horrible sounds. It's how they learn.

Also, you should let them use their phones on the hunt. That might sound counterintuitive, but since these devices are so integral to their everyday lives, they could quickly turn against the idea of going hunting again if they were not allowed. Instead, turn the phone into a tool. Ask the child to check the weather. See if he or she can use an app to identify a plant or a tree. Have them research answers to questions you pose about turkeys and wildlife. Maybe after a while, they'll put the phone away. If not, don’t stress. Just roll with it and be glad that you and your protégé get to spend a few hours together in the woods at this wonderful time of year. — Brandon Butler

Read more turkey articles in the Game & Fish Regional Strut Update

Game & Fish Best Hunting Times

male wild turkey
Shutterstock image
  • This free interactive solunar calendar offers the best turkey hunting times based on your exact location. Click below to access the calendar.

Search for the Best Hunting Times in Your Zip Code

GREAT TURKEY GEAR

App Assistance to Find Where Birds Are Roosting

gaf-rsu-gearapps-1200
Pushing in near a roost is risky. A mapping app, such as HuntStand, allows you to estimate the location of a roost without moving too close. (Photo by Becca McDougal)

Want to move your roosting program needle forward? Consider subscribing to the HuntStand Pro mapping app ($29.99/year; huntstand.com), which has several great features that can help you with roosting birds.

I first use one of the satellite base maps to get an overview of the property. Then, I switch between the 3D and Terrain base maps. This allows me to identify places I believe turkeys will roost—ridges, field edges, pine plantations and river bottoms. I drop pins on these locations.

Next, I identify safe locating points where I can listen for gobbling at dusk or where I can glass birds from a discreet vantage. I then make sure they’re within earshot or binocular range using the Draw Line tool to measure distance between my locating point and the potential roosts.

When I hear a roosted tom gobble from an unexpected direction or location, I estimate a range of how far away the tom is. For example, if I believe he’s 250 to 400 yards away and straight southeast of my location, I’ll use the Draw Line tool again to measure that distance in a line southeast from where I’m standing. Then, I’ll note what habitat exists within that distance range. If it’s all wide open other than a skinny ridge 320 yards from me, I’ll assume that he’s roosted there. Of course, making clear distinctions in the timber is more difficult, but at least you can use the HuntStand Pro app to draw some estimations.

Once I’ve pinned where I believe a tom is roosted, I study the map again, alternating between the satellite, 3D and Terrain base maps. I’m looking for access—features that will allow me to slip within 100 to 150 yards of the roosted bird without him knowing it the following morning. You might learn that a river separates you from the tom and that canoeing in is safest, or that a mowed trail leads right to an opening 75 yards away from the roosted bird.

Whatever the case, having HuntStand Pro at your fingertips is hugely advantageous. Try it, and I believe you’ll agree. — Darron McDougal

TERRIFIC TOMS

We're Looking for Your Longbeards

hunter with big turkey
Send us your best photos from your spring turkey hunt. (File photo)

Spring turkey seasons are about to open across the country, and Game & Fish is looking to feature your successful hunts throughout the spring. Send us your best photos for a chance to featured in this report. Use the hashtag #gafstrutreport or message us directly on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. It’s the best time of the year, and we can hear that spring thunder rumbling!—Keith Marlor

EAST & WEST

Turkey openers in most Eastern and Western states are still several weeks out.

Stay tuned to the weekly Regional Strut Update as your state’s opening day nears to stay abreast of what to expect. Here’s when all the fun begins:

East

CONNECTICUT
  • April 26 to May 27
DELAWARE
  • Youth-Only: April 1
  • General: April 8 to May 6
MAINE
  • Youth-Only: April 29
  • General: May 1 to June 3
MARYLAND
  • Youth-Only: April 15 (April 15–16 in certain counties)
  • General: April 18 to May 23
MASSACHUSETTS
  • Youth-Only: April 22
  • General: April 24 to May 20
NEW HAMPSHIRE
  • Youth-Only: April 29–30
  • General: May 1–31
NEW JERSEY
  • Youth-Only: April 22
  • General: April 22 to May 26 (varies by period)
NEW YORK
  • Youth-Only: April 22–23
  • General: May 1–31
PENNSYLVANIA
  • Youth-Only: April 22
  • General: April 29-May 30
RHODE ISLAND
  • Youth-Only: April 17–23
  • Paraplegic: April 22–23
  • General: April 27 to May 21
VERMONT
  • Youth-Only: April 29–30
  • General: May 1–31
VIRGINIA
  • Youth-Only: April 1–2
  • General: April 8 to May 13
WEST VIRGINIA
  • Youth-Only: April 15–16
  • General: April 17 to May 21

West

ARIZONA
  • Youth-Only: April 21–27, May 12–25
  • Merriam’s and Rio Grande: April 28 to May 25 (varies by unit)
  • Gould’s: May 5 to June 1 (varies by unit)
CALIFORNIA
  • Youth-Only: March 18–19; May 1–14
  • General: March 25 to April 30
  • Archery-Only: May 1–14
COLORADO
  • April 8 to May 31

IDAHO
  • Youth-Only: April 8 to May 25 (varies by unit)
  • General: April 15 to May 25 (varies by unit)
MONTANA
  • April 15 to May 31
NEVADA
  • March 25 to May 7 (varies by unit)
NEW MEXICO
  • April 15 to May 10
OREGON
  • Youth-Only: April 8–9
  • General: April 15 to May 31
UTAH
  • Limited-Entry: April 8–27
  • Youth-Only: April 28–30
  • General: May 1–31
WASHINGTON
  • Youth-Only: April 1–7
  • General: April 15 to May 31
WYOMING
  • April 1 to May 31 (varies by unit)



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