Public health officials warn that there are still plenty of dark days ahead for the U.S. in its fight against the coronavirus pandemic.
That includes the outdoors world too, a place where the effects of COVID-19 continue to be felt in increasing fashion.
In recent days, fishermen and bear hunters have seen their favorite activities curtailed by COVID-19 closures as numerous states issue shelter in place orders for residents and try to limit non-resident visits from out-of-state.
Now, non-resident spring turkey hunters in at least three states—so far, that is—are feeling the wrath of the coronavirus pandemic and its disruption of daily life. And in a fourth state, even resident hunters are now feeling the pain too.
In the Bluegrass State of Kentucky, one of the best Eastern turkey hunting states in the nation, the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources announced on April 3 that while turkey season would continue on for residents this spring, the sale of licenses to non-residents was being stopped immediately.
"Effective immediately, standard nonresident spring turkey permits for 2020 will no longer be sold in order to conform to Gov. Andy Beshear’s executive order and current CDC guidelines to minimize the spread of the COVID-19 Coronavirus," stated the agency’s website update on virus related issues. "Only non-resident hunters who have already purchased 2020 spring turkey permits, and can comply with the Governor’s Executive Order No. 2020-266, should consider hunting in Kentucky during the spring season. The order requires all non-residents who travel to Kentucky to self-quarantine immediately for 14 days upon arrival."
Spring turkey hunting for youth was scheduled for April 4-5 in Kentucky while the state’s adult hunters wait for the April 18-May 10 season to begin.
Out in the Great Plains, a similar order was issued by Nebraska, home to some of the nation’s best Merriam turkey hunting action.
"The Nebraska Game and Parks Commission is suspending the sale of nonresident spring turkey hunting permits in a proactive effort to prevent the potential for the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19)," stated the Nebraska Game and Parks website. "This is being done by the Commission in coordination with Gov. Pete Ricketts Executive Order No. 20-11 to help protect the health of Nebraskans by discouraging unnecessary travel. Game and Parks will stop selling 2020 nonresident spring turkey permits effective immediately. Nonresidents who have purchased permits will be able to use them, but will not be able to purchase additional permits. Nonresidents with Nebraska turkey permits will be contacted by Game and Parks through email in the next week with additional information, including potential refunds."
For those turkey hunters still able to hunt in Nebraska, the state’s spring turkey season opened March 25 for archers while the state’s shotgun season open up for youth on April 11 and for adults on April 18. All Cornhusker spring turkey seasons close on May 31.
Out in the Rocky Mountains in Idaho, spring turkey hunters coming in from out-of-state—along with non-resident bear hunters, too—got their share of COVID-19 bad news as well.
"At their April 4 meeting, the Idaho Fish and Game Commission adopted a rule that temporarily suspends the sale of several types of nonresident fishing and hunting licenses, tags, and permits,” stated a news release on the agency’s website.
"The action is effective immediately and lasts until the rule is repealed consistent with relevant state of Idaho public health orders."
According to the agency, those affected by the ruling are non-residents wishing to purchase game tags for black bear, turkey, mountain lion, and gray wolf, including nonresident junior mentored and nonresident disabled American veteran tags for these species. Season dates vary in Idaho depending upon the game management unit being hunted.
Also affected by the IFGC news are nonresidents looking for permits for black bear baiting, hound hunter, salmon, and steelhead.
In the American heartland, Illinois made a decision several weeks ago that didn’t close turkey hunting per se in the state, but certainly made it more challenging for residents and non-residents alike.
That came about when the Illinois Department of Natural Resources announced that all state lands were being shuttered for now in the Land of Lincoln. While the state’s various North and South Zone turkey seasons will continue on in both April and May, all would be gobbler getters will have to chase longbeards on private property…or not at all.
"Understanding the need to act quickly and decisively in the face of a global pandemic, Illinois was the first state to fully close state parks, fish and wildlife areas, recreational areas and historic sites; the closure took effect March 15," said the state DNR’s website."While it was an extremely difficult decision and one that the Department did not make lightly, we know it was the right one as we continue to see other states encounter large crowds in their state parks, as well as closures of other state parks, recreational areas and federal sites.
"Social distancing and staying confined to one's home are absolutely necessary to slowing the progression of COVID-19. IDNR sees the closures of our state parks, fish and wildlife areas, recreational areas and historic sites as a necessary step in helping stem the spread of disease, protecting both the patron who enjoy our state sites as well as our dedicated employees. The IDNR is working closely with the Illinois Department of Public Health and the Governor's Office to monitor the situation and assess when we can safely reopen our facilities."
In the Pacific Northwest, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife canceled the state’s April 4-5 youth turkey hunt. But the agency says—so far, at least—that the state's April 15-May 31 season will continue on for now. Do keep in mind, however, that the state's public lands are shuttered through at least May 6 and WDFW officials plan to meet on Monday, April 6 to reassess the situation for upcoming seasons.
When it comes to spring turkey hunting across the nation, keep in mind two things. First, spring turkey hunting seasons are already underway in a number of states and are slated to begin soon in most others. And second, there may not be a more socially distancing outdoors pursuit than one or two hunters chasing a gobbler sounding off in the spring woods.
Both of those facts could mean that spring turkey hunts—for now, at least—may be able to continue on as scheduled in many U.S. states, at least for residents.But given the fluid nature of the COVID-19 pandemic and its 24/7 effects on daily life across America, all bets are off this spring, even for turkey hunters.
Hunters who are hoping and praying for the best in their communities, desiring that somehow spring hunts might be able to safely continue on in a spring that will never be forgotten.