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Turkey Hunters Top 10 Hot Spots

Turkey Hunting's Best
By Jason Gilbertson

What’s old is new again as hunters of the wild turkey reflect on last season’s successes, misfortunes, and memories. Another spring turkey season is here and the time has come to take on new terrain in state's that offer only the best turkey hunting imagined.

Thanks to state and federal wildlife agencies, and volunteers of the National Wild Turkey Federation, approximately 6.4 million turkeys now cover the U.S. and parts of Canada.

For the avid hunter who is searching for their next adventure, opportunity and success , along with the number of birds harvested are obvious considerations.

So what states account for the most turkeys being tagged and why? What follows are the top states for total harvest last year, population and a short breakdown by subspecies.

1. Missouri
Number one in harvest again last year with 58,421 birds taken, the Show-Me state is also showing off one of the highest overall turkey populations at more than 600,000 Easterns. Turkey hunters from all over the U.S. will travel here this year to find longbeards hidden away in the Ozarks all the way to the northern part of the state where rolling country and broken forests provide ideal habitat.

    * Dates: April 19-May 9 (varies)
    * Bag Limit: 2 male (or with visible beards) turkeys per season
    * Legal Hours: 1/2 hour before sunrise to 1 p.m.
    * Licenses: Resident-$15. Nonresident-$145. Hunter education certificate required for hunters born on or after Jan. 1, 1967.
    * Methods of Take: Firearms-shotguns 10 ga. or smaller; No. 4 shot or smaller; plugged to 3 shots max. Archery-bow/arrow.
    * Miscellaneous: Live decoys, recorded calls illegal.
    * Contact: Missouri DOC, 573-751-4115, www.conservation.state.mo.us

2. Alabama
AL-A-BAMA. Low country swampland, rich hardwood stands and food plots galore gives Alabama the respect it deserves in the eyes of many turkey hunters. Thick-bearded toms have taken over this state that boasts a population of more than 350,000 Easterns. Hunters took 57,100 turkeys last year, good enough for second highest in the nation.

    * Dates: March 15-April 30 (varies)
    * Bag Limit: 1 gobbler per day, 5 during combined fall and spring seasons
    * Legal Hours: Daylight (check state regulations for WMA legal hours)
    * Licenses: Resident-state $16, county $8.50, WMA $16; Nonresident-annual all game $252, 10-day trip all game $127, 3-day trip all game $77, WMA $16. Anyone born on or after Aug. 1, 1977, must complete hunter education.
    * Methods of Take: Firearms-shotguns 10-ga. or smaller using standard No. 2 shot or smaller; handguns or pistols using centerfire mushrooming ammo, black powder handguns or pistols .40 cal. or larger. Handguns or pistols can only have open metallic sights, no scopes. Archery-long or compound bows.
    * Miscellaneous: Use or possession of decoys illegal.
    * Contact: Alabama DC&NR, 334-242-3465, www.outdooralabama.com

3. Pennsylvania
Turkey hunting tradition—some believe it all started here—Pennsylvania. A population of more than 350,000 Eastern wild turkeys puts Pennsylvania in the top five for harvest almost every year. National forest lands, hunting guides and thousands of private acres combine to make this destination a worthwhile hunt. Last spring, 43,650 turkeys were taken.

    * Dates: May 1-May 29, youth hunt-April 24
    * Bag Limit: 1 bearded turkey
    * Legal Hours: 1/2 hour before sunrise to noon. Hunters should be out of the woods no later than 1 p.m.
    * Licenses: Resident-hunting $20. Nonresident-hunting $101.
    * Methods of Take: Firearms-shotguns plugged to 3 shells in the chamber and magazine combined, muzzleloading shotguns of all types and gauges; shot sizes no larger than No. 4 lead, bismuth-tin, and tungsten-iron or No. 2 steel. Hunters must wear 100 sq. inches of blaze orange on head or chest and back when moving. Archery-long, recurve or compound bows with cutting-edge broadheads.
    * Contact: PA Game Commission License Division, 717-787-2084, www.pgc.state.pa.us

4. Wisconsin
Rich in deer hunting tradition, America’s dairyland is home to more than massive whitetails. Thanks to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and NWTF volunteers. More than 320,000 Eastern’s now cove r the state. Last spring, hunters harvested 42,970 turkeys and posted the safest turkey hunting season in their history, with no turkey hunting incidents.

    * Dates: April 14-May 23 (varies)
    * Bag Limit: 1 male or bearded turkey
    * Legal Hours: 1/2 hour before sunrise to 5 p.m.
    * Licenses: Resident-turkey stamp $5.25, license $13. Nonresident-turkey stamp $5.25, license $60. Hunter safety course required for those born after Jan. 1, 1973.
    * Methods of Take: Firearms-shotgun or muzzleloader. Shotshells larger than No. 2 steel, No. 4 lead, or other No. 4 non-steel shot is illegal. Archery-bow/arrow.
    * Application deadline: December 10; fall-August 10

5. New York
Broadway, Times Square and Central Park, all New York City treasures—but don’t be fooled—the rest of this state is a well-known turkey hunting hot spot. With rugged mountains in the west, rolling farmland and dense forests New York is home to more than a quarter million Eastern wild turkeys. Hunters took 36,000 in the spring of last year.

    * Dates: May 1-31
    * Bag Limit: 2 bearded turkeys (not the same day)
    * Legal Hours: 1/2 hour before sunrise to noon
    * Licenses: Resident-small game $16, turkey permit $5. Nonresident-small game $55, turkey permit $30. Must have a prior license or Sportsman Education Certificate.
    * Methods of Take: Firearms-shotguns only, No. 2-8 shot. Archery-bow/arrow.
    * Contact: New York DEC, 518-457-3521, www.dec.state.ny.us

The Better Half

The rest of the Top 10 looks like this, with the state ranked in order along with the number of birds harvested there. See the wild turkey subspecies section for your best chances of harvesting a particular subspecies.

6. Mississippi: 35,000+

    * Dates: March 20-May 1
    * Bag Limit: 1 adult (or gobbler with 6-inch or longer beard) turkey per day, 3 per year
    * Legal Hours: 1/2 hour before sunrise to 1/2 hour after sunset
    * Licenses: Resident-all game license $17, sportsman’s license $32. Nonresident-all game $300, 7-day all game $125.
    * Methods of Take: Firearms-shotgun, shot size no larger than No. 2. Archery-bow/arrow.
    * Contact: Mississippi DWF&P, 800-5GO-HUNT, www.mdwfp.com

7. Michigan—33,416

    * Dates: April 19-May 31 (varies)
    * Bag Limit: 1 bearded turkey
    * Legal Hours: 1/2 hour before sunrise to 1/2 hour before sunset
    * Licenses: Resident-$14, application $4. Nonresident-$65, application $4; youth $14. Hunter safety course required.
    * Application Deadline: February 1
    * Methods of Take: Firearms-shotgun No. 4 shot or smaller, muzzleloader. Archery-bow/arrow.
    * Contact: Michigan DNR, 517-373-1263, www.dnr.state.mi.us

8. Oklahoma—32,123, (2002)

    * Dates: April 6-May 6 (varies)
    * Bag Limit: 3 male turkeys (varies), no more than one tom taken in one day
    * Legal Hours: 1/2 hour before sunrise to sunset
    * Licenses: Resident-combination $37, hunting $20, turkey tag $7.75. Nonresident-hunting $92.50, turkey tag $7.75.
    * Methods of Take: Firearms-shotguns. Archery-bow/arrow.
    * Application deadlines: For controlled hunts only-May 1
    * Contact: Oklahoma DWC, 405-521-2730, www.wildlifedepartment.com

9. Texas—28,953

    * Dates: March 27-May 9 (varies)
    * Bag Limit: 4 Rio Grandes or 3 Rio Grandes and 1 Eastern
    * Legal Hours: 1/2 hour before sunrise to 1/2 hour after sunset
    * Licenses: Resident-$23 plus $5 turkey stamp. Super combo, residents only-$59. Nonresident-$120, hunter safety requirements needed.
    * Methods of Take: Firearms- shotguns only for Easterns, no restrictions on Rio Grandes. Archery- bow/arrow and crossbow only for Easterns, no restrictions on Rio Grandes.
    * Contact: Texas P&W, Public Hunting, 800-792-1112, www.tpwd.state.tx.us

10. Kentucky—28,223

    * Dates: April 15-May 5, youth season April 3-4
    * Bag Limit: 2 male turkeys or turkeys with visible beards
    * Legal Hours: 1/2 hour before sunrise to 1/2 hour after sunset
    * Licenses: Resident-hunting $15, spring turkey permit $20. Nonresident-hunting $115, spring turkey permit $20. All hunters born after January 1, 1975, must carry a valid hunter education card while hunting.
    * Methods of Take: Firearms-shotgun or muzzleloaders 20 ga.-10 ga. Shot no larger than No. 4. Archery-long bow, recurve, crossbow or compound bow.
    * Contact: Kentucky DF&W, 800-858-1549, www.kdfwr.state.ky.us

Wild Turkey Subspecies:

In all likelihood, Georgia, a state with liberal turkey limits, plenty of hunting land and a usual standing as one of the top two or three states for wild turkey harvests, is still in the Top Five, but a change in the way the state tallies its harvest has prevented state officials from completing its count at this point. The top overall list is also a list of top states for taking the Eastern subspecies. The only exception is Texas, where the Rio Grande subspecies accounts for the majority of wild turkeys harvested.

Known both as the Florida or Osceola subspecies, as the original name implies, this subspecies can only be found in Florida, making the Sunshine State the only, and by default, best place to take one! Public land is minimal, though there are some limited draw public land opportunities, as well as traditional outfitted hunts.

Check out the NWTF's Turkey Call magazine for more tips on hot spots for turkeys. Call 800-THE-NWTF or visit www.nwtf.org to join the NWTF and receive one of NWTF's great magazines.

Rio Grandes and Merriam's
Solid numbers for these subspecies are harder to come by, especially since they often co-exist in many Western states, (as do Rios and Easterns toward the plains). Also, game departments don't always offer a breakdown in harvest numbers between subspecies.

Merriam’s are typically found in higher up, cooler regions and Rios in lower elevation, more arid regions. The more prominent states with a harvest of Rios include Texas (as mentioned before and by far the highest), followed by Oklahoma, and distantly South Dakota and Hawaii. For Merriam's, look to Nebraska, Idaho, Colorado, Wyoming and again South Dakota.

There are no doubt some other states that boast decent populations and harvest rates of both Rios and Merriam's and deserve inclusion on this list, however, final harvest numbers may not be currently available.

Check out the NWTF’s Turkey Call magazine for more tips on hot spots for turkeys. Call (800) THE-NWTF or visit www.nwtf.org to join the NWTF and receive one of NWTF’s great magazines.

The National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF) is a great resource for turkey hunting tips and other wild turkey information. Visit the NWTF’s website at www.nwtf.org for information or call (800) THE-NWTF to become a NWTF member and receive one of our great magazines filled with turkey hunting tips and stories. 

About the NWTF: In 1973 when the National Wild Turkey Federation was founded, there were an estimated 1.3 million wild turkeys and 1.5 million turkey hunters. Thanks to the work of state wildlife agencies and the NWTF's many volunteers and partners, today there are an estimated 5.4 million wild turkeys and approximately 2.6 million turkey hunters. Since 1985, more than
$135 million NWTF and cooperator dollars have been spent on over 15,000 projects benefiting wild turkeys throughout North America.

The NWTF is a 390,000-member grassroots, nonprofit organization with members in 50 states, Canada and 11 foreign countries. It supports scientific wildlife management on public, private and corporate lands as well as wild turkey hunting as a traditional North American sport.

** For lots of excellent Wild Turkey Recipes check Cooking Turkey With SusieQ

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