March 28, 2014
There's never been a better time to be a turkey hunter. Populations are booming throughout much of their historic range. And thanks to efforts by the National Wild Turkey Federation and other conservation groups, turkeys are once again abundant in places they were extirpated a century ago. Even much of New England and parts of Canada have thriving wild turkey populations.
Throw a dart at a map and you've likely hit a turkey hunting bull's-eye. Some states are clearly better than others, of course, and we've listed the 20 best turkey states in the country. Don't be concerned if your state isn't listed, though. Unless you live in Alaska, you've probably got a few turkeys closer than you think.
With about 350,000 turkeys roaming Georgia, it's not surprising the state has one of the highest harvests in the country. Hunters killed 35,000 turkeys last year, the highest statewide kill in six years. The best hunting, at least in terms of hours of hunter effort per bird killed, is in the ridge and valley region, where it took about 13 hours to bag a gobbler.
The upper coastal plain was next, followed by the Piedmont region. It took nearly 20 hours of effort to tag a tom in the Blue Ridge region. Georgia has an extensive wildlife management system.
Georgia Department of Natural Resources
A season limit of five gobblers is enough to bump South Carolina into the Top 20, but that's not all that's notable for the state's turkey hunters. As many as 125,000 birds can be found from the Lowcountry to the western mountains and everywhere in between. Unfortunately, the population has been declining in recent years and biologists are concerned the five-bird limit may have something to do with that.
Last year's harvest was 19,211, which was above the five-year average, but below the long-term average. An increase in the state's coyote population may factor into the decline, as well. Whatever the reason, a three-gobbler limit was recommended by South Carolina DNR
biologists, but it has yet to go into effect.
Friendly people, ample public hunting and abundant turkeys. What's not to like about Mississippi? Hunters killed nearly 24,000 birds last year out of a total population of 220,000. The entire Delta region, which has lots of public hunting, had a good hatch in 2012. So did much of the central part of the state.
That translates to more mature gobblers this spring. Thanks to what may be the only quality turkey management program in the country, there should be lots of longbeards in the woods. Mississippi hunters are restricted to gobblers with beards six inches or longer. The season limit is three birds.
Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks
Alabama may have fumbled a chance at the BCS National Championship last year, but the state's turkey hunters certainly didn't drop the ball. They scored 47,800 birds last year, the highest harvest number in the country.
With an estimated 400,000 birds, the state also has one of the highest turkey populations in the country, too. Alabama also has the most liberal bag limits. Hunters are allowed five birds per year. Public hunting areas are abundant throughout the state.
Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources
Contrary to popular belief, Kansas is not flat. It's not one vast wheat field, either. The gently rolling prairie falls off into wooded creek bottoms and those sprawling wheat fields are interrupted by blocks of timber. An estimated 350,000 turkeys call Kansas home.
Easterns thrive in the eastern part of the state; Rio Grandes rule the wide open spaces of western Kansas, which has a decent amount of public hunting enrolled in the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks'
1 million acre walk-in access program.
Despite declining turkey populations — thanks to a series of poor hatches — Missouri still outranks most of the country in both harvest and total population. Last year, Show Me State hunters bagged over 46,000 birds out of an estimated statewide population of 308,000.
Hunters are allowed two gobblers per season, but only one may be taken the first week of the season. Birds are generously scattered throughout the state and so are public hunting opportunities.
Missouri Department of Conservation
North Carolina has something for every style of turkey hunting. Whether you prefer chasing gobblers across the steep, wooded mountains and valleys of western NC or the swamps and farmland typical of coastal Carolina, it's all there.
A week-long youth season gives young hunters plenty of opportunity to fill a tag and a month-long general season allows everyone a chance to take their two-bird limit. The state's turkey population is around 260,000 birds and last year's harvest 18,409 birds. The North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission
also holds permit hunts on a number of public hunting areas.
Nebraska Game and Parks
doesn't provide a turkey population estimate, but if you've ever hunted there, you'd know it is crawling with birds. Even better, those turkeys are easy to locate. Simply look for trees, particularly trees near rivers and streams.
The highest concentrations are found along the state's major river drainages, but plenty of turkeys are found in isolated pockets throughout the state. Public land is most abundant in western Nebraska, but there are 800,000 acres of state and federal land scattered throughout. It's a great place to tag a Merriam's, an Eastern or even a hybrid where the two subspecies mingle.
Everything really is bigger in Texas, at least when it comes to turkey populations. An estimated half-million Eastern and Rio Grandes inhabit the Lone State state. Public hunting is limited, but Texas Parks and Wildlife runs a popular and productive draw system for many of its wildlife management areas.
That keeps pressure down and success high. Hunters who have access to private land have high success rates and a four-bird annual limit, although only one can be an Eastern. Last year's statewide harvest was 20,490.
Texas Parks & Wildlife Department
There's only one destination for Osceolas. Thankfully, Florida has lots of them. As many as 100,000 live from north Florida to south-central Florida, offering abundant opportunities for visiting hunters to complete their grand slams. Most of the state is private, but there is ample public land throughout Osceola range, including a number of draw hunts.
Bring your snake boots and plan on slogging through the gator infested swamps, though. Osceolas aren't pushovers and they live in some of the country's most inhospitable habitat. Abundant numbers of Eastern wild turkeys can be found in the panhandle and northern Florida, as well.
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission
Who knew a snowy little state in New England could have such good turkey hunting? Vermont not only has upwards of 45,000 birds, it has ample public land in the 400,000-acre Green Mountain National Forest. Hunters killed 6,219 birds statewide last year.
The best hunting takes place on private land, typically on Vermont's abundant dairy farms in the southern and eastern portions of the state, but turkeys are found throughout the entire state. Hunters are allowed two birds per season.
Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department
Photo by NWTF
Brutal winters, deep snow and turkeys? If you like all three, you'll love Wisconsin. You can find cold and snow pretty much anywhere in the state. Turkeys are generously scattered across much of Wisconsin, too. Hunters tagged nearly 38,000 birds in 2013.
The highest turkey densities are found in central and western Wisconsin. Plenty of birds also inhabit the southern tier and in much of eastern and north-central Wisconsin. Numbers are low in the far north, due largely to limited habitat and severe winter weather.
Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources
Photo by NWTF
The hunting tradition may be under constant attack in California, but make no mistake, it has some of the best turkey hunting opportunities in the country. In fact, it's a testament to conservation efforts by pro-hunting groups. California didn't have a spring turkey season until 1971.
With 244,000 birds roaming across the hills and valleys, filling a tag or is just a matter of putting in the time these days. California has both Merriam's and Rio Grandes, giving hunters the opportunity to fill half their grand slam without traveling out-of-state. There are also isolated pockets of Easterns.
California Department of Fish and Wildlife
Photo by NWTF
A liberal bag limit, a lengthy season and a thriving turkey population make Tennessee a contender for one of the top turkey states in the country. Throw abundant public hunting opportunities into the mix and it might go to the head of the list.
The state's 310,000 turkeys are generously scattered from the mountains of east Tennessee west to the Mississippi River. Hunters killed about 33,000 last year, thanks in part to a four-bird limit.
Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency
Photo by NWTF
Think New York is an endless city filled with horn-happy drivers? Think again. There's a big, beautiful state beyond the skyscrapers, traffic jams and suburbs of New York City, and much of it is crawling with turkeys — 200,000 to be exact. Birds are generously scattered throughout the state and so are state wildlife management areas.
Even some land owned by New York City is open to public hunting. Chautauqua County had the highest kill, followed by Delaware, Cattaraugus and Steuben counties. The statewide spring harvest was 21,515, up from 2012's harvest of 19,000.
New York Department of Environmental Conservation
Photo by NWTF
Is Utah a 'sleeper ' state? Not if you live in Utah. Resident hunters know all about the state's great turkey hunting and abundant population. An estimated 180,000 birds live in Utah, despite the lack of suitable habitat in many parts of the state. Even with the thriving population, harvest is low. Hunters killed just 2,295 birds last spring.
That's pretty good considering the Utah Division of Wildlife
only awarded less than 3,000 tags through a draw last year. Non-residents have a decent chance at drawing one of those tags, but only because few non-residents apply. Residents have about a one-in-three chance of drawing.
Photo by NWTF
Believe it or not, Michigan is one of the top states in terms of overall turkey harvest. Hunters killed nearly 32,000 birds last spring, ranking behind just a handful of other states. Michigan even beat Texas.
That's due in part to the state's strong turkey population, estimated at around 200,000 birds. Hunters are limited to one gobbler per spring and they must get their tag through a lottery system. Public land is abundant, with 177 state game lands and three large national forests.
Photo by NWTF
Beyond what seems like an endless sea of smelly chemical plants, dilapidated factories and abandoned mills lays a beautiful state with plenty of open space. New Jersey's image may be dominated by a turnpike and a bridge scandal, but the Garden State has abundant farmland, rolling hills and sprawling tracts of forest.
The statewide turkey population is about 23,000, which is not bad for one of the smallest states in the country. Hunters tagged 3,387 birds, the highest harvest in recent history. The state allows up to two permits through a lottery system or through over-the-counter sales of leftover licenses.
New Jersey Department of Fish and Wildlife
Photo by NWTF
No state has a turkey hunting history as rich as Pennsylvania. And no state besides Texas has the number of paid license holders as Pennsylvania. You'd think there wouldn't be a turkey left with all the hunting pressure. Thanks to a sound management program, the Keystone State has nearly 200,000 turkeys and a spring 2013 harvest of 34,000 birds.
There appears to be no shortage of birds. Hunters are generally limited to one gobbler per season. The highest kills are in western and central Pennsylvania, but the heavily-populated southeastern corner gives up plenty of gobblers, too.
Pennsylvania Game Commission
Photo by NWTF
Few states attract so much attention from deer hunters, but Iowa is also a pretty darn good turkey state. Endless corn fields that provide ample food are interrupted by wood lots, forested creek bottoms and other high-quality turkey habitat, making it a turkey hunter's dream.
The estimated population hovers around 150,000 birds and the harvest last year was 10,565 birds. Public opportunities are fairly abundant; the Iowa Department of Natural Resources
manages about 360,000 acres of public land. Non-resident hunters are limited, but leftover tags are usually available in several zones.
Photo by NWTF