A wild turkey harvest

Some Outlook for the 2021 Spring Turkey Season

Turkey hunting in the spring is one of the highlights of the great American outdoors. Few outdoor pursuits are as filled with emotion as calling in a big, wary tom. Outfitters from all over the USA post their turkey hunts on BookYourHunt.com, and if you have booked or are going book a hunt, here are a few notes on what the 2021 spring turkey season may look like in the states where they operate. 

Alabama

In most wildlife management areas, the season starts on third weekend of March and lasts until the first weekend in May. Hunters can take up to five gobblers a season, spring and autumn combined, but only one bird a day. This, however, may change. Last season was a record harvest, with numbers of harvested birds up to 50% higher as compared to the previous year. A lot of people attribute high harvest to people having more time to hunt because of COVID-19. But whatever the reason, the state’s wildlife managers are concerned that this could have a negative impact on the bird’s populations. Motions were made to shorten the season and limit the harvest from five to three birds a season. The decision will be made in February; if you plan on hunting gobblers in Alabama, watch out for the news. 

Arizona

Arizona is one of those states that is special for any dedicated turkey hunter. The state has populations of as many as three different subspecies of the all-American game bird: Merriam’s, Gould’s, and Rio Grande. In fact, it’s one of the few states where you can bag a Gould’s. This attracts countless seekers of “Turkey Grand Slam”. The down side is that most of the turkey tags are allocated on a limited draw basis. Gould’s turkey tag, of which only 80 were allocated for the 2021 season, is especially coveted; however, there’s an option to buy archery-only turkey “nonpermit-tag” over-the-counter on a first-come first-served basis. The season opens in late April or early May, and ends to late May; specific dates depend on the unit. The limit is one bird a season. Populations seem to be healthy and on the growing side, owing to milder winters and successful hatching and poult survival in the latest year.

Colorado

Colorado is home to two wild turkey subspecies: Merriam’s in the mountains, and Rio Grande in the Plains. Tags are available both by limited draw and over-the-counter. The spring season opens on April 10 and lasts to May 31 in most units. Hunting Merriam’s turkeys in the West is a different game than Eastern hunting, as it usually takes place in broken, rugged country, often blessed with fantastic views of the mountains. But it’s also a difficult terrain, and you may have to cover a lotof ground before you find that tom who answers to your gobble. The turkey populations are on the rise, and while competition on public land can be hard, it’s a hunt to consider

Osceola wild tirkeys

Florida

Florida is another unique turkey state, with an endemic subspecies – Osceola turkey. However, as you probably already know, not all Florida turkeys are counted as Osceola, only those harvested in or south of Dixie, Gilchrist, Alachua, Union, Bradford, Clay and Duval Counties. The season is March 6 to April 11 south of State Road 70, and March 20 to April 25 to the north of it. For more detailed information, visit the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission website. There is a lot of data there, including an interactive map that will show you the prospects for turkey hunting in the WMA you intend to hunt (click here). Florida’s population of turkeys is healthy and growing, so if you’ve always been thinking about adding an Osceola to your collection, this year is as good as any!

Georgia

2020 was a record-book year for turkey harvest in Georgia, too. However, like elsewhere in the Southeast, populations are on the decline. Habitat loss and the use of chicken manure based fertilizer are listed as the main suspects. Average numbers of poults per hen have been on the decline over the last decades, dropping from 4+ in the early 1980s to about 1.5 in the late 2010s. Changes to the hunting seasons are being considered, but not in the 2021 season. Areas that are specifically managed for turkeys, however, have strong populations of the bird. Georgia doesn’t have a lot of public land to hunt, and the WMAs that are managed for turkey are limited access, so if Georgia’s gobblers are on your mind, look for a guided or semi-guided hunt on private land managed for wildlife. 

Idaho

Idaho may not be the first state that you think of when you think about turkey hunting, but you should. Turkey were introduced to the state in the 1960s, and the population just kept growing ever since. Merriam’s is the most common subspecies, with some Eastern, Rio Grande, and hybrids present too. Most of the tags are over the counter, and there is a lot of areas to hunt. Panhandle, Clearwater and Southwest appear to offer the best turkey hunting in Idaho. The season runs from mid-April to mid-May statewide. Turkey hunting in the West may be a whole different game from pursuing the same bird in the East and the South, so being accompanied by an experienced local guide may greatly increase your chances. 

Illinois

Illinois offers turkey tags in a three-tier lottery system, with leftover tags available over the counter until the quota is filled or until the season is over. You can check remaining tag availability on the state DNR website. Illinois is home to the Eastern subspecies. The populations have been slowly declining in the recent years, with poor hatch and poult survival. Hunters’ success rate is about 30%. Record harvests in 2020, combined with poor reproduction conditions in 2019, may mean that putting a tag on a tom in Illinois in 2021 is going to be quite a challenge. The spring season runs from early April to early May, depending on specific wildlife management zone. While Illinois may not be the No 1 turkey hunting destination, you can still have a good hunt with a reliable outfitter and an experienced guide

Indiana

The 2021 spring turkey hunting season in Indiana runs from April 21 to May 9. The bag limit is one bearded turkey a season. While most Midwest states see turkey population on a downward trend in recent years, Indiana’s are stable and have even shown slight growth in 2018-2019. Record harvest in 2020, as many citizens headed for the woods to escape COVID anxiety, may mean there would be fewer toms to harvest in 2021, and poult data from 2019, while higher than in some states (2.2 poults per hen) is lower than average. Overall, that hints on an average season: not bad, but you may have to work a little harder. But with a reputable guide, on a purposefully managed land, you always stand a high chance of success.  

A wild turkey in the woods

Kansas

Once a stellar turkey hunting state, Kansas turkey populations have been declining for the last 15 years, due to dropping nest and poult survival rates. Predictably, that lead to a reduction of hunting opportunities, namely, a reduction in bag limits from 2 to 1 toms a season in most units. Nevertheless, the 2021 season is expected to be average to moderately good. Remember to bring good binoculars: on the wide open spaces of Kansas it’s often about seeing the birds before you can hear it. The 2021 spring turkey hunt in Kansas starts on April 1 with a Youth/hunters with disability special season, then archery from April 5 to April 13, and the general season running from April 14 to May 31. 

Kentucky

Kentucky was one of the states that saw lower than usual turkey harvest last year, because the state cancelled all non-resident hunting in an attempt to reduce travel. That, in the opinion of many local outfitters, promises a good season this year. The state has always been famous for turkey hunting, and remains one of the best destinations for Eastern Turkeys. The 2021 spring season starts on April 17 and runs till May 9, and licenses and tags are available over the counter. However, the state doesn’t have much public land, so if you don’t know a local landowner, your best bet is to book your hunt with a reputable outfitter.  

Maine

Maine made some ad-hoc amends for the 2020 season, starting it two days early and waiving the requirement to tag the harvested bird, but this waiver is not likely to continue into this season. Main hunting regulations allow the use of electronic calling devices. Turkey populations in the state have seen a stable growth in the last few years, and a good season is expected in 2021. General Maine spring turkey hunting season runs from May 3 to June 5 in 2021, with a special youth season two days prior. The limit is one gobbler per season in some wildlife managing districts, two in others. If you bag a banded bird, be sure to report it to the state wildlife managers.  

Missouri

A couple of decades ago turkey hunting in Missouri was a success story, with bird populations rebounding from the brink of extinction to nearly half a million strong due to hunters’ efforts. Unfortunately, in the latest years the trend reversed, and the turkey numbers have been decreasing for the last decade or so. The 2019 poult-to-hen ratio was only about 1, and in addition increased hunter participation in the COVID year of 2020 resulted in record high harvest. The spring season runs from April 19 to May 9 in 2012, with a special youth season on April 10-11. Like anywhere in the Southeast, the main reason for the drop in turkey numbers is habitat loss, followed by low availability of winter foods, so if you want to go turkey hunting in Missouri in 2021, you’d be wise to book a hunt with a reputable outfitter that hunts on land purposefully managed for turkeys. 

Montana

It looks like the West beats the East, especially the Southeast, when it comes to turkey hunting in recent years. While wild turkey is not native to the state – Merriam’s subspecies was introduced in the late 1950s – Montana boasts of a strong population and ample hunting opportunities. Well-developed tourism industry, from outfitters to motels and lodges, is ready to welcome the travelling hunter. The season runs from April 11 to May 17, and tags are available through a combination of limited draw and over-the-counter purchase.

hunters with a turkey

Nebraska

Nebraska is one of the bests turkey hunting destinations in North America, and is said to have more turkeys than any other state. Last spring it was one of the states that curtailed non-resident hunting opportunities in order to discourage travel to the state and limit the spread of the novel coronavirus. While local hunters filled in the spring turkey woods, with participation increasing by nearly 25%, the overall harvest was lower than in previous years. This is good news for the 2021 turkey season. The archery season opens on March 25, and the shotgun on April 17. Both seasons close on May 31. 

New Jersey

Wild turkeys had been exterminated in New Jersey since the Civil War, but due to a successful restoration project, made a spectacular comeback. The numbers of the all-American game bird remained stable for the last twenty years, and so has hunter’s success, so the outlook for 2021 is “as good as any other year”. The state has a complicated system of spring turkey hunting seasons, that run in intervals from late April to late May. Licenses are available through limited draw, with leftover tags sold over the counter. 

New York State

New York State has a solid population of the bird that, if Ben Franklin had his way, could be the symbol of America. The 2021 spring season will run from May 1 to May 31, and the limit is two bearded birds per season, one per day. West Appalachian Plateau seems to be the hot spot for hunting turkeys in the New York State, and the Adirondacks’ are also not to be looked down on. However, nesting and poult survival in 2019 (it’s the reproduction season two years back that mostly determines how good turkey hunting is going to be this year) was relatively low, following the general downward thread of the last decade in the East and Southeast. So, New York turkey hunters who set their sights on other states may be doing the right thing. 

Ohio

The condition of turkey populations in Ohio is somewhat an open question. Some sources state that the numbers of the bird are slowly, but surely dwindling. Others believe that the population is healthy and abundant. There’s also an opinion that it depends on what part of state you’re talking about. Spring turkey hunting season in Ohio opens on April 24, 2021 in the south of the state, and May 1 in the northeast zone.

Oklahoma

Oklahoma is a popular destination with many turkey hunters, many of whom are drawn by the state’s flock of Rio Grande subspecies. There’s also Eastern turkey in the east, and a bit of Merriam’s in the West. However, like in many other states, turkey populations have been on a downward thread for the last few years. This prompted Oklahoma Wildlife Department to reduce the limits on turkeys. 2021 season is expected to be average to moderately poor. However, Oklahoma remains a good turkey hunting destination; the season runs from April 6 to May 6. 

Wild turkeys in the undergrowth

South Carolina

South Carolina, like many other states in the Southeast, has been experiencing a decline in turkey numbers, explained by decreasing reproduction success, since the early 1980s. The 2019 turkey survey showed relatively low reproduction rates, so the harvest opportunities, given that hunters’ success has been decreasing for a number of years, do not look very promising. The state wildlife authorities reacted by a change in regulations that went into effect two years ago, reducing bag limits and establishing two regional seasons instead of one all-state season for turkey hunting in South Carolina. The new seasons run from April 1 to May 10, or March 22 to March 30, depending on the state, on private land, and from April 1 to May 5 on state WMA lands. Once generous five-bird limit is replaced with three per season for residents and two for non-residents, of which no more than one can be taken per day, and no more than one in the first ten days of the season. 

South Dakota

The prospects for the 2021 spring turkey season in South Dakota looks good. The state has a number of different turkey seasons for various regions and action types, and not all licenses are available to non-residents. Generally speaking, the prairie units are quota-based, with licenses distributed by limited draw in three tiers, and leftover licenses available over-the counter, with some units having no non-resident tags. The Black Hills season that runs from April 10 to May 31 offers unlimited licenses to both residents and non-residents. Archery season, with unlimited resident and non-resident licenses, runs from April 3 to May 31. The system is complicated, so if you plan to hunt turkeys in South Dakota this spring, your best choice is to find you for yourself at the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks website – or with your outfitter, who will know everything about obtaining licenses for the unit they outfit in. 

Tennessee

If you’re up to Eastern turkey hunting in the Southeast, Tennessee seems to be the state to go to. The turkey population experiences some of the downward trend as in other neighboring states, especially Bedford, Maury, Lawrence, Wayne and Giles counties, but there is still a healthy population in the state, and hunters success is high. The risk that COVID-19 development could affect your hunt is also low: unlike some other states in this review, in Tennessee the spring season of 2020 went as usual. The only concern may be that last year the harvest was record-high due to increased hunting participation. The dates for the 2021 spring turkey season in Tennessee are April 3 – May 16 in most of the state, and April 17 – May 16 in the Mississippi Alluvial Valley and a couple of other counties.  

Texas

Texas is one of the prime destinations in North America for most things hunting, and spring turkey hunting is no exception. The populations of the Rio Grande turkey are on the rise, and 2019 is on the record for exceptional production. As has been noted a number of times already in this blog, habitat management is crucial for turkey numbers, and Texan game ranchers are good at it. All in all, everything points to a stellar spring season of turkey hunting in Texas in 2021. Rio Grande season in 2021 runs from March 20 to May 2 in the south, and from April 3 to May 16 in the north of the state. Eastern turkey season, which is open, predictably, in East Texas, is from April 22 to May 14. For those who’d like to introduce a youngster to the sport of turkey hunting, Texas has not one, but two special youth-only seasons, before and after the regular Rio Grande season.

A harvested Eastern gobbler with a 'last feed'

Utah

Utah populations of wild turkey (the state has Merriam’s, Rio Grandes, and their hybrids) has been growing for the recent years. Conventional wisdom has it that the southern parts of the state are the best for turkey hunting. Utah has two turkey seasons: the limited-entry season, for which permits are distributed via limited draw, and general, with over the counter permits. The limited-entry season runs from April 10 to April 29, and offers much better chances of harvesting a turkey than the general season, that opens May 3 and closes May 31. Prospects for the 2021 are good, and overall Utah is not a bad choice for turkey hunting in the West.  

Virginia

Virginia hunters had a record turkey harvest in 2020, for the same reason as everywhere: COVID-19 lockdown enabled and encouraged people to spend more time outdoors. However, this extra harvest is unlikely to have a strong negative effect on the 2021 season. The turkey populations in Virginia are growing, and 2019 was an exceptionally good season for breeding – evidenced by the fact that hunters were seeing a lot of jakes in 2020. This means that turkey hunting in Virginia in the 2021 hunting season, that runs from April 10 to May 15 (however, up to May 2 you can only hunt in the morning) is promising to be very good. If you’re only beginning your hunting career, you may take advantage of the apprentice hunter special season, which, together with the youth season, runs on April 3 on public land, and on April 3 to April 4 on private land.

Wisconsin

Wisconsin turkey populations are described as “stable”, neither falling nor growing, and believed to be at the balance in terms of habitat capacity. With abundant turkey populations, and affordable non-resident licenses, Wisconsin is a good choice for a travelling turkey hunter. However, you should pay attention to the state’s somewhat complicated season structure, broken into five shorter seasons running consequently. License availability and hunting success chances may vary; do your homework and/or hire a reputable outfitter, who’ll set you on the right track. As in many other states, the 2020 “COVID special” season saw record-level harvests, but with favorable breeding conditions in 2019, hunters may well expect a good season in 2021. 

Wyoming 

Turkey is the spring elk. This is the impression that some hunters get from hunting turkey in Wyoming: open country makes it possible to harvest your gobbler using the same tactics as in elk hunting during the rut. As in many other western states, Wyoming’s turkey population is stable and growing, owing perhaps to the fact that licenses are limited draw and the limit is one bird per license. The season starts April 20 in most of the state, except Zone 3, where it begins on April 1, and lasts to May 31 statewide. 

So here’s the outlook for the spring turkey season in 2021. Of course, it’s far from complete, but it’s impossible to cover all details in just one blog, so if you think we missed something, let us know in the comments!

 

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