Steve Hickoff is the Realtree Turkey Hunting Editor and Blogger. He’s been beaten by more birds than he can remember. Still he kills enough to eat well, and fool with beards, spurs and fans until the next season. Pennsylvania born and raised, Maine is his home base now. A full-time outdoor communicator with a couple university writing degrees, he chases spring gobblers and fall flocks around the country. It's "all turkeys, all the time" on the Realtree Turkey Blog.
Best Turkey Hunting States
What are the best turkey hunting states? What makes them the best? What should you look for as a turkey hunter? What states should you avoid?
This discussion comes up every spring in remote camps, at pre-dawn diners around the country and even in the Realtree hunting forums. My inbox messages grow and voicemail lights up this time of the year as guys ask the question while planning spring turkey hunts. Where would I go for a particular subspecies if I were them? Where have I gone? Was it good? Would I go again?
Three important qualities always come to mind when these questions flash on my radar. Let's take a look at them.
Huntable Turkey Populations
Does the state have good turkey populations? Think of this first before planning your trip. A state with high bird numbers might mean greater hunter competition, of course, especially on public land. Then again wouldn't you rather hunt a place with high gobbler numbers than not? Kill data of a consistent trend can help you determine what location to hunt in such states as well. If you're lucky, the state has town and county information (this if often true for northeastern states). Other locations, where registration isn't required, might just estimate both turkey kill and flock populations. This is where asking a buddy who has turkey hunted the state can help.
Affordability for Non-Residents
Let's face facts: Some states encourage non-resident turkey hunters with reasonable license and permit pricing. Others seem to discourage it with lofty fees per license and individual turkey permits. (This often prompts the old joke from non-hunters about getting a frozen bird at the grocer's being easier and cheaper.) Still, we turkey hunters are not only chasing the great American game bird, but also the place, the experience, and so forth. You know what I'm talking about. Study the total cost of what it'll take you to hunt that state, including the air fare or gasoline to get there. Hit your budget point? Then do it.
Public Land Access
Is there room to hunt? Huge tracts of public land still exist in many parts of turkey country, especially out west, and even in the crowded northeastern states. Study up on these places. Call state wildlife agencies to get tips on newer public land purchases. Also be sure to read up on land access for non-residents and how you might gain landowner permission before or when visiting to hunt. When combined with a cheap motel (or camping) and cooking your own food, public land hunts might be the most affordable of all as a planned package deal goes. Want to hunt a spring turkey state without much public land access? Sometimes you can work out abbreviated pay-as-you-go stays with outfitters on a day basis. It doesn't hurt to ask.
So there's the big three: huntable turkey populations, affordability for non-residents and public land access. Anything we should have added here? Got any insights and tips for guys putting together hunts right now? In your opinion, what are the best turkey hunting states?
Let us know in the comments section below and thanks.
Steve Hickoff is Realtree's turkey hunting editor and blogger.