It's winter, and the outdoor show season, but spring isn't far away. What you do now – especially the questions you ask – can help make this year's gobbler-chasing campaign successful.
1. Permit and Lottery Hunt Deadlines?
Such details can easily be forgotten during your busy days.
Spring's hunts are far from your mind. They shouldn't be. Check deadline dates for turkey hunting permit and lottery applications. Even then, it might be a bit late. Call state wildlife management officials to get an inside angle on what's expected of hunters. Follow the procedure. Do they offer special archery turkey hunts? Are lottery permits often leftover?
Tip: Once you acquire application dates and other important details, write them down on an old-school calendar or put these deadlines in your phone's planner, scheduled as reminders.
2. How Many Turkeys Were Killed?
This one is trickier, with a range of results, depending on which state you plan on hunting.
Some generate so-called harvest data fairly soon after the spring turkey season ends. Some states, where mandatory registration isn't required, simply estimate this. The best of them not only can tell you the state's kill information, but also for regions, counties and even towns.
Tip: Towns, counties and regions with high turkey densities will likely reflect top kill numbers. This also implies heavy hunting pressure. To confirm this, try looking back over the years to see if the trend holds for these locations. To succeed, sometimes it's better to turkey hunt a nearby town or county with a lower success ratio, especially if it has good habitat . . .
3. Is Habitat Intact and Holding Birds?
No matter how hard you hunt and scout, the effort is only as good as the habitat access and quality of roost, feeding and nesting areas.
Visit with landowners in the off-season. Keep track of any land-use changes in areas you hunt, or will hunt, next spring. Finding out if hunting habitat has changed the morning you pull up in the pre-dawn hours is a sinking feeling. Avoid it. Monitor both public and private land changes.
Tip: Good habitat holds turkeys year in, year out – so long as it remains intact, that is.
4. Schedule Your Hunt and Pay Your Deposit?
The traveling turkey hunter is often faced with a bunch of challenges.
Do you want to hunt public land and keep cost low in your quest to chase birds in other states? Do you want to enjoy hot cooked meals at a camp or lodge with an outfitter and have your buddies along? If the latter is your aim, act now. Book your trip. Pay your deposit. Many of the best operations work one or two years in advance. Their returning clientele might fill spots during the previous spring turkey season. If so, get on the cancellation list and hope for the best.
Tip: Weekend hunting pressure is also reflected in booked hunts sometimes. Occasionally outfitters will work a deal if you can hunt on weekdays. Explore this option.
5. Are Spring Turkey Hunting Season Dates Set Yet?
By now, here in early January, the answer is likely yes. Still, there's no uniformity for turkey hunting season dates around the country.
Some states run on specific days annually. Others set their season openers on "the closest day to . . ." a particular Monday, or Saturday, or whatever. Try to get the inside angle on these dates. It's not always true, but some states see a high percentage of their seasonal kill early, often on the opener and during the first week. Hunt then if you can, though competition will likely be higher.
Steve Hickoff is Realtree.com's editorial director and turkey hunting editor. 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.