And two of these picks even run into early June this season
“You still at it?” my Southern friends will ask, having turkey hunted since March.
And from my cabin in the Northeast, I’ll reply, “Yeah bud, the season just started up here.”
Regular season dates: May 3 to June 5, 2021
2020 spring harvest data: N/A (2019: 6,612 turkeys)
Population estimate: 60,000
There are two Maines: Namely, the one running from the New Hampshire border north to Portland, and the vast land beyond that city, all the way to Canada.
York and Cumberland counties to the south have high turkey numbers, as the original trap-and-transfer efforts took place here. Unfortunately, the area is also seeing increasing suburban development. Yes, there are lots of turkeys in southern Maine, but much of the land is locked up with posted signs. Areas open to hunting such as agricultural farms see a lot of pressure here.
Want more birds for your buck? Hunt Wildlife Management Districts 7 and 9-29. Looking for less pressure but one less turkey? Hit WMDs 1-6 and 8 to the north (yep, bordering Canada).
Total land area open to our spring tradition is good to excellent throughout the Granite State, and widespread. According to the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department: “Based on long-standing tradition, nearly all lands in the state of New Hampshire are open to hunting. All state, federal, municipal, county, and private land is open to hunting unless it is posted against hunting.”
Still landowner permission is a courtesy we support.
New Hampshire also has 117 state forests, 100 wildlife management areas, 63 “other tracts,” and 41 state parks where hunting is permitted. The White Mountain National Forest, with more than 751,000 acres and 10% of the state’s landmass, is almost all open to hunting.
Want to get away from it all? North-central Pennsylvania counties (where I was born and raised) — and the vast state game lands found there — draw Keystone State hunters. This region is one of the truly wild places left in the Northeastern United States. Allegheny National Forest (517,000 acres) usually has birds to work. WMU 4D in central Pennsylvania puts up high kill numbers too. Wildlife management units in the west and southwest are also good bets. These include 1A, 2A, 2B, and 2D.
Maine used to hold the title for the latest-running spring turkey season in the nation. Now, Michigan does.
The state offers 7.4 million acres of forest land open to public hunting. The bulk of this vast habitat is in the northern Lower Peninsula as well as the Upper Peninsula. The northern Lower was once Michigan’s turkey hotbed, but southern Michigan has taken over that title.
Regulations for turkey hunting in Michigan are highly detailed, so read those laws closely.
The word is out. Seasons are long, liberal (you can take up to three birds in spring, buying a new permit for each one), and everything is over the counter (or online).
Merriam’s in the West (the Pine Ridge complex and Sand Hills hold birds and public access), and hybrids (usually some mix of Merriam’s, Rio, and Eastern) in much of the rest of the state, with some “pure” Easterns on the state’s far easternmost area, make good hunts possible at all compass points.
Nebraska is mostly private, but there is good public land to be found. Elsewhere in the state, look to the river bottoms, for roosting, feeding, and strutting cover. Those waterways and the associated “breaks” habitat, where forest and prairie intertwine, are where the turkeys like to hang out.
Realtree turkey hunting editor Steve Hickoff has chased gobblers all over the United States and Mexico. He was born and raised in northcentral Pennsylvania, and now makes his home in Maine. Hickoff was named the NWTF Tom Kelly Communicator of the Year for 2019, a prestigious award reflecting his longtime work promoting hunting and conservation as a turkey hunting writer, editor and book author.