How COVID-19 is Affecting Turkey Season

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Realtree staff and hunting industry professionals talk about their rapidly changing plans for this spring

We’ve been asked to practice social distancing in an effort to slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus. That means no school, no parties, no public transportation and no hanging out in restaurants. The “don’t list” is long, but we can turkey hunt, and that’s a good thing. In fact, any outdoors activity that requires no or minimal contact with others is encouraged by the Center for Disease Control (CDC), and is just what we need to lift our spirits. But that doesn’t mean we won’t encounter some hurdles.

If you only hunt on private land close to home, alone or with immediate family members, then your plans will likely remain the same. But if you planned to hunt public land, fly to a hunting destination or gather at turkey camp with friends, you’re probably making some tough decisions. For example, Illinois has closed all state lands to the public due to the virus. Other states are implementing partial public land closures. San Juan County in Colorado has closed its public land to backcountry recreation because of the limited availability of medical, emergency and search-and-rescue services. In many states, campgrounds, parks, visitor centers, license offices, and check stations are closed. Check with your state’s department of conservation to see how changes may affect your turkey-hunting season and plans, and keep in mind that things are changing on a daily basis. Just because a WMA is open this week doesn’t mean it will be next week.

The Realtree team has also had to make some difficult changes concerning hunting and travel. All air travel for employees, as well as visits/hunts with out-of-town guests, have been cancelled. This turkey season will look much different than those in the past. Here’s what our team and a few additional friends in the hunting industry have to say about the changes they’ve made so far for their 2020 turkey season.

Many turkey hunters are changing their plans due to the COVID-19 epidemic. -- Realtree Image

David Blanton, V.P. of TV Production (March 19)

Turkey season has changed dramatically for us since we’ve eliminated airline travel. My cameraman Stephen McNelly and I had planned to fly to Fort Myers, Florida, for an early March hunt for Osceolas, but the day before we were to fly out of Atlanta, Realtree decided to cancel flying for all employees. So, we drove instead. We had a great hunt and I drove home. Stephen stayed to film Michael Waddell, who was supposed to come down for a hunt, but Michael ended up cancelling as concerns about the virus ramped up and his kids’ school closed. We also had to cancel the turkey hunts we’d planned in the Midwest in April because of the flying issue. So, we sit here today unsure of what’s ahead of us for the rest of the spring. For now, we’re going to concentrate on hunting around here in Georgia and in the Southeast.

Tyler Jordan (March 25)

I’ve had to cancel two turkey hunting trips, one in Texas and one in Kentucky, because they were with bigger groups of people. I would have had to fly to the Texas hunt, and I just feel you can’t be too safe right now. It’s not worth the risk when there are plenty of turkeys to hunt near home, and there still seems to be a lot of unknown on how bad the coronavirus will get in this country. I plan on keeping my Mississippi and Tennessee trips scheduled for now because the people I’m hunting with have been taking similar precautions on social distancing best they can. It seems the best way to get my mind off the problems going on in the world right now is to spend as much time outdoors as possible.

Phillip Culpepper, host of “Spring Thunder” (March 18)

Drake Lamb and I are currently hunting in Mississippi off the grid. Once we get back home, we’ll probably hang around the house and hunt instead of travel as much until this thing is under control.  

I’ve tried to use precautions; simple things like wiping my hands down with disinfectant wipes after pumping gas. We keep a pack in the truck. I’m also trying not to shake hands as much with folks, and to wash my hands regularly. We had plans to attend the Tennessee Governor’s Hunt, but I was just informed last night that it has been cancelled.  

This is definitely an eyebrow-raising thing going on. I guess everyone has been encouraged to stay low-key and stay home. That sits well with me. I have enough turkey breast and deer meat to last for a while.  I think most people reading this article can relate to that. A country boy and girl can survive! 

Dodd Clifton, PR director (March 20)

I had planned on hunting close to home anyway, so those plans will remain the same. But honestly, I’ve gotten to where I enjoy taking my friends’ kids hunting even more than hunting myself, but I can’t do that this season, and that’s disappointing. The one upside to all of this is that I expect more people will take up hunting. When you look at the recessions of the past, the hunting industry typically did better during those times. People feel the need to gather their own meat, plus they get cabin fever and want to get outside more, so maybe some good will come of this.

Michael Pendley, Timber 2 Table blogger (March 18)

We'll be hunting multiple farms across the state, but only with family or close friends; no group hunts or outfitters this year. We’ll probably cook more at turkey camp this year too because none of the restaurants in the area will be open for dining in, and camp is too far for take-out. 

One thing that might change is less or no hunting with older friends or family members. As much as I enjoy hunting with them, it isn't worth exposing someone who might be more susceptible to the disease. Same goes for staying at friends’ and older family members’ homes. We’ll probably do hotels for overnight trips. 

Make sure you check with your state's deparment of conservation for closures and changes before your hunt. -- Image by Tes Randle Jolly Steve Hickoff, Realtree.com editor (March 18)

Most years, like other turkey folks in the industry, I fly to hunt around the country in March, April and May. My early and upcoming trips were cancelled due to travel restrictions and so forth – and/or because I don’t feel right leaving my family at home right now. Still, I’m optimistic we’ll be able to turkey hunt in May, the start of northern New England and New York state seasons. But who knows? Time will tell. In the meantime, our realtree.com editorial team will do our best to keep fresh hunting content posted.

Burt Moore, rep for Outdoor Marketing Group (March 18)

Covid-19 has actually affected my turkey season in a positive manner. We had to cancel our trip to Orange Beach this weekend because of the shutdowns. Therefore, I don’t have to miss opening morning. In the interest of (social distancing) we are taking the family to the hunting camp for spring break. I turkey hunt alone 99% of the time, so there is no effect there. 

Will Brantley, Field & Stream hunting editor (March 18)

My wife, my son, and I were planning a trip to Texas over spring break, but we’ve put that one on hold. I had a trip scheduled in Oregon right after that that’s been cancelled, too. But around home in Kentucky and Tennessee I’m planning for business as usual. A couple buddies and I always take a road trip to Nebraska in mid-May. That’s one of my favorite hunts of the year and as of right now it’s still a go — but who knows where things will be a few weeks from now.

Brian Lovett, Realtree.com blogger (March 19)

I was in southern Florida last week. All good, but the Fort Myers airport was very busy. I had another trip to Florida scheduled, but it was cancelled. I can start hunting here April 15 and plan on business as usual. I typically hunt alone, anyway. I have a Missouri trip slated for April 22. I’m driving and intend to proceed with it. But if my host changes his mind or things worsen, I’ll just chalk it up as a loss. After that, I’d planned to hunt for a month here and then maybe go to Minnesota in late May. I hope things will be a bit better by then. The virus has affected my season somewhat, but I remain optimistic and eager to return to the woods. If the situation worsens to the extent that isn’t possible, then we’ll have far more worries than turkey hunting.

Brita Turbyfill, Director of Outdoor Marketing/Partner for Gray Loon Marketing Group (March 24)

None of our plans have changed … at least not yet. My husband, Michael, went to Georgia last weekend and hunted with his brother-in-law on a private lease. This weekend he is going to Florida to do an annual trip with a few guys on private land. We plan to hunt around here in Tennessee and North Carolina as usual. We hunt both public and private land here. We have our annual Kentucky family trip planned in April. It’s also on a mix of public and private land. We’re still planning on it. But right now we are being very careful about not going literally anywhere except the grocery store when we have to. Our biggest fear is exposing our parents to it. We are trying to avoid being around anyone at all so that we CAN be around our parents and still do our annual trip with them. 

Sam Klement, Co-founder of Country Goes Huntin’ (March 10)

Many of the hunts I had scheduled for Tennessee, Illinois and Georgia have all been cancelled. These were primarily (industry hunts with groups of people) like the TWRF Governors One Shot Turkey Hunt. Due to corporate policy and CDC guidelines, the smart thing to do is cancel until this virus is under control. It certainly makes sense to try and do our part as sportsmen to help contain and not spread this virus any further. But I plan on hunting many days this spring. I will simply modify some things. I also plan on doing a lot more fishing. Being outdoors versus cooped up in my house seems like a great way to stay safe (and practice social distancing). 

 

Even turkey hunters working in the hunting industry are having to modify their spring plans. But they’re still getting out there, and so should you if it's legal to do so. Just do it safely and use good sense. Outdoorsmen and women are resilient, with the tools and knowledge to make it through tough times. But more importantly, we have a community of people who are here for one another.

As they say, this too shall pass, but until it does, get out there and enjoy chasing those longbeards.

More Realtree turkey hunting.

COVID-19 Updates

April 1: As of yesterday, Nebraska stopped the sale of turkey permits to non-residents, and multiple states have implemented travel bans. 

April 3: Kentucky stops selling non-resident turkey permits. Residents can still hunt. Go here.

April 8: Read more on the coronavirus and travel in the United States.

April 10: Sales of Kansas general nonresident turkey permits have been suspended.