Heading out far and wide for a gobbler adventure is easy when you use Realtree's step-by-step Turkey Hunting Planning Tool.
No matter how many turkeys you've shot, there's always someplace new and exciting to try.
Maybe you've bagged a few gobblers near home or elsewhere in your own state, and are ready to see if your skills will transfer to other places. Perhaps you're many toms into a career, and searching for some new country and challenges. Or you might be looking to add another subspecies to your resumè.
Whatever the reason, every turkey hunter wants to spread their wings. But planning a turkey hunt to a new place can be daunting. Where do you start? When are you done? What all comes in-between?
The key to successfully planning a new turkey hunting adventure is organizing the process and putting it into step-by-step perspective. We can walk you through the process to make it easier . . . and even fun.
Subspecies, States, Guided or DIY?
© Bill Konway photo
Ok, let's start.
What's your main subspecies? Do you just want to try hunting that bird in a new area? Or are you itching to try your hand at another kind of turkey?
Search your heart, look at your bucket list and decide. This immediately narrows the efforts that will follow.
Example: I live in upper-midwestern, Eastern wild turkey country. But when I decided a Rio was in my future, that pushed me toward Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas. Focus.
There will be a process of elimination involved, and you might loop ahead to another step or two to help you decide, but narrowing down to a specific state to hunt becomes imperative sooner rather than later.
You'll probably quickly come down to a "short list" of two or three states; you just can't research a dozen places in-depth. Factors to consider include turkey harvest, season timing (how does it jibe with your other spring hunt plans?), do you want an early- or late-season filler hunt, and for licensing is it a “draw” state (you might have to plan a few years ahead) or over-the-counter?
Example: When I first wanted a Merriam’s, South Dakota is an easy-ish drive from my Minnesota home. I'd make it work, and did so using the planning pyramid (see below).
Budget often drives this decision, but so can time: not much of it means you may want to buy an outfitted hunt. But many of us just want to do it ourselves for full hunting satisfaction.
One compromise is the semi-guided or trespass-fee hunt, where you get access and advice but are let loose to hunt on your own. This can be a decent alternative to running public land.
Example: My first Rio hunt was a trespass-fee hunt in Texas. It was about as much turkey hunting fun as I ever had: Lots of bumbling up as I learned things about Rios that a guide would have avoided from minute one; and finally connecting on a big Rio gobbler.
Turkey Hunting Planning Tool
© Tom Carpenter/Emily Snyder infographic
There are really two steps here: homing in on an area or zone of the state that seems like a good target, then deciding on access options if you are DIYing it.
State game departments offer tons of data, statistics and insights on turkey harvests. Look at hunter success rates too.
Make calls to state game managers, as these talks are often fruitful for insights. Try local National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF) biologists (make sure you are a NWTF member too).
Look at online mapping tools to explore public land options in great detail.
Send emails. Ask for advice nicely. You'll be surprised at how far you get.
Example: My first Montana Merriam’s was on a ranch where the owner just didn't like turkeys. The local wildlife biologist said, "Call Joe." Joe (not his real name of course) even let me stay for next to nothing in an old bunkhouse. I dented his turkey population.
This is pretty straightforward, but not so much if you are looking to states or units with a lottery or draw. In that case, some planning ahead might be in order.
Example: I have 13 Colorado spring turkey preference points. I know I'll be able to draw a sweet hunt. I check every year to make sure the points are live, or if it's time to buy another one to keep them so. They are like a little bar of gold in a guy's bank deposit box.
Do you like camping? Me, not so much. Give me a motel room at the least. I am there to hunt turkeys, hard; and a good (albeit short) night's sleep is where it's at.
That's me. That said, camping can be delightful, and I can like it too – when somebody else brings all the gear.
Example: One great lodging solution today is the availability of vacation rental services such as Airbnb’s and VRBOs. Good lodging can make or break a hunt. Don't skimp.
Gosh I hate packing. Hate it. I think it's because it's an endless series of decisions. And there’s a lot of inefficiency: Save for a new pair of underwear and socks each day, I usually end up wearing the same dang clothes the whole trip, except for maybe a base-layer shirt change-up.
That said, we turkey hunters like our gear.
Example: My only trick is to force myself to make a list, check it twice, do my best to slash it back, then trudge through the packing process. I save lists so I don't have to re-think much for the next trip. And I stock up a plastic, covered tub once for all of spring, pretty much keeping it packed and ready to go, doing laundry and re-packing upon return from each trip.
Some destinations, you just have to fly. But I love the flexibility and freedom that driving offers. My cutoff is 10 or so hours of driving, but I continue to push that out; I'll always choose driving over flying if I can handle the drive calendar-wise.
In addition to coming home when you want, or extending your stay if you want, driving has another advantage: You can time your departure to avoid bad conditions at your destination.
Example: Three years ago, I was all set to hunt South Dakota Merriam-Rio hybrids the first weekend of May. The weather forecast was horrible, and it came true: 40-mph winds for days, with driving sleet and rain and thundersnow. But I had already rearranged my schedule, drove out the following weekend instead, and hunted in heavenly sunny, blue-skied and warm conditions . . . with the gobblers rocking and rolling to boot.
This one is simple. You've done all the planning and work to get there. Now you've got one goal: Hunt. Immerse and lose yourself in the focus of it, the joy of it. Come away from it, bird or not, having lived in real moments and gotten away from the real world.
And I'm betting if you do all that, there will in fact be a gobbler coming home with you.