Spring turkey hunting chance to enjoy outdoors

BY STAFF REPORTS
04/04/2020 09:00 AM
Main Cherokee Phoenix
Youth turkey season opens April 4 in all but eight southeastern counties of Oklahoma. The regular spring turkey season will open April 6. WADE FREE/OKLAHOMA DEPARTMENT OF WILDLIFE CONSERVATION
OKLAHOMA CITY – Come April 6, thousands of hunters will take to forests and fields hoping to persuade a wily old tom turkey to get a little closer. That’s because it’s opening day for spring turkey hunting in all but eight southeastern counties of Oklahoma.

Youths 17 and younger will have an opportunity to hunt even earlier, as youth spring turkey season is open April 4-5. In the southeastern counties, spring turkey season will open April 18 for youths only and April 20 for all hunters. All spring turkey seasons will close statewide May 6.

“This spring has roared in, and with some above-average temperatures and rainfall, things are greening up fast. That can only mean one thing: Turkeys are starting to gobble and break up from their winter flocks,” said Bill Dinkines, chief of wildlife for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation. “Spring turkey hunting by far is my favorite season. It’s a great time to be out in the woods, spending time with family and friends, and building memories like my son and I have done for the past 20 years. Whether first-timers or seasoned hunters, I encourage everyone to get out and enjoy our great outdoors in pursuit of an elusive gobbler.”

The ODWC reminds everyone that they should comply with all COVID-19 health guidelines while enjoying the outdoors.

Turkey seasons will occur as usual this spring on private lands, ODWC areas and Oklahoma Land Access Program lands. Other public lands may have restrictions in effect, and hunters planning to use those areas should contact the managing agency for the latest information.

Based on field reports submitted the past few days by ODWC personnel, habitat conditions are generally very good, and bird numbers seem to be slightly down or comparable to last season.
By region, here are some insights for turkey hunters this spring.

NORTHWEST REGION

Current gobbler activity: Birds have separated out from winter flocks and are currently strutting and gobbling.

Condition of habitat: Habitat conditions are good, with plenty of nesting cover. Vegetation is greening up rapidly.

Reports from landowners or scouting hunters: Bird numbers have been on the decline for the past three years throughout the region, especially in the Panhandle Counties.

WMA best bets: Be sure to check the regulations prior to hunting on a WMA. The limit is one bird on some WMAs including Cooper and Fort Supply. Hunting hours close at 7 p.m. on many of the WMAs. Canton, Cooper, and Fort Supply WMAs would be considered the best bets. Be sure to keep the Oklahoma Land Access Program areas in mind when considering a spring turkey hunting trip.

Tips for success: Be respectful to your fellow hunters. Be patient when calling a bird; give a tom plenty of time to respond to your call. 

Mistakes to avoid: Hunting too close to roads and other hunters. Calling too much.

Opening-day expectations: Turkey numbers are down, however birds are currently using most region WMAs and a number of OLAP lands. I expect the mature birds to be in groups with hens on opening day, but birds are gobbling. All ODWC personnel are practicing social distancing so keep that in mind when approaching ODWC employees and the public.

SOUTHWEST REGION

Current gobbler activity: Turkey activity varies across the region, with birds beginning to move away from their winter roosts in mid-March. Since then, smaller groups of hens and jakes have begun to separate themselves as they spread across their range. By opening day, birds should be spread out across usual breeding areas. Mature gobblers began to strut and separate themselves around March 20.

Condition of habitat: Habitat is much improved over 2019. Timely rains and mild temperatures have led to solid green-up across pastures, and winter crops are in very good condition. Good rainfall later in 2019 produced adequate nesting cover. Most of the region will have a good mix of light to heavy cover for breeding grounds, nesting and brood rearing. Roost sites continue to be a concern, with many valuable trees being lost to fire, drought and ice storm damage from previous years.

Reports from landowners or scouting hunters: Most are reporting lower overall turkey numbers, though some are seeing increased numbers of jakes. Landowners have also reported seeing turkeys moving into new areas and an absence of birds in historic areas.

WMA best bets: Black Kettle, Packsaddle, Waurika, Fort Cobb and Sandy Sanders.

Tips for success: Spend as much time as possible scouting. Lower turkey numbers and birds moving into new areas make it more important than ever. Be willing to spend the day following turkey activity. Gobblers may be more easily called away from hens later in the day. Practice with different calls, and don’t be afraid to try something new. Be aware of specific regulations and boundaries for each area if hunting public land. Be cautious about calling too much. Pay attention to the birds’ subtle communications and work your way into their system.

Mistakes to avoid: Leaving the field early may take you out of the game.

Opening-day expectations: Hunters may see lower numbers this year, but there will still be opportunity to bag a mature gobbler. A little extra time and effort can make a more memorable hunt when you finally bag the big one you may have glimpsed while scouting. Seeing the sunrise from your turkey blind makes social distance guidelines much more enjoyable.

CENTRAL REGION

Current gobbler activity: Gobblers have been breaking up the past couple of weeks and have started grouping with hens. It looks like most of the gobblers have found hens. but not all hens have picked out a tom yet. I’ve seen multiple hens alone as soon as they fly down, but I have yet to see a tom alone right off the roost. Gobbling has been very active on the roost and shortly after they hit the ground. I expect many of the toms will be involved in breeding activity until late morning during the opening week of the season.

Condition of habitat: Mild temperatures and plenty of rainfall have everything greening up. Turkeys have left their reliable winter food sources and are now finding food everywhere. Several WMAs have completed multiple prescribed burns over winter; look to these areas to provide great strutting areas for toms in the mornings. Nesting cover looks to be abundant. Birds will not have to move far with all of their needs being met.  

Reports from landowners or scouting hunters: Over the past month, it seems they are seeing more turkeys the farther west they go in the region. Many reports are of groups from 2-10 birds each, with some saying they see larger groups. They have also been hearing lots of gobbling in the mornings on and off the roost.

WMA best bets: Likely Kaw to the north and Hickory Creek in the south. Several WMAs should be great during youth season as they often see little pressure until regular season opener, so get your kids out there this weekend!

Tips for success: (1.) Scout, scout, and scout. Roosting birds in the mornings or evenings leading up to your hunt is an invaluable wealth of knowledge, but don’t stop there. Quietly look for droppings, tracks, strutting marks and dusting areas for ideas about where these turkeys are spending a bulk of their time. (2.) Be patient. If things don’t go as planned at first light, listen to where your bird goes and set up again and again if you must. Just don’t spook the birds. Many turkeys are harvested during midday when all of the hens are at their nests and the gobblers get lonely. If you have a bird responding, don’t give up because it quits gobbling; oftentimes that bird is heading your way. (3.) Get away from the road. If you are hunting public land, it’s likely someone has already been calling to these birds from the road. Even if the turkeys respond, they probably won’t come within shooting range.

Mistakes to avoid: (1.) Trying to get too close while they are on the roost. This is an easy and costly thing to do early in the season when there aren’t a lot of leaves out on trees. Be sure to be cautious when setting up in the mornings. (2.) Calling too much. Lots of hunters like to hear those gobblers gobbling back, but excessive calling is not a normal interaction between turkeys in the wild and can often cause toms to hang up. (3.) Underestimating a turkey’s vision. Decoys help distract a turkey’s attention, but be sure to move only when they cannot see you.

Opening-day expectations: Birds should be gobbling but will likely be “henned up” first thing in the morning. Pack a lunch in case you have to stay a little longer. While bird numbers are down a little since last year, there are still plenty out there to chase, don’t give up if your go-to spot is quiet this year. I expect an above-average number of hunters on the WMAs due to the current COVID-19 situation, so arrive early and stay late but please be courteous of others’ space. Conditions are great, and strutting and gobbling should be in full swing.

NORTHEAST REGION

Current gobbler activity: Gobbling has been slow to get going, but activity is picking up. Birds are beginning to gobble on the roost. Flocks are at the early stages of breaking up. 

Condition of habitat: Habitat conditions across the region are generally good. Mast crops were good last season, and abundant rain and recent sunshine are really causing groceries to grow fast. There is ample nesting cover, and bugs are already plentiful.

Reports from landowners or scouting hunters: With social distancing, reports have been slow to come in. Most report gobbling activity to be light, but some report that birds are breaking up. Numbers appear to be good. 

WMA best bets: Cherokee, Hulah, Cookson, Spavinaw and Osage WMAs.

Tips for success: 1: Put time in and scout as much as you can. Scout multiple locations for maximum opportunities for success. Scouting can give you confidence in an area and help eliminate unproductive areas. With all the rainfall, lakes and rivers are up. Some areas may be inaccessible or harder than usual to get to. 2: Pay attention to your setup when you get ready to call a bird.  Be mindful of obstacles such as thickets, creeks, or fencerows. Turkeys often don’t want to cross these and will “hang up.” Try to be uphill of the bird, as they are often reluctant to come downhill to a call. 3: Be patient. That may be sitting against the same tree for a couple of hours, or it may mean to stay in an area for a longer part of the day. Don’t get in a hurry. Going slowly gives you a better chance to hear a distant gobble, a subtle drum, a soft yelp, or even turkeys scratching as they forage.

Mistakes to avoid: 1: There is a famous adage: “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” While it probably didn’t originally refer to turkey hunting, it still applies. Wipe the dust off that old shotgun and pattern some loads. Locate your extra cartridges (where did I put that box last year?), camo, head net, gloves, calls, etc. Practice your calling (at an appropriate social distance, of course!). As previously mentioned, scout as many areas as you can. 2: Hunters often forget that turkeys “live there all day.” Discounting the rest of the day is a common mistake. Turkeys are subject to sound off throughout the day. If you hear one and don’t connect right off the roost, as least you know the bird is there. Try at other times. 

Opening-day expectations: With the COVID-19 situation and associated social distancing, turkey hunting might be an option to safely get away for a while and just enjoy nature. Success may, now more than ever before, be measured by just being afield in the fresh spring air. There may be higher-than-normal pressure for a weekday opener as many people are off work and seeking the same experiences. The opener should still provide plenty of opportunity to hear birds. If you’ve done your scouting and know birds are in the area, give them some time. Don’t overlook midday or afternoon if you can. Be courteous to other hunters, and everyone can have a positive experience. Above all, be safety conscious and exercise caution when around other hunters. 

SOUTHEAST REGION

Current gobbler activity: Birds have broken up, and courtship behavior has begun. Toms can be heard gobbling in the morning before leaving roosts to about an hour after. Toms are visible with small groups of hens throughout the day.

Condition of habitat: Habitat is in very good condition thanks to a very wet winter. However, because winter was so wet, it slowed dormant-season prescribed burns throughout much of the region.

Reports from landowners or scouting hunters: Many landowners are reporting flocks of turkeys this past winter on their trail cameras.

WMA best bets: Three Rivers and Honobia Creek.

Tips for success: Listen for birds in the morning to locate the best places.

Mistakes to avoid: Not hunting the afternoon hours.

Opening-day expectations: As for bird numbers, expect the same this year as you have experienced the past few years. Don’t be surprised if the woods seem more crowded with hunters this year as people are looking for things to do while exercising social distancing.

REGIONAL NOTE: Spring turkey hunting seasons differ in the state’s eight southeastern counties. Season is open April 20 to May 6 in McCurtain, Choctaw, Pushmataha, Atoka, Latimer, Pittsburg, Coal and Le Flore counties. Youth days are April 18-19 in those counties.

The statewide season bag limit is three tom turkeys per hunter, but daily and season limits for individual counties and WMAs vary. To find out the bag limits for the area to be hunted along with field tagging, E-Check and other turkey hunting requirements, consult the current Oklahoma Hunting and Fishing Regulations Guide found online at wildlifedepartment.com, on the Go Outdoors Oklahoma free mobile app for Apple or Android devices, or in print across the state wherever hunting and fishing licenses are sold.

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