This Saturday, April 16, will be opening day for the regular spring turkey hunting season in all of Oklahoma. The season will close May 16. A new bag limit is in effect this spring, allowing each hunter to harvest one tom only.
Turkey populations have declined the past several years in western Oklahoma, and biologists have cited unfavorable weather conditions as part of the reason. The Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation has begun a multi-million-dollar research project to examine what might be causing declines in turkey populations.
By delaying the opening of turkey season for the bulk of the state, wildlife biologists are hoping that less disturbance in the woods in early April will allow better nesting conditions and hopefully increase nesting success.
Finally, hunters who normally plan to hunt in the western and southwestern parts of the state might wish to consider going to other regions where turkey numbers have declined less.
Turkey season will occur as usual on private lands, ODWC-owned and -managed areas, and Oklahoma Land Access Program lands. However, hunters need to make themselves aware of any public land restrictions listed under the Special Area Regulations section in the Oklahoma Fishing and Hunting Regulations. By region, here are some current insights for turkey hunters this spring.
Report by Brent Morgan, Wildlife Biologist
Current gobbler activity: Numbers are low throughout the region, but birds are starting to get a bit active – but not fully. Several toms have been seen with groups of hens. Strutting has been observed at first fly-down, but hens are already starting to nest. Gobbling activity is picking up midday.
Condition of habitat: Habitat looks great with lots of burned areas throughout the region. Early spring rains and warm days have caused areas to really green up. Nesting cover looks good outside of burned areas.
Reports from landowners or scouting hunters: Gobbling activity has picked up over the past week. Toms have been observed midday without hens and are responding to calls.
WMA best bets: Cherokee and Cookson WMAs are open but receive a lot of pressure throughout the season. Several WMAs are open, but check regulations for special restrictions.
Tips for success: Be patient and ready to hunt all day. We are 10 days behind historical season start, so remember what the birds were doing at this time last season, not what they were doing on opening day of last season. Scout, and don’t overlook midday/afternoon. Stay at least 30 to 45 minutes longer than you expected and be ready for birds coming in quietly.
Mistakes to avoid: Calling too much. Getting in too close to roosted birds. Too much movement when working a bird.
Opening-day expectations: Opening day should be decent weather-wise. But with bird numbers down, don’t be surprised if more than one hunter is chasing after a gobbling bird. Burned areas can be very productive, especially next to good nesting habitat. Expect lots of hunters since opening day is on a Saturday.
Report by Clinton Phipps III, Wildlife Technician
Current gobbler activity: Gobblers are still grouped up with hens, as many scouting hunters and OWDC wildlife professionals have observed on several of the WMAs throughout the Southeast Region. Gobbling activity has been fair and hopefully will get better in the
Condition of habitat: Habitat is in good condition with several prescribed burns having been conducted in January and February, which should increase the food availability in spring and summer months. Nesting habitat is in good shape on many of the WMAs where prescribed burns have not been conducted in the past one to three years, leaving much of the warm-season native grasses for nesting cover.
Reports from landowners or scouting hunters: Many scouting hunters and ODWC personnel have heard fair gobbling activity and have observed gobblers strutting with hens on roadsides and in openings.
WMA best bets: Pushmataha and James Collins WMAs have a fair population of gobblers that should be considered if one is planning a hunt in the southeast region.
Tips for success: Patience and persistence are keys in hunting the eastern wild turkey, especially in areas where the population has seen a decline like much of the Southeast Region has seen in the past decade. Don’t give up, because things can change for the better at any moment.
Mistakes to avoid: Leaving too early is a common mistake turkey hunters make when they are not hearing turkeys on the roost. Stick around your hunting area and trust your scouting. Just because you don’t hear the bird early in the morning on the roost doesn’t mean it isn’t there. It may take a couple of hours for gobbling to start, especially when the weather hasn’t been cooperating.
Opening-day expectations: The turkey population has been down in recent years, but there are still a fair number to be had on opening morning. Opening day is an exciting time of year, so many hunters may be seen in the woods.
Report by Matthew Mattoida, Senior Wildlife Biologist
Current gobbler activity: With the season starting 10 days later than last year, hunters can expect a slight change in turkey behavior than what they are used to on opening day. Breeding groups should be well established, and most gobblers should be with hens by now, with only a few toms still looking for a hen. I have only seen a few hens by themselves in the morning, but they head in the direction of the nearest gobble as soon as they fly down. Gobbling has been very active on the roost and shortly after they hit the ground on the days when it hasn’t been too windy to hear them. I expect many of the toms will be involved in breeding activity until late morning during opening week of the season.
Condition of habitat: Although opening day is now 10 days later, hunters should not be expecting typical mid-April vegetation. Cool soil temperatures and lack of rainfall have resulted in a slower-than-usual green-up across the central region. Even though the trees are late to leaf-out this spring, most turkeys have left their reliable winter food sources in search of better breeding and nesting habitat and are not having any trouble finding food throughout the day. Several of the WMAs in the region have completed multiple prescribed burns over the past few months. Look for these areas to provide great strutting areas for toms in the mornings.
Reports from landowners or scouting hunters: Landowners and hunters out scouting have had similar reports over the past month: Several of the mornings have been too windy to hear anything, but on the calm mornings they were hearing at least one bird gobbling but often hearing multiple birds. It appears that the farther west they go in the region, the more turkeys they are seeing, which is typically the case. Many of the reports are of groups from two to five birds each, with some saying they have seen larger groups.
WMA best bets: Several of the WMAs in the region should be good for the opening weekend as they have not received much hunting pressure to this point. As the season rolls along, the best bets to chase a gobbler will likely be at Kaw WMA in the northern part of the region and Hickory Creek for the southern half. These two areas consistently have good turkey numbers year to year.
Tips for success: Scouting is crucial. Locating roosting birds in the mornings or evenings leading up to a hunt is an invaluable wealth of knowledge; just be sure to not get too close. But don’t stop there. Quietly look for droppings, tracks, strutting marks, and dusting areas to give an idea of where these turkeys are spending much of their time.
Be PATIENT. We all dream of the hunt where turkeys fly off of the roost straight into your decoys, but that just doesn’t happen all that often. If things don’t go as planned at first light, be patient, listen to where your bird goes, and set up again and again if you have to. Just be sure you don’t spook them when you move. A lot of turkeys are harvested during midday when all of the hens are on their nests and the gobblers get lonely. Also, if you have a bird responding to you, don’t give up because he quits gobbling; oftentimes he is heading your way.
Get away from the road. If you are able, you need to be willing to walk a little, or a lot sometimes. If you are hunting public land, there is a high probability someone has already been calling to these birds from the road. And even if the turkeys are responding, they probably won’t come within shooting range.
Mistakes to avoid: Trying to get too close while the birds are on the roost. This is an easy and costly thing to do. Even though we are starting later in the year, many of the trees do not have a lot of, if any, leaves on them. Be cautious when setting up in the mornings.
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 and not come close enough for a shot. Only call as much as you have to in order to increase your chances of success.
Underestimating a turkey’s vision. Decoys help to distract turkeys’ attention. But even with them, turkeys are constantly looking for anything that might be a threat. Be sure to move only when you are sure they cannot see you.
Opening-day expectations: Birds should be gobbling a lot on the roost and shortly after fly-down but will likely be “henned up” first thing in the morning. Pack a lunch in case you have to stay a little longer than you are hoping. Although turkey numbers have been trending downward over the past few years, there still seems to be plenty of turkeys to hunt. A decent number of jakes are being spotted, indicating at least an average hatch last year. Opening day this year falls on a Saturday, so that means there will likely be plenty of folks out hunting, especially on the WMAs. Arrive early and stay late, but please be courteous of other people’s space. Conditions are great, and the strutting and gobbling should be in full swing, with hens making visits to their nests midday and leaving the gobblers all alone throughout the region.
Report by Eddie Wilson, Senior Wildlife Biologist
Current gobbler activity: Birds have broken up from winter flocks. I’m seeing toms by themselves looking for hens. They are currently strutting and gobbling.
Condition of habitat: Habitat conditions are very dry throughout the northwest. Most of the region has received very little moisture over the past six months. Nesting cover is good due to rainfall last summer. Winter wheat has started to green-up some over the past few weeks, and birds are using wheat fields as a food source. Landowners and local sportsman are concerned with low bird numbers. Bird numbers appear to be stable in the eastern counties of the northwest region, but numbers continue to decrease throughout the Panhandle and western counties.
Reports from landowners or scouting hunters: Landowners and hunters are both reporting that toms have been actively strutting and gobbling.
WMA best bets: Canton, Fort Supply, Sandhills, and Cooper are some northwest Wildlife Management Areas to consider for turkey hunting this spring. Bird numbers are down from previous years on the northwest WMAs, but there are still a fair number of birds to hunt. Hunters shouldn’t overlook the thousands of acres of turkey habitat enrolled in the Oklahoma Land Access Program scattered across the state.
Tips for success: To improve the odds of harvesting a bird, hunters should always try to scout the area they intend to hunt prior to hunting. Be sure to give a bird plenty of time to respond to calling, and don’t call too much once you get a bird to gobble.
Mistakes to avoid: One of the most common mistakes hunters make is not being patient long enough when calling. Hunters often move too early from their location and the bird sees them. Be prepared for a variety of weather conditions. Be sure to check the regulations regarding any public lands you intend to hunt.
Opening-day expectations: Opening day will be a little different this year with a later opening date. I expect birds to be more responsive to calling, and hunter success may improve. Please keep in mind that most of the northwest counties are currently under burning bans, so open campfires are not permitted. Hunter numbers on northwest public lands may be high, as they usually are. Good luck!
Report by Ron Smith, Senior Wildlife Biologist
Current gobbler activity: Turkeys have spread out over their normal range over the past three weeks. Toms are strutting with hens in smaller groups. Birds have also been seen in new locations. This may be related to drought conditions and the search for better habitat.
Condition of habitat: Habitat conditions vary greatly from east to west. As you move farther west, drought impacts become much more severe. Areas of moderate to heavy cover last year will appear much different this year. Winter wheat also transitions from good to bad from east to west. Spring green-up is behind schedule due to limited moisture.
Reports from landowners or scouting hunters: Activity seems to be on track, though overall numbers continue to be much lower than in previous years. Some areas throughout the region are showing improved numbers of jakes.
WMA best bets: Black Kettle, Packsaddle, and Sandy Sanders.
Tips for success: Be prepared to spend as much time as possible scouting. Be ready to adjust strategies if birds have shifted to new areas. Drought conditions may have changed the game in your favorite spots.
Mistakes to avoid: Don’t leave the field too early. Prime times will be early and late, but there may be opportunity throughout the day. Be aware of regulations for private and public land. Confirm property boundaries with ODWC resources to reduce trespassing mistakes. Use caution to prevent fire hazards in dry areas.
Opening-day expectations: Bird numbers will be lower than in previous years. A successful hunt under these conditions will be that much sweeter.
For complete regulations including requirements for field tagging and E-Check and license requirements, consult the current Oklahoma Fishing and Hunting Regulations 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.
Get your turkey licenses online at GoOutdoorsOklahoma.com.