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10 Best States for Turkey Hunting in 2014

10 Best States for Turkey Hunting in 2014

I think most serious bowhunters would agree that the best turkey-hunting destination is typically anywhere a season is open, you have legal tags in your pocket and ready access.

But when it comes to seriously bowhunting turkeys, particular criteria certainly makes one place better than another. The biggest factor by far is an abundance of dumb birds, but that's not all there is to think about.

There are many other important factors to weigh when ranking the best states for turkey hunting. For example, there are a lot of gobblers in Alabama, but there are also a helluva lot of turkey hunters and those birds are about as skittish as they come. Alabama is a fine place to hunt turkeys, but it certainly has its limitations.

You also have to consider how difficult it is to hunt turkeys in any given state. We all love a good challenge, but impossible odds don't always make for the best hunting.

Also, the more birds you can call into bow range, the more opportunities you have to fill turkey tags. Calling in large numbers of mature gobblers is only possible in regions where birds receive minimal hunting pressure. This normally isn't going to happen in certain regions, so it's important to factor that into the equation.

Here's my logic for the best bowhunting spots in the country: lots of lightly-hunted birds, readily-accessible land (either public or private lands where a polite knock still opens doors to hunting) and a reasonable availability of tags.

10. Arizona

Yes, the Grand Canyon State is a great place for gobblers. There a couple of key points to mention: Arizona has an abundance of pure-bred, native Merriam's turkeys and lots of public land. I've heard a lot of people talking about the Merriam's birds they've tagged in the Dakotas, Nebraska or the Northwest. Sorry to burst your bubble — these aren't native Merriam's, but transplanted birds of questionable linage.

Arizona Merriam's live where they're supposed to — the Four Corners states of Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and Utah. The White Mountain region of central Arizona is prime Merriam's habitat made mostly of public National Forest lands. More importantly, Arizona is home to the White Mountain Apache Indian Reservation and roughly 1.6 million acres of unsurpassed turkey habitat. I would venture to call this the best turkey hunting in North America, but with one caveat: a [imo-slideshow gallery=66],650 (add second hunter for $350) price of admission automatically leaves many out. These hunts allow you to shoot two turkeys and include native guides, all accommodations and cowboy cooking. I've bowhunted the Big Rez three times, and each trip went home with two gobblers — one of them being my biggest gobbler to date (11 ¾-inch beard, 1¾- inch spurs). Season Dates: April 5-8 or 10-13
Application Deadline: December 1
Contact: White Mountain Apache Tribe Outdoors, 928-338-4385.

4. Oklahoma

The Sooner State has become one of my all-time favorite hunting destinations in recent years. Oklahoma whitetail hunting is hugely overlooked, which makes Oklahoma one of those sleeper states where big bucks are quietly killed each season with little fanfare. Much the same can be said of their turkeys. Like portions of West Texas where I've arrowed a bunch of big gobblers, much of Oklahoma (especially the western portion of the state) wouldn't strike you as productive habitat. That is, until you've spent a single morning afield. This is one of those places where you'll see 40 or 50 turkeys per day. Mild winters and sandy soil produce monster beards, 10-inchers common in this seemingly desolate country. Tags are over the counter, so no worries there. You may also legally tag up to three birds per season. There are some public lands in Oklahoma, but they are hunted much harder than other portions of the state. The best bet for surefire hunting is to contact a landowner willing to allow hunting for a reasonable daily rate. Or, if that fails, shirttail onto a hunting lease with a rich friend. Season Dates: April 6-May 6
Nonresident License Costs: $92.50 hunting license, $7.75 turkey tag
Contact: Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, 405-521-2730.

2. Kansas

Most of Kansas has legions of Rio Grande turkeys. Far Eastern Kansas has lightly-hunted eastern birds. There's likely some Merriam's blood spilling out of southern Nebraska in the northern part of the state. Kansas is one of those places that will make you think you're a great turkey hunter, a championship-caliber caller and a turkey guru. You may well be, but you really don't have to be. These turkeys aren't worthy of McArthur Foundation Scholarship grants. The Kansas birds I've had the most experience with seemed downright suicidal. Bowhunting turkey in Kansas is easy. It's even easier if you have a piece of private ground to hunt and use a crossbow, as allowed under new state bowhunting regulations. Tags are purchased on arrival over the counter. Kansas hosts a plethora of public-access walk-in areas (private lands leased by Kansas Department of Natural Resources for public hunting). Better yet, bowhunters get first crack at birds during an eight-day archery-only hunt. Season Dates: April 1-8 archery only; April 9-May 31 general (bowhunting legal)
Bag Limit: One bearded turkey
Nonresident License Costs: Hunting license $72.50, turkey tag $32.50
Contact: Kansas Department of Wildlife & Parks, 800-918-2877.

5. North Dakota

When the Plains Indians ruled what is now North Dakota, even when the first white settlers began to filter into the newly-formed territory, there wasn't a turkey to be found. But then someone took a look around and said, 'What this place needs is some turkeys. ' And the rest is history.

Today, North Dakota is one of the top turkey-hunting destinations in the nation, with its abundance of transplanted Merriam's and Rio Grande birds. North Dakota turkeys are measured in quarter acres. There are so many that bowhunting whitetail often results in being surrounded by the damn things for entire mornings. Even just scratching your nose will set off the entire lot and alert everything for miles around. With the low hunting pressure, few turkeys know they're being hunted. They're thick enough to actually wreak havoc on farmer's crops, making hunting permission easy enough to secure. Traveling far from population centers and knocking on doors is a productive method for gaining access to private land. Additionally, North Dakota has a decent expanse of public lands in the southwest as well. Without the added hassle of securing a lottery tag, and the one-bird limit, North Dakota would rank much higher on this list. Season Dates: April 12-May 18
Bag Limits: One bearded turkey
Application deadline: February 12
Nonresident License Costs: gallery=66 hunting certificate, $20 habitat license, $80 turkey tag.
Contact: North Dakota Game & Fish, 701-328-6300.

9. Wisconsin

Thank the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and National Wild Turkey Federation volunteers for the estimated 320,000 wild turkeys found in the state today, from of a start of essentially zero before 1976. Last spring, hunters tagged 42,970 turkeys. It should also put a bowhunter at ease to know Wisconsin has never experienced a single turkey-hunting accident. These are big-bodied Eastern birds that don't get hunted very hard. The only problem is that an early application deadline and lottery drawing are required if you wish to hunt, though draw odds are even-to-good in most areas. Also, there's a good deal of public land in the Badger State, but turkeys tend to concentrate mostly on farmlands, which means private holdings. You'll normally need to secure a place to hunt before submitting your application. Season Date: April 14-May 23
Bag Limit: One bearded turkey
Application deadline: December 10 for spring season
Nonresident License Costs: $5.25 turkey stamp, $69 license
Contact: Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, 888-936-7463.

1. Nebraska

When I stated the stipulations for great turkey hunting at the very beginning of this article — lots of dumb birds, plenty of land to hunt and easily-won tags — I specifically had Nebraska in mind. I've bowhunted Nebraska three times. Each time I filled every tag in my possession, and each time I accomplished this with recurve bows. If you're going to bowhunt turkeys with traditional gear, you're going to miss some birds, which gives you an indication of how exceptional Nebraska hunting can be. Three hunts, seven tags and seven dead longbeards of mixed Merriam's/Rio blood. One of the really cool things about Nebraska is the state offers an early archery-only turkey season, starting in mid-March (snow is possible then), as well as allowing bowhunters to pursue more turkeys from April 15 through May 31. You may legally kill three gobblers, if you pay for each additional tag. Anywhere far from Omaha (at least five hours drive) is a good place to start. Season Dates: Archery March 25-May 31; General April 15-May 31
Nonresident License Costs: $20 habitat stamp, $81 hunting license, $91 turkey tag (each)
Contact: Nebraska Game & Parks, 402-471-0641.

8. Missouri

OK, first of all, Missouri turkey hunters kill around 58,425 turkeys annually, placing them as number one in harvest statistics. Secondly, Missouri also boasts one of the highest overall turkey populations in North America, with more than 600,000 eastern birds living in the state. From the lonely Ozarks to the rolling country and broken forests in the north, the Show-Me State is one of the nation's best turkey hunting destinations for big eastern gobblers. These birds — as evidenced from the statistics above — do receive a great deal of hunting pressure, but there are a lot of birds in Missouri and hunters can't get to them all. The best approach is to seek areas far from metropolitan centers where longer drives detour more hunters. This also makes it more likely you'll discover a landowner willing to allow a stranger to hunt on their property. Season dates: April 19-May 9
Bag Limit: Two males (or visible beard) turkeys per season
Non-Resident License Cost: $145
Contact: Missouri Department of Conservation, 573-751-4115.

6. Oregon

Here's the weird thing. Turkeys aren't even native to Oregon, or anywhere west of the Rocky Mountains for that matter. They were transplanted, the first of 10,000 released around 1961. Like other places where turkeys weren't historically found, they have thrived in Oregon beyond all expectations. These aren't 'slam ' birds, but the usual mutt mixture of planted Rios and Merriam's. No matter, however, because they call just like other turkeys and accept arrows just like the rest. There are a heck of a lot of them, too. The rich farm valleys surrounding Roseburg (south of Eugene) southward to Medford, and the Dalles region off the Columbia River, are where big concentrations are found and access is easier to secure. Much of the best hunting areas are privately owned, but Oregon is still a place where polite knocks on a farm door can net a place to hunt. Season Dates: April 15-May 31
Bag Limit: One bearded turkey
Nonresident License Costs: Hunting license $145.50, or $26.50 three day. Turkey tag $77.50
Contact: Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife, 503-947-6000.

7. Iowa

Most people know Iowa as the place you go to kill big whitetail bucks. It also happens to be a great place to kill a longbeard with your bow. All that great habitat, abundant food (corn, soybeans, etc.) and light hunting pressure that makes Iowa one of the best whitetail destinations in the nation also makes it a top-notch turkey-hunting destination. These are big corn-fed turkeys as heavy shouldered as the behemoth whitetail they walk beside. And there are lots of them. Like Texas, where big bucks wearing big antlers are all that seem to matter, there aren't many hunters that take turkey seriously in Iowa. Iowa turkey tags aren't difficult to secure, but there is an early deadline to keep in mind. Additionally, Iowa offers an abundance of public access lands for those without a place to hunt. These include 600,000 acres of public lands, including 7,000 acres of Habitat & Access Properties (IHAP) and 360,000 acres of Wildlife Management Areas. Season Dates: Various dates between April 14 and May 18, depending on license/unit
Bag Limit: One bearded turkey
Application Deadline: January 25; leftover tags available February 8
Nonresident License Costs: $112 Hunting License, $102 turkey tag
Contact: Iowa Department of Natural Resources, 515-281-5918.

3. Texas

Everything is bigger and better in Texas. Just ask the average Lone Star resident. In terms of world-class turkey hunting, I'd have to agree. Native Rio Grande gobblers have never been known for exceptional IQ, but in Texas they're also super abundant and most native hunters don't take them seriously — shooting them with high-powered rifles and such. The funny thing is, Texas is much drier than the archetypical woodland habitat, sometimes short on roosting trees and filthy with predators. Yet, despite these adversities, turkeys do exceptionally well. Texas is one of those places where I regularly call in multiple gobblers — 13 longbeards in one sitting, for instance. Texas has also produced some of my biggest gobblers. They don't get hunted very hard and there's no snow or ice to trim beards during winter months. My memories of Texas turkey hunts normally include slipping in on a small cluster of cottonwoods chock full of turkeys, sometimes 40 to 50 birds in sight all at once. It's a real experience. There's a catch, though. Texas has no public lands to speak of. The best arrangements are daily fees with room and board included. Contact area chambers of commerce for leads to productive hunting. Tags are purchased over the counter on arrival. Season Dates: March 27-May 9
Bag Limit: Four Rio Grande or three Rios and one Eastern
Nonresident License Costs: $120
Contact: Texas P&W, Public Hunting, 800-792-1112.

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