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Destination Turkey

Top States for Hunting Longbeards

By: National Wild Turkey Federation

Spring has actually began, though it may not feel like it in areas where there’s still frosty mornings, or others where it seems to have skipped mild temps and gone straight to summer.

The season has begun or is coming soon to pursue that great game bird, the wild turkey. And like warm air and blooming dogwoods, open seasons are creeping northward along the Eastern seaboard.

As popularity in turkey hunting continues to grow, more hunters are looking to extend their time spent in the spring woods by traveling to other states. So where should you aim your truck?

Ask any veteran of the endless spring, and you're sure to get a variety of answers.

Some choose a place for the chance to harvest several birds, others like a lengthy season; for some it's the subspecies or terrain to be hunted and still others simply like the odds of hunting an area with a high turkey population.

It is, however, a good bet that the following 12, many of which will be covered in the coming OutdoorChannel.com's Turkey Trek, will be found at the top of any experienced hunter's list:

Missouri

With an estimated turkey population of more than a half million Easterns, the Show-Me State is prime turkey country, often leading in numbers for both population and harvest. Few turkey hunters leave Missouri disappointed, regardless of whether they hunted the rolling pastures of the northern counties or hit the steep, gobbler-rich terrain of the Ozarks.

It's no surprise some of the best turkey callers in Grand National competition consistently hail from Missouri.

New York

Speaking of New York, forget that image of skyscrapers and head west and north for some of the best turkey hunting in the Northeast. New York offers magnificent forests, farmland and rugged mountains, and is home to a growing population of a quarter million Eastern wild turkeys.

Hunters are looking forward to another great year. Licenses for nonresidents are available over-the-counter and are more than reasonable, making the Empire State a great late season destination.

 

Alabama

Alabama boasts the second highest turkey population on record, and its season stretches over six weeks, depending on the part of the state you're hunting and a liberal seasonal bag limit. That puts Alabama is on a lot of traveling turkey hunters' lists.

But don't be fooled. In a place where hunting experience is not measured in years, but rather generations, these wily birds have gotten quite an education. Alabama birds are reputed to be among the most challenging to hunt, anywhere.

Pennsylvania

The state known as the birthplace of independence is also recognized as one of the most hunted states in the union. Fortunately, with more than 350,000 Eastern wild turkeys, there's plenty to keep these avid sportsmen and women busy.

With nonresident licenses hovering over the $100 mark, Pennsylvania is pricey. But, to hunt in some of the most rugged, beautiful terrain east of the Mississippi alongside some of the most passionate hunters in the world, the price of admission is worth it.

Texas

Everything's big in Texas, including the opportunity to hunt turkeys. With the Eastern subspecies clinging to the piney woods of the state's Eastern side, Rio Grandes abound throughout the rest of the state.

The season is a long one beginning in late March in some parts of the state and stretching into mid-May in others and a license gives you a chance for four birds. There is no shortage of quality outfitters, and multi-bird hunts are pretty affordable.

Mississippi

Pine trees and river bottoms characterize this state that is home to as many as 350,000 Easterns. Hunters harvest around 40,000 longbeards each year. Several years ago, Mississippi became the first state to institute a "no jakes" rule, requiring turkeys to have beards six inches or longer to be legally taken.

Hunters, in general, seem to be behind the requirement and preliminary results indicate that there is a more mature, trophy-class hunting experience in the state.

Wisconsin

Think of Wisconsin and most hunters think of big deer, and unfortunately, of Chronic Wasting Disease. While fears have spread about one portion of the state's deer herd, the turkey hunting is going wide open.

Conditions have done little to keep this bird from thriving where the population was once reported to be around 320,000 turkeys.

South Carolina

Home of the National Wild Turkey Federation, South Carolina should be on every traveling turkey hunter's list. The state boasts a healthy population of more than 100,000 turkeys, a lengthy six-week season in the Low Country, ample public land on both sides of the state, abundant outfitters and a generous bag limit. Need more be said!

Florida

One of the earliest seasons to open, and above of all, the only place where the Osceola subspecies can be hunted, make Florida a must-hunt. Public land is available and there are a good number of outfitters to accommodate those eager to get one of the most difficult to obtain turkeys in their Grand Slam.

The northern part of the state where the Eastern wild turkey resides shouldn't be overlooked either for sheer hunting excitement.

South Dakota

Three words — the Black Hills — are the attraction for most turkey hunters traveling to South Dakota in search of the open country Merriam's. Between state bag limits and opportunities to hunt Indian reservations, bag limits are liberal and licenses can be bought over the counter.

The rugged terrain is a test for any turkey hunter, but the adventure to be found is enough to keep many hunters coming back.

Tennessee

The home of country music is quickly becoming home to a lot of turkey hunting opportunity. The state has ranked around the fifth highest in estimated populations over several years.

The state offers a seasonal bag limit of three birds along with a wide variety of terrain on which to hunt — from the high peaks of the Smokey Mountains to the fertile bottomland along the Mississippi banks.

Washington

In the West, Washington has great populations of Rios, Merriam's, and here's the kicker, even Easterns. That's right, in one state, hunters willing to pay for the extra tags can have a shot at three of the four subspecies that make up the Grand Slam of turkey hunting. Best of all, while limited-draw areas exist, over-the-counter licenses can be had for each subspecies making it easy to make plans, show up and go hunting.

The truth is, with the great efforts to improve habitat and restore turkey populations across the country by state wildlife agencies and the National Wild Turkey Federation, there are few places left where the turkey hunting isn't worthwhile. So get out there and start hunting.

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