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Turkey Forecast 2009
March 5, 2009
America's turkey hunters are slated to be out in force in the coming weeks. Anticipation is high among hunters throughout the country, as another record season for the country's largest game bird is about to begin. With the tireless help of the National Wild Turkey Federation (
) and their legion of dedicated and outstanding wildlife biologists, here is a close look at what hunters can expect this spring:
Alabama ****always offers great turkey hunting opportunities and 2009 should be no exception. Harvest and population estimates continue to be some of the highest in the country. All indications are that 2008 was a great year for reproduction, with poult sightings higher than normal. In addition, Alabama boasted a great mast crop statewide in 2008. With plenty of over-winter food, poult survival should be high and gobblers should be entering spring 2009 in great body condition. Hunters should expect to see lots of jakes in the 2009 season. The 2009 season should be good, but the 2010 season may be even better! Public hunting opportunities exist throughout the state, but hunters may want to check out Oakmulgee WMA. Oakmulgee WMA is located on the Talladega National Forest in Bibb, Hale, Perry, and Tuscaloosa Counties and is cooperatively managed by the Alabama Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (AWFF) and the US Forest Service (USFS). The NWTF has partnered with AWFF, USFS, and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to complete major habitat enhancement projects on the area over the last several years, and the results are starting to show.
Spring turkey hunters in Arizona should see a season similar to last year's with success rates of around 15 percent. For spring 2009, 7,265 tags were available in the draw. Harvest for 2008 was estimated at 1,122 gobblers. Conditions vary across open units but numbers of birds appear to have remained constant from last year. The number of tags for Gould's turkeys in the draw have never been higher than this spring with 20 available.
Turkey reproduction in Arkansas has been poor for about the past seven years due to climatic and other factors. The reported harvest for 2008 was a little over 11,000 birds; this is about 50 percent of the harvest in 2002, so turkey populations are down quite a bit. Having said that, the state is expecting gobbling activity to be better than last spring thanks to a good mast crop, and both the hens and the gobblers should be at their full breeding potential early in the spring. An adequate population of turkeys can be found on the Ouachita and Ozark National Forests (about 3.2 million acres combined), as well as many of the state owned/leased wildlife management areas. Avoid opening weekend and concentrate planning hunts through mid-week if possible, to avoid crowds. Remote areas are easy to find on National Forests, and if weather cooperates and hunters are willing to tackle the mountains, they should have a good chance at bagging a gobbler.
The last two springs in California were great for turkey hatches, and that was coupled with great acorn years. Data from the California Department of Fish and Game "Game take hunter survey" show 23,398 turkeys were harvested by 27,500 hunters in the spring of 2007. The turkey population estimate is around 240,000. The top ten counties for turkey harvest in ranking order are: Sonoma, Mendocino, El Dorado, Alameda, Shasta, Lake, Stanislaus, Amador, Napa and San Luis Obispo. There are numerous public land opportunities in these top producing counties to try your luck this spring. Cow Mountain and Cache Creek managed by BLM, and the El Dorado National Forest should be the best bets. Turkey tags are not required in California. So, all you need is a hunting license and an upland game bird stamp.
Biologists ****are anticipating a harvest of 2,000 to 3,000 this spring, similar to recent years. In 2008 some areas experienced above normal snow-pack that delayed nesting. But favorable summer precipitation especially in western Colorado was good for brood habitat. It may take another year to see any increase in harvest.
Wild Turkey Program Biologist Mike Gregonis says the spring season should be similar to last year. The brood survey conducted last summer indicated turkeys had fair productivity last spring. Hunters should be able to find birds with a little pre-season scouting.
The turkey hatch in Delaware has only been fair the past two years. Despite a less than an ideal hatch, the turkey population looks good, and there was an outstanding harvest in 2008. The 2009 spring season should be a good one despite limited numbers of jakes. Sussex County is a good Delaware spring turkey hunting bet.
Florida has had several consecutive years of great hatches due to favorable weather and habitat conditions. Turkey populations are doing very well throughout the state, and should offer a good proportion of two-year old birds to hunt this spring. In addition, there should be plenty of jakes wondering the woods, and a fair number of long-spurred gobblers. Turkey populations continue to remain strong in throughout the state, so folks wanting to hunt either Eastern or Osceola sub-species this should be in for some great hunting, both on private lands and the 5.5 million acres of public hunting lands available.
The state ****has been experiencing poor reproduction statewide since 1998. However, surveys for spring 2008 showed a marked increase in reproduction statewide, most notable in the coastal plain. Hunters should see a lot of jakes in the woods this season as a result. Hopefully, some will make it to next spring, and a good supply of two-year old toms will be available.
Extremely harsh winters coupled with wet springs have left the state's turkey populations lower than average. North Idaho was particularly hit hard, with back to back years of deep snow. The spring brood success has been negatively impacted by very wet weather. On a positive note, this wet weather will be beneficial to the many habitat projects across the state.
Production was average during 2007 and 2008, so access to actively gobbling two-year toms should be about what it has been. Populations in the north and northeastern portions of the state are still expanding, so hunters may find birds on properties previously unoccupied by big birds.
The main good turkey regions in Iowa are the Loess Hills (western Iowa), Northeast Iowa (Mississippi River more forested), and southern Iowa. Production has been average to above average in the western and northeastern regions the last few years, so turkey hunting prospects are good. Southern Iowa has had below average production the last several years due to unfavorable weather conditions during nesting season. Historically this region has had some of the highest turkey densities found anywhere, so turkey hunting conditions when compared to other Iowa regions, are still very good.
North-central Kansas is a hotspot for turkeys. The entire wild turkey hunting Unit 3 is good but the north half is awesome right now. They've had several consecutive years of explosive hatches and are sitting on a huge population of birds. This area happens to have some good public lands and quite a bit of private ground that's accessible through the Walk-in-Hunting-Access Areas program that NWTF supports in partnership with Kansas Wildlife and Parks.
During 2007, the statewide hatch was about average and with the turkey population still in the growth phase and experiencing high reproductive output annually, Kentucky turkey hunters ought to be pleased about anywhere they choose to go. In 2008, Kentucky had the best turkey production statewide in 8 years with a poult-hen ratio of 3.7. Production was best in east and central Kentucky. Although two-year-old gobblers should be plentiful this spring, the spring of 2010 should be awe inspiring.
Turkey ****reproduction is Louisiana for the past couple of years has been similar to the long-term average, which is good. Wildlife management areas in southeast Louisiana have had some of the most consistent reproduction over the past couple of years. The parishes in the delta and state wildlife management areas along the Tensas River as well as the Sherburne WMA should be good. Look for WMAs with good wild turkey habitat and it shouldn't be too hard to get on a gobbler. Overall, hunting should be good this spring.
According to ****Kelsey Sullivan, Wildlife Biologist with the Maine Department of Inland, Fisheries and Wildlife, Maine is approaching a similar annual snow depth total, with equally freezing temperatures, that turkeys experienced last winter. With the "severe" winter experienced last year, Maine's spring turkey hunter success rate (birds harvested/number of permits sold) in 2008 was 3% lower than in spring of 2007. Its important to note though, Maine experienced a bumper acorn mast last fall, which provided turkeys with plenty of reserves going into the Maine winter. Given the tough winter for turkeys this year, last year's success rate and the fall 2008 mast acorn crop, we expect the 2009 spring season to be an exciting, albeit challenging, hunt. Another key ingredient for the spring 2009 turkey season that will most likely increase success rate is this spring the hunt is open to all turkey hunters, regardless of their birth year.
Despite less than ideal hatches, turkey populations look good, and the harvest was in excellent in 2008. The spring season in 2009 should be a good one despite limited numbers of jakes. Public land and long-established populations make Garrett, Washington and Allegany Counties popular destinations, and the eastern shore of Maryland is always a good bet.
The 2007 hatch in Massachusetts was very good and the 2008 hatch was average so it is fair to say the 2009 season should be a fun one with a great deal of gobbling two-year olds out there.
Missouri is considered the nation's turkey capital, and a common destination for many gunners during spring turkey season. The reason: high quality habitat at the landscape level (especially north of the Missouri River) supports high density turkey populations and there's lots of public land. That's the good news. Production has been below average for most of the state for the last 3 years as a result of unfavorable weather and this will definitely impact the number of birds available in 2009 (especially compared to the record setting season of over 60,000 gobblers harvested in 2004). However, Missouri will still be a great place to chase spring gobblers. You may have to chase them for a little longer this year, because talkative, suicidal 2-year-old gobblers will be hard to find, but Missouri, even in a low year, is probably still better than many other places you could be this spring.
There has been ****a slight increase ****in poult production over the last couple years, so two-year old toms should be above average in number.
The state ****is blessed with lots of great wild turkey habitat and very good wild turkey numbers. Statewide, wild turkey populations are doing well, with some regional variation. Northern Mississippi experienced below-average hatches in 2007 and 2008 and jake observations were down in 2008. Because of this, this area should have fewer two-year old gobblers and hunting could be a little tougher than in other regions. Jake observations were up in 2008 in east-central Mississippi, so hunters should expect lots of gobbling two-year old birds during the 2009 season. In southeast Mississippi, 2007 poult production and 2008 jake observations both set records. Turkeys are doing exceptionally well in this part of the state and 2009 should be a great season for hunters. The Mississippi River Delta region experienced widespread flooding throughout much of the spring of 2008. Although this had a negative impact on reproduction in 2008, hatches in 2005, 2006, and 2007 were very good. In addition, flooding limited hunting access during the 2008 season. There should be lots of two-year old birds and plenty of carryover of three-year old and older toms because of the limited hunting pressure in 2008.
Untimely spring snowfall during nesting season and prolonged wet weather during the normal hatching period likely resulted in below average turkey production last year in some areas of the Northern Great Plains region. Winter is far from over in the region. But it appears spring turkey hunting opportunities should be good in the Big Sky State.
You can go about anywhere in Nebraska that has trees and find plenty of turkeys. Many non-residents want to go there for Merriam's and I would suggest they focus on the northern tier of counties from the town of Valentine, on west. The Pine Ridge eco-region surrounding Chadron is great habitat, has lots of birds and includes some top notch WMAs and US Forest Service land. New Hampshire: The 2008 nesting season started with great conditions, but because of record rains from June through August, production was not as good as it could have been, particularly in northern New Hampshire. Production in 2007 was also below average. There are plenty of gobblers out there, but because less-than-great production, it may require hunters to do a little more homework this spring.
Turkey hatches in northern and central New Jersey were off between 2001 and 2007. Poor weather during the nesting and hatching season have limited turkey numbers in those areas. But hatches in that region for the past two springs have been much improved, although turkey numbers are not where they were a decade ago. Jakes and two-year olds should be available in pretty good numbers in the northwestern counties, in spite of lower populations. Southern New Jersey seldom has a poor hatch and winters are mild. Public land is at a premium there, but turkey flocks are abundant. The southwestern counties of Salem, Cumberland and Gloucester are home to an impressive number of wild turkeys. Overall, the season in New Jersey will likely be an improvement over the 2008, which was a good one.
Those chasing toms this spring in New Mexico may have to deal with possible forest closures due to dry conditions. In the southern half of the state dry conditions are approaching critical stages. In the northern half, snow has been more consistent but still not up to long term averages. Check with the Forest Service to determine conditions where you hunt. Turkey populations have not been adversely impacted yet, but if dry conditions continue that may change. There have been some changes to bag limits in the Gila region, which hunters should be aware.
Biologist Mike Schiavone with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, Bureau of Wildlife says based on brood surveys the last two years and harvest data, the spring 2009 season has the potential to be about the same as 2008, and close the five-year average spring harvest of 29,500 birds. An above-average 2007 hatch combined with a decent late-season hatch in 2008 should provide hunters with opportunities to harvest both two-year-old birds as well as quite a few few jakes. Northern New York got hit pretty hard last year with spring rain, so production was much worse than in other regions. That's two consecutive seasons with poor production in Region 6, so spring take likely will be down. Regions 4 and 7 have had consistently good production the past couple of years, so harvest should be similar to or slightly better than last year. The rest of the state may be similar to or a little below last year's harvest.
Turkey populations are fair in Nevada. In general, populations are distributed in low densities throughout the state. However, there are some populations doing quite well where habitat is suitable. Best bets are Lincoln and Lyon Counties, and the Mason Valley WMA. There is plenty of BLM land in Nevada, especially in Lincoln County. Last spring, 654 turkey tags were issued and 89 turkeys were harvested with only 8 jakes.
North Dakota experienced poor production in the Badlands area, one of the turkey strongholds in the state. This resulted in a decrease in the number of spring tags available to residents. On a positive note, for those hens that were successful, abundant spring moisture also created ideal brood-rearing habitat in many areas of the region, providing abundant escape cover in the form of grasses and insect-rich areas with abundant forbs for bugging.
Last year was a mixed hatch across Oklahoma, with some areas doing fair and some not having much of a hatch. Not hearing much about jake sightings so far. Two years ago was an excellent hatch across almost all of western Oklahoma, with tons of jakes reported by hunters last year. There should be excellent hunting of 2-year old birds over most of Rio Grande bird country. If you want to hunt Rios, this would be the year to come to Oklahoma. Eastern Oklahoma is doing fair. The last couple springs have been very wet, which may have led to a poor hatch of Eastern birds the last two years. Hunting should be fair in eastern Oklahoma.
Populations on the west side of the Cascade Mountains will provide excellent opportunity for sportsman. Although populations are slightly down due to low brood success of the last few springs, they are very stable. Populations in the Blue Mountains, were impacted with consecutive high snow years, and wet springs. These populations are slightly lower than average.
It's been a ****difficult winter with heavy snow and ice. In addition, much of the state was short on hard mast in 2008. Those factors may influence gobbling and nesting activities this spring as both winter weather and fall food sources influence wild turkey condition. While this tempers the outlook for the 2009 season, hatches in 2007 and 2008 were good in many areas of the state. There are a great number of jakes available from the 2008 hatch and two-year old gobblers should be fairly abundant this spring. Turkey numbers are especially good in the north-central and northeastern counties. The harvest should be at least on a par with the spring of 2008.
Brian Tefft, Principal Wildlife Biologist with the state Division of Fish and Wildlife, says turkey hunting this spring should be similar to last season and perhaps a slight drop in harvest. In 2008 there were 203 birds harvested, 25 percent less than earlier in the decade. There have been three successive years of below average poult production, for fewer birds. Prior winters have been reasonably mild; however, this winter has been above average in snowfall and cold so that might have affected survival and nest success.
Although reproduction was a little better this year, following the previous three years of poor reproduction the number of mature gobblers (2 years and older) available during the spring of 2009 will be about the same if not lower across most of the state. The number of jakes should also be somewhat lower than hunters like to see. This is significant because jakes can make up 25 percent of the spring harvest following years of good reproduction. On a positive note, the gobbler-hen ratio remains good, with a statewide average of 0.71 gobblers to each hen. The only exception was in the Piedmont were it was only 0.37. Many experts believe that when gobbler to hen ratios get below 0.5, the quality of hunting can be impacted because hens are extremely available, which affects gobbling and responsiveness to calling by hunters.
In the Black Hills of South Dakota, Game, Fish & Parks field surveys indicate poult-hen ratios are on track with historical averages. However, hunters in some areas of the Black Hills might notice a shortage of jakes in the field, indicating either locally marginal production or poor poult survival. The good news the Black Hills this spring is there was a good carryover of mature gobblers from last year, as persistent snow cover in areas prevented hunter access to the birds, so there should be ample gobblers for hunters to pursue.
Last year was a mixed hatch for Texas, with some areas doing fair and some not having much of a hatch. Not much news from jakes. Two years ago there was an excellent hatch across most of west Texas with tons of jakes. Look for hot spring hunting for 2-year old Rio toms. Vermont: Spring turkey hunters made a record harvest of 5,461 bearded birds in spring 2008, topping the previous record set in 2007. The 2008 record was made possible by very good nesting conditions in 2007. Hunters this spring should be looking forward to hearing many gobbling 2-year olds from that 2007 hatch, with perhaps another record harvest on tap. Virginia: Data from the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries show that turkey populations peaked in Virginia around 2002 and have been stabilizing over the last 7 years. Reproduction in 2007 was lower than the 5-year average, so hunters should expect a slight decline in the number of two year old gobblers in the woods. Gobbler harvest in 2008 was higher than in 2007, but this is probably attributable to some pretty poor weather conditions during the 2007 season. Although hunters may not expect as many gobbling turkeys as in 2008, there should still be plenty of gobbling birds to keep hunters interested. Based on VDGIF data, the Tidewater region of Virginia continues to have the highest turkey population densities.
The growth of Utah's wild turkey population is one of the state's biggest wildlife success stories. In only 20 years, a mere handful of turkeys have become a thriving population of more than 18,000 birds. In 2008, the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources made a record number of public turkey permits available to hunters, and that number is increasing by more than 80 percent in 2009. A total of 13,755 public permits will be available this year, and hunters should do well.
The east side of the state has suffered from extremely harsh winters the last two years. Winter mortality has been higher than usual and wet springs have driven turkey populations down. These populations are stable, and there will be plenty of Washington gobblers out and about this April for hunters. West Virginia: Although turkey reproduction in 2008 was down slightly from 2007, the overall hatch statewide was close to average. Turkey harvest was down somewhat in 2008 due to poor weather conditions during much of the season. Lower harvest in 2008 combined with a good hatch in 2007 should mean that there are plenty of 2 year old and older gobblers in West Virginia during the 2009 season. With over 1 million acres of National Forest land and over a half million acres of state land open to hunting in the state, hunters visiting West Virginia should not have a problem locating an area to find a gobbling turkey.
Poult production has been just about average the last couple years. So 2-year old toms should be in fair to good supply. Rural areas, and farmland-hardwoods regions along major rivers and streams should hold plenty of turkeys.
Untimely spring snowfall during nesting season and prolonged wet weather during the normal hatching period likely resulted in below average turkey production last year in some areas. Winter is not done, but it appears spring turkey hunting should be good. The Black Hills experienced abundant spring moisture, which is a mixed blessing. But there has been a good carry-over of mature toms, and spring hunting for trophy birds could be good.
Let the gobbling begin! Our exclusive state-by-state turkey forecast.
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