Your State-by-State Spring 2021 Turkey Forecast

Don’t look now, but spring turkey seasons will kick off in just a few weeks. Here’s our annual preview of what to expect.
Don’t look now, but spring turkey seasons will kick off in just a few weeks. Here’s our annual preview of what to expect. (Brian Lovett/)

After enduring the COVID-19 pandemic this last calendar year, we need something to look forward to.

Enter turkey season. With the promise of brilliant spring dawns and thunder in the timber, who could feel downtrodden or depressed? Sure, the woods might be a bit more crowded this spring, as it was in 2020. But look at it this way: Like-minded folks are taking advantage of one of America’s greatest wildlife resources and enjoying an experience available nowhere else. Plus, there’s plenty of room to roam from coast to coast. Pick your poison: Easterns, Merriam’s, Rio Grandes or Osceolas (or all four if you’re going for a grand slam). Just be ready, because the action starts soon.

Here’s a quick guide to plan your spring 2021 hunts.

Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Wyoming

Alabama

Subspecies: Eastern

Estimated population: 300,000 to 400,000

Spring 2020 harvest: 16,856 birds were reported through Game Check, marking a 54 percent harvest increase from 2019. Post-season surveys indicated an estimated total harvest of 34,882, a 36 percent increase from 2019. It also estimated that hunter numbers rose 24 percent in spring 2020.

Overall outlook: “There is much uncertainty for the 2021 season due to COVID-19-related surges in hunter effort and harvest in 2020,” says Steven Mitchell, upland game-bird coordinator for the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. “Also, the 2020 harvest was likely bolstered by a high percentage of 2-year-old gobblers, which followed the good numbers of jakes reported in the 2019 spring season Avid Turkey Hunter Survey. Unfortunately, the number of jakes observed during the 2020 spring season ATHS was down compared to previous seasons, so it may be harder to find those hard-gobbling young toms in the 2021 season.”

Potential Spring 2021 hotspots: Mitchell says hunters can find good opportunities throughout the state in spots with active turkey management, such as prescribed fire, mast tree conservation, and improvements in the quantity and quality of brood habitat.

“Hotspots are not happenstance but rather managed for habitat improvement,” he said, “and restrictions that reduce hunting pressure and harvest during peak breeding time to ensure hens are bred.”

Quick tip: Hunters should contact Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division staff in regions they plan to hunt. WMA biologists can provide information on local turkey populations and habitat types.

“Also, hunt through mid-morning if possible,” says Mitchell. “That can be a great time to get public-land gobblers fired up.”

Season dates/bag limits: outdooralabama.com/seasons-and-bag-limits/turkey-season

Arizona

Subspecies: Merriams, Goulds, Rio Grande

Estimated population: 25,000 Merriam’s, 1,500 Goulds, 500 Rio Grandes

Spring 2020 harvest: about 800

Overall outlook: Rick Langley, wildlife program manager with the Arizona Game and Fish Department, says 2020 poult production likely suffered in some areas after another year of record drought throughout much of the state. As a result, jakes might be less abundant in spring 2021. However, after two previous years of good reproduction, hunters should encounter plenty of gobblers 2 years and older.

Potential Spring 2021 hotspots: “The eastern side of the state — units 1 and 27 — probably suffered the least from the drought and have had very good poult production and survival the past couple of years,” says Langley.

Quick tip: Hunters should plan ahead, as most of Arizona’s spring turkey tags are limited, and hunters must apply for them during November of the previous year. The state has a few units open for archery via over-the-counter tags.

Season dates/bag limits: azgfd-portal-wordpress-pantheon.s3.us-west-2.amazonaws.com/wp-content/uploads/archive/2021-Spring-Regulations_201211.pdf

Read Next: 4 Terrain Tricks for Hunting Spring Turkeys

Arkansas

Subspecies: Eastern

Estimated population: 100,000

Spring 2020 harvest: 8,583

Overall outlook: “I expect the season to be on par with recent years in terms of harvest,” says Jeremy Wood, turkey program coordinator for the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission. “Reproductive indices obtained during population surveys indicate 2020 was the best year for reproduction statewide since 2013, which suggests there’ll be a few more birds in the woods this spring. The future looks brighter for spring of 2022.”

Potential Spring 2021 hotspots: Wood said he expects the Gulf Coastal Plain eco-region will continue to see improved harvest rates. The area has had the strongest estimated reproductive rate in the state the past two years, which should result in more jakes and 2-year-old gobblers this spring.

Quick tip: Wood says Arkansas’ national forests and wildlife management areas receive lots of hunting pressure, so hunters must scout hard during the off-season to locate sign and listen for birds.

“Leave your turkey calls and owl hooters behind and listen to the woods come alive on their own,” he adds. “Put boots on the ground and cover a lot of territory before the season so you have some options come opening day if someone beats you to where you hope to go.”

Season dates/bag limits: agfc.com/en/hunting/turkey/turkey-dates-limits

California

Subspecies: Mostly Rio Grandes, with some Merriam’s, Easterns and Eastern/Rio Grande hybrids.

Estimated population: About 250,000

Spring 2019 harvest: 22,179 (2020 harvest data n/a)

Overall outlook: Matt Meshriy, environmental scientist with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Upland Game Program, says turkey populations have generally continued to expand and increase throughout California, so spring 2021 should provide excellent opportunity.

“We anticipate that a challenging breeding season in 2020 will lead to a slightly lower forecast for spring 2021, except in southern California, which saw good rainfall,” he says. “Two-thousand eighteen and 2019 saw good winter rains in the Central Valley and South Coast, benefiting insect populations, but conditions this year have been dry across most of California entering the winter and have exacerbated destructive summer wildfires, which could be a consideration in planning your hunt.”

Potential Spring 2021 hotspots: Meshriy says low-elevation national forests and areas near major rivers in the Central Valley have abundant turkeys.

Quick tip: “In the mountains, look for turkeys around recently timbered areas or oaks with water nearby, and be aware that the breeding season may kick off later at higher elevations,” Meshriy adds.

Season dates/bag limits: wildlife.ca.gov/Hunting/Upland-Game-Birds

Decoys can help close the deal on shy gobblers.
Decoys can help close the deal on shy gobblers. (Brian Lovett/)

Colorado

Subspecies: Merriam’s, Rio Grandes

Estimated population: 30,000 to 35,000

Spring 2020 harvest: 6,500

Overall outlook: Ed T. Gorman, small-game manager for Colorado Parks and Wildlife, says much of the state experienced severe drought in 2020, which likely had some negative effects on brood survival and recruitment. However, he expects a fairly normal season with normal population fluctuations.

Potential Spring 2021 hotspots: Gorman said many of Colorado’s abundant public properties offer good turkey hunting opportunities.

Quick tip: “Merriam’s wild turkeys tend to travel up in elevation as the season progresses,” says Gorman. “Often, they are found right below the receding snow line. Think about weather, too. If the spring season is delayed, look for birds to be slow in moving away from wintering sites.”

Season dates/bag limits: cpw.state.co.us/thingstodo/Pages/turkey.aspx

Connecticut

Subspecies: Eastern

Estimated population: no estimate

Spring 2020 harvest: 1,652

Overall outlook: “The overall outlook for Connecticut is fair,” says Michael Gregonis, a wildlife biologist with the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. “The 2020 brood index indicated productivity was moderate, although slightly above the long-term average. The 2020 spring harvest was up by approximately 25 percent. However, I don’t believe that this is indicative of population. More than likely, it’s an uptick due to COVID, liberalized regulation changes, and increased hunter numbers.”

Potential Spring 2021 hotspots: Gregonis says management zones 2 and 5 — in the northwestern and northeastern portions of the state, respectively — were the top harvest areas in 2020. They include some of the most rural areas in the state.

Quick tip: “In Connecticut, locate areas that are away from major roads, and be willing to hike into areas where fewer hunters are likely to be encountered,” says Gregonis. “Connecticut public lands get significant turkey hunting pressure, so it’s best to get away from the crowds, and whenever possible, the key to success is scouting.”

Season dates/bag limits: eregulations.com/connecticut/hunting/turkey-hunting

Delaware

Subspecies: Eastern

Estimated population: 6,000

Spring 2020 harvest: 643

Overall outlook: Justyn R. Foth, waterfowl, turkey and upland-game-bird program leader with the Delaware Department of Natural Resources, says the state’s annual turkey productivity surveys indicated fair to poor production in 2020, so he expects a 2021 harvest similar to that of last year. The average harvest the past five years has been about 650 birds.

Potential Spring 2021 hotspots: Foth says western Kent and northwestern Sussex counties annually provide the best opportunities to harvest a bird.

Quick tip: Turkey hunters wanting to hunt public lands should apply after July 1 for the next spring season, says Foth. Applications can be found in the Delaware State Forest Service website, in the state’s annual hunting and trapping guide, or at eregulations.com/delaware/hunting/turkey-hunting.

Season dates/bag limits: dnrec.alpha.delaware.gov/fish-wildlife/hunting/turkeys

Florida

Subspecies: Osceola, Eastern, hybrid

Estimated population: no estimate

Spring 2020 harvest: 14,071

Overall outlook: Noted hunter and Florida guide Jeff Budz says he saw lots of jakes during 2020 and that turkeys seemed to have a good hatch last spring.

“It should be a great season,” he says.

Potential Spring 2021 hotspots: Buddy Welch, wild turkey management program coordinator for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s Division of Hunting and Game Management, said Florida’s WMA finder is an excellent tool for locating public turkey hunting opportunities.

Quick tip: Welch says hunters can find more Florida turkey hunting information here.

Season dates/bag limits: myfwc.com/hunting/season-dates

Georgia

Subspecies: Eastern

Estimated population: 230,000 to 250,000

Spring 2020 harvest: 17,048

Overall outlook: “I predict the 2021 turkey season to be fair to average across most of the state,” says Emily Rushton, turkey project coordinator for Georgia Department of Natural Resources. “In 2019, we saw statewide poult production that was right in line with the five-year average, which will translate into an average-sized cohort of 2-year-old birds.”

Potential Spring 2021 hotspots: Rushton says 2019 poult production was higher than usual in the southern half of the state — the upper and lower Coastal Plain regions. That could result in high number of 2-year-olds and good harvest success in those areas.

Quick tip: “For 2021, the only major turkey season change is that hunters are now required to game check their harvest within 24 hours instead of 72,” says Rushton. “It’s extremely easy to do on our Outdoors GA App. It can even be done without cell service and will automatically sync when the hunter is back in cell range.”

Season dates/bag limits: georgiawildlife.com/sites/default/files/wrd/pdf/regulations/SeasonDates.pdf

The author with a late-season tom.
The author with a late-season tom. (Brian Lovett/)

Hawaii

Subspecies: Rio Grande

Estimated population: No estimate

Spring 2020 harvest: 130 (hunting only allowed on island of Hawaii)

Overall outlook: Jason Omick, wildlife biologist with the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources, says spring 2021 should be promising. Data from the public hunting areas, Mauna Kea and Pu’u Wa’awa’a, indicated a reversal in previously diminishing hunter success.

Quick tip: Omick suggested that hunters use a four-wheel-drive vehicle. Also, they can call the Hawaii Island Division of Fish and Wildlife office at (808) 974-4221 for special information and updated maps. The office can provide localized information about turkey hunting.

Season dates/bag limits: dlnr.hawaii.gov/recreation/hunting/bird

Idaho

Subspecies: Primarily Merriam’s, with some Easterns and Rio Grandes.

“All together, they’re Idaho mountain turkeys,” says Jeffrey M. Knetter, upland-game and migratory game-bird coordinator for the Idaho Department of Fish and Game. “Honestly, I would be hard pressed to find you a pure-strain bird. Hunters can call them whatever they would like.”

Estimated population: no estimate

Spring 2020 harvest: about 7,000

Overall outlook: Knetter said prospects for spring 2021 are good.

“The winter has been relatively mild to date, but things can change quickly in the next few months,” he said.

Potential Spring 2021 hotspots: Harvests are highest in the state’s Panhandle, Clearwater, Southwest and Southeast regions.

Quick tip: “Just get out on public land and explore,” says Knetter.

Season dates/bag limits: idfg.idaho.gov/sites/default/files/seasons-rules-upland-turkey-2020-2021.pdf

Illinois

Subspecies: Eastern

Estimated population: No estimate

Spring 2020 harvest: 15,831

Overall outlook: “According to our summer 2020 brood survey, reproductive success was up compared to 2019,” says Luke Garver, wild turkey project manager for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. “We are hopeful this will be reflected with more birds on the landscape this coming spring and more opportunities for hunters to find success in the field. Weather is — and always will be — the wild card. Fingers are crossed for favorable weather in the Illinois turkey woods for spring 2021.”

Potential Spring 2021 hotspots: Garver says the northwestern, western and south-central portions of the state posted the highest harvest totals in 2020, as they do most years. South-central Illinois saw particularly high success in 2020.

Quick tip: Illinois closed all public lands during the 2020 turkey season due to COVID-19, so there should be some better-than-average opportunities on state property this spring. New for 2021, residents can apply in all three permit lotteries, skipping the over-the-counter sales period. Nonresidents can apply in the second and third lotteries. Illinois turkey hunters can still purchase up to three permits for the spring season, subject to availability.

Season dates/bag limits: Illinois.gov/dnr/hunting/Documents/2021%20Spring%20Turkey%20Hunting%20Information%20Sheet.pdf

Read Next: 10 Bowhunting Tips for Turkeys

Winter turkey numbers are looking strong in some states.
Winter turkey numbers are looking strong in some states. (Natalie Krebs /)

Indiana

Subspecies: Eastern

Estimated population: 120,000

Spring 2020 harvest: 14,492

Overall outlook: Steven E. Backs, wildlife research biologist with the Indiana Division of Fish and Wildlife, says the state will likely see a slightly lower harvest in 2021 — perhaps in the neighborhood of 12,000 birds.

Potential Spring 2021 hotspots: “Northern Indiana turkey harvests continue to grow, but the southern part of the state has leveled off at slightly lower levels or declined due to a decade of subpar summer production,” says Backs.

Quick tip: Check the DFW website for application information and other regulations related to turkey hunting.

Season dates/bag limits: in.gov/dnr/fishwild/files/fw-hunting_trapping_seasons.pdf

Iowa

Subspecies: Eastern

Estimated population: 100,000 to 120,000

Spring 2020 harvest: 14,671

Overall outlook: “(We’re) expecting a good turkey season, with some areas being down in 2-year-old birds,” says Jim Coffey, forest wildlife biologist with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. “Hunters should still expect to hear multiple birds. Southeastern Iowa continues to show long-term declines, but birds are still available in quality habitat areas.”

Potential Spring 2021 hotspots: Coffey says northeastern Iowa and the Loess Hills are perennial favorites.

Quick tip: “Time and patience are your best friends,” Coffey adds. “Pay attention to changing green-up and adapt accordingly.”

Season dates/bag limits: iowadnr.gov/Hunting/Turkey-Hunting

Red dot scopes are a great way to avoid missing spring birds.
Red dot scopes are a great way to avoid missing spring birds. (Brian Lovett/)

Kansas

Subspecies: Eastern, Rio Grande, Easter/Rio hybrids

Estimated population: no estimate

Spring 2020 harvest: about 13,404

Overall outlook: Kent A. Fricke, small-game coordinator for the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism, says turkey hunting should be fair to good in Kansas in 2021. Production increased slightly in 2020 after very low production in 2019 because of extensive precipitation and flooding that year.

As in 2020, optional game tags, which allow the harvest of a second turkey, won’t be valid during 2021 in turkey hunting units 3, 5 and 6 — the northeastern, south-central and southeastern parts of the state, respectively. Hunters can still take two turkeys (with the purchase of a permit and game tag) in units 1 and 2, which are the northwestern and north-central regions, respectively.

Potential Spring 2021 hotspots: “The north-central and northeastern portions of the state continue to support the highest abundances of turkeys while also providing abundant opportunities for public hunting access,” says Fricke.

Quick tip: “The later portion of the season is often overlooked, but it can provide quality opportunities with reduced hunting pressure,” Fricke said.

Season dates/bag limits: ksoutdoors.com/Hunting/When-to-Hunt/Turkey

Kentucky

Subspecies: Eastern

Estimated population: 250,000 to 400,000

Spring 2020 harvest: 31,722

Overall outlook: Zachary Danks, wildlife program coordinator for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources, says the summer 2019 hatch was 20 percent better than 2018, so prospects for spring 2021 appear favorable.

Potential Spring 2021 hotspots: Danks says hunting should be pretty good across the state. Logan County led the state in harvest with 624 birds, followed by Hart County, with 572.

Quick tip: “Don’t overcall,” says Danks. “Be safe.”

Season dates/bag limits: fw.ky.gov/Hunt/Pages/Spring-Turkey-Hunting.aspx

Louisiana

Subspecies: Eastern

Estimated population: 40,000

Spring 2020 harvest: 5,600 (est.)

Overall outlook: “The 2020 harvest increased over that of 2019,” says Cody Cedotal, small-game and wild turkey program manager with the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. “We are hopeful that the recent season delay and subsequent increased reproduction have helped increase harvests and populations. However, we need more data to know for sure since 2020 was such an unusual year, with hunters having more time to be in the woods due to the pandemic. Another unknown for the 2021 season are the habitat impacts of two major hurricanes (Laura and Delta) in western Louisiana. Hunter access to many of these areas will be restricted due to downed timber. This will likely restrict bird movements in the future as well in this region.”

Potential Spring 2021 hotspots: Kisatchie National Forest in western Louisiana has moderate to good turkey populations.

Quick tip: “Take time to scout for birds and good-quality habitat,” Cedotal adds.

Season dates/bag limits: wlf.louisiana.gov/page/seasons-and-regulations

Maine

Subspecies: Eastern

Estimated population: No estimate

Spring 2020 harvest: 6,000

Overall outlook: Kelsey M. Sullivan, migratory and upland game-bird program leader with the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife’s Research and Assessment Section, expects a good Spring 2021 season. There should be good numbers of 2-year-old gobblers because of high recruitment in 2019.

Potential Spring 2021 hotspots: Sullivan pointed hunters to Knox and Cumberland counties.

Quick tip: “Knock on doors,” says Sullivan. “Many landowners support wild turkey hunting and more often than not grant permission.”

Season dates/bag limits: maine.gov/ifw/hunting-trapping/hunting-laws/wild-turkey.html

Maryland

Subspecies: Eastern

Estimated population: About 40,000

Spring 2020 harvest: 4,303

Overall outlook: “The overall outlook is fair,” says Bob Long, wild turkey and upland game-bird project manager with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. “Below-average reproduction in four of the last five years has impacted turkey populations in some areas. However, a bumper crop of birds from the high production in the summer of 2019 should translate into more 2-year-old gobblers that can be more eager to come to calling.”

Potential Spring 2021 hotspots: Long says data indicates the central and southern portions of the state have seen tremendous growth in turkey populations recently. Harvests have also increased, setting records in many counties. Although many areas are not traditional turkey hotspots, hunters can have good success if they scout new ground.

Quick tip: “Most public areas will be crowded early in the season and on weekends,” Long adds. “Hunting later in the season and on weekdays can be more enjoyable. Keep in mind that Sunday hunting is limited and varies by county, especially on public hunting areas. Check the regulations before you go.”

Season dates/bag limits: eregulations.com/maryland/hunting/turkey-hunting

Massachusetts

Subspecies: Eastern

Estimated population: 30,000

Spring 2020 harvest: 3,237

Overall outlook: David Scarpitti, wildlife biologist with the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife, says Spring 2021 should be another good season. COVID-19 restrictions likely resulted in very high hunter effort in 2020, and it looks like 2021 will be similar.

Potential Spring 2021 hotspots: “Most state forests and WMAs from central to western Massachusetts offer a good chance at a mature tom during the spring season,” says Scarpitti.

Quick tip: “Don’t stalk gobblers, and respect private property owners and other hunters in the field,” Scarpitti said.

Season dates/bag limits: mass.gov/info-details/wild-turkey-hunting-regulations

The long walk home is made more pleasant when there’s a longbeard over your shoulder.
The long walk home is made more pleasant when there’s a longbeard over your shoulder. (Brian Lovett/)

Michigan

Subspecies: Eastern

Estimated population: 200,000-plus

Spring 2019 harvest: (30,362, 2020 data n/a)

Overall outlook: “2020 nesting conditions were good, and bird populations remain average,” says Al Stewart, upland game-bird specialist and program leader with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. “We expect similar bird numbers and distribution as 2020. At this point, winter conditions have been mild to average, and predictions are to remain the same. We have not experienced the harsh snow and wintery weather that has overwhelmed the Northeast.”

Potential Spring 2021 hotspots: Stewart says Allegan County is expected to be a top hunting area this spring.

Quick tip: “At pre-dawn, I like to listen for roosting gobblers along steep bluffs near creek bottoms,” adds Stewart. “I set up my calling location in adjacent open hardwoods or fields close to these areas.”

Season dates/bag limits: michigan.gov/dnr/0,4570,7-350-79119_79147_81580---,00.html

Minnesota

Subspecies: Eastern

Estimated population: no estimate

Spring 2020 harvest: 13,996

Overall outlook: Leslie McInenly, wildlife populations program manager with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, says turkeys are doing well in the state. In 2020, Minnesota switched from lottery permits to over-the-counter tags in most areas, increasing flexibility for hunters.

Potential Spring 2021 hotspots: North-central and southeastern Minnesota have typically seen the highest harvests, which is consistent with habitat in the state’s forest transition zone, McInenly said.

Quick tip: “Our first two seasons are very popular, (but) later seasons can still have good turkey activity and come with the bonus of reduced hunter numbers and, often, better weather,” adds McInenly.

Season dates/bag limits: dnr.state.mn.us/hunting/turkey/index.html

Mississippi

Subspecies: Eastern

Estimated population: About 225,000

Spring 2020 harvest: About 25,000

Overall outlook: “This spring should be a mixed bag,” says Adam B. Butler, wild turkey program coordinator with the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks. “Populations remain highest in the north-central portions of the state. However, hunters in this region should expect to see some declines based on recent lackluster hatches. Meanwhile, southeastern Mississippi, which has struggled for over a decade, has put together good hatches in two of the last three years and is beginning to look more like it did pre-Katrina. Elsewhere, populations along the Mississippi River will vary widely depending upon elevation and flood history over the last several years.”

Potential Spring 2021 hotspots: As mentioned, the north-central and southeastern portions of the state look promising.

Quick tip: “Even though Mississippi has one of the earliest openers in the country (March 15), hunters should not feel obligated to get here in a hurry,” says Butler. “The best gobbling activity for much of the state doesn’t come until April 1 or later, and on public lands, crowds are beginning to dwindle by that time.”

Season dates/bag limits: mdwfp.com/media/253620/20-2020-2021tt-hunting-season-flyer-web.pdf

Missouri

Subspecies: Eastern

Estimated population: 350,000 to 400,000

Spring 2020 harvest: 41,461

Overall outlook: “Unfortunately, relatively poor production statewide during 2019 will result in fewer 2-year-old gobblers available for harvest this upcoming spring turkey season,” says Reina M. Tyl, wild turkey and ruffed grouse biologist with the Missouri Department of Conservation. “These young gobblers are not associated with hens as often as older, more dominant birds and are the most likely to respond to hunters’ calls. Hunters might have to put in more time and effort to be successful this year.”

Potential Spring 2021 hotspots: Tyl says counties north of the Missouri River and along the Missouri and Mississippi rivers in the eastern half of the state saw improved production during 2020. Though most hunters hope to take adult gobblers, there will likely be more young males (jakes) in those regions this spring than during the previous several years.

Quick tip: “Due to the potentially challenging conditions during this upcoming spring turkey season, hunters should get out to their hunting areas as much as possible before the season begins to listen for birds gobbling at daybreak,” adds Tyl. “Spotting turkeys feeding in open areas or looking for signs where turkeys have been feeding in timber can help hunters determine where the birds are spending most of their time after they fly down from the roost.”

Season dates/bag limits: huntfish.mdc.mo.gov/hunting-trapping/species/turkey/turkey-seasons-hours

Montana

Subspecies: Mostly Merriam’s but some Easterns and hybrids in northwestern Montana

Estimated population: No estimate

Spring 2020 harvest: Not available

Overall outlook: Justin Hughes, upland gamebird habitat specialist for Montana Fish Wildlife & Parks in Region 7, said turkeys enjoyed good nesting and brood conditions across the region during 2020. Anecdotal reports from field staff indicate that turkey broods were large and in good health going into fall 2020. Thus far, winter has been relatively mild, so turkeys are expected to overwinter well, which points to a promising spring 2021 season. However, winter weather conditions can change quickly.

Potential Spring 2021 hotspots: “Region 7 (southeastern Montana) is home to strong populations of turkeys,” says Hughes. “Birds are generally found around agricultural operations and riparian habitats that have good roosting areas nearby. Turkeys in southeastern Montana can also be found in timbered areas and national forest lands that are comprised of ponderosa pine forests.”

Quick tip: “Hunters must stay mobile,” adds Hughes. “Western turkeys make their living on an incredibly large landscape. While birds that live in optimal habitats may not need to move far to fulfill their daily needs, it isn’t uncommon for birds to travel many miles in a day in between roosting sites.”

Season dates/bag limits: fwp.mt.gov/hunt/regulations/turkey

Nebraska

Subspecies: Merriam’s, Rio Grandes, Easterns and hybrids of those subspecies

Estimated population: No estimate

Spring 2020 harvest: 13,597

Overall outlook: Luke Meduna, big-game program manager at the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, says prospects for Spring 2021 look good. Nebraska turkeys experienced good nesting success in 2020, and a relatively mild winter— so far— should help birds.

Potential Spring 2021 hotspots: Turkeys are fairly evenly distributed across the state, but the Pine Ridge, Loess Canyons and riparian public areas in the east are good options.

Quick tip: “Watch the weather,” adds Meduna. “Spring weather in Nebraska can be highly variable, especially the farther west you go. Rain, snow, wind, frost, and 80-degree temperatures make for a normal April weekend in Nebraska.”

Season dates/bag limits: outdoornebraska.gov/wildturkey

Give some thought to your calling strategies. Call more aggressively early in the season and quieter late in the spring.
Give some thought to your calling strategies. Call more aggressively early in the season and quieter late in the spring. (Brian Lovett/)

Nevada

Subspecies: Rio Grande, Merriam’s

Estimated population: 2,000 to 2,500

Spring 2020 harvest: 70

Overall outlook: Shawn Espinosa, upland game staff specialist with the Nevada Department of Wildlife, said the 2021 outlook is fair.

“The majority of the Great Basin is now in moderate to severe drought conditions, which has limited productivity for the last two breeding seasons,” he says.

Potential Spring 2021 hotspots: Espinosa pointed hunters to units 102 and 065, and Paradise Valley in Humboldt County.

Quick tip: “Nevada is not a destination state for turkey hunting, but we do have some quality opportunities with high success rates,” says Espinosa. “We continue to investigate opportunities for translocation. However, COVID-19 has limited those abilities recently. If more favorable weather patterns emerge in the Great Basin, novel Merriam’s turkey populations in central and eastern Nevada should become more dense and expand.

Season dates/bag limits: eregulations.com/nevada/small-game/wild-turkey-seasons

New Hampshire

Subspecies: Eastern

Estimated population: More than 40,000

Spring 2020 harvest: Not available

Overall outlook: “New Hampshire offers excellent opportunities for hunting wild turkey(s),” says the New Hampshire Fish and Game website. And indeed it does

Potential Spring 2021 hotspots: In 2018, units with the highest harvests were J2, K, H2 and M. (454).

Quick tip: Hunters can find more info here.

Season dates/bag limits: wildlife.state.nh.us/hunting/turkey-season.html

New Jersey

Subspecies: Eastern

Estimated population: Not available

Spring 2020 harvest: 2,850

Overall outlook: The state saw good poult production in 2019, with a mean brood size of 2.90, so 2021 should be good.

Potential Spring 2021 hotspots: Turkey hunting areas 15, 20, 21 and 22 traditionally see high harvests.

Quick tip: The application deadline for the spring turkey permit lottery is Feb. 22.

Season dates/bag limits: state.nj.us/dep/fgw/turkey_info.htm

New Mexico

Subspecies: Merriam’s, Rio Grande, Gould’s (enhancement tags only)

Estimated population: 20,000 to 30,000

Spring 2020 harvest: 2,414

Overall outlook: “Populations should be fair into 2021,” says Casey Cardinal, resident game-bird biologist with the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish. “Reports of reproduction were about average in 2020. It was very dry throughout the year, but there was still some mast production. Winter food may be limited in some areas, leading to local declines.”

Potential Spring 2021 hotspots: Cardinal says the Gila National Forest and Smoky Bear and Sacramento Ranger districts in the Lincoln National Forest (the Guadalupe Ranger District is closed for turkey hunting) could be good locations.

Quick tip: “Look for open grassy bottoms, as the turkeys will tend to roost in pines toward the top of a hill and fly down into the bottoms in the morning,” says Cardinal. “Look for food sources such as new grass in canyon bottoms, or acorns, pinon nuts or juniper berries on the forest ground.”

Season dates/bag limits: wildlife.state.nm.us/hunting/information-by-animal/turkey

New York

Subspecies: Eastern

Estimated population: 190,000

Spring 2020 harvest: 21,381

Overall outlook: “Spring turkey hunting prospects are often tied to reproductive success two years prior,” says Michael V. Schiavone, a certified wildlife biologist with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation’s Division of Fish and Wildlife. “Unfortunately, summer 2019 had poor productivity, so we expect spring 2021 to be below average. Poor productivity in 2019 may be offset in some areas by improved reproductive success in 2020.”

Potential Spring 2021 hotspots: During the past three years, counties with the highest annual average turkey harvest include St. Lawrence, Jefferson and Oneida counties in eastern New York, and Chautauqua and Steuben counties in western New York.

Quick tip: “Don’t stalk,” adds Schiavone. “More than half of turkey hunting injuries happen when one hunter stalks another.”

Season dates/bag limits: dec.ny.gov/outdoor/29461.html

North Carolina

Subspecies: Eastern

Estimated population: 270,000

Spring 2020 harvest: 23,431

Overall outlook: Christopher D. Kreh, upland game-bird biologist for grouse, quail and turkey with the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission, says the state’s spring harvest has been at or near record levels for several years. That’s expected to continue in 2021.

Potential Spring 2021 hotspots: Southeastern North Carolina has experienced some of the highest harvest and reproduction levels in recent years.

Quick tip: “Turkey hunting can be quite good across much of the 2 million acres of the North Carolina Game Lands,” says Kreh said. (Find details at ncwildlife.org.)

Season dates/bag limits: ncwildlife.org/Portals/0/Hunting/Season%20Date%20PDFs/2020-21-Big-Game-Season%20Dates-Turkey.pdf

Missouri’s Steve Stoltz worked his magic on a Show-Me State longbeard.
Missouri’s Steve Stoltz worked his magic on a Show-Me State longbeard. (Brian Lovett/)

North Dakota

Subspecies: Eastern, Merriam’s

Estimated population: No estimate

Spring 2020 harvest: 2,795

Overall outlook: Rodney A. Gross Jr., upland game biologist with the North Dakota Game and Fish Department, says prospects for spring 2021 look good.

Potential Spring 2021 hotspots: Gross adds that hunters should check out the western part of the state.

Quick tip: Spring turkey hunting is only open to North Dakota residents. However, out-of-state hunters can pursue turkeys on several tribal properties.

Season dates/bag limits: gf.nd.gov/hunting/season-dates

Ohio

Subspecies: Eastern

Estimated population: 180,000 to 190,000

Spring 2020 harvest: 17,895

Overall outlook: “Below average poult numbers in recent years suggest that the 2021 spring harvest total will also be on the low end of Ohio’s average — likely 17,000 to 18,000 turkeys,” says Mark Wiley, wildlife biologist with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources’ Division of Wildlife.

Potential Spring 2021 hotspots: Wiley adds that counties in eastern Ohio produce the state’s top harvest totals each spring. Counties in the northeastern and southeastern portions of the state occasionally take the top rank, but counties in east-central Ohio have been the highest recently.

Quick tip: The Division of Wildlife operates an interactive map of public lands, mostly to highlight dove hunting fields at wildlife areas. Wiley says the map is also tremendously helpful for identifying and navigating public lands open to hunting: wildohio.gov.

Season dates/bag limits: ohiodnr.gov/wps/wcm/connect/gov/00ba8d69-6ade-4e87-bd77-9f0d1511b213/2020-21+Ohio+Hunting+Regs+Pub+5084.pdf?MOD=AJPERES&CONVERT_TO=url&CACHEID=ROOTWORKSPACE.Z18_M1HGGIK0N0JO00QO9DDDDM3000-00ba8d69-6ade-4e87-bd77-9f0d1511b213-nd9pF87

Oklahoma

Subspecies: Rio Grande, Eastern

Estimated population: 100,189 Rio Grandes, 12,013 Easterns

Spring 2020 harvest: 18,482 Rio Grandes, 2,943 Easterns

Overall outlook: Eric Suttles, Southeast Region wildlife supervisor and Eastern wild turkey project leader with the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, says biologists expect to see a typical harvest in the eastern half of the state but below average harvest in the western portion.

Potential Spring 2021 hotspots: “Almost all of Oklahoma’s public land provides a good opportunity to hunt wild turkeys and provides the experience of hunting two different sub-species,” says Suttles.

Quick tip: “Always consult specific area regulations before your hunt,” adds Suttles. “Calling the area management staff is also a good idea to get local and updated information.”

Season dates/bag limits: wildlifedepartment.com/hunting/seasons

Oregon

Subspecies: Rio Grande, some Rio/Merriam’s hybrids

Estimated population: about 46,000

Spring 2020 harvest: not available

Overall outlook: “Oregon’s turkey populations continue to be very robust,” says Mikal Cline, upland game-bird coordinator for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. “The core western Oregon population is in the southwestern part of the state and extends up into the Willamette Valley as far north as Salem. These flocks are often on private land. Eastern Oregon populations are mostly in national forests throughout the Blue Mountains and Ochocos. All flocks are steady or increasing.”

Potential Spring 2021 hotspots: Cline says biologists have seen noticeable increases in turkey flocks in the Heppner and John Day districts, from Prairie City to the Monument/Kimberly area in eastern Oregon. Trap-and-transplant operations are supplementing flocks north of Burns, the Lakeview area, and Klamath Canyon.

Quick tip: “Wild turkeys tend to migrate up in elevation during spring turkey season,” adds Cline. “Hunters should focus on the snow line and work ridge tops with openings for strutting toms. Hunters can harvest up to three bearded turkeys in the spring but only one per day.”

Season dates/bag limits: myodfw.com/game-bird-hunting/seasons

Pennsylvania

Subspecies: Eastern

Estimated population: Not available

Spring 2020 harvest: Not available

Overall outlook: “Eastern wild turkey populations across their range have recently been trending downward and Pennsylvania’s wild turkey population is showing the same trend,” Mary Jo Casalena, wild turkey biologist for the Pennsylvania Game Commission, wrote in January 2020.

Potential Spring 2021 hotspots: The best wildlife management areas are typically in western Pennsylvania.

Quick tip: Check out State Game Land properties.

Season dates/bag limits: pgc.pa.gov/HuntTrap/Law/Pages/SeasonsandBagLimits.aspx

Rhode Island

Subspecies: Eastern

Estimated population: No estimate

Spring 2020 harvest: 268

Overall outlook: The state’s most recent brood index indicates good survival during 2020 and was higher than the 10-year average.

Potential Spring 2021 hotspots: Jennifer Kilburn, principal wildlife biologist for the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management’s Division of Fish and Wildlife’s game bird program, says towns with the highest spring 2020 harvests were Burrillville, with 29; Exeter, 23; Glocester, 23; Coventry, 21; and Foster, 21.

Quick tip: The state’s annual program summary should interest hunters: dem.ri.gov/programs/bnatres/fishwild/pdf/sprgtrkysurvey.pdf

Season dates/bag limits: eregulations.com/rhodeisland/hunting/turkey-hunting

South Carolina

Subspecies: Eastern

Estimated population: 115,000

Spring 2020 harvest: 14,044

Overall outlook: “Given ongoing trends of less-than-desirable recruitment of poults, the outlook for the 2021 spring gobbler season in South Carolina is only fair,” says Charles Ruth, big-game program coordinator for the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources.

Potential Spring 2021 hotspots: Ruth says hunters should check out the Webb Wildlife Center Complex in Hampton County and the Sumter National Forest, which extends into several counties.

Quick tip: “Recent research in South Carolina shows that the average onset of incubation by hens is not until around April 20,” adds Ruth. “Therefore, gobbling and responsiveness of gobblers to hunters’ calls can be good during the late season due to less competition from hens.”

Season dates/bag limits: eregulations.com/southcarolina/huntingandfishing/turkey-regulations

South Dakota

Subspecies: Primarily Easterns east of the Missouri River and primarily Merriam’s west of the river

Estimated population: no estimate

Spring 2020 harvest: 5,795

Overall outlook: Chad P. Lehman, senior wildlife biologist with South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks, says prospects for Spring 2021 look good.

Potential Spring 2021 hotspots: Lehman adds that hunting should be good statewide. Hunters seeking quality public-land experiences should check out the Black Hills and properties enrolled in South Dakota’s Walk-In Program.

Quick tip: “Open country,” says Lehman. “Bring optics.”

Season dates/bag limits: gfp.sd.gov/turkey

A mature tom taken in his strut zone.
A mature tom taken in his strut zone. (Brian Lovett/)

Tennessee

Subspecies: Eastern

Estimated population: no estimate

Spring 2020 harvest: 40,105

Overall outlook: “(I) expect harvest to be down quite a lot from last year,” says Roger Shields, wild turkey program coordinator with the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency. “We saw a substantial increase in harvest in 2020, so there will likely be fewer older birds out there than normal. Further, reproduction two years ago was not very good, so there is not a big cohort of jakes from last year coming into 2-year-old birds.”

Potential Spring 2021 hotspots: Shields says Region 3 (the east-central part of the state) has seen relatively good production for the past couple of years, so there will likely be more 2-year-old gobblers and better hunting there.

Quick tip: Shields reminded hunters of Tennessee’s new tag-before-you-drag requirement for big game, which took effect this past spring. Big-game hunters, including turkey hunters, must report harvests in the field using the TWRA On the Go mobile app — which works with or without cell service — or tag the animal with a temporary transportation tag, found on the license printout or via download at GoOutdoorsTennessee.com. Animals tagged must still be reported no later than midnight on the day of the harvest.

Season dates/bag limits: tn.gov/twra/hunting/big-game/turkey.html

Texas

Subspecies: Rio Grande, Eastern, and Merriam’s (limited to the Davis and Guadalupe Mountains)

Estimated population: 500,000

Spring 2020 harvest: 17,428

Overall outlook: Jason Hardin, turkey program leader for Texas Parks and Wildlife, says Lone Star State hunters should have a good spring 2021 season.

Potential Spring 2021 hotspots: “Coleman, Concho and Runnels counties offer great Rio Grande wild turkey hunting, but there are great numbers throughout the central part of Texas in close proximity to riparian habitats,” says Hardin. “The Oak Motte country in the southern Texas Sand Sheet (Brooks and Kenedy counties) also offers great hunting, but access is limited.”

Quick tip: “Pay attention to rain patterns leading into the spring turkey season across the central portion of Texas,” Hardin says. “(During) dry years, hunt early season. Gobblers will be ready to breed, but hens will not. Gobblers are easier to call early during dry years. However, soon after the rains start, the hens will be ready and make it difficult to call in a gobbler. Wet winters are the opposite. Hens are ready to go early in the season and provide a lot of competition to hunters trying to call in birds. Focus on the middle to late portions of the season following wet winters. Hens will initiate incubation early in the spring season and leave gobblers lonely and searching for the last few receptive hens.”

Season dates/bag limits: tpwd.texas.gov/regulations/outdoor-annual/hunting/general-regulations/2020_2021_hunting_seasons

Utah

Subspecies: Rio Grande, Merriam’s

Estimated population: Not available

Spring 2020 harvest: Not available

Overall outlook: Utah’s turkey population was near a historic high in 2019.

Potential Spring 2021 hotspots: Areas in the northern, central and southern parts of the state have experienced issues with nuisance turkeys.

Quick tip: Rio Grandes are typically found at lower elevations. Merriam’s are typically found in ponderosa pine forests at higher elevations.

Season dates/bag limits: wildlife.utah.gov/guidebooks/2020-21_upland_turkey.pdf

Vermont

Subspecies: Eastern

Estimated population: More than 45,000

Spring 2020 harvest: 5,418

Overall outlook: Chris Bernier, wildlife biologist with the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department, says the most recent public turkey brood survey, conducted in August each year, indicated that 2020 saw above average brood production.

“Accordingly, the 2020 fall harvest — 718 birds statewide — recovered from the near-record low fall harvest experienced the previous year — 355 birds statewide — and Vermont’s turkey population went into winter healthy and abundant,” he says. “Further, as of the beginning of 2021, winter conditions have been relatively mild, and birds can still be found scattered throughout the hardwoods, where a variety of mast sources, particularly acorns, are still readily available. Barring any significant change in conditions, overwinter survival should be excellent again this year, and birds should be in top physical condition coming into the spring season.”

Potential Spring 2021 hotspots: Bernier adds that productive turkey habitat can found throughout the state, and that much of Vermont’s landscape offers the perfect mix of fields and forests.

Quick tip: “Given the abundance of mast produced last fall, particularly acorns, turkeys will likely still be in the woods this spring in close proximity to oak stands, so hunters should head for the hills,” says Bernier.

Season dates/bag limits: vtfishandwildlife.com/hunt/hunting-and-trapping-opportunities/wild-turkey

Virginia

Subspecies: Eastern

Estimated population: Not available

Spring 2020 harvest: Not available

Overall outlook: “Virginia offers some of the best early season turkey hunting opportunities in the eastern region,” the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries website said.

Potential Spring 2021 hotspots: Turkey population densities are highest in portions of eastern Virginia.

Quick tip: State forests cover 50,000 to 60,000 acres in Virginia. You need a permit to hunt these properties.

Season dates/bag limits: dwr.virginia.gov/hunting/regulations/turkey/#spring

Washington

Subspecies: Merriam’s, Rio Grande and Easterns. Hunters can achieve the Washington slam by harvesting all the subspecies. See the spring regulation pamphlet for more details (wdfw.wa.gov/hunting/regulations).

Estimated population: No estimate

Spring 2019 harvest: (5,805, 2020 n/a)

Overall outlook: “Eastern Washington turkey populations are robust, and harvest has been increasing, so we’re anticipating a good season in 2021,” says Sarah Garrison, small-game and furbearer specialist with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. “So far, we’ve had a mild winter, so overwinter survival should be good if that trend continues through the next couple of months.”

Potential Spring 2021 hotspots: Garrison says that northeastern Washington, from Spokane County to the north, is a great turkey hunting destination. Biologists are also seeing more birds in Klickitat County.

Quick tip: Garrison said hunters can find the 2021 season pamphlet.

Season dates/bag limits: wdfw.wa.gov/hunting/regulations/summary-of-seasons/spring-turkey

West Virginia

Subspecies: Eastern

Estimated population: 113,200

Spring 2020 harvest: 11,320

Overall outlook: Michael L. Peters, game-bird and small-game project leader for the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources, expects hunters to experience an average season in Spring 2021.

Potential Spring 2021 hotspots: Peters says hunters should check out counties in the southern part of the state that had a cicada hatch in 2020.

Quick tip: “Most of our public lands provide a good opportunity to harvest a bird,” Peters said in 2020. “West Virginia’s public lands are not heavily used.”

Season dates/bag limits: wvdnr.gov/Hunting/Regs2021/Season_dates.pdf

Wisconsin

Subspecies: Eastern

Estimated population: No estimate

Spring 2020 harvest: 44,982

Overall outlook: Alaina Gerrits, assistant upland wildlife ecologist with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, says Spring 2021 prospects are very good.

“An increased (2020) harvest leads us to believe that we have a very healthy and robust turkey population in the state,” she said. “Field staff reported seeing more turkey broods than normal this summer. So far, winter has had little to no snowfall — an oddity for Wisconsin, especially in the northern half of the state — and relatively typical temperatures, allowing the young of the year to hopefully put on more weight for the remainder of winter.”

Potential Spring 2021 hotspots: “There are opportunities across the entire state to pursue this bird, even in the north,” says Gerrits. “For new hunters or those coming from out of state, I would recommend southern and central Wisconsin, where there are large tracts of public land intermixed in agriculture for prime turkey hunting.”

Quick tip: “Don’t be afraid or hesitant to try hunting later periods,” says Gerrits. “Although your calling tactics may have to change throughout the season, from loud and aggressive yelps in early season to perhaps more timid infrequent yelps, putts and purrs later in the spring, there are still lots of opportunities out there as the time periods go by.”

Season dates/bag limits: dnr.wisconsin.gov/topic/hunt/dates

Wyoming

Subspecies: Merriam’s; some Rio Grandes and hybrids, depending on location

Estimated population: No estimate

Spring 2020 harvest: 3,250

Overall outlook: Joe Sandrini, wildlife biologist with the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, says that spring 2021 looks fair to good.

“Last year saw excellent poult production in most areas,” he says. “This followed on the heels of average to slightly above average production and survival in 2019. As such, hunters should find tom numbers decent in most areas, but not near the highs experienced several years ago. We expect nonresident hunter success to be near or above 70 percent.”

Potential Spring 2021 hotspots: The outlook for Hunt Area 3 (north-central Wyoming) is very good, but the area is almost entirely comprised of private land, and finding access is difficult.

Quick tip: “Accessing public lands at mid- to high elevations can be difficult due to weather and road conditions often until the middle May,” Sandrini adds. “Peak of nest initiation is normally the last week in April, and if usual nesting chronology holds, the ‘second peak of gobbling’ normally occurs after May 10. Hunters may want to plan trips in mid- to late May to ensure better weather and access conditions. With lots of yearling hens and jakes this year, toms will likely have hens with them throughout most of the season, as yearling hens are not very successful nesters.”

Season dates/bag limits: wgfd.wyo.gov/Regulations/Regulation-PDFs/REGULATIONS_CH20.pdf

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