Hunting > Turkeys

Top 10 Turkey Hunting States

Traveling turkey hunters need to know where they have the best chance to bag a gobbler before committing hard-earned dollars to a hunt.

3/8/2011

For most turkey hunters, the chance to dial in on the habits of the local flock and put the smackdown on a tom or two within a reasonable drive of their home is what the spring season is all about. No doubt, figuring out and beating the birds in your own backyard is what ultimately makes a person a great turkey hunter. But after that nut has been cracked, some guys understandably feel the need to spread their wings and seek the challenge and adventure only a new scene can deliver.

With time and funds being limited for most of us, the question then comes down to where a hunter should focus his or her efforts. But ranking states can be tricky. All too often such lists are based on a host of subjective criteria to determine the best places. After personally having gone turkey hunting in 22 states and having covered the sport for the past 13 years, I know my 10 favorites that I would rattle off, if left to my own devices. But like any sportsman, I’m biased too, so rather than leave you to my personal favorites, I took a look at four main criteria: turkey populations, harvest rates, percentage of birds harvested annually and tag costs. Tag availability, bag limits and access to public land and/or guided opportunities were also given some weight. I also wanted to include at least one state for every subspecies of wild turkey. The results surprised even me. But as Charlie Sheen would be quick to point out, “the scoreboard doesn’t lie.”

10. South Dakota
South Dakota squeaked onto this list for one reason—the Merriam’s hunting found in the Black Hills. While there is another state with “Merriam’s” action that scored higher, there is no way it compares to the concentration of birds in the Black Hills area. Flying into the airport in Rapid City in spring will find as many passengers in hunting camo as in jeans and 10-gallon hats, and there is a strong mix of outfitters and public land available to accommodate them all. Hunters must apply for permits, which are always a drag, but success rates are better than middling. Because of the draw, license costs for nonresidents are very reasonable (only $85), and hunters can take two birds. Hit an Indian reservation, all of which have a separate permitting system, and you can take even more.

9. Florida
Like South Dakota, Florida rides in on this list by virtue of a subspecies provisional. It is the only place in the country where Osceola turkeys can be hunted. They are found in the bottom two-thirds of the state’s peninsula, and while biologists there combine them all in projecting population estimates—roughly 100,000 birds total—hunters there also harvest in the ballpark of 26,000 birds each spring. That’s a whopping 26 percent of the state’s entire turkey population. Those kinds of numbers don’t happen if the hunting isn’t good. Osceolas are known for their longer spurs, and the terrain is among some of the most beautiful you can hunt. Not too many years back, Florida was one of the best deals anywhere for nonresidents, but then the game department woke up to the monopoly they held on the subspecies and jacked license and permit costs up to a hefty $278 for the full season. It’s still worth it and there is also a less costly 10-day license option available.

8. Tennessee
Moving into the heart of the Eastern’s range, Tennessee is home to 310,000 turkeys (5th most in the country). Hunters there tagged 37,000 of those birds in 2010 (7th most). The state presents hunters with a lot of mountainous and rolling terrain, and the numerous hollows and wooded ridges provide ideal habitat for gobblers to thrive in.  The Volunteer State boasts abundant public land hunting for its gobblers as well, with key locations in Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area and the Cherokee National Forest WMA. Both of these areas offer enough public land for serious hunters to escape the crowd.

7. Kansas
As with its whitetails, Kansas is earning a reputation for its turkey hunting. Across the state, hunters will find Easterns, Rio Grandes and Merriam’s. Merriam’s, however, are primarily found in the southwestern corner, which is accessible only by draw, while the rest of the state is available to over-the-counter tags. Kansas boasts the ninth highest harvest of any state in the U.S., with last year’s harvest coming in at 34, 991 birds. It was also number one in the percentage of the turkey population harvested, with 35 percent of its estimated 100,000 birds. Hunters are finding big time success here.

6. Oklahoma
With Easterns in the southeastern part of the state and Rios ruling the rest, Oklahoma offers some fantastic hunting—most of it for Rios. The Sooner State didn’t even crack the top 15 for turkey populations, but hunters there scored on 37,407 birds in 2010 (5th for harvest) making it so a whopping 30 percent of the state’s turkeys rode home in a truck last spring. Terrain in the northeastern extent of the Rio’s range looks more like the hardwood farmland common to Eastern hunters, but gives way midstate to more open, arid and rolling agriculture and pastures. There are even Merriam’s found in a small northwestern portion of the state; and with a license that permits three birds, Okie hunters can make quick work of three out of the four subspecies needed for their Grand Slam.

5. Pennsylvania
Our nation’s second state has always boasted one of the richest hunting traditions in the country, and that honor extends to turkey hunting where western Pennsylvania’s rugged terrain has always supported ample turkey populations, even when they waned in many other parts of the country. Last year Pennsylvania hunters tagged 42,478 (4th overall) of the state’s estimated 360,000 (3rd highest population) wild turkeys, part of that success, no doubt, is the result that the state is among one of the most crowded with sportsmen. Despite the high rankings, the harvest rate was only 12 percent of the overall population meaning there is still ample seed stock for producing more birds each year. National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF) regional biologist Bob Eriksen predicts a good year for hunters with ample three-year-olds available for some real challenges given the excellent 2008 hatch. All-day hunting will be permitted during the last weeks of the season for the first time in modern history.

4. Texas
Texas is home to the largest turkey population of any state with an estimated total of 510,000 Easterns and Rios. The latter account for 500,000 of them, making the Rios the draw, and while the range is thin on public land offerings, outfitters and day-hunting opportunities abound, many of them offering multiple-bird hunts with stupidly high odds at very reasonable rates. Nonresident licenses remain affordable at approximately $126 and a single license permits you the season bag limit of four bearded birds. Texas offers the preeminent Rio experience with top-outfitted options in the Texas Hill Country or slightly farther west between San Angelo and around Eldorado. The Albany area, three hours west of Dallas, also boasts some fantastic hunting. Double up your fun throughout this range and add a hog hunt to your adventure.

3. Missouri
Always my personal favorite and what I would honestly declare the number one turkey hunting destination in the country based on my experiences, Missouri rolled in at “just” No. 3. From the southern Ozarks to the northern woodlots and pastures, it was nothing to hear gobblers in the double digits on the roost in the late 90s and early part of the past decade. Hunters set a state record in 2004 killing 62,000 gobblers. Successive years of unfavorable weather have hampered reproduction, but the state still boasts an estimated 308,000 turkeys, and last year hunters tagged 46,200—far off the record mark, but still good enough for the second highest harvest in the country! As NWTF regional biologist John Burk says, “Missouri in a down year is still as good, if not better, than most places for hunting Eastern wild turkeys.” The state remains a model of excellent turkey management, and public land is abundant with state and/or federal lands open to hunting in nearly every county.

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30 Responses to Top 10 Turkey Hunting States

steve foster wrote:
April 18, 2014

South Texas is the best kept secret of all,,rio's exceeding 28 lbs is common

Joe schmoe wrote:
March 05, 2014

What about Alaska?

Mountainboy wrote:
August 19, 2013

Tennessee should be at least top 5

Ryan wrote:
April 25, 2013

Wisconsin.... two turkey seasons, toms both seasons, one in five hours, one in an hour and a half

Leonard wrote:
April 23, 2013

Ohio has treated me good over the years lots of fun. Looks like wont get to go had To have a new knee put in April 15 that's Life. have fun

Jon wrote:
March 04, 2013

.Nothing like the hills of bourbon in MO. Hands down. Couldnt pay me to hunt anywere else

Matt wrote:
January 27, 2013

How about the bluegrass state. Kentucky has usually been near the top in years past.

scott wrote:
January 06, 2013

How about south Carolina? Looking to bag one thid year

floyd varney wrote:
December 11, 2012

wonder where new york fits in. plenty of birds arond my area. eastern upstate between vermont line and the adirondack mountains. i see flocks quite often arount the area of my home in fort ann.

Mike wrote:
September 24, 2012

Comments...i live in centeral pa and the population in pa is crazy if they started the fall season two weeks earlier the kills would take pa to the top. Plus the last few winters being miled and spring coming earlier than normal buy the spring gobler season the most hens are allready sitting.and its really hard to call in a gobler. But are population is among the highest in the u.s. And pa is not as big as some of these other states per square mile pa is tops.

kevin j wrote:
September 03, 2012

Unfortunately i hav only hunted in texas for turkey, but i hav hunted texas for the past 12 years, and me and my wife and kids tag out almost every year, i love texas turkeys

Walker bryan wrote:
April 24, 2012

Philadelphia, MS... Lived there all my life and I havent seen anything like it before on tv. Large flocks of smart turkeys, doesn't get better than that. My first turkey had an 11 inch beard and inch and a half spurs a gift from god.

Tim wrote:
April 20, 2012

Missouri all the way no better place to call home.

Jason wrote:
April 16, 2012

Vermont and New York have some great hunting. The easterns here are very challenging. Unfortunately the seasons start too late and there's a lot of hunting pressure. The number of hunters have increased significantly over the last 10 to 15 years. Heading to Ohio in a week for opener.

Ronnie wrote:
April 15, 2012

Sad to say I live in Louisiana, our turkey season opened March 24th and ended April 15. In the three weeks of season I only heard one gobble, our season needs to be changed I think.

Virgil wrote:
March 13, 2012

We got some good Turkey Hunting here in Ct, too. Can't wait til season starts.

Possum wrote:
March 12, 2012

2 more days I can show ya why Alabama is now Number 1 in other ways besides Football

Bill wrote:
March 12, 2012

Thankfully Lew they don't have us hunt earlier and our rate is down. Makes you appreciate it more when you get it

GrandSlamNetwork.com wrote:
January 14, 2012

Great article!

Bob wrote:
December 15, 2011

I am glad he left Iowa off of the list. IA is expensive $214 and you get only 1 bird. IA also has a draw to limit hunters and if you are unsucessful on the draw the keep $52 for a preference point. IA has more birds than KS and NE where you can buy your tags over the counter and shoot 2 or more birds. The farmers in IA are fed up with all of the birds destorying crops, so instead of issuing more licenses or lowering the cots IA is introducing the Bobcat to help control the turkeys. their DNR does not get it.

Lew wrote:
May 12, 2011

PA. has a low kill rate because we hunt them later. If they moved the first week up just two weeks our rate would skyrocket.

Scott wrote:
April 25, 2011

Washington has great turkey hunting. Huge flock of Mirriams in the NE, Good flock of Rio Grandes in the SE, and Easterns in the west.

henry wrote:
April 19, 2011

new jersey birds. people feed these birds in their back yards and domesticate them. no challenge.It is almost a crime to hunt them.

jeff07080 wrote:
March 11, 2011

Lol....come to New Jersey.We have them chasing the kids on thier way to school.You can bean one with a rock from my front porch.Leave your gun home.

Doug wrote:
March 10, 2011

Hey guys, I seriously appreciate your weighing in on this one. Would've been disappointed had somebody not questioned my rationale on this as there is a lot of great hunting across the U.S. and always several ways to look at it. But going off the criteria we set, Brian, you are right, some great variety in Nebraska, but from straight harvest numbers, Neb last year was just over 19,000 while last state on original top 10 was around 34,000. And it didn't crack the top 15 on population. You could make a case that it hold's better hunting for Merriams than the Black Hills in SD, but I've hunted both (killed my first Merriam's in Neb near Chadron) and I have to say, I still have to give the edge to the Black Hills area of SD. Ohio has some phenomenal hunting as well (13th in population and 15th in harvest) but still not a Top 10--yet! I think it's coming on. Edward, Georgia rocks, though I'm more partial to the southern part of the state. But birds are everywhere. You are lucky to live down there. And Billy, I hope you're right about Louisiana, because I head there in two weeks and am hoping to start my 2011 season off right in the Sportsman's Paradise. No matter where you live or hunt, good luck to all of you this spring.

Brian wrote:
March 09, 2011

How did Nebraska not make this list? What other state could you take 3 different species of turkeys. 4 if you count the hybrid. Plus Nebraska has a fall season.

John wrote:
March 09, 2011

Just curious how Ohio missed the list? Numbers aren't far off from some other states. Maybe it's available land? Or the fact that Buckeye birds are hard to hunt?

Edward A Sevenau wrote:
March 09, 2011

How is the Turkey Hunting in North Georgia? I live in the greater Atlanta area but in the outside of the city area, we have many WMA's and it is said that Paulding Forest has a good Turkey Hunt but as I see Georgia isn't even on the list of good Turkey Hunting, Is GA. good for not? thanks Eddie

William Wallace wrote:
March 09, 2011

I am sure there are more turkeys in DC than any place in the country, what's the limit?

BILLY MOUNCE wrote:
March 09, 2011

LOUISIANA IS CATCHING UP.