News of the Week

April 3, 2014

A service of the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation

Wildlife Department's "2014 Biologists' Gobbler Report" suggests successful season ahead

     Turkey season opens this weekend for most of Oklahoma, and while parts of the state are still dealing with drought issues that could slow the onset of spring habitat conditions, other areas of the state have experienced some relief from recent years of record heat and drought. In either case, well-prepared hunters should have better luck finding gobblers to hunt this spring. 

     Spring marks the mating season for wild turkeys, which in Oklahoma include Rio Grande and Eastern birds. 

     Turkey season runs April 6 through May 6, except in the eight-county southeast region where the season runs April 21 through May 6 (Atoka, Choctaw, Coal, Latimer, Le Flore, McCurtain, Pittsburg and Pushmataha counties).

     Biologists with the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation have weighed in to offer last-minute insights into current spring turkey activity, in hopes hunters can benefit from the their observations.

     The following is the biologists' reports by region.

NORTHWEST REGION

Reported by Eddie Wilson, senior wildlife biologist

Current Gobbler Activity

Birds in the Northwest are just starting to break up from winter flocks, and are still in fairly large groups. The toms have started to gobble and strut a little, and turkey movement is on the increase.

Habitat Conditions

Current conditions are dry throughout the Northwest. Without rain, spring green-up of native foods is going to be slow, and birds will likely be using wheat fields as one of their primary food sources. As for nesting cover, due to some well-timed rains last summer, nesting cover is adequate for the most part. The exception would be the Panhandle counties, where drought conditions have been more severe.

Reports from Hunters and Landowners in the Region

According to local reports, bird movements are on the increase, birds are gobbling pretty good, and a few birds have been seen breeding hens.

Open Wildlife Management Areas in the Region

Most every wildlife management area in the northwest region provides some turkey hunting opportunity. In regard to the number of birds per area, Canton, Fort Supply, and Cooper are going to be good bets. Birds can also be found on Beaver River, Cimarron Hills, Major County, and Dewey County WMAs. Be sure to use non-toxic shot while hunting the Waterfowl Refuge Portion of Canton WMA, and make note that hunters are restricted to a one bird per WMA limit on most northwest region wildlife management areas. 

Before going hunting, check the regulations pertaining to the individual WMA you plan to hunt.

Three Best Tips for Hunting Gobblers in the Region

  1. If you want to know where the birds are, scout the area you plan to hunt before opening morning.
  2. Get into the woods early and locate the birds. If there are birds in the area you choose to hunt, they should be gobbling just before sunrise.
  3. Pay attention to available food sources such as wheat fields.

Three Biggest Gobbler Hunting Mistakes

  1. Not pre-scouting the area. Get out of the truck and do some on-the-ground scouting prior to opening day.
  2. Calling too often. Don't walk through the woods calling, find the birds and then use the call.
  3. Hunting too close to roost sites. Back off away from the roost site and let the birds come to you.

Opening Day Expectations

Hunting should be good by opening day. Three-year-old birds may be hard to find due to drought conditions and low reproduction during 2011. During 2012 things were a little better, so there are some 2-year-old birds. Reproduction was up last spring, so there should be a good number of jakes available. 

Be prepared for any type of weather in the Northwest. It could be snowing or 90 degrees. Good luck, and hunt safe.

SOUTHWEST REGION

Reported by Ron Smith, southwest region senior biologist; and Kent Swanda, southwest region habitat coordinator

Current Gobbler Activity

Birds were still being observed grouped together as early as last week. There have been small flocks with gobblers strutting their stuff sighted in the area, also. With the current conditions, it's just a matter of time.

Gobbler activity had been very slow through March 25. The March 26-28 saw a notable increase in activity. Turkey numbers in parts of the region have shifted to new areas from their historic range due to lingering drought conditions. Region turkey numbers have shown a slight increase, so we are headed in the right direction. Recent weather extremes may have delayed regular spring activity somewhat but we look to be on track for season opening.

Habitat Conditions

Habitat conditions are going to vary widely throughout the region with more limited areas of good cover. Much of the rangeland has been degraded as the drought continues. Winter wheat and other feeding areas range from fair to good. Many of the historic roost trees have been lost to ice storms, drought and fire. Hunters may have to expand their scouting to locate better numbers.

Reports from Hunters and Landowners in the Region

Landowners report seeing slow activity, with just the beginning of good breakup and typical gobbler behavior. They are also reporting turkeys shifting around to new areas. Hunters that have been doing early scouting report the same. All feel that this week will see a significant increase in spring behavior.

Open Wildlife Management Areas in the Region

Region WMAs open include Sandy Sanders, Altus Lugert, Ellis County, Black Kettle, Packsaddle, Fort Cobb, Waurika, Mountain Park and Washita. Consult individual area regulations found in the "Oklahoma Hunting Guide" for limits and special restrictions.

Three Best Tips for Hunting Gobblers in the Region

  1. Scout.
  2. Be early.
  3. Be patient.

Three Biggest Gobbler Hunting Mistakes

  1. Turkeys are keenly aware of their environment. You won't have much luck if you just insert yourself right in the middle of their activity. 
  2. Not using good cover and moving about too much will tip them off quickly.
  3. Failing to scout will leave you at a disadvantage. With that in mind, you just have to get lucky or be willing to put in the time.

Opening Day Expectations

Hunters should be prepared to witness one of the greatest shows put on by any of our Oklahoma game species. Allow yourself to take note of the little details that go on between the hens and gobblers when in small groups or separated. Their behavior can give you a better understanding of how you might fit yourself into the game. Even when you fail, you just might learn something. Oklahoma offers some of the best turkey hunting in the country. Get in the field and enjoy. Be alert of other hunters in the area. Be safe and good hunting.

CENTRAL REGION

Reported by Jeff Pennington, central region wildlife supervisor

Current Gobbler Activity

Turkey activity appears to be a week to 10 days behind normal. Birds have broken up from large winter groups, and toms are seen strutting in open areas on sunny days.

Habitat Conditions

Due to increased rainfall last summer, hunters will notice more cover than the past two springs, especially in areas with light to moderate grazing. This may make turkeys harder to visually locate and may change bird movement patterns. The cold and dry winter we have experienced has delayed green-up by one to two weeks.

Reports from Hunters and Landowners in the Region

Hunters and landowners report seeing toms strutting in open areas on sunny days. The past two weeks have been very windy, so hearing gobbling has been difficult.

Open Wildlife Management Areas in the Region

Kaw and Deep Fork WMAs are traditionally the best bets in the northern portion of the region. Hunters also have opportunity at Heyburn, Keystone, Skiatook, and Okmulgee WMAs. In the southern portion of the region, Hickory Creek, Love Valley, Washita Arm, Tishomingo, Fobb Bottom and Lexington WMAs, along with Chickasaw National Recreation Area, provide many locations for hunters to pursue turkey.

Three Best Tips for Hunting Gobblers in the Region

  1. Hunt past the early morning period. Often a tom that is "henned up" and ignoring you in the morning will be receptive to your calls in the afternoon.
  2. Stay put. Often toms will come to your calls without excessive gobbling. 
  3. Hunt in and around the burned areas. Turkeys love to strut and feed in the fresh, low regrowth of burned areas.

Three Biggest Gobbler Hunting Mistakes

  1. Hunting only in the morning.
  2. Getting up too quick. Stay in one place longer.
  3. Too much hunter movement. Turkeys have keen eyesight, so stay still!

Opening Day Expectations 

In the central region, hunters can expect a high percentage of male birds to be jakes due to good reproduction last year. This influx of young birds is following six years of low recruitment. Adult birds are present, but hunters will likely have to be persistent and pass several opportunities at young birds to harvest a long beard.

NORTHEAST REGION

Reported by Brent Morgan, northeast region wildlife biologist

Current Gobbler Activity

Birds are starting to break up. Gobbling activity is fair on nice mornings. Still no active breeding.

Habitat Conditions

Habitat conditions are in good shape with lots of nesting cover. Invertebrates are in good numbers as well as a grasses. Conditions will only improve with the upcoming warmer conditions.

Reports from Hunters and Landowners in the Region

Reports from landowners are that birds are starting to break up, while gobbling activity is picking up.

Open Wildlife Management Areas in the Region

Cherokee WMA and Tenkiller WMA are open for youth and regular season. Camp Gruber will be open the second Saturday in April and run for nine consecutive days. Each WMA is a one-bird area.

Three Best Tips for Hunting Gobblers in the Region

  1. Hunting turkey on public land can be very challenging since birds get educated even before season starts. Best advice I can give would be to hunt midday once the hens go to nest.
  2. Lonely gobblers are more likely to respond in the middle of the day when they don't have hens.
  3. Don't call to gobblers on the roost and call very little. The more you call, the more likely you will be pin-pointed by the bird.

Three Biggest Gobbler Hunting Mistakes

  1. Getting too close to the roost is one of the biggest mistakes I hear from hunters.
  2. Another mistake hunters make is trying to move in when they think the gobbler has left or has hung up. Sit tight and be patient because a smart bird will try and call the hens to him instead of him coming in.
  3. Decoy placement can also be a problem. You don't want to place a decoy too far from you or directly in between you and the tom. Gobblers sometimes hang up outside of decoys and outside of shotgun range.

Opening Day Expectations

Opening day should be good, with gobbling activity picking up. Breeding activity should be in full swing. Hunters can expect to hear gobbling on the roost but once they hit the ground it may be a different story.

SOUTHEAST REGION (SEASON RUNS APRIL 21-MAY 6)

Reported by Jack Waymire, southeast region senior biologist

Current Gobbler Activity

I have heard some gobbling on my area and have had some reports from others of some good gobbling activity. The turkeys are still in winter flocks but the hens will have a gobbler or two with them strutting. The turkeys are not highly visible yet, but the season in the southeast doesn't open for a while, and it will get better as time progresses. The Southeast had the best turkey reproduction last spring since 2004. If we can get a couple of years of good reproduction, then turkey hunting will greatly improve.

Habitat Conditions

Habitat conditions are the best we have observed since 2003. We have had good precipitation that has provided good forage production (insects and seed), and it has also promoted better nesting cover.

Reports from Hunters and Landowners in the Region

Hunters and landowners have told me that they have observed more jakes than in the past 10 years. They also indicated that they have observed more turkeys than last year.

Open Wildlife Management Areas in the Region

All of the WMAs in the southeast region will be open for turkey season beginning with the youth weekend April 19-20. The regular season will begin April 21, and it will close the same as the statewide season dates of May 6.

Three Best Tips for Hunting Gobblers in the Region

  1. Be patient. Don't move when a turkey has responded to your call.
  2. Start with soft calls, and be reserved with your calling. If the tom is fired up, then you may become more aggressive with your calling.
  3. Camouflage and concealment is good, but your set-up is critical when hunting Eastern wild turkeys. You should set up in a place that will only allow you to see the turkey once it is in shotgun range (on a point or knob or head of a drainage, etc.).

Three Biggest Gobbler Hunting Mistakes

  1. Not knowing the area. Scout the area and know the topographical features to avoid a turkey hanging up due to a creek or other barrier.
  2. Be sure to not restrict your ability to move your gun. Do not set up where a sapling or brush will restrict your range of motion.
  3. Failing to have fun. Turkey hunting is supposed to be fun; don't get in a hurry; enjoy the outdoors.

Opening Day Expectations 

Opening day is still several weeks away in the most southeastern portions of the region, but we can always hope for pleasant weather and an agreeable turkey. You can do your part, but the turkey still has to do his part. Do your pre-season scouting, and take your time. Be patient and take a youth with you. It will add to the enjoyment of your hunt.