Gobbler Report 2021: Bird Numbers Down in Bulk of State

April 1, 2021

Wild turkey hunting season opens April 6 across Oklahoma except the eight southeasternmost counties. This year's Gobbler Report indicates bird numbers have declined in most areas. (Photo: Juanita Harris/Readers' Photo Showcase 2017)

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Spring Turkey Hunting Opens April 6; Youths Get Earlier Shot

Next Tuesday, April 6, will be opening day for spring turkey hunting in all but eight southeastern counties of Oklahoma. Youths 17 and younger will have an opportunity to hunt even earlier, as youth spring turkey season is open this Saturday and Sunday, April 3-4, in the bulk of the state. 

In the eight southeasternmost counties, youth spring turkey season will be April 17-18 and will open April 19 for all hunters. All spring turkey seasons close statewide May 6. 

Field reports of fewer turkeys being seen generally in western and southwestern Oklahoma have hunters speculating about a less successful spring turkey season. Turkey populations have shown a decline in the past several years in western Oklahoma, and biologists have cited unfavorable weather conditions as part of the reason. Plans are in place for a research project to take a close look at what may be causing these declines in the turkey population. 

New bag limits this spring season restrict harvest to one tom per county statewide except for the southeastern region, where harvest is limited to one tom from the entire eight-county region. This spring’s season limit remains three toms for each hunter. 

ODWC is encouraging hunters to participate in this spring’s turkey hunting season, but many hunters are wondering what they can do to help the wild turkey situation right now. 

“The Department is urging hunters to consider harvesting fewer turkeys this spring than they normally would; instead of a full season’s bag limit of three birds, decide to take only one or two this spring,” said Wildlife Senior Biologist Rod Smith, ODWC’s wild turkey coordinator for western Oklahoma. 

Also, hunters are urged to consider delaying their turkey hunting until later during the season. Less disturbance in the woods in early April will allow better nesting conditions and hopefully increase nesting success. Finally, hunters who normally plan to hunt in the western and southwestern parts of the state could consider going to other regions where turkey numbers have declined less. 

The Wildlife Department reminds everyone that the Outdoors Are Always Open. Turkey seasons will occur as usual on private lands, ODWC areas and Oklahoma Land Access Program lands. But other public lands may have restrictions due to COVID-19, and hunters planning to use those areas should contact the managing agency for the latest information.  

By region, here are some current insights for turkey hunters this spring. 


NORTHWEST REGION

Report by Eddie Wilson, Wildlife Senior Biologist 

Current gobbler activity: Turkeys in the northwest are still in winter flock groups for the most part. Spring breakup should happen soon, with above average temperatures forecast for opening week. Toms are currently gobbling and strutting. 

Condition of habitat: Good throughout the northwest. Most of the region has received a good amount of late winter and early spring moisture. Vegetation is greening up rapidly. Late summer rains last year provided for plenty of nesting cover this spring. 

Reports from landowners or scouting hunters: Turkeys numbers are down throughout the northwest region. Landowners and hunters are reporting fewer birds this spring. Cold winter weather has kept birds grouped up longer than normal. Some landowners are reporting that traditional winter flocks that have been on their property for a number of years are no longer there. 

WMA best betsCanton and Fort Supply wildlife management areas offer good opportunity for hunters to harvest a turkey. 

Tips for success: Scout the area prior to your hunt. Be willing to walk long distances to locate a bird. Be patient, and be prepared to hunt in all types of terrain. 

Mistakes to avoid: Avoid calling too often. Avoid other hunters. Avoid committing a violation by knowing the hunting regulations that pertain to the area you choose to hunt. 

Opening-day expectations: Bird numbers are down, so finding a turkey on opening day may be a little more challenging this year. I expect a good number of hunters will be using wildlife management areas this season, so be prepared for some competition. Good luck and hunt safely! 


SOUTHWEST REGION

Report by Ron Smith, Wildlife Senior Biologist 

Current gobbler activity: Observations show turkeys steadily moving away from winter roosting areas and breaking up into smaller groups throughout their usual breeding grounds. Gobblers have been seen strutting and sparring with others. With lower numbers, birds will be less visible. 

Condition of habitat: Good moisture in recent weeks has produced much greener conditions than in 2020. Winter wheat and other foraging areas are greatly improved. Overall, habitat conditions are showing impacts from dry weather during the previous growing season. Cover over much of the region is far below average. Nesting cover will be limited in many areas. The green conditions should yield good insect forage as the weather warms. 

Reports from landowners or scouting hunters: Reports vary widely from east to west across the southwest region. The westernmost portion of the region has seen the greatest decline in turkey numbers. Many landowners have said that turkey numbers are only a fraction of what they have been used to. Early scouting shows promise in some areas, but reduced numbers are going to require more work to track down your trophy bird. 

WMA best betsBlack KettlePacksaddle and Ellis County usually produce some good hunter success. With numbers being down, hunters may have to include other areas such as WaurikaAltus-Lugert and Fort Cobb

Tips for success: Hunters should put as much time as possible into scouting. Historic areas may have shifted slightly due to drought, fire, and ice storm impacts on roost sites. Patience and willingness to adapt will be helpful. As always, use the birds’ natural behavior to plan your approach and tactics. Usual early and late-hour hunting will be productive, though mid-day patterns may also provide opportunity. If hunting public land, be aware of specific regulations and boundaries. 

Mistakes to avoid: Failure to scout is often the biggest mistake hunters make. Not everyone is a champion turkey caller, but willingness to adapt methods and learn from others may be helpful. Avoid overcalling. Again, listening to birds’ normal activities and working your way into the system is more productive than blasting away with every call in your arsenal. 

Opening-day expectations: Expect numbers to be below average. Hunters will have to work a bit harder this year, but the reward may be that much greater with success. 

 

CENTRAL REGION

Report by Matt Mattioda, Wildlife Senior Biologist 

Current gobbler activity: Turkeys have been breaking apart from their larger winter flocks over the past couple of weeks into smaller groups of toms and hens. Most, if not all, gobblers have grouped up with hens by now, but not all hens have picked out a tom yet. I've seen a few lone hens as soon as they fly down, but I have not seen a tom alone right off of the roost. Gobbling has been very active on the roost and shortly after they hit the ground when it hasn't been too windy to hear them. I expect many of the toms will be involved in breeding activity until late morning during opening week of the season. 

Condition of habitat: Only six weeks removed from the coldest temperatures many of us have ever witnessed, and it is almost as if it never happened. Things are greening up quickly, and turkeys have left their reliable winter food sources and are now finding food almost everywhere they roam. Several of the WMAs in the region have completed multiple prescribed burns over winter. Look for these areas to provide great strutting areas for toms in the mornings. 

Reports from landowners or scouting hunters: Landowners and hunters have had similar reports over the past month: several of the mornings have been too windy to hear anything, but on the calm mornings they were hearing multiple birds. It appears that the farther west they go in the region, the more turkeys they are seeing, which is usually the case. Many of the reports are of groups from two to 10 birds each, with some saying they have seen larger groups. 

WMA best bets: Several of the WMAs in the region should be great during youth season, as they often see little pressure until the regular season. So, get your kids out there this weekend! As the season rolls along, the best bets to chase a gobbler will likely be at Kaw WMA in the northern part of the region and Hickory Creek for the southern half. These two areas consistently have good turkey numbers year to year. 

Tips for success:  

  • Scouting is crucial. Locating roosting birds in the mornings or evenings leading up to your hunt is an invaluable wealth of knowledge; just be sure to not get too close. But don't stop there. Quietly look for droppings, tracks, strutting marks, and dusting areas to give you an idea of where these turkeys are spending much of their time. 
  • Be Patient. We all love a hunt that that is successful by 7 a.m., but that just doesn't happen all that often. If things don't go as planned at first light, be patient, listen to where your bird goes and set up again and again if you have to, just be sure you don't spook them when you move. A lot of turkeys are harvested during mid-day when all of the hens are at their nests and the gobblers get lonely. Also, if you have a bird responding to you don't give up because he quit gobbling, often times he is headed your way. 
  • Get away from the road. If you are able, you need to be willing to walk a little. If you are hunting public land there is a high probability someone has already been calling to these birds from the road and even if the turkeys are responding they probably won't come within shooting range. 

Mistakes to avoid

  • Trying to get too close while they are on the roost. This is an easy and costly thing to do early in the season when there aren't a lot of leaves on trees. Be cautious when setting up in the mornings. 
  • Calling too much. Lots of hunters like to hear those gobblers gobbling back, but excessive calling is not a normal interaction between turkeys in the wild and can often cause toms to hang up and not come close enough for a shot. Only call as much as you have to in order to increase your chances at success. 
  • Underestimating a turkey’s vision. Decoys help to distract turkeys’ attention. But even with them, turkeys are constantly looking for anything that might be a threat. Be sure to move only when you are sure they cannot see you. 

Opening-day expectations: Birds should be gobbling but will likely be henned up first thing in the morning. Pack a lunch in case you have to stay a little longer than you are hoping. It looks like we had a good hatch last spring, so there should be plenty of jakes running around to keep things interesting. Although many folks have returned to work from the pandemic, I still expect there to be a slightly above-average number of hunters on the WMAs after several folks were able to rekindle their love of hunting last year. Arrive early and stay late, but please be courteous of other people's space. Conditions are great, and the strutting and gobbling should be in full swing throughout the region.

 

NORTHEAST REGION

Report by Brent Morgan, Wildlife Biologist 

Current gobbler activity: Birds are definitely being seen breaking up from their winter pattern. Gobbling activity is slow, but with the warmer weather close by, everything should be heating up. Toms and jakes are being seen with large groups of hens. 

Condition of habitat: Habitat conditions look very good. Lots of recent controlled burns and food plots are looking great. Years past have provided lots of growth, so there is plenty of cover. Things are greening up quickly, and insects are already emerging, so there is plenty of food availability. 

Reports from landowners or scouting hunters: Scouting hunters are seeing a few birds along the roads but aren't hearing much from the roost. Very few birds are being seen by some landowners. But they are being vocal, mostly after they fly down. 

WMA best betsCamp Gruber WMA is open west of State Highway 10 for the entire season while the east side will open April 17, and bird numbers should be good. Cherokee and Fort Gibson WMAs have a fair number of birds and usually lots of hunters. Be sure and check the hunting regulations for the area you are planning to hunt. 

Tips for success: Scout, scout and scout. Know the area, try to pattern birds a bit, and make sure to be patient. It’s also a good idea to hunt weekdays and plan for all-day sits. 

Mistakes to avoid: Overcalling and moving in to a gobbling bird are always common mistakes hunters make. Another common mistake is trying to get close to the roost in early season. 

Opening-day expectations: Birds should be fired up with the warmer weather coming in for the weekend. Modest bird numbers and heavy pressure are expected in eastern Oklahoma. Arkansas’ season won’t begin until April 19, so numerous hunters will cross the state line seeking birds. 

 

SOUTHEAST REGION

Report by Eric Suttles, Wildlife Southeast Region Supervisor 

Current gobbler activity: Current gobbling activity is light but expected to increase rapidly as the weather warms and the time for breeding nears. 

Condition of habitat: Habitat is in good condition. Many prescribed fires by private landowners and ODWC area managers on public land have occurred the past few months. Early rains have the region greening up, and I have noticed a good response by flowering forbs. 

Reports from landowners or scouting hunters: Winter flock surveys and landowner/manager reports are indicating a small increase in population from 2020. Turkey flocks seem to be healthy with many reports of adult gobblers. 

WMA best betsHonobia Creek WMA, McGee Creek WMA, James Collins WMA. 

Tips for success

  • Be patient. Moving too soon and not waiting has saved many birds and caused many hunters to experience frustration.  
  • Be quiet. Calling too much can cause birds to hang up or act like something is not right.  
  • Be informed. Knowing the landscape can help you get into position for success. 

Mistakes to avoid: The most common mistake is not being patient, quiet, and informed. Getting out of a vehicle and striking the call 50 times as you walk around for 10 minutes before moving on will seldom result in success. 

Opening-day expectations: Hunters should have the same level of success they have had the past few years. I would expect a lot of hunters participating and enjoying the wonderful outdoors and the excitement of turkey hunting. 

NOTE: Spring turkey hunting seasons differ in the state’s eight southeasternmost counties. Season is open April 19-May 6 in McCurtain, Choctaw, Pushmataha, Atoka, Latimer, Pittsburg, Coal and Le Flore counties. Youth days are April 17-18 in those counties. 

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The statewide spring season bag limit is three tom (bearded) turkeys per hunter. To learn the regulations for turkey hunting, and any special regulations about the area you plan to hunt, along with field tagging, E-Check and other turkey hunting requirements, consult the current Oklahoma Fishing and Hunting Guide found online at wildlifedepartment.com, on the Go Outdoors Oklahoma free mobile app for Apple or Android devices, or in print across the state wherever hunting and fishing licenses are sold. 

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OUTDOOR OKLAHOMA ADVENTURES 

ODO adventures turkey

TURKEY HUNT RAFFLES!  

Don’t forget to enter this year’s Outdoor Oklahoma Adventures raffle program for your chance to win one of two fantastic turkey hunting trips! 

You can choose to enter drawings for a Guided Spring Turkey Hunt With HiRoost Outfitters or an All-inclusive Spring Turkey Hunt in Central Oklahoma

Raffle tickets are $10 apiece, or $30 for five tickets in the drawing of your choice. There is also an Ultimate Bundle for $50 that gives you 14 tickets — one in each of the 14 drawings for this year’s Outdoor Oklahoma Adventures. 

Raffle tickets are on sale now through the Wildlife Department’s license website at GoOutdoorsOklahoma.com. The final day to buy tickets is Aug. 6, 2021. 

See details of each Adventure along with the rules at www.wildlifedepartment.com/outdoorok/adventures. Don’t miss your chance of getting drawn for an Outdoor Oklahoma Adventure of a lifetime!