One of the best things about turkey hunting is that you don’t need 1,000 acres of private ground to grow big ones any more than you need to hire a guide to put you on one worth hunting. Big old toms, eager 2-year-olds, and even jakes are fun to chase, and they abound on public-access ground all over the country. If you can call a little and you don’t mind walking, you can have success on a DIY hunt. Plus, you get extra bragging rights when you take your tom on turf open to everyone.
The question is, Which turf? There’s probably some decent public ground close to where you live. But if you’re willing to travel, there are almost too many options. So, let us narrow it down for you. Here is out Top 10 list of the best DIY turkey hunting states, and for the sake of suspense, we’ll work from No. 10 to our top pick. Here we go.
A Rio Grande tom follows a hen through a field of wildflowers in Texas. Texas DNR
The Lone Star state makes our top 10 solely by dint of its massive turkey population. Texas has a huge number of Rio Grande turkeys, and a decent number of Easterns, too. In total, nearly half a million birds reside call the state home. It isn’t cheap for nonresidents to chase these birds, but this is a list of the best DIY states, not the cheapest.
While residents pay only $25, nonresidents have to shell out nearly $450 to turkey hunt here. Add to that the limited volume of public land (only 5 percent of the state), and it can turn off some DIY hunters. That said, the hunting can be incredible. It’s one of the best places to chase Rios, period, and the only place to do so in the South. If you’re willing to work, you can find a public tract to hunt on, and private access is not out of the question if you ask, especially if you’re willing to pay a modest fee.
A quarter of a million turkeys are a lot of reasons to hunt in Mississippi. With about 60,000 turkey hunters, the pressure isn’t terrible, either. Add to that the fact that jakes can’t be taken in Mississippi, and it translates to a lot of 2-year-old birds in the flock.
Mississippi offers a great mix of ag ground, creek bottoms, river bottoms, rolling hills, hardwoods, and pines in and around which to chase bird. The strongest bird numbers are in the southern part of the state, but the central and northern counties hold solid populations, too. With about 2 million acres of open-access land, there’s a lot of room for a DIY hunter to roam here as well. Plus, the wildlife agency offers a variety of license and tag options, which can make it cheaper for those only going for a few days.
Four Georgia longbeards trail a hen. Steve Kyles – Georgia DNR
One of the best wild turkey strongholds of the South, Georgia has the birds. The exact population is unknown, but the flock is suspected to be about 275,000-strong. Each spring, roughly 35,000 to 40,000 hunters head afield and experience solid success rates. Plus, since no fall hunting is allowed, more birds are available for the spring season.
Georgia, like other states in the South, offers an array of turkey habitat to roam. You’ll find birds in hardwood forests, pine plantations, ag ground, swamplands, rolling hills, and the mountains, and a fair amount of it is public-access. The state has about 1 million acres of WMAs and about 850,000 acres of National Forest land open to hunters.
The author poses with a big Bluegrass State gobbler. Josh Honeycutt
The Bluegrass State is loaded with turkeys. If it had more public lands, it’d be even higher on the list. Kentucky is 95 percent private land, but it does offers a decent volume of public ground, at about 1.5 million acres in total, mostly in the eastern and western parts of the state. What’s available does get a lot of hunting pressure, but the state still has a lot to offer, with about 325,000 turkeys in river-bottom ag ground in the western counties, rolling hills in the central region, and mountains in eastern counties. Between 25,000 and 30,000 turkeys are harvested each year. As good as it is, Kentucky isn’t a cheap state to hunt, as nonresidents need to cough up $235.
As the only destination for hunting Osceola turkeys, Florida easily makes the list. And if you’re go for the grand slam, it’s a must-go destination. People dream of hunting the swamplands of the Sunshine State. The turkeys are stubborn sometimes, but they are fun to hunt.
But the opportunity to hunt Osceolas isn’t the only reason Florida makes our top 10. The state also has a massive amount of public lands. Hunters can access nearly 6 million acres, which is an astounding amount an eastern state. Florida has a great WMA system and offers National Wildlife Refuge hunts, quota hunts, and more.
A pair of Eastern gobblers in an Alabama green field. Warner Lee – Alabama DNR
According to the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, the state once had more than half a million turkeys. Today, the number is at around 375,000, which is still a whole lot of bird. With an estimated 70,000 turkey hunters bagging about 40,000 birds each year, that’s moderate hunting pressure. Alabama isn’t cheap for nonresidents, at about $350 for a license, but it is a top turkey state, with loads of birds and phenomenal habitat. More than 75 percent of the state is timber, which is ideal for turkeys. It also has about .75 million acres of WMA lands, on top of U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Forest Service, Forever Wild Land Trust, wildlife refuges, and other public lands.
Ol’ Rocky Top is known for more than just it’s country-music twangin’ and sangin’. Among hunters, it’s known as a top gobbler state and hosts an amazing turkey hunting culture. The habitat os beautiful, too, with a lot of creek bottoms, river bottoms, lakes, ag lands, pastured grounds, big woods, rolling hills, mountains, and more. Turkeys have everything they need here. That’s why about 250,000 birds call the state home, and about 95,000 turkey hunters chase them. The annual harvest averages 30,000 turkeys.
It isn’t cheap to hunt turkeys here for nonresidents, who must pay over $300 to hunt. But the Volunteer State has a ton of public land. Wildlife management areas abound. So do other forms of public lands with open turkey hunting access.
With more than 300,000 turkeys, Kansas is another strutter stronghold. Only about 50,000 turkey hunters get after them here, too, which means it has less pressure than many states. Being able to chase Rio Grande turkeys in western counties, Easterns in eastern counties, and hybrids in the middle, is cool, too.
Public hunting options are plentiful in Kansas as well. The WMA system is good. In addition, the famed Walk-In Hunting Area program provides access to more than 300,000 acres of private ground. Overall, there’s plenty of open access for turkey hunters here.
Probably the top option for bowhunters, Nebraska was made for DIY turkey hunting with stick and string. It has Eastern, Rio Grande, and Merriam’s wild turkeys. With nonresident prices a little under $300, it isn’t cheap, but it costs less than some other states on this list. On the upside, only about 30,000 turkey hunters chase birds each spring, so the pressure isn’t as bad. The state only issues 10,000 permits for out-of-state travelers, though.
Although only 3 percent of Nebraska is public land, the state still has a decent amount of it by volume. Choose from WMAs, federal ground, and other types of open access. Focusing on waterways is a great way to get in on the action. Furthermore, a lot of private landowners permit access to turkey hunters.
Wisconsin is loaded with Eastern gobblers, and boast lots of public land, too. Getty Images
Our top pick may come as a surprise, but Wisconsin is sorely underrated as a turkey state. While it does have a lot of turkey hunters (nearly 220,000), it also has the turkey population to support them. Approximately 40,000 birds are bagged each spring.
Wisconsin offers a lot of habitat diversity. Here, you’ll find rolling hills, hardwoods, wetlands, river bottoms, winding creeks, ag fields, pastured ground, grasslands, and more. And DIY options about here, too. Some private land owners will allow turkey hunting access, and there is a ton of public access, especially in the northern counties, where turkey populations may not be quite as dense as in other parts of the state, but plenty dense enough for you to score. Statewide, about 5 million acres of public land are open to hunting amidst the Army Corps of Engineer, conservation area, county forest, national forest, restoration area, state forest, state park, state natural area, and state wildlife area programs. Do some digital-map scouting and then burn some boot leather and there’s a great chance you’ll fill you tag in the Badger State.
Honorable Mentions: California, Maine, Missouri, and Pennsylvania
Anytime you make a Top 10 list, there’s going to be several great contenders that just miss the cut. The four states below are such good DIY destinations that although they didn’t quite make it by my grading, they were too close not to mention, so here they are.
California might surprise some, but it’s a great turkey state. It has a long season, reasonable nonresident license and permit costs (under $200), and best of all, the state hosts populations of Easterns, Merriam’s, and Rio Grand turkeys. About 20,000 turkeys are harvested in California each year.
Maine is a great choice for anyone looking for a hunt in the Northeast. It has about 75,000 turkeys and only 18,000 hunters. Most of its turkeys are in the southern third to half of the state, but if you find a place to hunt, the action can be great. Plus, it only costs residents about $35 and nonresidents about $70 to get in on the action.
Missouri gets high marks for its turkey population size, which is just shy of 400,000 birds. That’s a solid number with about 40,000 harvested each year. As in other states, turkey numbers have declined in recent year, but it’s still difficult to overlook all the good hunting the Show Me State still has to offer.
Pennsylvania might have the richest turkey hunting heritage of all, and that pushes it to the top of our honorable-mentions list. About 165,000 turkey hunters kill 30,000 to 40,000 turkeys annually. The high number of hunters is enough to turn off some DIY folks, but for those who still make the trip, public lands abound, especially in the northern part of the state. Out-of-staters can hunt PA for $100-$150, depending on specific options.
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