Road-Trippin’ for Longbeards

By Darron McDougalMarch 20, 20171 Comment

After a long and dreary winter, say no to cabin fever and yes to affordable turkey hunting adventure.

Logistically, an out-of-state spring turkey hunt is one of the easiest bowhunting road trips to plan and execute. Many states offer over-the-counter tags, and some offer the ability to purchase a second or even third tag.  Many states have good to great public-land turkey habitat and as a bonus, gaining access to private land is quite doable.

dead turkey and bow

DIY turkey hunts are one of the more economical, and often most successful, options when looking at out-of-state bow hunts.

I’ve bowhunted turkeys across multiple states including Kansas, Florida, Nebraska, South Dakota and Wisconsin. And I’ve bow-killed birds in each. Let’s review some of the logistics of a road-trip turkey bowhunt so you can have an enjoyable time, and possibly even bring home a bird or two.

Research for Quality Turkey Hunting Opportunities

Online hunting communities are a reasonable place to begin researching for prospective turkey-hunting states and even specific counties. But, I don’t take one person’s word as gospel. I’ve done this with other species and gotten burned with poor, unproductive hunts. To avoid this, call the state wildlife department where you’re interested in hunting and ask to talk turkey hunting with a game biologist. If he/she says promising things, ask about public-land opportunities. Small parcels are often best because they’re commonly overlooked, but make sure you ink a destination with multiple small tracts in a given vicinity so that you have options.

screenshot of Nebraska game & parks website

Start your research at State game and parks websites in order to determine season dates, licensing costs and public hunting areas.

Even if you hear everything you hoped you would, conduct a little more research by calling up local archery or bait shops. Sporting-goods stores can also be good resources, but be sure to ask to speak with someone in the firearms/archery departments. Ask questions regarding bird numbers, places to hunt and how difficult it is to obtain access to private land. People might think you’re crazy to travel for turkeys, but will openly provide info on turkeys. If you’re lucky, they might even turn you on to a private-land opportunity.


Some states can be chilly in April and May, but if you plan carefully and have the right gear, tent camping can save you some dough. I even have a friend who’s been known to sleep in the bed of his truck. Otherwise, you’ll have to look for an affordable motel. Fortunately, most small towns have affordable motels with good hospitality. And, many times, they’re safe and clean. I frequently find this is true in the western states.

truck with deer in back

Whether you’re hunting deer or turkey, small town motels are often a great lodging option when you’re out of state.

Turkey Hunting Licenses & Permits

Most, if not all, states sell licenses online. To save hassle when you arrive at your destination, purchase your licenses online beforehand. Study up to be sure you have all the correct licenses, stamps, permits, tags, etc. Getting checked by a warden will make your road trip more expensive if you’re missing mandatory documents.

While you’re online, check into bordering states with OTC tags as well. If you tag out early in one state, border-hopping becomes a real possibility.

Turkey Scouting

Like deer hunting, do some scouting on Google Earth to get a feel for the types of habitat your chosen destination offers. This is a good starting point. Ultimately, though, turkeys are where you find them.

Hunting looking at Google Earth map

Google Earth is a great starting point for researching potential hunting spots when traveling out of state. Just be sure to identify several areas in case some of them don’t pan out.

When you arrive to hunt, drive the perimeters of your hunting area(s). Glass for birds during daylight, and listen for gobbling at dawn and dusk. During a recent South Dakota bowhunt, my wife and I were cruising along a dirt road that borders public land when she spotted black puffs in a colossal dead cottonwood tree. At least one was a tom. That intel was priceless. To know exactly what tree a tom is roosted in really levels the odds. By the way, I arrowed that tom the following morning at 4 yards.

Knock on Doors

Sometimes public land doesn’t yield what you hope it will. Again, turkeys are where you find them, and if they’re not on public land, or crowds are pressuring them, pack up and look for birds on private land. I’ve never struggled to obtain permission to hunt turkeys. In fact, I get more yeses than nos.

On a semi-recent Nebraska turkey road trip, I was hunting on 700-plus acres of public ground with excellent turkey habitat. But, it was early in April and snow was still on the ground. So, the birds hadn’t yet moved into the canyon I was hunting, and were flocked up on the high ground bordering the public land. So, I vacated the public stuff and knocked on two doors before gaining permission to hunt a 13-acre parcel that held two gobblers, some jakes and hens. I arrowed one of the toms within a half-hour of daylight the following morning.

If the birds aren’t cooperating on public land, don’t be afraid to knock on doors to ask for permission. Through the years the author has had far greater success obtaining permission to hunt turkeys than he has deer. Photo – John Hafner.

The key is to treat people nicely, and always be outgoing when you’re in public. I chat with people at filling stations, grocery stores and restaurants, which has led to multiple hunting opportunities. That’s why I love small towns with friendly, genuine people. If they know that you spent the time and money to drive to their town, and you’re helping the community by paying for fuel, lodging and groceries, etc., they’ll likely grant you permission to hunt their land or at least steer you to someone who will.

Take a Gas Miser

Unlike deer hunting, harvested turkeys are easily transported in fuel-efficient vehicles. Plus, you need not carry half a dozen treestands and multiple totes with hunting clothing. In fact, a sedan or small SUV is perfect for a turkey road trip. Of course, this shaves off more expenses than driving a gas hog.

spring longbeards

After leaving public ground and knocking on doors, McDougal thumped this gorgeous Nebraska gobbler.

Another idea for saving cash is to go with a family member or friend. If you ride with them, chip in for fuel, and if they ride with you, hopefully they’ll split gas receipts with you. The same goes for lodging. These are just a couple more ways to make the road trip more affordable.

Have a Blast

I love turkey hunting because the pressure is low (unlike hunting whitetails during the rut, which is a more expensive hunt), and it’s a far more active hunt. You get to be aggressive and try new things rather than sit day after day on an 18 x 30-inch platform. The goal is to have fun, and regardless if you get a bird or not, you’ll probably learn a lot. Put on a happy face and go harpoon a big boss gobbler in another state. It’s a blast!

bowhunters with dead turkey

Clinton Fawcett traveled to Wyoming from his home state of Illinois to harvest this bird.

Darron McDougal
Darron McDougal is a full-time freelance outdoor writer/editor who lives in Antigo, WI with his bride, Becca. He's hunted in 12 states and successfully taken elk, bear, hogs, turkeys, pronghorn, whitetails, and mule deer, most with archery equipment on DIY hunts. The McDougals enjoy all things hunting and shooting. They believe in God and love to travel.
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