Turkey hunting’s “Dirty Dozen” provide some of the hottest spring action you’ll find anywhere.
Diehard turkey hunters are a passionate bunch. Myself included. I’d think twice about driving six to eight hours to only deer hunt for a day or two, but I routinely drive that far, if even to only have the time to turkey hunt for a day. Sure, I have plenty of birds around the house, but if I can lengthen my season by hitting a nearby state with a season that opens earlier, or is open later than ours, I’m in.
So, with most states now offering up pretty decent hunting, here is a list of the top twelve that seem to do it best. That’s right, twelve. It would have been too cliché to name the top five or ten, and the list just happened to come down to a dozen when evaluating them all. These are in no particular order since, depending on what you are looking for, it can be somewhat subjective. One thing is for sure though; in terms of accessible land, bird populations, species offered, location, timing, scenery and opportunities, these states tend to be the best on earth.
The Volunteer State is a top stop for many traveling turkey hunters. Tags aren’t cheap; setting non-residents back $275, but that southern hospitality extends into the generous bag-limit. You can kill four birds in the spring season, making the price of that tag easier to swallow.
Boasting a population of over 300,000 birds, plenty of public land with sizeable turkey populations are also easy to find in Tennessee.
2018 spring season: March 31st – May 13th / Non-resident license – $275
No top-turkey-state article would be complete without Missouri on the list of the best turkey hunting states.
The state is also home to old-school turkey legend Ben Rodgers Lee, the founder of modern turkey hunting. But, even though these things themselves deserve our respect as the nation’s capital of turkey hunting, the state is still one of the best states to chase a longbeard.
With all that being said, don’t think a bird will come all that easy. Hunting pressure is high here, because, like I said, this is the place that put turkey hunting on the map. Resident turkey hunters take their hunting seriously, and non-residents flock here too. Over 100,000 hunters kill roughly 48,000 birds a year in Missouri.
2018 spring season: April 16 – May 6 / Non-resident license – $160
Michigan makes the list mainly for a reason you may not expect; timing. The spring season runs through May 31st in the Wolverine State, and a non-resident tag is cheap; only $69. If you live within a few hours of the state, it is worth the drive.
While hunters in all states surrounding Michigan see their seasons wrapping up in mid-May, Michiganders are still going strong for a couple more weeks. Plus, turkeys are everywhere. All areas of the lower peninsula cough up some pretty darn good hunting, and the birds up there are big. Twenty-five pound gobblers are not uncommon at all. They just seem stocky up there. Think Pure Michigan for pure late season action.
Michigan does have a lower population than the southern and most Midwestern states at around 200,000, but you’ll find that certain areas almost seem overrun with birds. Four-million acres of public land to chase them on means you won’t have to worry about running out of room. 104,000 hunters take about 32,000 birds there each year.
2018 spring season: April 23rd – May 31st / Non-resident license – $69
There are three reasons Kansas made the list: Easterns, Rios and hybrids. Yes sir, in the Sunflower State you can chase them all, sometimes even in the same county. If hunting in western Kansas, though, the Rio Grande’s will be your predominant quarry, as they dominate the western two-thirds of the state. The hybrids are more commonly found in the north-central region of the state, while the Easterns rule the northeast section.
Speaking of Rios, they are easier to kill than the finicky Easterns, so that’s another plus. Rios are much more likely to come to the call, so a Rio hunt can be quite refreshing during a season of banging your head against the wall with Easterns.
Kansas’ ability to offer up multiple species make it unique, and pretty darn cool for hunters, and it also has strong populations (Rio Grande – 175,000 / Eastern – 87,500 / Hybrid – 87,500) of each.
2018 spring season: April 18th – May 31st / Non-resident license – $97.50
Like Michigan, there is primarily one reason for trekking to Florida to chase a gobbler. One very big reason. The Osceola. Yep, select counties in the Sunshine state are the only places on earth you can find these long-shanked, lighter-framed versions of an eastern.
So, if you want to kill one of the only 144,649 Osceola turkeys in existence, then you will have to end up in Florida.
Another plus to hunting in Florida? You can start early. How early? The first week of March kicks things off in Florida in the southern part of the state, with other counties following with openers in mid-March. Florida is a fun and exciting place to crank up the spring turkey season. Non-resident license – $171.50
Like Michigan, Pennsylvania offers a turkey season that runs through May. But that’s not the only reason that makes PA a must-hunt place for turkey hunters. The Quaker State has a deeply rooted turkey hunting tradition, with harvest numbers that are always near the top in the country each year. PA hunters take this spring-time ritual as serious as anybody.
Like Missouri, PA turkey hunters mean business. They’ll be out in full force. Roughly 250,000 hunters hit the woods each spring, and they are successful in killing nearly 36,000 gobblers.
2018 spring season: April 27th – May 31st / Non-resident license – $101.90.
Why does New York make the list? Easy. Yes, it has phenomenal turkey hunting for one, but just as importantly, it is, by far, the best state on the eastern seaboard to hunt them. It doesn’t jump to the front of your mind when thinking of top picks, largely due to location, but the Empire State churns out hunting opportunities much like the Midwest. For those in the Northeast, this is a blessing.
New York has seen its turkey numbers rise in recent years, sporting about 200,000 birds now and 90,000 hunters take about 20,000 birds annually. Season: (TBA) / Non-resident license – $120
South Dakota harbors populations of Easterns, Rios and Merriams, but it is the Merriam’s it can thank for making our list. And get this, South Dakota may not be your best bet overall to kill one, but in the Black Hills specifically, well, there just may not be a better place. Besides the impeccable scenery, this area boasts some pretty downright impressive numbers.
While turkey numbers are low in the state a s a whole, don’t let that scare you. Success rates are higher here than any other state on the list. Yet another reason for it being here.
Want another reason? When in prairie areas, even though numbers can be low, if you are in an area where there are turkeys, hunting them can be pretty easy. A combination duck/pheasant hunt years ago, proved that. We weren’t even there for turkeys, but seeing dozens of them making their way to a tiny woodlot – the only timber around for miles – each evening roost made it pretty obvious to us that perhaps we should get a license and give it a shot. We did the following year and the hunting was fantastic.
2018 spring season: April 13th – May 20th / Non-resident license – $100-$125 (varies by area)
Depending on you ask, some devout turkey hunters may tell you Wisconsin will make the cut if you count the top states on one hand. It is good, there is no doubt. A huge population of birds and tons of public access to them are two reasons why. There are roughly 350,000 birds in the state, and depending on which area of Wisconsin you are hunting, you may find locally outstanding concentrations of them.
In 2017, over 212,000 Badger State hunters killed over 43,000 turkeys.
2018 spring season: there are 6 different 7-day hunting periods, ranging from April 18th – May 29th – Non-resident license – $55
Just as it the case with its deer, ‘Bama is loaded with turkeys; somewhere between 400-500,000 of them in fact. That’s a lot of birds. And there is ample public land to chase them around on too. With these high numbers also comes high harvests, and that’s a good thing. Hunters take over 42,000 birds here each year.
2018 spring season: The spring season opens as early as March 15 (in select zones) and runs until April 30 / Non-resident license – $189.20
The number of birds sure isn’t why Nebraska made the list. At 144,000 birds, it has half or less of what the other states on our list do. But the success rate is a completely different story. 67% of hunters in the Cornhusker State took a bird for a ride in the back of their trucks last season – higher than any other state.
With the flock continuing to grow, you can expect hunter numbers to increase and success rates to drop, but this is still an emerging flock, which means opportunities will increase in the coming years.
2018 spring season: March 25 to May 31 (archery including youth); April 8 to May 31 (youth shotgun); April 15 to May 31 (shotgun) / Non-resident license – $109
As I mentioned, good turkey hunting can be found pretty much anywhere these days. Every state has at least pockets of great hunting for one species or another. These twelve are bucket-listers though, having forged out a reputation, over time or by species available, of being road trip (or even airfare) worthy if you love chasing longbeards in the spring.