OK: Gobbler season opens April 6; biologists report current turkey activity
Spring turkey season opens April 6 in Oklahoma, and biologists' reports from the across the state offer sportsmen early insight going in to the month-long season.
The spring turkey season runs from April 6 through May 6 and is open to shotgun and archery equipment. Seasons on public land may vary from statewide season dates. For regulations, specific firearms and archery requirements, a state map showing individual county bag limits and full details on public lands season dates, consult the current "Oklahoma Hunting Guide."
"Turkeys have begun serious gobbling in the past few days," said Rod Smith, southwest region wildlife supervisor for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation. "Turkey movements and behavior are right on track for a normal breeding season this year."
In southwest Oklahoma, Smith said small groups of jakes have been spotted well away from typical habitat, a sure sign that turkeys are "on the move and about to locate in areas where they'll spend the remainder of the spring." Smith also reports that several groups of hens numbering as many as 12-20 birds have been observed with just two to three tom turkeys per group.
"These observations tell us that all is well in the turkey world and that opening day of turkey hunting season should be similar to what we've experienced the past few years."
Biologist's surveys in western Oklahoma indicate that hunters will find good numbers of wild turkeys throughout that portion of the state.
"It appears there was good reproduction this past summer and that populations will be on par with those observed in 2010, which was a very good year," Smith said.
Smith added that hunters willing to "go to the turkey woods" in inclement weather may still find a tom turkey to hunt.
"Weather seems to affect hunters more than it does turkeys," Smith said. "While weather does have an affect on gobbling, the breeding season continues regardless of wind, temperature or rain. Many fine gobblers have been taken immediately after a spring thunderstorm or on an unusually cold morning."
Further north, biologists report that the break-up of winter flocks may be slightly behind schedule, but provided useful information on current turkey behavior at a number of northwest Oklahoma wildlife management areas. Steve Conrady, northwest region wildlife supervisor, said the movement of birds from traditional winter roost locations to spring nesting habitat has already begun, but close to half of the winter flocks on the area have yet to disperse into smaller groups and individual birds.
But Conrady warns that the break-up of flocks can happen very quickly with warmer weather – which is expected according to weather reports – so hunters should be prepare accordingly. He also added that weather conditions may be affecting the feeding behavior of turkeys, too.
"Drought conditions across the northwest may be altering foraging patterns slightly," Conrady said. "A lack of rainfall has limited growth of winter crops, which are heavily utilized by turkey through the spring until plant growth gets tall enough to discourage turkey use. Turkeys will probably continue to use these green fields longer than normal because of the slower plant growth."
At Cimarron Hills WMA in western Woods Co., birds are still in groups of 20-30 birds, most of which are roosting off of the WMA but access the property during the early to mid morning to forage near food plots or on areas with large amounts of cheat grass. According to Larry Wiemers, biologist for the area, gobbling activity in the area is still slow.
"Hunter success will be dependent on selecting the most likely route the birds will take to a green field area," Wiemers said. "The use of decoys may be helpful to pull toms into range."
Eddie Wilson, biologist at Cooper and Ft. Supply WMAs, and Weston Storer, biologist on Beaver River and Optima WMAs, said turkey flocks are still grouped up on those areas, but toms are starting to strut and gobble. He reports good numbers of jakes and fair numbers of mature toms. On Beaver River and Optima WMAs, winter flocks also are still together, but birds are beginning to exhibit gobbling and strutting behavior. The onset of projected warmer weather as opening day approaches may be just what hunters need in order to find themselves in the middle of a gobbling frenzy April 6.
Though typical spring turkey behavior is beginning to take place in the western portions of the state, things look vastly different in the central region, with activity already well underway.
According to Johnny Herd, central region wildlife supervisor for the Wildlife Department, winter flocks are breaking up and at least two weeks ahead of the normal breeding season schedule.
"If you can find a calm day you will hear gobbling, and you will also find toms henned up," Herd said.
Herd encourages hunters to take advantage of the youth spring turkey season April 2-3 if they know a youngster who would enjoy hunting under adult supervision. Details and regulations for the youth season are available online at wildlifedepartment.com or in the current "Oklahoma Hunting Guide."
According to Herd, "scouting is more productive than any phase of the hunt."
Herd said turkey numbers in the central region are down slightly from last year, but that hunters who take their scouting seriously should have good success. He reminds hunters that "gobbling attracts hunters," so they should be alert in the woods, making safety a top priority.
Reports from the northeast region of the state indicate that spring turkey gobbling activity is underway. Birds are gobbling early on the roost but remain quiet while on the ground, a sure sign they are with hens, according to Craig Endicott, northeast region wildlife supervisor.
"Winter flocks are starting to break up, but hunters will probably still find toms with hens, particularly during the youth season, and somewhat during the regular opening week," Endicott said. "While hunters always have a difficult time luring a mature bird away from hens, persistent patient hunters will have a much better chance of being successful."
Endicott advises hunters to "do plenty of pre-season scouting," in addition to talking with landowners of property where they have permission to hunt in order to learn what observations have been made about turkey activity.
"While the wind is always a factor in Oklahoma, don't let that be discouraging, hunt the wind," Endicott said. "When it's windy, cover more ground to give yourself more opportunity to hear or locate a bird. In addition, patience and continuing to hunt when other hunters have headed home for the morning will pay-off at times."
Endicott says hunters should check locations that have been recently burned if they exist on areas where they hunt, as turkeys make use of such areas.
"There is no doubt that scouting and being familiar with the area you hunt puts you at a distinct advantage," Endicott said. "When the birds aren't gobbling, be persistent, don't give up, and try different strategies and techniques. As normal, the first weekend of the season will bring out plenty of hunters. Don't overlook hunting some areas after the "rush" has subsided or during the week if you have the chance. Don't get too close to a bird on the roost in early season. He may see you approaching since the trees are just starting to bud out."
Endicott also reminds hunters that seasons and regulations on public lands may vary from statewide seasons, so check the current "Oklahoma Hunting Guide" for details on areas they intend to hunt.
In southeast Oklahoma, loggers and scouting hunters have reported hearing some gobbling on the roost before they fly down to the ground in the mornings, and some gobblers are strutting and displaying for several hens.
"It may be difficult to call the gobbler away from the hens but all you need is one to respond," said Jack Waymire, southeast region senior biologist.
Waymire said it has been fairly dry in the region, but habitat conditions are good at this time.
"The vegetation is really beginning to green up, and the warmer nights have contributed to emergence of insects," Waymire said.
In southeast Oklahoma, decoys are reportedly effective, but may be less so on public land where hunting pressure is increased.
Waymire encourages hunters to start in locations where they found turkeys last year.
Huntable populations of turkeys exist in all 77 counties. Every county in Oklahoma has either a one- or two-tom season limit, and an eight-county region in southeast Oklahoma has a combined two-tom season limit. However, persistent hunters can harvest up to their season limit of three tom turkeys in one day, but individual county limits still apply. No more than one tom may be taken in any county with a one-tom limit and no more than two toms may be taken from any county with a two-tom limit. No more than two toms may be taken from Atoka, Choctaw, Coal, Latimer, LeFlore, McCurtain, Pittsburg and Pushmataha counties combined.
To hunt turkeys, sportsmen need an appropriate state hunting license as well as a turkey license, unless exempt. Upon harvesting a turkey, all annual license holders are required to complete the "Record of Game" section on the license form, and all hunters, even lifetime license holders, must attach their name, hunting license number, and date and time of harvest to their turkey as soon as it is harvested. Only toms, or bearded turkeys, may be taken during the spring season, and all turkeys taken east of I-35 must be checked at the nearest open hunter check station, with an authorized Wildlife Department employee or online at wildlifedepartment.com.
For license information and regulations for spring turkey hunting, log on to wildlifedepartment.com or consult the current "Oklahoma Hunting Guide."