Road Tripping for turkeys: Planning your 2014 Spring Hunts

Short of a thunderous gobble on the roost, nothing gets a spring gobbler hunter’s thoughts racing more than the words “road trip.”
Turkey hunters, quite simply, love to take their spring gobbler pursuits on the road – to other states and, in many cases, in search of other subspecies beyond the Easterns they hunt at home.
The quest for turkey hunting’s Grand Slam (harvesting the Eastern, Rio Grange, Merriam’s and Osceola subspecies), the Royal Slam (adding the Gould’s turkey) or the World Slam (tacking on the Ocellated turkey) takes hunters far and wide as they fill tags and pile up countless memories.
Fortunately, the environs in which these grand birds are found are special places – breathtakingly scenic at times, with friendly locals always ready to chat and offer advice or encouragement. Whether you fly across country or hit the highway, each turkey-hunting road trip is special.
But some require a bit more planning than others. Depending on where you’re headed, some states have limited license availability for nonresident hunters and there are application deadlines for applying for the coveted tags.
Here’s a lineup of some of the hottest turkey hunting states that have license application deadlines.

Florida

The road to a Grand Slam goes through the Florida, since the Sunshine State is the only locale in which the Osceola subspecies can be found. That’s not necessarily a bad thing for northern hunters; you get a trip out of the snow in March and a jumpstart on the spring gobbler season.

A guided trip for Osceolas can be a bit pricey, but many hunters go that route. Still, there are plenty of Wildlife Management Areas that can offer quality hunting. Some of those are available without a special permit. Others require a lottery-type drawing for access.

One thing worth noting: on private land all-day turkey hunting is allowed. Public land/WMA hunts have shooting hours until 1 p.m.

You can actually parlay an Osceola hunting trip with a family vacation to Disney World if you’d like. I had a friend who did just that, and I still accuse him of shooting his Florida longbeard while wearing camouflage Mickey Mouse ears.

Hunting dates vary by zone, generally opening March 1. There’s a two-bird limit, with few exceptions. Non-resident turkey permits run $126.50, and there are some WMAs where you need to apply early for the lottery drawing.

South Dakota

Hunt the famed Black Hills and tag a beautiful, vocal Merriam’s gobbler with a white-tipped fan? Check. Stop by the national treasure of Mount Rushmore? Check. Visit the breathtaking Badlands National Park? 

Check.

South Dakota offers a perfect spring gobbler road trip, and not just in the Black Hills region. You can also get a “prairie” tag for other parts of the state, some of which have a two-bird limit. And there’s tons of public land hunting, especially in the Black Hills.

The spring season application process opens in mid-January, with a late February deadline. The traditional start for the season is the second Saturday in April, running through the third Sunday in May. It includes a prairie firearms season, archery season, Black Hills season and Custer State Park season.

If you’re traveling by air, here’s a tip: fly to Denver and rent a vehicle from there. You’ll save some bucks taking that final leg into Rapid City, the drive is easy and scenic and you can stop at Cabela’s in Sidney, Neb., or Rapid City. Or both.

The Black Hills season opens April 13, but the lengthy archery season kicks off April 6. Non-resident tags are $85 or $100, depending on zone. The application deadline is Feb. 18.

Kansas

Make no mistake, there’s a lot more to Kansas hunting than big whitetails. That’s why serious turkey hunters are drawn each year to various parts of the state, which holds not only Rio Grande turkeys but Easterns and hybrids, as well as Merriam’s in the northwest corner. Choose your destination wisely if you’re looking for a Rio.

Permits are unit-specific, but the good news is there’s no lottery drawing and you’re guaranteed of getting a tag. Most units allow you to take two birds.

There’s an archery-only season that generally runs April 1-9, with the regular season opener the following day, running well into May.

Kansas offers some fine “Walk-In” area hunting, and there are numerous outfitters with prime property and lots of it. Also, simply knocking on doors might gain you access for turkeys, which aren’t looked upon the same as the state’s trophy whitetails.

Nebraska

Another state where you have to choose wisely when you go: Nebraska has tons of birds, but some are Easterns, others are Rio Grandes and there’s also hybrid crosses. If you’re looking for a Merriam’s, try the turkey-rich panhandle of the state.

In addition to the good news about turkey numbers, the state also boasts plenty of public land, although you can also go the private land, guided route.

All-day hunting – as well as on Sundays – is allowed in the spring, and there’s no problem securing turkey tags. Just how many turkeys are there? Well, the state has gone to a three-bird spring limit; that should tell you something.

Tags are easily had, which isn’t surprising given the turkey population. Seasons are liberal as well, including youth and archery-only opportunities. A nonresident tag costs $90.

Wyoming

Parts of Wyoming offer fine spring gobbler hunting, and you won’t find a better backdrop to take a

Merriam’s longbeard. Hunt the eastern portion of the state, tag a tom and have your picture taken with the Devil’s Tower geological wonder in the background.

Most Wyoming spring gobbler hunts take place on private land and ranches. Non-resident tags are $72, with an application period that has in the past started Jan. 1.

Season dates vary by unit, you can hunt all day and, chances are you’ll want to return sometime to pursue the plentiful pronghorn antelope, known locally by many as “range maggots.”

Montana

Known more for its elk and fly fishing opportunities, Montana holds decent numbers of Merriam’s, notably in the eastern part of the state.

There’s an early March application deadline for turkey tags

Application deadline for turkey permits is generally mid-March, with the season running from mid-April through mid-May. Licenses are $115.

Missouri

Even though you’ll be hunting Easterns in the Show Me State – the same subspecies you can kill back home – that doesn’t stop scores of turkey hunters from visiting Missouri each spring.

And why not? The state annually is one of the top turkey producers in the country, licenses are available over the counter and there’s a two-bird limit.

A youth hunt kicks off the season, and the regular season typically opens in mid-April and runs through mid-May. You can hunt until 1 p.m.

Be prepared for sticker shock when you get your non-resident turkey tag: at $190, it’s about as pricey as it gets.

Iowa

Many hunters – at least those fortunate enough to secure an Iowa tag – combine their Missouri trip with a jaunt over to The Hawkeye State for a crack at a massive gobbler with a thunderous gobble. These corn-fed giants regularly weigh into the high 20s.

But it won’t be easy. Tags are limited and zone-specific, with a January application process.
You can hunt all day in Iowa, and the seasons are split into four sections after a youth season kickoff in early April.

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