Three Turkey Hunts To Plan Now

If you’ve saved up some money for a spring turkey outing in another state, consider one of these three destinations.

by Darron McDougal

My head bobbled back and forth as I drove a two-track road somewhere in central Florida. Several hundred yards from the property line, I parked my Silverado and killed the engine. Darkness was fast approaching, so I raised my binoculars to see if any Osceola turkeys were staging along a field edge near some roosting trees. My binos revealed a cluster of birds walking directly away from me. Unable to distinguish gender or maturity in the waning light, I’d return before dawn the following morning.

As I trekked across the property loaded down with my bow, decoys, ground blind and camera gear, I couldn’t help but hope that at least one of the birds I spotted the evening before was a mature gobbler. With darkness still covering me, I popped up my Primos Double Bull blind about 150 yards from the field edge, stuck my Dave Smith decoys in the dirt and prepared for the show.

There was minimal gobbling, but a large tom soon fluttered down along the field edge. He spied my decoys from afar and listened to my calls, but the Florida jungle swallowed him up. Hens flew down into the field and meandered about while feeding. Suddenly, the same thick jungle that had swallowed tom number one spat out three different gobblers, and they instantly beelined toward my decoys. I drew my bow as they postured next to my decoy, and when they separated, I arrowed one of them.

Tons of turkey-hunting adventures await across North America, but consider one of these for your next out-of-state hunt.

Central/South Florida

Florida has two wild turkey subspecies. Up north in the panhandle are Easterns, and central and south Florida are home to the coveted Osceola. There are a few basic schools of thought for hunting Florida’s Osceola turkey. First, you can attempt a low-odds hunt with an OTC tag on a non-quota WMA (wildlife management area). Expect fierce hunting pressure and few turkeys. Next, you can apply for a quota WMA permit (limited to a set number of hunters). You can also put a bunch of chances in the hat for a Special Opportunity hunt on a prime WMA. Finally, you can either book a guided or semi-guided hunt with an outfitter.

I began my Florida hunt on a non-quota WMA. If I recall, hunting days were Saturday, Sunday and Wednesday. I didn’t see any turkeys on day one. On day two, I saw a spooky jake. On the third day, I saw zilch. And I was more than a mile off the road in prime habitat during all three outings, which provides a glimpse as to what you can anticipate on a non-quota WMA.

If you want to try your luck at the Special Opportunity or quota hunts, entry/applications open in November. That means you’re out of luck for 2024 unless there are leftovers. But, it’s never too early to start planning, so set a reminder for this coming November so that you can get in on the drawings for a quality WMA hunt.

Darron McDougal bow-bagged this Osceola tom on a semi-guided hunt in central Florida. (Photo by Darron McDougal)

I took the bird noted in my opener on a semi-guided hunt with Jeff Budz of Tag It Worldwide. He offers semi-guided and fully-guided hunts. I was shown the property I could hunt, and then the training wheels were removed. This was my cup of tea. It put me on a property with plenty of birds, and I was able to choose where to set up and hunt. Today, you can expect semi-guided hunts to run around $2,500 or so, depending on the outfitter. Fully guided hunts are a bit more.

There’s no place to be like Florida in the month of March during the turkey season. (Photo by Darron McDougal)

Regardless, Florida’s south zone opens in early March, with the north zone opening around mid-March. This is much earlier than most states, so you won’t likely miss any turkey hunting in your home state while you’re soaking up Florida’s wonderful sunshine. You might even marry up an Osceola hunt with a few beach days and/or some deep-sea fishing.

Wisconsin

My home state of Wisconsin distributes turkey tags through a drawing (the annual application deadline is December 10). Leftovers go on sale toward the end of March (each zone has an initial sale date). Each tag is valid for a specific 7-day time period, of which there are six. The first two time periods for every hunt zone are always drawn out, but a couple of zones usually have leftovers for time periods three through six. Some zones have leftovers only for time periods five and six.

The Badger State has healthy Eastern wild-turkey populations, and gobblers here offer a classic Midwest hunting experience in the state’s timber and on its farmlands. This is a gobbler that McDougal recently drew in for a 15-yard shot using a fan as a decoy on private land which he’d secured permission to hunt. (Photo by Darron McDougal)

A nonresident spring turkey license is $65 each, but you’ll also need a $5.25 turkey stamp and each harvest authorization (tag) runs $15. You’re allowed to purchase one harvest authorization per day while they’re available. Youth hunters 12 years old or younger pay only $7 for the turkey license.

Certain parts of the Badger State offer plenty of state-owned public hunting lands, state and national forests, and private lands open for public hunting via Managed Forest Law (MFL). The state’s central and southern portions offer rich agriculture and healthy turkey populations. The big woods of northern Wisconsin have fewer birds that are more spread out, but you’ll have little hunting competition and plenty of public timber to roam in. The Mississippi River corridor offers a mixture of bluffs, timber and rolling farmlands with solid bird numbers.

Wisconsin has many state-owned DNR lands with superb turkey habitat and decent to excellent hunting. (Photo by Darron McDougal)

Wisconsin Easterns can be difficult to hunt, especially on public lands where they’re heavily pursued. Think out of the box or hike deep into a public parcel, and you might find a tom or two that no one has played with. Another option is to hit a bunch of different small and overlooked parcels (there are lots of 40-acre parcels in the MFL program). I focus on parcels that adjoin agriculture on private lands and especially those with mature timber ideal for roosting. While Wisconsin Easterns play a good game, the active hunter can keep moving all day and often find a tom that will respond to calling.

South Dakota

The Mount Rushmore State offers diverse turkey hunting opportunities. From the big Ponderosa forests of the Black Hills to the timbered river breaks along the Missouri River to the cattle ranch country on the barren plains, you can pick from a few different flavors. While the first drawing has already been completed, there are second and third draws coming up. And then everything remaining after that will be available as leftovers. You’re allowed to possess an unlimited number of leftover prairie tags as long as they’re available.

The author and his wife chased a flock of 12 South Dakota toms for a few miles before this one offered a 45-yard shot. (Photo by Darron McDougal)

Want to skip the lottery drawings and ease the worry of obtaining a leftover? No problem! You can apply for one guaranteed Black Hills tag, and if you’re a bowhunter, you can apply for a guaranteed archery tag valid statewide (with a few special exceptions). Nonresident tags are $100.

The Black Hills have tens of thousands of forest service acres to stretch your legs on. A few different national grasslands have turkeys on them in very specific bottoms with suitable roosting trees. Most riparian settings with trees hold turkeys. Foot-access hunting is allowed across the state on many Walk-In Areas (private lands open for public hunting), and state-managed Game Production Areas are another solid bet that usually have plenty of cover and wildlife plantings.

Although turkeys can be found in some of the most open habitat with minimal trees, the safest bet is to look along cottonwood-lined river bottoms. (Photo by Darron McDougal)

South Dakota’s turkeys are roamers upon the spring thaw, commonly traveling several miles daily. Also, don’t always anticipate toms to use the same roost day after day, as they sometimes change it up. I’ve seen this multiple times. Expect a very physically active hunt.

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