2021’s Top Turkey States
By Ted Marks
With 2020 in the rearview mirror and bluer skies undoubtedly ahead, the 2021 turkey season is slated to be a bright spot. DIY destination turkey hunts are certainly available for those looking to add a little mystique to their season. Here’s a list of our favorite regional locales for 2021.
- Pennsylvania – With the combination of the Allegheny National Forest, State Forest Lands, and State Game Lands, access in the Keystone State is not a problem. Proof of a negative COVID test within 72 hours of arrival is required.
- New York – Hunting in the Adirondacks is a breathtaking experience. While turkey numbers have declined over the years, the abundance of public access in the Upstate allows hunters to spread out and find birds. Visitors must fill out a Travel Health Form, but neighboring residents are exempt.
- Tennessee – With one of the healthiest flocks in the US, Tennessee has abundant habitat and public land access in the Cherokee National Forest. No travel restrictions are in place.
- Florida – As the only state where hunters can bag an Osceola, Florida’s lax travel restrictions and nearly 6 million acres of state-managed WMAs give hunters a unique, swampy experience.
- Missouri – With possibly the largest turkey flock in the US, Missouri is a “must-do” for destination hunters. The Mark Twain National Forest offers access opportunities, and the lack of travel restrictions makes visiting a breeze.
- Michigan – With an abundant population in most of the Lower Peninsula and over 7 million acres of public land managed by the USFS and the Department of Natural Resources, Michigan and its lack of travel restrictions make a destination hunt easy.
- Kansas – While Kansas isn’t loaded with public land, its Walk-in Hunting Access program is top in the country. Hunters can find both Easterns or Rio Grandes. No travel restrictions if you haven’t been on a cruise.
- Montana – For a unique setting and beauty like no other, consider Montana. The southeastern part of the state is the best place to find Merriams. Hunt Custer National Forest or The Missouri River Breaks. No travel restrictions.
- California – Northern California is vast and rich with birds. Hunt the Mendocino National Forest and the Shasta-Trinity National Forest. Travelers are encouraged but not required to quarantine.
- Oregon – The Beaver State is a sleeper for public land turkey hunting. Hunt west of Interstate 5. Travelers are encouraged but not required to quarantine.
How to Find Turkeys
Public land turkey hunting can be filled with tremendous advantages and undoubtable challenges. One of the main advantages is the ability to hunt sizable tracts of land. In many cases hunters can study a map to find ideal spots or drive backroads while periodically stopping to call.
When evaluating where to find trophy birds, think about their primary springtime needs: security, sustenance, strutting, and moisture. Turkeys find security in mature timber that’s raised off the ground. In areas with sparse timber, like parts of the Great Plains, turkey populations can be directly traced to areas with adequate timber.
Sustenance is found in areas that support insects, seeds, or grasses. Swamps, meadows, and timbered ridges are areas that serve as a buffet for hungry turkeys.
While strutting is not a need for most of the year, it is a critical behavior in the spring. Males will usually strut in open, sunny areas where they can see and hear a long way. Meadows, logging roads, and ridges with mature timber are often favored.
Moisture is critical for turkeys, especially during mating and nesting times. Swamps, creek and river bottoms as well as areas with ample ponds or flood water are common locales.
When to Hunt
The single biggest challenge of hunting public land is avoiding the masses. As a destination hunter, the biggest advantage you have over a local hunter is the fact that you’re there for the long-haul. Where a local hunter will work during the week and hunt on the weekends, plan your destination hunt around weekdays while using weekends for travel. In most cases, public hunting areas will see less pressure Monday through Friday than on Saturday and Sunday.
Eager public land males can also be easier to find midday or in the afternoon. As the season progresses and toms pair with hens on the roost, toms will leave hens midday after breeding occurs. Toms also commonly develop an aversion to being “huntable” in the mornings due to more consistent hunting pressure and can often relax as shadows lengthen.
As the COVID-19 era hopefully comes to a close, a destination turkey hunt in 2021 could be just what the doctor ordered. Do your homework and commit first and foremost to having a good time. Having a great attitude won’t guarantee that turkeys gobble, but win or lose, it’ll make the drive home all the sweeter.