Turkey Hunting on a Budget
The vital part of turkey hunting on a budget, if you don’t own land all over the United States, or know someone who does, is being able to rely on public ground. East of the Mississippi River this is going to be a bit more difficult, but not impossible. If you have to splurge and pay someone to put you on a bird, try to hire a guide that doesn’t require you stay in a luxury lodge. Then, you can camp and just meet him at a designated spot each morning until you’re tagged out. Either way, “following the green” out of Florida and taking a grand slam is a feat most turkey hunters dream of but never achieve because they think it’s too expensive. Let us say, you can do it.
Outfit Your Vehicle
Change the oil, rotate the tires, check the spark plugs, etc, etc. These things are obvious. What we sometimes don’t think about is the real possibility of sleeping in our vehicles on long road trips. Why waste money on a motel room with a hard bed when you can lay a feather-soft mattress in the back of your truck or SUV?
If you have an SUV, pack light and don’t pile a ton of equipment in the back. Truck owners simply need a camper shell. You guys have the advantage of stowing gear in the back seat and sleeping in the bed. How ironic.
If you have your vehicle outfitted properly and are prepared to camp when necessary or if you just want a night beneath the stars, then you’re a poster child for turkey hunting on a budget. It would be ideal for each person traveling to have their own one-man tent. These pack down small and won’t take up much room in the gear department. No matter where you go in this country, barring the major metropolitan areas, you’re likely going to find places to camp. Or, at the very least, crash in the back of your vehicle for a few hour’s sleep.
Learn to Cook
Remember when you left home for the first time? It was ramen noodles and rice for a lot of us. We’re not saying starve yourself, but you could go in a grocery with a $100 and come out with enough food to last for a week or so without ever having to pay a restaurant bill. A cooler takes up a bit of room but can be stashed under the vehicle when you’re ready to sleep at night.
Don’t forget your cast iron skillet, a spatula and a bottle of olive oil. These will come in handy along with a small camp stove. For whatever reason, food never tastes as good in society as it does when prepared somewhere out in the woods with the most simple ingredients.
Giving yourself a good opportunity at an Osceola in Florida may require hiring a guide or outfitter. Florida can be brutal to hunt for those unfamiliar with the lay of the land. The state is a mixture of pasture, woods and swamplands that breed snakes, spiders, fire ants and countless other creatures that bite or sting. That said, plan your trip around campgrounds. Just because you hire a guide doesn’t mean you’ll be required to stay in a fancy lodge. Doing it on the cheap means turning your vehicle or tent in a four-star resort.
Florida’s season opens in early March. Warmer air should be returning to the area, but pack for the cold just in case. Orange blossoms are blooming and spreading their wonderful fragrance. Mosquitoes are hatching and spreading their not-so-pleasant presence in the ears of anyone who will listen. That said, PURCHASE A THERMACELL. We cannot stress this enough. No turkeys and a thousand mosquito bites is sheer misery.
Pack hip boots or at least knees highs. It’s Florida. There’s a lot of water. Don’t let wet feet cut the day short. An Osceola is not afraid to get its legs wet.
If you hunt Florida for a few years and are able to feel out some places that are open to the public and have turkeys, then by all means go DIY. Just don’t ever walk off into an unknown land blind. It’s better to continuously strike out than run the risk of not coming out.
Alabama is a bit more accessible than Florida. The season opens in mid March when it’s usually still a bit cool though not unbearable. Birds are just starting to go out on their own, depending on the temperature. So, if you plan accordingly and arrive with a warm front, you won’t have much trouble firing up a lonely gobbler.
Camping won’t be a problem in Alabama either, especially in the lower part of the state, aptly known as L.A. (Lower Alabama). The 32,000-acre Freedom Hills Wildlife Management Area in Colbert County is mostly made up of mature hardwoods - great habitat for turkeys. Same with the 57,000-acre Choccolocco WMA in Cleburne County. It’s a hilly piece of ground covered in longleaf pines with some mature hardwoods in the bottomlands. Hunters are killing about 100 birds per year there.
Just to the north, the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency has created some of the best public hunting in the Southeast. You could try your luck in Appalachia, eastern Tennessee, but we’d suggest central where, if the turkeys aren’t cooperating, you can at least take a day off in Nashville. There are plenty of camping areas in that part of state. It’s even permitted on several of the WMAs.
It’s time to head west. On the other side of Kansas City in Kansas, Missouri and Nebraska, you can just about take your pick what with the few million acres of accessible land packed with Rio Grandes. And some Merriam’s. Even some hybrids between the two.
Nebraska and Kansas have long been favorites of ours. The upshot is that you can hunt on the border of either state then jog on over the line once you’ve tagged out in either/or. There’s plenty of camping and cheap motels out in the Midwest. Find the right town with the right diner and you can eat your fill of prime rib and potatoes for next to nothing. The good people are of Middle America love their beef!
Turn left to Texas and you enter a state with a population totaling half a million turkeys, mostly the Rio with some Easterns. DIY down in the Lone Star State is again, not impossible, but the Wildlife Management Areas get hit pretty hard all season long. You’re better off paying an outfitter. Look on the bright side, it won’t be near as much as a deer hunt.
Keep driving toward the Pacific in Montana, Wyoming and Idaho and you’re going to find millions of acres of accessible public land, much of it with little hunter pressure compared to back east. While the snow birds do live in the Midwest, the population gets more dense the farther you drive toward the sunset on I-80. We’re just going to repeat ourselves here when we say that camping and turkeys abound out that way. Research will give you hints about where to go.