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Oklahoma 2018 Spring Gobbler Report

Oklahoma’s 2018 spring turkey hunting season will start a half-hour before sunrise April 6 in all areas of the state except the Southeast Region. The season will run through May 6. In the eight-county Southeast Region, youth spring turkey season will be April 21-22, and the regional turkey season will be April 23 to May 6.

Based on field reports submitted in the past few days by Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation personnel, habitat conditions vary from west to east, and bird numbers should comparable to last season. The timing of spring breeding activities for Oklahoma’s wild turkeys seems to running about normal.

By region, here are some insights for turkey hunters this spring.

NORTHWEST REGION
Reported by Eddie Wilson, Northwest Region Senior Biologist

Current Gobbler Activity: The birds around Canton and in the eastern parts of the region are close to normal regarding spring breakup. Birds toward the west of the region are further behind and are just starting to show signs of breaking out of their winter flocks.

Condition of Habitat: Habitat conditions are extremely dry through most of the northwest counties and the Panhandle. For the most part, few spring plants greening up, and winter wheat is in mostly poor condition to nonexistent. From Woodward and west, about 1.5 inches of rain or less has fallen over the past 180 days, and most of that came in September. The east side of the region is in slightly better condition but is still experiencing drought conditions. We did have good rainfall last August, so plenty of nesting cover is available on wildlife management areas.

Reports From Landowners and Scouting Hunters: Overall, turkey numbers are stable in the northwest and will compare closely to last spring’s population. The exception would be areas that were burned in last spring’s wildfires; numbers are lower in that region. The extreme drought has changed the turkey patterns, and I haven’t been seeing birds where I normally do on Cooper and Fort Supply WMAs. Hopefully the region will get some rain and green up, and bird patterns will get back closer to normal.

WMAs in the Region: Canton, Cooper and Fort Supply are the most popular spring turkey hunting Wildlife Management Area destinations in the region. Most every WMA in the region offers spring turkey hunting opportunities. Don’t forget to check on Oklahoma Land Access Program (OLAP) turkey hunting opportunities. Be sure to check the regulations regarding the WMA you choose to hunt: A number of the areas have a one-tom limit per hunter, and shooting hours close at 7 p.m. daily on some areas.

Best Tips:

1. Pre-scout the area you choose to hunt.

2. Take your time, and give the birds plenty of time to get to you. You may have to call in the hens to see a tom.

3. Try not to call too much.

Biggest Mistakes:

1. Not getting away from the roads and getting deeper into the woods.

2. Hunting too close to the roost.

3. Not being prepared for all types of weather conditions.

Opening Day Expectations: Be ready to encounter other hunters and always be aware of your surroundings when calling turkeys, especially on wildlife management areas. As mentioned earlier, conditions are extremely dry and bird patterns are not necessarily normal. Things are likely going to be different from years past regarding turkey locations, especially during early season. I expect the success rate to be a little lower during early season on Cooper and Fort Supply this year. Late season may lead to a higher concentration of birds using the WMAs. For those planning to camp, most of northwestern Oklahoma is under a governor’s burn ban, so no campfires. Good luck and hunt safe!

SOUTHWEST REGION
Reported by Ron Smith, Southwest Region Senior Biologist

Current Gobbler Activity: Turkeys began to move into their early spring pattern about March 15. Smaller groups are making their way toward traditional breeding grounds, with birds also being seen in new areas. Continuing drought conditions across western counties may be pushing birds a bit farther from winter roosts in search of better forage. Gobbler activity is steadily increasing and will be in full swing for opening day.

Condition of Habitat: Dry weather has returned with significant effects on habitat, though recent light rains would allow quick green-up. Overall cover will be thinner than in the previous few years. Winter wheat varies from poor to fair.

Reports From Landowners and Scouting Hunters: Good numbers of birds in traditional areas and improved numbers in areas where birds may have been nearly absent for a number of years. Gobblers are steadily breaking up into smaller groups and beginning to display. Hens remain in larger groups and are not yet receptive to gobbler activity.

WMAs in the Region: WMAs that consistently produce good turkey numbers include Packsaddle, Black Kettle and Ellis County. Areas that will produce fewer birds but still offer good hunting opportunity include Sandy Sanders, Altus-Lugert, Waurika and Fort Cobb.

Best Tips: Hunters should put as much time as possible into scouting. Historic areas may have shifted slightly due to drought, fire and ice storm impacts on roost sites and habitat. Patience and willingness to adapt will be helpful. As always, use the bird’s natural behavior to plan your approach and tactics. Usual early and late-hour hunting will be productive, though midday patterns may also provide opportunity.

Biggest Mistakes: Failure to scout is often the biggest mistake that hunters make. Not everyone is a champion turkey caller, but willingness to adapt methods and learn from others may be helpful. Avoid overcalling. Listening to birds’ normal activities and working your way into the system is more productive than blasting away with every call in your arsenal.

Opening Day Expectations: Hunters can expect turkey numbers to be at or slightly above 2017. Gobblers will be fully engaged and provide a great show.

CENTRAL REGION
Reported by John Carter, Wildlife Biologist

Current Gobbler Activity: Winter flocks are breaking up with gobblers strutting and gobbling. Many hens are still in larger groups.

Condition of Habitat: Good on most WMAs. With the recent rainfall, green-up is progressing rapidly. Plenty of nesting habitat should be available due to the rainfall received in July and August of last year.

Reports From Landowners and Scouting Hunters: Gobbling activity is good. Gobblers are actively searching for hens. Some hens are still in winter flocks.

WMAs in the Region: In the north, Kaw WMA holds a good number of birds. If you are looking for turkeys in the central part of the state, Deep Fork WMA is a good choice. In south-central Oklahoma, Hickory Creek WMA or Arbuckle Springs WMA should provide some gobbling action.

Best Tips:

1. Remember that how you set up is the most important part of calling in a gobbler.

2. Scouting is more important than calling.

3. Carry binoculars and use them.

Biggest Mistakes:

1. Don’t try to get too close to a gobbling bird; it has better eyes than you do.

2. Don’t leave just because a bird will not gobble. Many times, a gobbler with hens will strut and not gobble, and if you have patience the bird might come in.

Opening Day Expectations: Opening day should provide good hunting with birds responding well to calls as breeding activity increases. We should see a good age structure of gobblers after a few years of average hatches. Expect hunter numbers to be high due to the season opener being a Friday.

NORTHEAST REGION
Reported by Bruce H. Burton, Northeast Region Wildlife Supervisor

Current Gobbler Activity: Birds are gobbling strong on roosts and often at any time of the day. Many gobblers are breeding hens and defending harems, leaving young birds (jakes) easy to call. Most adult toms are currently with hens a large part of the day.

Condition of Habitat: Unusually mild, dry winter and early spring led to lots of wildfires and controlled burns in the region. Seasonal rains in the last few weeks have green-up well under way on most disturbed soils. Look for these areas or for good strutting locations near nesting cover.

Reports From Landowners and Scouting Hunters: Birds are now highly visible and very vocal. Spring populations appear to be up slightly from last year in much of the region.

WMAs in the Region: Cherokee, Cookson, Spavinaw and Copan WMAs all appear to have good turkey numbers. Hunters should check regulations on all state areas as they may differ from statewide regulations.

Best Tips:

1. Hunt afternoons when you have fewer hunters and hens to compete with.

2. Avoid overcalling. A lonely tom can find you from a great distance with just one call.

3. Be patient. Even though you might not be sure if a bird is coming, wait him out.

Biggest Mistakes:

1. Always travel through the woods with blaze orange visible.

2. Overcalling. Every time you call, you have the opportunity to give yourself away.

3. Don’t attempt to get too close to a located bird. Get settled in, concealed, and make the bird come to you.

Opening Day Expectations: Lots of birds and lots of pressure. Success will depend on being patient. Weather will probably determine whether opening weekend is a boom or a bust. Even if it is wet, hunters can capitalize by being ready every time there is a break in the weather.

SOUTHEAST REGION
Reported by Jack Waymire, Senior Biologist

REMINDER: Southeast Region 2018 Spring Turkey Season Open April 23-May 6.
Current Gobbler Activity: Spring breakup is beginning, with hens establishing their nests and laying eggs. Good gobbling, strutting and breeding activity is being observed.

Condition of Habitat: The habitat conditions are good. There are still some acorns available and spring green-up is under way. In some areas, heavy spring rains may cause some flooding in the lower-lying areas and could have an effect on habitat.

Reports From Landowners and Scouting Hunters: Gobbling activity is occurring early and late in the day, but some reports of midday gobbling also. Reports indicate good strutting and gobbling activity.

WMAs in the Region: McGee Creek WMA, Honobia Creek WMA, Three Rivers WMA.

Best Tips:

1. Begin scouting in areas where you found turkeys last spring.

2. Be patient.

3. Once a gobbler responds to your call, be reserved in your calling.

4. Eastern turkeys do not tolerate movement (be still).

5. Expect increased hunting pressure on public lands on weekends.

Biggest Mistakes:

1. Don’t allow too much open space between you and the bird. Try to set up in a place where a turkey will be in shotgun range when it comes into view. (In other words, use the topography to your advantage.)

2. Allowing yourself to become impatient and failing to remain still. A turkey may come to you in silence.

Opening Day Expectations: Expect heavy hunting pressure on public lands. If you scouted an area and observed or heard turkeys earlier, don’t leave that area because you haven’t heard any gobbling that morning. Those birds are still in the area. Many hens should be incubating their clutch of eggs at this time, so gobblers could be more responsive from midmorning to midafternoon. Hunt all day if you have the time.

The statewide season bag limit is three tom turkeys per hunter, but daily and season limits for individual counties and WMAs vary. To find out the bag limits for the areas you will hunt along with information about field tagging, E-Check and other turkey hunting requirements, consult the 2017-18 Oklahoma Hunting & Fishing Regulations Guide available at www.wildlifedepartment.com, in the “OK Fishing and Hunting Guide” mobile app for Apple and Android, or in print free from license dealers statewide.