Oklahoma Spring Gobbler Report

Oklahoma’s 2017 spring turkey hunting season will start a half-hour before sunrise April 6 in all areas except the Southeast Region. The general spring turkey hunting season will run through May 6. In the eight-county Southeast Region, youth spring turkey season will be April 15-16, and the general turkey season will be April 17 to May 6.

Based on field reports submitted in the past few days by Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation personnel, habitat conditions are generally good to excellent in all regions, and bird numbers should offer some good hunting opportunities.

Warmer conditions earlier in the year have put turkeys in most areas ahead of normal for spring breeding activity. By region, here are some insights for turkey hunters this spring.

Northwest Region
Reported by Eddie Wilson, Northwest Region Senior Biologist

Current Gobbler Activity: Birds have broken up for the most part throughout the northwest counties. Panhandle birds are still reported to be in groups. Birds are gobbling, strutting and breeding with exception of the Panhandle. Bird activity slowed some last week with the cooler temperatures and rain, but it still seems to be ahead of normal.

Condition of Habitat: Habitat conditions are good. Most of the region experienced from 1 to 3 inches of rain last week, so everything is green. Winter wheat is in good condition, and there is plenty of nesting cover available on the WMAs. Recent wildfires have temporarily removed nesting cover on many acres of private land. Most roost trees did suffer at least some damage during the January ice storm.

Reports From Landowners and Scouting Hunters: Landowners are reporting slightly lower numbers this year, compared with the last couple of years. I did get a chance to talk with some youth hunters this past weekend, and several of them were successful in harvesting a bird. Hunters struggled with cool, wet conditions but still got birds to respond to calling.

WMAs in the Region: Three of the most popular Northwest Region wildlife management areas for spring turkey hunting are Canton, Fort Supply and Cooper. But most every WMA in the region provides some turkey hunting opportunity. Be sure to check the regulations regarding the WMA you choose to hunt. A number of the wildlife management areas have a one-tom limit, and shooting hours close at 7 p.m. daily.

Best Tips:
1. Call less.
2. Stay in the woods longer than just the early morning hours.
3. Go deeper into the woods, especially on WMAs.

Biggest Mistakes:
1. Avoid being impatient; give the birds time to get to you.
2. Be sure to scout the area prior to the hunt, and know what to expect.
3. Be still; turkeys can pick up on the slightest movement.

Opening Day Expectations: The weather forecast for opening weekend looks to be good in the northwest. Bird numbers are down slightly in some areas, but there are still a good number of birds to hunt, and habitat and food sources are in good shape. Be prepared to encounter other hunters on Wildlife Management Areas throughout the Northwest Region. Based on the number of interested turkey hunter calls I have received this year, it may be busy. Good luck and hunt safe!

Southwest Region
Reported by Ron Smith, Southwest Region Senior Biologist

Current Gobbler Activity: Turkeys began moving away from winter roosting areas around March 10. Since that time, groups have begun to split into smaller units, with mature toms taking hen groups with them. Toms began to strut about March 20. Since that time, regular display and breeding activity has steadily increased.

Condition of Habitat: Overall habitat condition throughout the region is very good to excellent. Winter wheat is further along than it was in 2016. Two years of good moisture has greatly improved native range condition. Nesting cover will be adequate. Moisture to date in 2017 should encourage good brood-rearing habitat.

Reports From Landowners and Scouting Hunters: Landowners and early scouting hunters have reported steadily increasing activity. Many have noted turkeys in new areas and their absence in more historic places. This is likely the result of turkeys shifting around to new roosts following damage to roost trees.

WMAs in the Region: Turkey hunting destinations in the region include Packsaddle, Black Kettle, Sandy Sanders, Fort Cobb and Waurika WMAs.

Best Tips:
1. Spend as much time scouting as possible. Some of the traditional areas may have moved a bit from previous years.
2. Practice all different kinds of calling methods. The best way to learn is spending time in the field watching and listening to the birds’ social activities and understanding how this all fits into the breeding cycle.
3. As always, use great care while approaching the hunt area to maintain good concealment and minimize movement.

Biggest Mistakes:
1. Leaving the hunt area too early can take a hunter out of the game.
2. Turkeys will have patterns throughout the day that hunters may take advantage of.
3. This all goes back to thorough scouting and patience.

Opening Day Expectations: Hunters should expect a great time in the field. Turkey numbers throughout most of the region will provide ample opportunity. Breeding activity will likely be in full swing, so there will be plenty of action.

Central Region
Reported by Jeff Pennington, Central Region Wildlife Supervisor

Current Gobbler Activity: Current activity varies across the region but is about where you would expect it to be during the first part of April. Birds have broken up, and breeding activity has initiated.

Condition of Habitat: The region went through a dry spell this fall and winter, but recent rains have increased new growth in most of the region. Where moisture has been present, the spring green-up is ahead of “schedule.”

Reports From Landowners and Scouting Hunters: Varied reports: Some landowners and sportsmen report the breeding season is well under way, while others report the winter flock breakups have just occurred in their area.

WMAs in the Region: In north-central Oklahoma, Kaw and Deep Fork WMAs are good bets for turkey hunters. In south-central, Washita Arm and Hickory Creek WMAs provide ample opportunity to harvest a tom.

Best Tips:
1. Try for success around burned patches. Turkeys highly use areas that have been recently burned.
2. Hunt the afternoon, too. Often hunters go hard until midmorning, then give up. Toms may be “henned up” at that time, but may be more receptive later in the day.
3. Hunt late season. Much less competition after the first 10 days of the season.

Biggest Mistakes:
1. Be 100 percent certain of your target to avoid potential accidents.
2. Moving too quickly when you know there is a silent tom in the area.
3. Only hunting the early morning period.

Opening Day Expectations: There has been average reproduction the past four years in the region. Local numbers may vary, but on average hunters in the region should expect to see a balanced age structure. Breeding status and habitat is about where it should be for early April. As always in Oklahoma, weather conditions will play a big role on any individual day.

Northeast Region
Reported by Russell Perry, Biologist

Current Gobbler Activity: With the warm, wet weather we have been having, the winter flocks have broken up, and we are beginning to see breeding activity. Overall, activity is as much as two weeks ahead of what we expect to see this time of year.

Condition of Habitat: Early-onset spring this year has left the habitat in good to excellent condition. Everything is greening up quickly, and there are already lots of bugs available.
Reports From Landowners and Scouting Hunters: Birds have been gobbling in some areas since late February or early March, with some hens exhibiting what appears to be nesting behavior.

WMAs in the Region: All of the Northeast Region WMAs are open to turkey hunting and all share similar good to excellent habitat. Turkey numbers vary somewhat from one WMA to another, but all offer good opportunity.

Best Tips: S
1. Scout the area and birds you intend to hunt and get to know them well.
2. Look for feeding areas; set up where the birds want to be.
Biggest Mistakes:
1. Don’t call too much! Listen to the birds and try to mimic their call frequency and volume.
2. Stay as still as possible. Turkeys have excellent eyesight, and it doesn’t take much movement to put them on alert or on the run.

Opening Day Expectations: Opening day/weekend is usually high volume for hunter numbers. Habitat conditions run from good to excellent, and bird numbers from fair to good. So barring any bad weather, it should be a good time to go hunting.

Southeast Region
Reported by Jack Waymire, Senior Biologist

Current Gobbler Activity: Mixed reports of observations of some single hens, single gobblers and gobblers with hens strutting. Gobbling activity early in the mornings but less during the day.

Condition of Habitat: The Southeast Region has experienced dry conditions from January through March. Good seed availability from last year with an increase in insects this past week. The weather forecast indicates some rain during the first week of April.

The Southeast Region experienced extreme drought conditions from 2004 through 2012 with poor reproduction. In 2013 we had good reproduction, 2014 fair reproduction, and 2015 and 2016 had poor reproduction due to flash flooding.

Reports From Landowners and Scouting Hunters: Reports of toms with hens strutting the past three weeks.

WMAs in the Region: McGee Creek WMA and Three Rivers WMA.

Best Tips:
1. Start scouting for turkeys where you found them last year.
2. Be patient.
3. Set up in a place that has the topography such that when the turkey comes into view, it is within shotgun range.
Biggest Mistakes:
1. Many hunters try to get too close; the turkey is usually not as far away as you think.
2. Do not set up in a place that will limit range of motion of your shotgun.
3. Turkeys will sometimes come in and then circle you looking for what he thinks is a hen.
Opening Day Expectations: Hunting pressure is always high on public lands but not on private property. If possible, try to get away and hunt during the week on public lands because weekends attract more hunters.