5 Best States for DIY Turkey Hunting

by Braxton Taylor

The popularity of out-of-state DIY hunts are on the rise, and turkey hunting is no exception. The recipe for a good, unguided turkey hunt requires a state with a healthy turkey population, abundant public land, and favorable success rates.

With that being said, the best out-of-state turkey hunt for you is likely the state that borders your home state. By hunting your neighboring state, you’re likely to find more time to hunt and might even pull off a quick scouting trip, which will go a long way in getting you started down the right path. Who knows, it might even become a hunt that you can’t help but make every year.

Another wise tactic is one that Tony Peterson regularly preaches while hosting the Wired to Hunt Foundations Podcast. That is, spring turkey hunting can be a great way to get a jump on your whitetail scouting, all while enjoying a good ol’ fashion turkey hunt. Sometimes, we all need a little extra incentive to pack up the truck and commit to an out-of-state adventure.

Honorable Mentions

The good news is that turkey hunting opportunities are still abundant, and whichever state you choose to pursue, it’s hard to go wrong. Many states that didn’t make the list deserve an honorable mention, like my personal favorite, Nebraska. The Cornhusker state is in my backyard, but what’s not to like about Nebraska’s wide-open spaces, white-tipped Merriam’s turkeys, and one of the earliest season start dates in the country?

Likewise, Alabama also has an early season start date. Public land opener dates are slated to begin on April 1 or April 8, depending upon the region you are hunting. This gives the traveling hunter the potential to get a head start on turkey season prior to their opener.

Last but not least, Kentucky deserves a spot on this list. Of all the states on this list, Kentucky has the lowest amount of public land available. However, with an impressive turkey population and healthy success rate, it can’t be ignored. This is also the most expensive nonresident state on the list, but not by a large margin. If you live in a state bordering Kentucky, you’d be remiss not to give Kentucky a look.

Missouri

Turkey Population: Estimated 400,000
2023 Harvest Data: 44,516 turkeys harvested
Public Land: 2,525,000 acres
License Cost: Resident $18, Nonresident $233.50
Season Dates: April 15 – May 5

With the largest population estimate, Missouri takes the first spot on this list. Many stories have been written about iconic turkey hunts through the Ozark Mountains.

Write your own adventure this spring by visiting Missouri’s Ozarks. Two male turkeys may be taken during the season with a few caveats. Only one turkey may be taken during the first week of the season. If a hunter doesn’t harvest a turkey during the first week, they may harvest two turkeys during the remainder of the season. Two turkeys cannot be taken on the same day.

Wisconsin

Turkey Population: 350,000
2023 Harvest Data: 42,439 turkeys harvested
Public Land: 5,167,000 acres
License Cost: Resident $33.25, Nonresident $88.25
Season Dates: April 17 – May 28

Wisconsin comes in as the best nonresident value on the list. $88.25 licenses are a bargain compared to the other states on this list and might help justify fuelling up the gas tank.

This hunt is also a good option for the traveling whitetailer, as Wisconsin has more Boone & Crockett whitetail entries than any other state. Spending a spring in the Wisconsin turkey woods might be your ticket to a Booner ending up in your tailgate this fall.

Tennessee

Turkey Population: 250,000
2023 Harvest Data: 60,335 turkeys harvested
Public Land: 2,356,000 acres
License Cost: Resident $66, Nonresident $305
Season Dates: April 13 – May 26

Tennessee continually harvests more turkeys each year than any other state. Pair this with an above-average amount of public land, it’s hard to ignore the Volunteer State. As an added bonus, Tennessee allows one bearded turkey per day, not to exceed two per season.

Pennsylvania

Turkey Population: 210,000
2023 Harvest Data: 39,500 turkeys harvested
Public Land: 4,170,000 acres
License Cost: Resident $20.97, Nonresident $101.97
Season Dates: May 4 –May 31

Pennsylvania sports some of the highest hunter participation in the country. While that seems like a deterrent, it is justified with an above-average amount of public land and exceptional harvest rates to show for it.

South Dakota

Turkey Population: Estimate unavailable
2023 Harvest Data: 7,458
Public Land: 2,376,000
License Cost: Resident $25, Nonresident $100
(plus Habitat Stamp $10 residents, $25 nonresident)
Season Dates: April 13 – May 31, 2024

South Dakota has long been synonymous with Mount Rushmore and plentiful ringnecks, but there’s another bird on the landscape worth your attention.

South Dakota’s expansive prairies are home to Merriam’s, Rio’s, and the occasional Eastern Wild Turkey. But what makes South Dakota a turkey hunter’s dream is the robust population of wild Merriam’s living throughout the 1.2 million acres of the Black Hills National Forest.

Read the full article here

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