It goes without saying, but we’re going to say it: thank the hunting gods 2020 is in a dumpster behind us. While 2021 is proving every bit as “exciting” so far, there’s no way it can be that bad. Right? And let’s remember, good things came from 2020, too, such as more American hunters taking to the wilds than ever before in our modern history.
There may be more of us out in the thickets this spring as a result, but hunting our North American wild turkeys is a sport & pleasure uniquely our own – and one worth celebrating regardless of an increase in like-minded outdoors folk.
That being said, it’s best to look forward, not back, and get in gear for what is so far promising to be a bountiful spring. For many hunters, this means looking forward to one of the most enjoyable harvests of the year: turkey hunting season.
So whether you’ll be harvesting just your local species, or picking up the pack for a cross-country gobbler goblet, there’s nothing quite like turkey hunting to start the year right. And it’s just around the corner.
As such, we’re taking a look at the best regional spring forecasts to give you a starting point for your 2021 spring hunt.
New England Hunts (Hotspots: Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire)
- Turkey Subspecies: Eastern
- Population Estimate: No estimate
- Spring 2020 harvest: 6,000 for ME
- Poor conditions: New York State, Pennsylvania, due to downward trending populations
For the Northeastern United States, Kelsey M. Sullivan, migratory and upland game-bird program leader with the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife’s Research and Assessment Section, says to expect a solid Spring 2021 turkey hunting season for most states.
More specifically, “New Hampshire offers excellent opportunities for hunting wild turkey(s),” says the New Hampshire Fish and Game website. Maine, in particular, is also hosting a record number of broods heading into 2021.
If you’re looking for hotspots, Sullivan notes Knox and Cumberland counties in Maine. “Knock on doors,” she tells OutdoorLife.com. “Many landowners support wild turkey hunting and more often than not grant permission.”
East Coast & Southeast Hunts (Hotspot: North Carolina)
- Turkey Subspecies: Eastern
- Population Estimate: 270,000 for NC
- Spring 2020 Harvest: 23,431 for NC
- Lesser Conditions: South Carolina, Tennessee, due to over-hunting
In the Eastern U.S., state harvests have been, on the whole, at or near record levels. This has become a regular occurrence over the past several years, too, so 2021 is looking bright for eastern states. Even states with lesser conditions, such as SC and TN noted above, should yield an average turkey hunting season at worst.
Christopher D. Kreh, upland game-bird biologist for grouse, quail and turkey with the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission, adds “Turkey hunting can be quite good across much of the 2 million acres of the North Carolina Game Lands.”
More specifically, he specifies Southeastern North Carolina as an area of great potential.
Gulf Coastal Plain Turkey Hunting (Hotspot: Arkansas)
- Turkey Subspecies: Eastern
- Population Estimate: 100,000 for AR
- Spring 2020 Harvest: 8,583 for AR
- Poor Conditions: Louisiana, due to recent, extensive tropical storm damage
Jeremy Wood, turkey program coordinator for the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, says he expects the season “to be on par with recent years in terms of harvest,” according to OutdoorLife.com. Moreover, he adds that “reproductive indices obtained during population surveys indicate 2020 was the best year for reproduction statewide since 2013, which suggests there’ll be a few more birds in the woods this spring.”
Wood adds that he expects “the Gulf Coastal Plain eco-region will continue to see improved harvest rates.” Why? The region has seen a strong reproductive rate the past two years – especially in Arkansas state.
If you plan to hit Arkansas’ wildlife management areas, or especially national forests, be prepared to do some off-season legwork to sign and scout for fowl.
“Leave your turkey calls and owl hooters behind,” Wood clarifies. “Listen to the woods come alive on their own. Put boots on the ground and cover a lot of territory before the season so you have some options come opening day if someone beats you to where you hope to go.”
Midwestern & Western Hunts (Hotspots: Wisconsin, Utah)
- Turkey Subspecies: Rio Grande, Merriam’s
- Estimated population: N/A, though “Utah’s turkey population was near a historic high in 2019.”
- Poor Conditions: Ohio, Colorado, due to downward trending populations
As noted, Utah’s turkey population was near a historic high in 2019. While the data for 2020 has yet to be solidified, stat officials are already pointing toward another historic year for the books. As such, 2021’s spring turkey hunting season is looking up for the Midwest and out into the Rocky Mountain regions of the U.S., and well into the West.
In fact, states like Utah are seeing such an uptick in wild turkeys that the birds have been labeled a “nuisance” by their states. Sounds like fine hunting!
If hunting for Merriam’s subspecies out west, higher elevations are key. If you’re going for Rio Grandes, however, stick to lower elevations.
West Coast Turkey Hunting (Hotspots: California, Oregon)
- Turkey Subspecies: Rio Grande, Merriam’s, Easterns, and Eastern/Rio Grande hybrids.
- Population Estimate: 250,000 for CA
- Spring 2019 harvest: 22,179 for CA
For West Coasters, turkey populations continue their expansion and population increase. As such, Matt Meshriy, an environmental scientist with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Upland Game Program, says that spring 2021 should “provide excellent opportunity.”
“We anticipate that a challenging breeding season in 2020 will lead to a slightly lower forecast for spring 2021,” he adds, “except in southern California, which saw good rainfall. Two-thousand eighteen and 2019 saw good winter rains in the Central Valley and South Coast, benefiting insect populations, but conditions this year have been dry across most of California entering the winter and have exacerbated destructive summer wildfires,” he concludes. As such, it’s best to coordinate your turkey hunting with CA state drought charts.
In addition, Meshriy says major river ecosystems, like those in the Central Valley, have an abundance of fowl. Any low-elevation national forests are your best bet.
To this end, Meshriy adds that “In the mountains, look for turkeys around recently timbered areas or oaks with water nearby, and be aware that the breeding season may kick off later at higher elevations.”
Ready for 2021 Spring Turkey Hunting?
We know we are. As such, we want to extend many, many thanks to the fine folks at OutdoorsLife for their comprehensive breakdown of states’ spring forecast.