Several Southern states are reporting larger harvest numbers than in recent years
Tennessee, Kentucky, and South Carolina are all reporting increased turkey harvests this year. Image by Danita Delimont
Turkey season in some parts of the South is winding down while other areas are just getting started, but hunters from all over the region are reporting talkative gobblers and plenty of action, although unpredictable weather has dampened the hunt for some.
Tennessee opened April 15 with a bang, or make that many bangs.
Roger Shields, the wild turkey program coordinator with the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, said, the harvest for this season’s opening week and youth weekend is up quite a bit when compared to the past five years.
“We had pretty good weather at least one day each weekend with no really terrible days, so that probably helped some too,” Shields said.
“We have been on turkeys pretty steady where I’m at. The population seems to be doing really, really well. I can for sure tell a difference this year compared to years past. We have gotten on them pretty much in every scenario. Some have been hard headed and the method of hitting them pretty aggressively and then going completely silent has worked really well. Late season should be great here as the turkeys seems to still be into big groups,” he said.
Realtree’s Tyler Jordan says he’s currently hunting Bama birds without much luck. He says although they’ve been gobbling some, the action has been slow and warm, late-morning temperatures haven’t helped.
“The first day we had one fire up on the roost and he flew down right to us. I thought this was going to be a great couple of days, but we may have only heard four or five gobbles the next two days. After 10 a.m. or so, we didn’t hear another peep. Meanwhile, back in Georgia, Dad said the hunting has been about the same with birds gobbling decently but not real responsive to calling. I’ll be hunting Georgia tomorrow morning so hopefully our luck will turn around,” Jordan said.
Realtree’s Michael Pendley says Kentucky hunters are racking them up and as of April 20, 20,386 birds have been taken in the state, with only 1,739 of those being jakes. He says when comparing to last year’s totals, this year seems to be up a bit.
Michael Pitts shows off the Kentucky bird that “came in on a string.” Image by Michael Pitts
Pendley says opening day was calm but cool and the following two days were extremely windy, making any gobbling tough to hear.
“The last two days have been calm with near-perfect conditions. Overall, we are getting lots of gobbling on the roost, but the birds are quiet after fly down. I’ve worked several birds only to have them leave to follow hens. Hunting in the afternoon after the hens go to nest has been productive the past few days. We had unaccompanied hens around us all morning with no gobblers,” Pendley said.
Pendley’s son “Potroast” is down at their farm in western Kentucky and is reporting similar conditions to that in the central part of the state, but says he didn’t hear much roost gobbling Thursday morning.
“He did get a few birds to fire up mid-morning and tagged his second bird of the season. Trail camera activity of lone gobblers has started to pick up in the afternoon, suggesting they are on their feet and moving after hens go to nest. Most morning trail cam photos still show mixed gobbler-and-hen groups,” Pendley said.
Realtree’s funny man Michael Pitts had a successful opening-week hunt in Kentucky as well, but it wasn’t without challenges.
“We started hunting here Tuesday and heard and put eyes on a lot of birds that day, but every gobbler we came across had multiple hens with them. They would respond verbally, but would not leave their hens,” Pitts said.
On Wednesday, Pitts and his buddies moved to where the hens were starting to nest so they were able to find a couple of gobblers alone that wanted to play.
“I was able to harvest a bird that morning from the roost. We had to circle around on him and work him from a different direction due to a dried-up creek bed he wouldn’t cross, but once we got on the other side of him, he came in on a string. Right after lunch, we got on another bird that crossed some treacherous ground to get to us. I didn’t think he was going to do it, but he was in the right mood and did. The hunter wielding the shotgun missed and all we could do was grit our teeth and continue covering ground,” Pitts said.
Pitts said he had a rough go of it on Thursday, hearing little and seeing little. He blames a weather front that moved in with high winds and says many of the hunters were having similar luck.
“But at least we get to head home with turkey meat in the cooler and wonderful memories,” Pitts said.
In South Carolina, the news is both good and bad.
Charles Ruth, wildlife biologist for South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, says this year’s harvest, compared to last year, is up about 10 percent.
“This was expected because we had pretty good reproduction in 2021 and are benefiting from that in the form of 2-year-old birds in 2023. But, the percentage of jakes in the harvest is low (6%), due to poor reproduction in 2022, which does not bode well for next season.”
Watch all the latest video episodes