Oklahoma’s month-long spring turkey season opens in one week in most of the state.
The overall population of Rio Grandes in central and western Oklahoma remains in good shape, although the number of birds is down from its peak a few years ago.
“We had a lot more birds five years ago, but we were at this huge peak at that time,” said Rod Smith of the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation. “We’ve dropped off substantially, but we still have a healthy population of turkeys.”
The population drop can be attributed to the drought and just the natural cycle of turkey populations, but hunters should see more mature gobblers this season.
“I think there should be a few more mature birds this year then we saw last year,” Smith said.
In southeast Oklahoma, home of the Eastern sub-species turkeys, the season opener is not until April 21 as state wildlife officials are still trying to rebuild the population of wild turkeys in the region.
Steve Purviance, an outfitter in Laverne who has 20,000 acres leased in Harper, Woodward, Ellis counties, is excited about the upcoming turkey season in northwest Oklahoma, a prime destination for turkey callers.
“I haven’t seen this many longbeards since 2003,” said Purviance, who operates as Mt. Hide Outfitters. “I haven’t seen as many hens. Gobblers are as good as we’ve seen in years but I bet hens are down 20 to 30 percent. There are going to be a lot of gobblers competing for not quite as many hens this year.”
Oklahoma is a major destination for turkey hunters wanting to bag a Rio Grande wild turkey, one of four sub-species of turkeys that make up the Grand Slam of turkey hunting.
Rio Grande, Merriam’s, Eastern and Osceola (Florida) are the four sub-species that make up the Grand Slam. Oklahoma is home to three in that group, although there are only a few Merriam’s in the very far tip of the Panhandle.
Eastern turkeys are found primarily in the southeast, but the Rio Grande birds dominate the prairies of central and western Oklahoma.
The difference in the three species in Oklahoma is primarily their colors, with the Eastern birds having darker browns in their tail fans and wing feathers compared to the tanner feathers of the Rio Grandes and the whiter feathers of the Merriam’s.
Smith said hunters at the start of the season may see birds remaining in flocks more than usual due to the cooler weather.
“Watching what is going on with birds it looks like we are right around 10 days behind from what I could call normal, birds breaking up and getting around to their spring areas,” he said. “The prime time (for hunting) may be later in the season.”
The best public hunting for Rio Grande turkeys is in western and northwestern Oklahoma.
“Those traditional good turkey hunting WMAs (wildlife management areas) in the west are still going to be the prime spots,” Smith said. “From Black Kettle north, that whole group of WMAs in the northwest corridor is probably the better destinations.”
Only toms taken east of I-35 must be checked online by hunters this season. Next year, gobblers taken statewide will have to be checked online.
What: Spring Turkey Season
When: April 6 through May 6 statewide, except in the southeast, where the season opens April 21 and ends May 6.
Bag Limits: Hunters may take up to three toms during the season, but some counties have a one or two tom limit. Check the Oklahoma Hunting Guide for regulations. The combined eight counties in the southeast region have a one-tom limit.