By Jill Easton
Face it, turkey hunting is an addiction. The fifteen-day hunt in Arkansas and two bird limit just barely begins to scratch an itch to hunt gobblers. There are two solutions to this problem, go rogue and hunt illegally, or go to other states and nations to hunt turkeys.
In our 20-something years together Jim and I have chased gobblers in exotic locales like New Zealand and Hawaii, but our favorite turkey trips are spent crisscrossing the continental United States questing for birds. For many years we hunted the west, last year we went east as far as Maine, but each year we return to a few favorites like Mississippi and Missouri and discover many new locals to hunt like Meleagris gallopavo.
There are many decisions to make before traveling out of state for gobblers. The first one is where to go. Nearby states are good places to start beating boots on new land. The next decision is whether to pay for hunts, or hunt public land. Where to stay is another complicated question to answer.
Jim and I hunt public land, so we aren’t much help on paid for hunting.
Hunting the public
Gobbler hunting on public land takes planning, planning, planning. Start by choosing several public areas. Call the state game agency and ask for someone who can talk about turkey hunting in the area. The biologist or enforcement officer may know places where turkeys are prevalent. This is also a good time to ask about special permits. Next contact the WMA, National Forest, National Grassland or other public property and order a map. If we are hunting an area, we get MyTopo to make us a map that has an aerial overlay and includes the names of landowners surrounding the public land.
Another excellent resource is an app called onX Hunt Map. This works on a smart phone and has hunting maps made by hunters, has hunting boundaries and the names of property owners in that area. The maps will store waypoints, so you can find your vehicle. The elite edition costs $99.99 and one state mapping information is less.
Ask questions on forums of non-hunting websites. Don’t bother going to turkey hunting sites like Gobbler Nation. Any turkey hunter worth his shot will lie about good hunting locations. On several occasions Jim has gone to Trapperman.com and made friends with a trapper in a new area. The conversation ended up with places to hunt and even invitations to park our camper.
The best landowner hunt I’ve been on started in a café in Sundance, Wyoming. I was loudly complaining cause I hadn’t gotten a bird, it was our last day to hunt. As we were leaving, a man sitting nearby stopped me. He had a place where I could sit on the landowner’s front porch and shoot a bird. It worked. The gobbler came to my call, performed for his hens, bred one and then I shot it. What an excellent way to end a discouraging Wyoming turkey season.
We carry a box of hostess gifts that go to people who have provided help on finding birds, let us plug in in their back yards, or who have generally been nice. One year it was Cavender’s Greek seasoning and Riceland Rice both Arkansas products, another year it was Jim’s trail mix made with local pecans we pick up and pick, mixed with Craisins and M&Ms. It’s amazing how many times people have gone from, “No turkey hunting on our land,” to “There is a flock of birds roosting in the back pasture. Set up on the north tree line,” after some polite chatting and handing over a little bit of Arkansas.
Traveling in a camper can be quite reasonable. Going between hunting areas, we usually stay in Walmart parking lots at no cost. The big advantage of a camper is staying where you plan to hunt. Most public lands that allow hunting have campgrounds or camping in designated areas. On several occasions in public areas gobbling turkeys woke us.
If camping isn’t your style, check campgrounds to see if they have cabins for rent. Often these will be much cheaper than staying in a motel. If you are staying in a motel, make reservations early. Places to stay in hot hunting areas are sold out months in advance. The big disadvantage of motels is they are often 20-30 miles from public land.
By the time we are loading the truck for a multi-state run we have a three-inch binder full of maps with potential hunting areas marked, permits, notes on where to get licenses (Walmart is usually open at 2 am.), information on places to stay and anything local contacts have told us about bird populations. Jim includes season dates, limits and info from game and fish agencies. Then he graphs it out on a calendar and figures out how many days we can hunt at each location.
After years of turkey travel, we learned not to buy licenses ahead of time unless there is a permit or draw involved. On many occasions we spent hundreds of dollars on licenses and then complications developed and we couldn’t hunt. It’s bad enough to not get a turkey and have to live off license stew, but it is so much worse when $400 in licenses goes unused.
The book is starting to shape up for this year. We go to Mississippi in late March to hunt several parts of the state, then back home for the Arkansas opener. After that we are off to Missouri for opening week, then we head north.
There won’t be much of a break until mid-May when we’ll drag back home with lots of dirty camo, lots of turkey spurs, a heap of good stories, a few lies and great memories.