News of the Week

March 31, 2016
Spring Turkey Season Opens for Youths This Weekend
    Oklahoma's 2016 spring turkey hunting seasons kick off April 2-3 for youths 17 and younger in all areas except the Southeast Region. The general spring turkey hunting season will run April 6 to May 6 in all areas except the Southeast Region.
    Based on field reports submitted in the past few days by Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation personnel, warmer conditions lately have put turkeys in most areas ahead of normal for spring breeding activity.
    Most reports indicate that hunters will likely have opportunities to harvest some toms this year. But hunters who are after older toms probably will need to pass on some early opportunities.
    In the eight-county Southeast Region, youth turkey season will be April 16-17, and regular turkey season will be April 18 to May 6.
    By region, here are some insights for turkey hunters this spring.
 
NORTHWEST REGION
Reported by Eddie Wilson, senior biologist
    Current gobbler activity: Gobblers in the Northwest have been strutting and gobbling for a couple of weeks now. Birds throughout the region started breaking up into smaller groups by mid-March and are at least a good week or more ahead of normal. This is most likely due to the very warm weather we have been experiencing. Beaver River WMA biologist Weston Storer said toms were breeding hens about 10 days ago in Beaver County.
    Habitat conditions: Conditions are good. Most of the Northwest Region is fairly dry, but the warm weather is helping plants green rapidly. Due to above average rainfall the past couple of summers, native grasses and forbs are taller and thicker than normal. This will provide good nesting cover but will also make it more difficult to locate birds. Winter wheat is in fair to good condition, and wheat fields are usually a good place to locate birds.
    Reports from landowners or scouting hunters: Local landowners and hunters are seeing good numbers of jakes, and they are saying breeding activity seems to be earlier than normal this year.
    WMAs to consider: Turkeys can be found on most all Northwest Region wildlife management areas. The four WMAs that hold the highest number of birds in the region are Canton, Fort Supply, Cooper and Beaver River. Other WMAs with turkey populations include Cimarron Hills, Cimarron Bluff, Major County and Dewey County. Be sure to consult the "Oklahoma Hunting" regulations guide regarding regulations pertaining to the specific WMA you intend to hunt. Most Northwest Region WMAs have reduced season bag limits when compared to statewide regulations, and some areas require nontoxic shot.
    Tips for success:  
1. Scout the area before opening morning.
2. Get into the woods early.
3. Be patient; give the birds time to respond to your call.
    Mistakes to avoid:
1. Calling too often is a common mistake, especially on public lands where birds are exposed to a high concentration of hunters.
2. Don't hunt too close to the roost site.
3. Keep movement to a minimum; turkeys have excellent eyesight and will key in on any movement they see.
    Opening-day expectations: If the weather stays warm, opening day will be good. Habitat is in good shape, birds have experienced good reproduction over the past two summers, there are a good number of jakes, and there are a fair number of mature toms. I expect hunter numbers to be high this season based on the number of turkey hunter phone calls I have received. Good luck and hunt safe!
 
CENTRAL REGION
Reported by Jeff Pennington, regional wildlife supervisor
    Current gobbler activity: Breeding activity appears to be ahead of the typical schedule. Toms have been consistently seen strutting and gobbling since mid-March. Isolated hens have been seen at times in the late morning the past week, which often indicates egg-laying initiation.
    Habitat conditions: The region has experienced warmer than normal weather so far in 2016. This has resulted in being ahead of schedule on spring green-up and insect emergence, both of which create good foraging conditions for turkey. There is more leftover plant cover from last summer's abundant rainfall, which will increase nesting habitat.
    Reports from landowners or scouting hunters: Landowners and hunters are seeing increased breeding activity and green-up ahead of schedule.
    WMAs to consider: All WMAs will have turkeys. The best populations are found at Kaw WMA in the north, Deep Fork WMA in central Oklahoma, and Hickory Creek WMA in the south.
    Tips for success:  
1. Hunt past midmorning. Often hunters try to call toms when they fly down from the roost and give up if they have no quick success. Toms that are "henned up" early may be very responsive later in the day.
2. Get your sneak on. On some days during the season, the wind will be blowing too loud for calling to be effective. On those days, you can have success with "spot and stalk" or "sit and wait" techniques to kill your tom.
    Mistakes to avoid:
1. Don't leave your calling location too quickly. Impatience and moving often spooks toms that are getting close but are not very vocal.
    Opening-day expectations: Hunters in the region will likely find similar numbers of birds as last year. The birds will be well into the breeding season with the warmer weather we have experienced. It is critical, especially on opening day/weekend on public lands, to exercise strict safety protocol.
  
NORTHEAST REGION
Reported by Brent Morgan, wildlife biologist
    Current gobbler activity: Birds are beginning to gobble. They are largely bunched up, but they are beginning to break up. Gobbling has really picked up since the weather has begun to get warmer.
    Habitat conditions: Conditions are good following the tremendous growth from last year's rainy summer. Good nesting cover for hens is plentiful. A lot of acorns are still on the ground from last year's bumper crop. Bugs are out early with the mild winter and early spring.
    Reports from landowners or scouting hunters: Landowners are starting to see more birds move onto their properties from their winter patterns. Scouting hunters are also speaking of birds being seen on roads and in fields.
    WMAs to consider: Cherokee and Spavinaw WMAs are some of the bigger areas in the region. Be prepared to encounter other hunters. Hunters should always check the currentOklahoma Hunting guide for specific regulations, as they often vary for different WMAs.
    Tips for success:
1. Patience is very important when turkey hunting as some gobblers may hear your calling but don't respond, so sit tight and make natural sounding hen calls to lure him closer.
2. Scouting before season to locate several different birds and observe their patterns is very crucial.
    Mistakes to avoid:
1. Calling too much when a bird has been located can lead to spooking the gobbler away.
2. Getting to close to the roost in the morning can risk being seen by the hens that may be with the gobbler.
    Opening-day expectations: Expect lots of hunters in the woods on opening day. Gobbling should be very good in the morning with it tapering off once they locate their hens.
 
SOUTHEAST REGION
Reported by Jack Waymire, senior biologist
    Current gobbler activity: Mixed reports of birds breaking up and others still in winter flocks. Gobbling activity is increasing, and most reports indicate peak gobbling from 8 a.m. to 9 a.m. Observations of toms strutting but no reports of breeding activity, although one can assume that is occurring.
    Habitat conditions: We have had heavy rain events, food availability is good, and green-up is progressing quickly. We have had very high wind conditions recently but after the cold front passes, it should begin to warm up.
    Reports from landowners or scouting hunters: Reports of increasing gobbling activity.
    WMAs to consider: McGee Creek WMA is a good bet, but all WMAs are reporting some light gobbling activity. As the weather improves, so will the gobbling activity.
    Tips for success:      
1. Conduct your pre-hunt scouting.
2. Begin your scouting in areas that you found turkeys last year.
3. Be patient.
    Mistakes to avoid:   
1. Begin with light calling and become more aggressive if the gobbler responds well.
2. Be patient and don't move too soon, especially if you have had a gobbler respond to your calls.
    Opening-day expectations: The Southeast Region experienced a poor hatch last year due to heavy rain events at the wrong time. The previous two springs had good reproduction. Numbers are fairly low but plenty of birds are around for reproduction. Hoping for a good early hatch with good reproduction this year. If the weather is favorable, we should experience a good opening day.
 
SOUTHWEST REGION
Reported by Ron Smith, senior biologist
    Current gobbler activity: Breakup activity seems to be a bit behind schedule. Birds are beginning to be seen in many of their normal locations but still in larger groups. This past week has produced a good surge in activity. Gobblers are in the early phases of activity and just starting to move off with smaller groups. They should be in full show by opening day.
    Habitat conditions: Improved greatly following heavy rains in 2015. Nesting cover will be far better than in the previous five years. Food availability will be good over much of the region. Early green-up brought on by warm weather may be in danger from current dry conditions.
    Reports from landowners and scouting hunters: Landowners and early scouting hunters were concerned about the late breakup. That fear seems to have eased with the past week of activity. Birds have moved into many of their usual areas but still show changes brought on by roost damage.
    WMAs to consider: Areas in the region that consistently produce good turkey numbers include Packsaddle, Black Kettle and Ellis County. WMAs that will produce fewer birds but offer good hunting opportunity include Sandy Sanders, Altus-Lugert, Waurika and Fort Cobb.
    Tips for success:
1. Hunters should put as much time as possible into scouting. Historic areas may have shifted slightly. Patience and willingness to adapt will be helpful. As always, use the birds' natural behavior to plan your approach and tactics.
2. Use good cover and careful approach to hunting grounds and be patient. Usual early and late hour hunting are productive but other hours of the day can produce patterns that may be useful.
    Mistakes to avoid:
1. Failure to scout is the often the biggest mistake that hunters can make. Not everyone is a champion turkey caller but willingness to adapt methods and learn from others may be helpful.
2. Avoid over calling. Again, listening to their normal activities and working your way into the system is more productive than blasting away with every call in your arsenal.
    Opening-day expectations: Hunters can expect improved turkey numbers over the numbers of the past five years in much of the region. Patterns may have changed, but patience will prevail. Dry weather may become a factor soon. This may further alter patterns, so be willing to adapt.
_____________
 
    The statewide season bag limit is three tom turkeys per hunter, but daily and season limits for individual counties and WMAs vary. To find out the bag limits for the area to be hunted along with field tagging, E-Check and other turkey hunting requirements,
consult the combined 2015-16 "Oklahoma Hunting/Oklahoma Fishing" regulations guide, available online at wildlifedepartment.com or in print where fishing or hunting licenses are sold.
______________
 
 
TURKEYS BANDED FOR RESEARCH
The Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation and Oklahoma State University are conducting research on wild turkeys at Packsaddle WMA. As part of the research, turkeys have been banded. If you harvest a banded turkey, please call the phone number on the band and report the band number. Hunters are welcome to keep the bands. (Photos by Dwayne Elmore/OSU)