Hunt Midwestern Gobblers on Public Ground

How and where to teach some educated birds a lesson

Eastern gobblers are smart. They learn to cope with their conditions and survive. Heavy public hunting pressure will make an Eastern gobbler break daily habits, go silent or simply leave the immediate area. They may not go far, but will likely not be where you once found them. Hunting public ground often means changing your hunting tactics for success.

Calling

Start out calling normally on opening morning for gobblers you scouted until you feel other hunters have disturbed the turkeys. Then try less calling and more listening. Veteran hunters often use the fall method of sitting and calling every 15 to 30 minutes with two sounds or less, generally using yelps and clucks.

Maintain a lower volume than usual. Turkeys have exceptional hearing. Then take what the gobbler gives you. An aggressive gobbler will give you an ear full. A bird that feels pressured by other hunters will speak less and sneak in looking for his female.

Relocate

I once hunted a Missouri public area and found gobblers I heard days before the season were gone. I checked the map and drove about three miles to an isolated corner, thinking the big guys may have moved to escape the crowd. I was shocked to see three long beards standing tall in the gravel road.

Apparently the other hunters ignored this area. The next morning I returned and killed the dominant gobbler. This group of longbeards was probably the same gobbling birds I heard days before the season opened and moved to the road to escape the pressure.

Pick your area wisely

Want to find a productive public area spot? Visit your local natural resources agency office and ask for a survey of the area showing numbers of turkeys per acre, any special regulations and the average number of hunters in the area annually.

Public hunting opportunities

Arkansas, Kansas and Missouri have tremendous turkey hunting opportunities. Here are several options from each state.

Kansas

There are several good public hunting areas in Kansas such as Milford, Tuttle Creek, Melvern, Council Grove and Toronto wildlife areas, Flint Hills National Wildlife Refuge and Fort Riley military base. There are several thousand acres of timber on each of these areas, most of which is along riparian corridors. Harvesting an Eastern or Rio Grande gobbler on the west side of Kansas is possible.

Kansas’ Walk-in Hunting Area program, which is supported by the NWTF, leases about 160,000 acres of private land for public access during spring turkey season. Most of the acres are in northeast and north-central Kansas. The department produces an atlas each year in mid-March showing the location of each enrolled track.

The percentage of active hunters harvesting at least one bird ranges between 55 percent to 70 percent each year in the eastern and central management units. All of the suggested properties and WIHA tracts are in management regions.

Missouri

Whetstone Creek Conservation Area, managed by the Missouri Department of Conservation, is in Callaway County approximately 40 miles east of Columbia, which had the third highest spring turkey harvest in Missouri during the 2013 season (786 birds harvested). This conservation area is more than 5,000 acres, of which 1,227 acres is grassland, 73 acres is lakes/ponds, 672 acres is cropland, and 2,775 acres is forest and woodland.

Gist Ranch Conservation Area, also managed by the Missouri Department of Conservation, is in Texas County, which had the second highest spring turkey harvest in Missouri during the 2013 season (937 birds harvested). It is 11,240 acres mostly covered in forest and woodland, and has a 20-acre shooting range.

Missouri hunters harvested 46,141 wild turkeys during the 2013 spring season.

Arkansas

Muddy Creek Wildlife Management Area is 146,206 acres and had 79 turkeys harvested from it in 2013. This productive spot is in Montgomery, Scott and Yell counties, 10 miles northwest of Mt. Ida. The predominate timber types are upland hardwoods, shortleaf pine and mixed pine-hardwood. Hunters will find wildlife openings throughout the WMA, some planted in clover and wheat. 

Ozark National Forest is 678,878 acres with 70 turkeys harvested in 2013. It is in Conway, Crawford, Franklin, Johnson, Madison, Newton, Pope, Searcy, Van Buren and Washington counties. With the size of this WMA, any town in central Arkansas is only 2½ hours away from Conway, which has 10 walk-in turkey hunting and wilderness areas.

The predominate timber types are upland hardwoods, shortleaf pine and mixed pine-hardwood. Hunters will find wildlife openings throughout the Ozark National Forest, some planted in clover/wheat. 

Tips for safely hunting public land

Avoid moving on a hung-up bird on public ground. You can’t be too careful in public or private turkey woods. Avoid using turkey calls while you move.

Did you scout your public hunting area and find a gobbling turkey? Another hunter may have heard the same bird. Hunters occasionally walk into another hunting unit, creating a dangerous situation. Never wave or speak to an approaching hunter in the woods. Some suggest that you whistle a popular tune.

Never carry a bird or decoy in plain view; conceal it in your vest or use a fully enclosed carrying sack.

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