When thinking of destinations for hunting Rio Grande wild turkeys, the states that often come to my mind are Kansas, Texas or even Nebraska, but never Oklahoma.
I couldn’t tell you exactly why this was the case. Maybe it is just that some states are better at promoting their spring turkey hunting opportunities, or the fact that until this year I have never hunted the Sooner State.
No matter the reason, I decided to research Oklahoma’s turkey hunting opportunities after an incredible hunt with Rut N Strut Guide Services earlier this year.
Here are three things I found.
Healthy turkey population
While all states calculate turkey populations differently, Oklahoma boasts a state population of nearly 140,000 turkeys, with a majority of them being of the Rio subspecies. This is on par with the turkey population in Nebraska, a state recently declared as the “Best Turkey Hunting Destination in the United States” by the state's governor. But with Oklahoma, you have far fewer hybrids.
Something that surprised many folks in our office — even the ones who do consider Oklahoma a top Rio state — was that a county in west Oklahoma ranked second in our Wild Turkey Records for counties with the most registered birds. Roger Mills County, home to the more than 30,000-acre Black Kettle WMA, finished second behind Osceola County in Florida.
Plenty of hunting opportunities
If you are hunting on a budget for Rios, public land is going to be the first place to look. In comparison to some western states, Kansas, Nebraska, Texas and Oklahoma have incredibly low percentages of public land. However, Nebraska ranks at the top of the aforementioned states with more than 2 percent* of the states total acreage open for public hunting. That is nearly 1 million acres. Texas, a state nearly four times the size of Oklahoma, only has about 50 percent more public lands than the state to its north.
If you want to use an outfitter, a Google search resulted in numerous options with some prices starting as low as $500 per bird. As with any outfitted hunt, it is still hunting and there is no guarantee of a punched tag. So do your research and seek out reviews from previous customers.
Less competition from the traveling turkey hunter
Based on the numbers, it would seem that Oklahoma has less out-of-state turkey hunters than other Rio states. On a recent call with a representative from Oklahoma Department Wildlife Conservation, I learned that fewer than 16,000 spring turkey tags were issued in 2016 between both resident and non-resident hunters. For non-residents to hunt turkey, they must also purchase an annual hunting license, and those licenses totaled a mere 6,000.*
If all 6,000 non-resident hunters purchased two turkey permits while in the Sooner State, that would mean they account for 75 percent of all turkey tags sold, a figure that isn’t realistic. In contrast, Nebraska sold more than 13,000 non-resident spring turkey permits in 2016, and Kansas sold more than 27,000 non-resident turkey permits in 2015.*
All things considered, there is no such thing as a guarantee in hunting, and you can find a quality hunt in all of the aforementioned states. However, if you are like me and never thought of Oklahoma as a destination for Rios, you should think about heading there sooner rather than later.
For more information about Oklahoma turkey hunting, visit www.wildlifedepartment.com.
*license sales figures provided by state agency reps and annual reports