Spring Turkey Hunters in Iowa Should Notice More Birds This Year

DNR logoSpring turkey hunters in Iowa should notice more birds. Dry conditions in 2012 meant a better hatch and first year of growth for poults. As about 45,000 hunters head to the woods through April and May, that can’t hurt their chances of taking a gobbler.

“Across the state, we had about a 25 percent increase. North central and northeast Iowa had great increases in reproduction,” notes DNR forest research biologist Todd Gosselink. East central and southwest Iowa showed healthy increases, too…though with fewer overall sightings.

Poults with hens, sighted by DNR field staff and other cooperators during the late summer, together with fall bowhunter observations, and eventual harvest of year old ‘jakes’ the next spring help formulate Iowa’s hatch and brood success index.

Iowa’s turkey season opens with the April 6-14 youth season. The regular seasons fall in line after that; April 15-18, April 19-23, April 24-30 and May 1-19 for combination shotgun/bow tag holders. A resident archery only tag is good throughout the four regular seasons.

Spring turkey hunting coincides with pre-breeding and then breeding activity of the big gamebirds. With snow on the ground throughout much of Iowa this week, Gosselink is getting inquiries about the effect of a ‘late spring.’

Checking weather patterns for past years, though, he calls 2013–so far–a normal spring.

“They’ll strut this time of year. What we hope for is that when seasons begin, with an increase in temperatures, it will really get the turkey activity going, full steam.”

The expansion again this year of the youth season might seem like an early start. However, the April 15 opening day of the first regular season is on track with season openers in past years.

That nine-day youth season provides extra one-one-one mentoring with hunters under 16. In earlier years, bad weather over the shorter four day season could erase a young hunter’s chances to head to the woods…especially if he or she could only go out on the weekend. Youth hunter numbers set a record in 2012, with 3,450 licenses sold. And with the longer season, harvest success was up a whopping 81 percent.

Across all spring seasons in 2012, hunters holding 45,159 licenses in Iowa harvested 10,457 bearded turkeys. An Iowa resident may obtain up to two spring turkey tags, so long as one is for use in Season 4.

Ahead of your first forays into the turkey woods during the season, turkey experts urge you to do some subtle scouting.

“Go out in the evening. Often, turkeys will gobble before they fly up to roost,” suggests Gosselink…keeping a comfortable distance, with little vegetative cover. With snow cover, though, turkeys may still be clustered as they feed during the day.

What calls to use?

“I will have a couple of mouth calls, a box call and an owl hooter,” suggests wildlife technician Jim Coffey. “Be confident with what you use; practice to build that confidence…even if you don’t use it each time out.”

And while the crack of dawn gobble is exciting, it is not the only time to pursue Iowa’s biggest game bird.

“There’s nothing wrong with heading out at 10 or 11 a.m. That turkey lives where you hunt. He will still be there!” reminds Coffey….again noting that early season vegetation might have you sitting still, to minimize movement and being detected by the eagle-eyed game bird.

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