Hmm. I guess I’d never ranked them. My favorite state had always been the one in which I’d just killed a turkey. But in thinking about Jim’s question, and after hunting 21 states the past 20-some years, I began to define some top spots. Here’s a brief list of my top five.
5) Missouri and Iowa: Yes, I’m cheating immediately. I’ve lumped these great turkey states together because I just can’t mention one without the other. Missouri remains one of the all-time great Eastern turkey destinations, and it still boasts harvests in the 40,000-plus range. With some good hatches under its belt, the state will only continue to improve. I’ve mostly hunted northern Missouri but have also enjoyed several productive trips to the Ozarks.
I haven’t hunted Iowa nearly as much as Missouri, but that’s only because Iowa has a draw and relatively expensive nonresident turkey tags. Still, every trip I’ve taken there has been fantastic. Iowa’s harvest numbers — 10,457 in Spring 2012 — don’t compare to Missouri’s, but don’t let that fool you. The southern and northeastern portions of the state are tremendous.
If you’re interested in Missouri or Iowa, contact Tails of the Hunt Outfitters. They run hunts in both states and have some incredible ground.
4) Kansas: With ample public land, two subspecies (plus hybrids) and a Spring 2013 turkey harvest of 31,239, Kansas is the real deal. You’ll find Easterns in the eastern portion of Kansas, hybrids just west of there and pure Rios in the western two-thirds of the state. Further, the state has a great walk-in hunting program that allows access to some really good public land.
I’ve hunted Kansas five times, from the extreme northeastern corner down through Emporia, Olathe and Fort Scott, and every spot has been lights out.
3) Nebraska: Every veteran turkey hunter knows that areas with expanding turkey populations are the best spots to hunt. That’s Nebraska. You’ll find Easterns in the far eastern reaches of Nebraska, Merriam’s in some river drainages and a ton of hybrids throughout much of the state. The 2013 harvest was in the 25,000 range, but that doesn’t do Nebraska justice. It’s full of hot-gobbling, hard-charging turkeys and some of the most beautiful scenery you’ll find.
If you want an epic Nebraska experience, contact my buddy Brady Thomas, of Heritage Outfitters-Nebraska. He and I shared a great morning this past spring, culminating with two big gobblers that fell minutes apart.
2) South Dakota: I just love chasing Merriam’s in big prairie country. Maybe it’s all those cowboy movies I watched when I was a kid. Whatever the reason, South Dakota is a world-class destination. You’ll have to apply for prairie tags in many units, but some zones don’t sell out, and American Indian reservations offer great hunting. And you can always hunt the Black Hills, too.
I’ve hunted South Dakota from the Pine Ridge Reservation over to Jackson County and up through the Cheyenne River country. My favorite spot is Cow Creek Ranch, just north of Wall. From cottonwood bottoms to endless river breaks, this place has it all. Plus, owner Glendon Shearer and his family truly make you feel at home.
1) Wisconsin: With annual harvests in the 40,000- to 50,000-range and ample leftover permits for later seasons in many units, Wisconsin offers the best spring turkey hunting opportunities in the country. Turkey numbers are booming in most areas, and there’s ample public land throughout the state. I’ve hunted from the coulees of Crawford County up through Shawano County in central Wisconsin and numerous spots in between, and they’re all great.
I’m biased, of course, because I’ve lived in Wisconsin my entire life, and most of my spring turkey hunts occur right here at home. Of course, that only adds to the appeal.
Honorable mention states: Texas, Florida, Alabama, Michigan, Kentucky, Minnesota, Oklahoma and New Mexico.
States I haven’t hunted but will: Tennessee, Wyoming and California.