Conservation groups are constantly working to improve wildlife habitat. Excellent food plots surrounded by row crops are just one of many reasons why Midwestern public hunting areas have good eastern gobbler populations and plenty of hunting opportunities.
Eastern gobblers are one of the smartest turkeys. They learn to cope with their conditions and survive. Heavy public hunting pressure will make an eastern gobbler break daily habits, go totally silent or simply leave the immediate area. They may not go far, but will likely not be where you once found them.
Hunting public grounds often means changing your hunting tactics for success. Here are a few examples:
Calling: Start out calling normally on opening morning for gobblers you scouted with standard methods 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 yelps and clucks.
Maintain a lower volume than usual while remembering that turkeys have exceptional hearing. This allows a gobbler to think a hen is in the area. Then take what he gives you. An aggressive gobbler will give you an earful. A bird that feels pressured by other hunters will speak less and sneak in looking for his female.
Decoys: Setting up decoys can be dangerous, especially on public areas, so be careful. Most experts agree that decoys should be placed in areas where you can see 50 to 100 yards in each direction. This gives you plenty of time to let approaching hunters know your presence.
Never carry a decoy to your hunting spot. Most turkey-hunting vests have a pocket for decoys or carry it in a hunter orange sack. Turkey decoys are valuable aids to constantly shooting big gobblers. Watch turkey reaction to your decoys and they will tell you what set to use.
Relocate: I once hunted a Missouri public area and found gobblers I had heard days before the season had opened were gone. I checked the area’s 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 had ignored this area. The following morning I returned and harvested the dominant gobbler. This group of longbeards was probably the same gobbling birds I had heard days before the season opened. They had moved away from hunting pressure. I’ll bet the remaining gobblers lived to a ripe old age!
Site selection: Want to find a productive public area spot? Visit your local conservation 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 this area annually.
Safety: Caution is required. Avoid moving on a hung-up bird on public ground. Sadly, a few hunters will shoot at movement or color. You can’t be too careful in public or private turkey woods. Avoid using turkey calls while you move. I always sit against a wide tree to avoid being shot in the back by a slob hunter. Even private woodlots sometimes get uninvited visitors. Always be careful!
Did you scout your public hunting area and find a gobbling turkey? Another hunter may have heard this same bird. Hunters occasionally walk into another hunter’s area, creating a dangerous situation.
Never wave or speak to an approaching hunter in the woods. Some suggest that you whistle a popular tune. Waving or other types of movement may receive a shot of lead pellets or a bullet. Hunters who are day dreaming will occasionally snap shoot. Hunters that are deeply concentrating on their hunt may be just as likely to raise and fire without thinking, a good reason to never carry a bird or decoy in plain view. Turkeys that can’t be hidden in game pouches should be wrapped in hunter’s orange strips.
Finally, never assume another hunter is an experienced turkey hunter. I have watched inexperienced hunters walk through a turkey woods in search of a gobbler to kill, creating a dangerous situation, so be careful!
Public opportunities: Kansas and Missouri have unlimited turkey hunting opportunities on many areas. Here are a couple of areas selected from each state:
Missouri: Whetstone Creek Conservation Area is managed by the Missouri Department of Conservation and is located in Callaway County. Callaway County had the third highest spring turkey harvest in Missouri during past seasons. The area is more than 5,000 acres in size, of which 1,227 acres is grassland, 73 acres is lakes/ponds, 672 acres is cropland, and 2,775 acres is forest and woodland. The area is located in Williamsburg, which is approximately 40 miles east of Columbia.
Gist Ranch Conservation Area is also managed by the Department of Conservation and is located in Texas County. Texas County had the second highest spring turkey harvest in Missouri during past seasons. The area is 11,240 acres in size, of which 310 acres is glade, 200 acres is savanna, 10,601 acres is forest and woodland, 109 acres is old field, and 20 acres includes a shooting range.
Kansas: There are several good public hunting areas in Kansas such as Milford Wildlife Area, Tuttle Creek WA, Melvern WA, Council Grove WA, Flint Hills NWR, Toronto WA and Fort Riley military base to name a few. There are several thousand acres of timber on each of these areas, most of which is along riparian corridors. Harvest of an eastern or Rio Grande gobbler on the west side of Kansas could be expected.
Kansas developed a program called walk in hunting areas. That program leases about 160,000 acres of private land for public access during spring turkey season. Most of the acres are located 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 and 70 percent each year within our eastern and central management units. All of the suggested properties and WIHA tracts referenced lie within management regions.
Kenneth Kieser, a veteran outdoors writer and member of the Waterfowlers Hall of Fame and National Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame, writes a weekly outdoors column for The Examiner. Reach him at email@example.com