While matching 2020’s record breaking hunter participation and harvest is not likely to happen, Iowa’s 2021 spring turkey season will have plenty of opportunities for those ready to be back in the timber.
“We had good turkey production and poult survival over much of the state, but especially in southeast Iowa, which is good news for hunters in that region,” said Jim Coffey, forest wildlife research biologist with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. “Hunters should expect to see a number of year-old males (jakes) and also see a good number of mature toms that will include last year’s class of now two-year-old birds.”
Larger winter flocks, are breaking up and are distributing across the landscape ahead of breeding season. Turkeys may not be in the same places this spring as they were during the winter, Coffey said. “They will seemingly disappear.”
Turkey hunting is different than other types of hunting. It’s a close, intimate experience where success isn’t measured by whether a hunter bags a turkey or not. And for good reason. On average, only about one in five spring turkey hunters will bring home dinner.
“Even with the near record level of spring turkey licenses sold last year, we still had around the same percentage who reported harvesting a bird,” Coffey said.
Part of the challenge of hunting in the spring is the way the timber changes from early April to middle May, going from leafless and open to green and lush, and days that can range from snow or rain to warm and sunny – sometimes all on the same day.
The turkey population depends on the quality of the habitat. The better the habitat, the more birds that will be there. Oak and hickory timbers are preferred, but don’t overlook smaller fields. Not all turkey hunting is done in large timbers. Turkeys were harvested in all 99 counties last year.
Matching 2020’s participation level may be a challenge, but Coffey does expect a carryover with more hunters in the timber. And with more bodies in the woods, he is reminding everyone to be aware of their fellow turkey hunters.
“We all want our time in the woods alone and safety is paramount,” he said. “Hunters should avoid wearing patriotic colors – red, white, and blue – because those colors are associated with a tom turkey’s head, should not take the shot until they can positively identify the turkey’s beard, and see not only the turkey, but also what’s behind it.”
Last year, there were two reported injuries during the spring turkey seasons. Conservation officer investigations into shootings have identified a few safety issues that result in most of the injuries: not properly identifying target and what is beyond it, and mistaking the victim for game by shooting at movement or color without properly identifying target.
The Iowa resident youth only season is April 9-11, followed by first regular season April 12-15, second season is April 16-20, third season is April 21-27, and fourth season is April 28 to May 16. The archery only season is April 12 to May 16. Hunters may purchase two gun/bow licenses as long as at least one if for season four.
Successful hunters are required to report their harvest by midnight of the day after it is recovered by going online at www.iowadnr.gov, calling the toll free phone number printed on the tag, at any license vendor during regular business hours, by texting your registration number to 1-800-771-4692 or through the Go Outdoors Iowa app.
Hunting Atlas Available Online
Hunters have an added tool that may improve their in-field experience, even before opening day.
The Iowa hunting atlas is an interactive map that shows all available public hunting land that is managed by the state, county or federal governments. The atlas is online at www.iowadnr.gov/hunting. A mobile version is also available.
A click on an area will show basic information like size, habitat type and likely species available.
Spring turkey hunting success and safety comes down to the same thing – proper planning.
“Be aware of what’s around you. Even if you’re on private property, there could be other hunters out there who are coming to your call. Remember, turkey hunters are skilled in the art of concealment. Don’t shoot at movement; don’t shoot at sound; no turkey’s worth it. I encourage hunters to only shoot after they see the turkey’s beard and have a safe backstop,” said Megan Wisecup, hunter education administrator for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. “Being safe is important because the people we hunt with are our family and close friends.”
Hunters who do shoot a turkey are encouraged to not carry it over their shoulder to avoid someone mistaking it for a live bird and take a shot. Wisecup suggested hunters use a blaze orange turkey transport harvest bag.
Practicing safe hunting becomes more crucial as the annual spring leaf out progresses.
“The later it gets in May, the harder it is to see. Hunters need to stay vigilant to identify the bird and the beard,” she said.
- Plan to wear blaze orange when moving from one spot to another because you never know if someone else is out there, even on private land.
- Avoid wearing patriotic colors – red, white, blue. These same colors are found in a turkey’s head.
- Be aware that mushroom hunters will be moving through the timber in late April and May. Mushroom hunters are encouraged to wear blaze orange and avoid red, white and blue.
- Plan to add bug spray and drinking water to the field bag
- A blind is good for concealment and when taking kids turkey hunting, but not for moving around. If you plan to be mobile, don’t bring the blind.
- If hunting private land, be sure you have permission and know the property boundaries.
- Even if hunting private property, the potential exists that someone else may be out there. Trespassing calls increase during turkey season.
- Be extremely careful if planning to use decoys to hunt. Another hunter may mistake you for a turkey.