Thunderous calls from competing Toms trying to out-do one another for the affection from nearby hens will be rattling through Iowa’s timber later this month marking the beginning of the wild turkey breeding season.
This spring ritual is witnessed annually by about 50,000 Iowa hunters who attempt to mimic the call of a lonely hen, and then wait for a frustrated Tom to come searching her out.
That’s no easy task.
Iowa’s spring turkey hunting begins April 7 with a youth-only season, followed by five individual seasons beginning April 16.
“Do your scouting before the season and be prepared for all types of weather. It doesn’t guarantee success, but you will be in a much better position to bag a gobbler,” said Jim Coffey, forest wildlife research biologist with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. “We are in the turkey’s territory. They live there, this is their home field and they have the advantage.”
Coffey said reports are coming in of groups with 3-5 gobblers, which means it should be another good year for hunters.
“Statewide, we are on par with recent years population-wise. Bird numbers will vary by landscape. We are seeing an increase in the number of turkeys in north central and northwest Iowa, and a stable population but a long-term downward trend in the southeast. Even with the downward trend though, turkey numbers are still excellent in southeast Iowa,” he said. “Try hunting mixed habitat with timber, pasture and ag landscapes. Those areas tend to have better turkey numbers. Or step out of the oak-hickory comfort zone and try riparian areas or pastures.”
Roughly 25 percent of Iowa turkey hunters harvest a bird, which totaled around 12,000 turkeys last year.
“Turkey hunting in the spring is a unique experience. It’s very personal, intimate and exciting sitting in the timber, listening to the woodcocks and whippoorwills call and watching the sunrise,” Coffey said. “Success is not measured by whether or not the tag is filled, but by the experience. Share that experience and knowledge with someone, they will be glad you did.”
Watch for other hunters
Turkey hunters spend a lot of time and money on gear to blend in to the background. When going out, never assume that you are the only hunter in the timber, even if hunting on private land.
“Ask the landowner if anyone else has permission to be on their ground and if they do, try to find out where they will be hunting so to avoid disturbing each other,” Coffey said.
Hunters are encouraged to brush up on safety tips, including avoiding wearing clothes with patriotic colors (red white or blue) as those colors are also found in the head of a Tom. Be sure to see the turkey’s beard and look beyond the bird before taking the shot.
Part of any hunt should be a hunting plan that includes where you are going, who you are hunting with and when you plan to return. Hunters should also review the turkey hunting regulations covering legal shooting hours, open seasons, allowed shot size and more. Don’t forget the bug spray.
Report your harvest
The turkey is down, tagged and on its way to the truck. But the harvest is not complete until the turkey is registered; either online, over the phone or at a license vendor.
Online, it takes just a couple minutes. Go to https://www.iowadnr.gov/Hunting/Report-Your-Harvest. From there, scroll down and follow instructions. Be ready to enter your tag’s nine-digit harvest report number. By phone? Call 800-771-4692.
The turkey should be reported by the hunter whose name is on the tag and it must come before midnight, the day after it is tagged.
2018 Spring Turkey Seasons
Youth (residents only): April 7-15
Season 1: April 16-19
Season 2: April 20-24
Season 3: April 25-May 1
Season 4: May 2-20
Resident Archery-only Season: April 16-May 20
Shooting Hours: One-half hour before sunrise to sunset
License Requirements: Hunters must have a hunting license and habitat fee in addition to their turkey license. Hunters may purchase two spring turkey licenses, one of which must be for the fourth season.