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By the early 1900's, unrestricted market hunting and drastic reductions in habitat had eliminated wild turkeys in Iowa. For many years, the thunderous gobbles of the wild turkey were absent from Iowa's woodlands and forests.
This silence was broken in 1966 when the Iowa Conservation Commission, now the Department of Natural Resources, initiated a program to return the wild turkey to Iowa. Wild turkeys were released at several sites across the state, with the first release occurring in Lee County, Iowa. Since these early days, turkey populations have expanded across the entire state of Iowa.
Coming to Iowa to hunt for turkey?Nonresident spring turkey application period is Jan 1 to the last Sunday in January. The application will be available in December. Check availability of available licenses before going online to purchase. For zone map information and season dates be sure to download our Nonresident Turkey Application Guide
This is not a complete set of hunting, fishing and trapping laws but contains the information you are most likely to need to safely participate in these outdoor activities.
We work hard to keep our calendar current, but always refer to the hunting regulation booklet for official, legal season dates.
Hunters may purchase up to two licenses beginning Aug. 15.Note: Nonresidents are not eligible for fall turkey hunting licenses.
Gun Shooting Hours: Half-hour before sunrise to sunsetBow Shooting Hours: Half-hour before sunrise to 1/2 hour after sunset.
BAG LIMIT: Daily bag and season possession limit is one bearded or male wild turkey for each valid license and transportation tag issued to the hunter.
The nonresident spring turkey application period is Jan. 1 to the last Sunday in January. The application is available in December.
Each summer the Iowa DNR asks for volunteers to participate in the July-August Wild Turkey Survey. It is a simple process: as you work and play in Iowa this July and August keep an eye out for wild turkeys.
If you see one, determine if it is an adult female or adult male (males have beards on their breast), and whether there are young poults (baby turkeys).
Count the number of young, make a note of the date and the county in which you saw the turkey(s) and then report your sighting to the Wildlife Bureau:
- Report Your Sighting -
Safe Turkey Hunting
If you witness or hear of poaching activity call the TIP HOTLINE (800) 532-2020 or visit our site and report it immediately.
Hunters may determine their drawing status online. Please do not call the DNR as your drawing status will not be provided over the phone. To look up your drawing status information, you must now go to the online purchasing site. After logging in, please click on the ‘View Application Status’ option on the right side of the page.
For more information regarding Season Dates/Info, Application Dates, License Fee and Requirements, Application Instructions, Group Info, Landowner Info, Zones, etc please take a moment to view our Nonresident Turkey Application Guide.
If any license quota has not been filled, the excess licenses will be sold online or through the telephone ordering system, until the quotas are filled or the last day of the respective season, whichever comes first.
Currently we have one youth season (3 days prior to season 1) and four regular seasons which are 4, 5, 7, and 19 days in length (35 days total). The first season begins on the second Monday of April. For current season dates please review the Hunting and Trapping Regulations.
How old is my turkey?
To differentiate between adults and juveniles, examine the tip of the last 1 or 2 primary (large) wing feathers. Adults have rounded tips with white barring extending all the way to the tip. Juveniles have narrow pointed feathers with no white bars on the last 2 inches. In addition, the tail fan on an adult has a regular contour of tail feathers, while a juvenile has an irregular contour.
To further estimate the age of your (male) turkey, examine the spurs on the leg and the turkey’s beard. Generally, 1 year-old turkeys have a spur length of 1/2” or less and a beard length of 2-5”; 2 year-old turkeys have spurs between 1/2” and 7/8” and a beard between 6” and 9” in length; 3 year-old turkeys have spurs between 7/8” and 1” and beards over 10” in length; turkeys 4 years-old and greater have spurs greater than 1” and beards over 10” in length.
What sex is my turkey?
Males have black tipped breast feathers, beards and leg spurs, although spur length varies with age. Female turkeys have buff-tipped breast feathers and no leg spurs. Females may have a small beard present, but it not typical.
Beards must be measured from the center of the beard (where beard is attached to the skin) to the longest portion of the beard tip. Pull the beard straight out when measuring and measure to the longest beard strand.
Measure each spur in inches and report the longer of the two measurements. Spurs must be measured along the bottom curve, from where the spur protrudes from the leg to the tip of the spur. A flexible tape provides the most accurate measurement.
Scoring Your Wild Turkey
Information on measuring spurs, beards and scoring your turkey and entering your turkey into the record books can be found on the National Wild Turkey Federation's site under " How to Score Your Wild Turkey."
Iowa residents can purchase licenses through license vendors or the online ordering system. Nonresidents may apply online.
Resident permits cost $28.50 and nonresident permits cost $119.00. Note: A $15.00 habitat stamp fee and a general small game hunting license is also required for both residents and nonresidents. General small game hunting licenses are $22.00 for residents and $131.00 for nonresidents respectively.
Residents may purchase up to 2 permits (one permit for the youth season for those under 16, or season 1, 2, or 3; and a second permit for season 4). Both permits may also be purchased during season 4. Nonresidents may purchase one permit for any of the four seasons, but not during the youth season. For more information please review the Hunting and Trapping Regulations.
Yes, commercial decoys are legal, however, live decoys are not legal.
The only legal firearms for turkey hunting are: shotguns and muzzleloader shotguns not smaller than 20-gauge shooting number 4 through 8 lead or nontoxic shot. Hunters may not have shot sizes other than number 4 through 8 on their person while hunting turkeys. Muzzleloading rifles may not be used to hunt turkeys.
In addition to firearms, archery equipment including longbows, recurves and compound bows can be used to hunt wild turkeys in Iowa. Arrows must be at least 18 inches long and must be tipped with broadheads, or with bluntheads with a minimum diameter of 9/16 of an inch.
A resident hunter having a valid license for one of the spring turkey seasons may accompany, call for or otherwise assist anyone having a valid turkey license for any of the seasons.
A nonresident may assist other hunters only in the zone and season indicated on their license.
The person helping can not shoot a turkey or carry a bow or firearm unless they have a valid license and unused transportation tag for the current season. No one may shoot a turkey for someone else, or tag a turkey shot by someone else.
You must apply a transportation tag to the leg within 15 minutes of harvest, or before the turkey is moved, in such a way that the tag is visible and cannot be removed without being mutilated or destroyed. The transportation tag must bear the license number of the hunter, year of issuance and date of harvest. The tag shall be the hunter’s proof of possession of the turkey.
The harvest report tag, with the confirmation number properly recorded, must be attached to the leg of the turkey after reporting the harvest and before the turkey is processed.
The Iowa Department of Natural Resources no longer registers trophy wild turkeys.
However, the National Wild Turkey Federation invites you to register your turkey through their official wild turkey records program. Entry rules and an application can be obtained by visiting NWTF Wild Turkey Records site, writing the National Wild Turkey Federation, P.O. Box 530, Edgefield, SC, 29824-0530 or by calling (803) 637-3106.
Iowa's forested habitat totals 2.1 million acres (30% of pre-settlement acreage, up from 1.6 million acres in 1974) and are separated into 4 reasonably well defined regions – unglaciated northeast Iowa’s deep river valleys and steep, high ridges; southern Iowa’s rolling hills; western Iowa’s narrow belt of sharp, loess hills running along the southern two-thirds of the state, and several isolated river drainages in north and east-central Iowa (Little Sioux, Raccoon, Des Moines, Skunk, Iowa, Cedar, Wapsipinicon, and Maquoketa Rivers).
Restorations by the DNR have returned wild turkeys to about 95% of suitable habitat in the state. All the major river corridors in Iowa support turkey populations, and small pockets of wild turkeys exist sporadically throughout the state in small woodlots.
Because of their dependence on variable mast production for food in areas where large tracts provide typical turkey habitat, good populations normally average about 10 turkeys per square mile of forest over much of eastern turkey range. In agricultural states like Iowa, the presence of abundant food contributes to densities at least twice this great, and may reach 20-30 turkeys per square mile in the best habitats.
Turkeys breed only in the spring. Hens join harems attached to a dominant gobbler, but may breed with any available male. Nests are poorly formed bowls completely on the ground and contain 6-18 eggs (average 11 per clutch). Hens of all ages attempt to nest , but yearling hens are seldom successful and 80% of the poults will be produced by 2 year old or older hens. Nests have been found in most habitat types from dense forest, brush, grown up pastures, fence lines, to alfalfa fields.
Hens incubate 28 days before the eggs hatch. Typically 30-60% of hens will attempt renesting after losing a clutch to cold, wet weather or predators, with about 40-60% of the adult hens will eventually hatch a clutch. Hens do all the brood rearing, and life is precarious for newly hatched poults with over half dying in the first 4 weeks. Of the poults surviving to fall, 35% of the young hens will be lost to predators, primarily coyotes.
Few young or adult turkeys are lost during the winter in most of Iowa, but starvation may occur where deep snows for a prolonged period keep flocks from moving to food sources. Spring is a major mortality period for both sexes, many hens are lost to predators after winter flocks break up and breeding activities begin, and toms fall prey primarily to hunters. Annual survival rates average 57% for females and 35% for males.
Information on annual variations in turkey productivity is needed to evaluate the status of turkey populations in various regions of the state. Because few reliable wild turkey census techniques have been developed, hunter success rates, turkey harvest levels, and age ratios of harvested birds are the best available indicators of relative turkey populations between hunting zones. Research has found significant correlations between both August poult:hen ratios, percent juveniles in the harvest, and total gobbler harvests in the subsequent spring, suggesting that an index to productivity would be useful in establishing hunting regulations. Compared to the more formalized census procedures used for more visible wildlife species, indices to eastern wild turkey productivity are generally based on random observations of broods.
A list of cooperators has been established from Iowa DNR personnel and rural residents living in selected portions of Iowa containing established turkey populations. All rural residents living in designated survey areas are sent a form to be returned if they are willing to participate in the survey. Each cooperator is sent return-addressed postcards which are to completed and returned based on turkey broods sighted between 1 July and 31 August. Productivity indices are constructed from these returns.
Turkey Brood Survey
We welcome anyone interested in future help with the survey, and thank all those who have helped in the past. We hope you will all continue to help monitor turkeys throughout Iowa. This information is crucial to successful turkey management in Iowa, and could not be accomplished without all of your help. We very much appreciate your continued cooperation and support.