Out-of-state, do-it-yourself hunts are rising in popularity, and turkey chasing is no exception. To create a successful, unguided turkey hunt, it sure helps to find a state with a healthy turkey population, abundant public land, and favorable success rates. But the best place to go is likely the state that borders your home state. By hunting next door you’re more likely to have more time to hunt and might even be able to pull off a quick scouting trip, which will go a long way in sending you down the right path. Who knows, it might even become a hunt that you can’t help but make every year.
Tony Peterson, host of the Wired to Hunt Foundations Podcast, frequently preaches another value in traveling for turkeys. He says that any time spent looking for gobblers can do double duty as whitetail scouting. Sometimes that little extra incentive is all it takes to pack up the truck and commit to an out-of-state adventure.
Honorable Mentions Turkey hunting opportunities are abundant across most of the Lower 48. Whichever state you choose to pursue, it’s hard to go wrong spending some time in the springtime woods. Many states that didn’t make the list deserve an honorable mention, like my personal favorite, Nebraska. The Cornhusker State is in my backyard, and it’s hard to deny the appeal of its wide-open spaces, white-tipped Merriam’s turkeys, and one of the earliest season start dates in the country.
Alabama also has an early opener on March 25. This allows the traveling hunter the potential to get a lead on turkey talking before their home-state fires the starting gun.
Lastly, I pretty much have to mention Texas. The Lonestar State sports an enormous population of Rio Grande turkeys, estimated at more than 500,000 birds. The only downside is that the few available public lands tend to be more crowded than other states on this list. With such a large population, Texas has a ratio of approximately 0.1 acres of public land per human resident of the state. There, a midweek strategy might be wise, along with avoiding the opening weekend rush.
Here are my five top choices for an out-of-state, do-it-yourself turkey adventure.
Tennessee Turkey Population: 300,000 Turkeys Harvested in 2021: 53,669 Public Lands: 2,356,000 acres License Cost: $66 Resident, $214-$305 Nonresident Season Dates: April 2 – May 15
Tennesseans continually harvest more turkeys every year than any other state. Pair this with an above-average amount of public land for the East and it’s hard to ignore the Volunteer State. As a bonus, Tennessee allows hunters one bearded turkey per day, not to exceed three per season.
Wisconsin Turkey Population: 350,000 Turkeys Harvested in 2021: 37,366 Public Lands: 5,167,000 acres License Cost: $33.25 Resident, $83.25 Nonresident Season Dates: April 20 – May 31
Wisconsin comes in as the best nonresident value on the list. Out-of-state licenses are a bargain at $83.25, compared to the other states on this list, which might help justify filling up the gas tank. This hunt is also a good option for the traveling whitetailer, considering Wisconsin has more Boone & Crockett whitetail entries than any other state. Spending a spring in the Wisconsin turkey woods might be your ticket to a big buck on your tailgate this fall.
Missouri Turkey Population: 350,000 Turkeys Harvested in 2021: 34,595 Public Lands: 2,525,000 acres License Cost: $17 Resident, $224 Nonresident Season Dates: April 18 – May 8
The Ozark Mountains provide the backdrop for many iconic turkey hunting stories. You can write your adventure this spring by visiting those hallowed hills. Hunters here may take two male turkeys during the season with a few caveats. You can only harvest one from the first week of the season, April 18 to 24. But if you don’t kill a turkey during that first week, you may take two during the remainder of the season. However, you may not shoot two turkeys on the same day.
Pennsylvania Turkey Population: 160,000 Turkeys Harvested in 2021: 28,087 Public Lands: 4,170,000 acres License Cost: $20.97 Resident, $101.97 Nonresident Season Dates: April 30 – May 31
Pennsylvania claims some of the highest hunter participation of any state in the Union. While some might see that as a deterrent, the above-average amount of public lands and exceptional harvest rates show the state can handle all those hunters. Get deep enough in those woods and you can still find a boss gobbler of your own.
Kentucky Turkey Population: 330,000 – 400,000 Turkeys Harvested in 2021: 29,223 Public Lands: 804,000 acres License Cost: $57 Resident, $235 Nonresident Season Dates: April 16 – May 8
Of all the states on this list, Kentucky has the least public land available. However, its healthy turkey population and impressive success rates are impossible to ignore. Kentucky is also the most expensive nonresident state on the list, but not by a large margin. If you live in a neighboring state, you’d be remiss to not give Kentucky a look.