By: Bill Grabinski
Whether you live for thunderous gobbles or simply want a taste of hunting away from home, spring turkey season offers some of the best out of state hunting trips you can find.
With hunts available in every state except Alaska, you have options to make the experience exactly how you want. So before you sink hundreds of dollars into a non-resident elk or deer tag, give yourself an advantage by planning and executing one of many affordable out of state hunts available for spring gobblers.
Even though any turkey hunt on unfamiliar ground can seem daunting, we’ll simplify the process and cover details you won’t find anywhere else.
Assuming you have a destination in mind, your first step is to visit the state website and check the available harvest and hunter data. This not only goes for turkey, but it’s the same starting point for deer, antelope, elk, or bear. While you’re there check the out of state hunting season dates to confirm it fits your schedule.
This part can’t be emphasized enough – know both the general hunting and turkey-specific regulations. This means getting familiar with licensing and tag requirements along with any unique laws. Maybe you’re not allowed to have a loaded shotgun within 150 feet of a road or you’re required to have a turkey call in your possession while hunting…know these and stay out of trouble.
If you plan on hunting a state requiring a physical tag, either purchase it online with plenty of time to have it shipped to your home or plan on stopping at a license vendor before you hunt. If at all possible, have your licenses and tags purchased before you hit the road. Fortunately, many states now permit hunters to carry their licenses and tags electronically so all you’ll need to do for those states is download them onto your phone.
For states publishing detailed harvest information, try to avoid the highest harvest areas and instead hone in on counties or units with average to above-average harvests. This puts you on the ground with solid bird numbers and perhaps less hunting pressure. At the same time, use this data to eliminate areas with consistently low harvest rates.
Here’s some insider information – look at human population maps for the state you plan on hunting. If you’re within an hour of a major metro area, expect big time pressure.
You’ll want to use a mapping app such as Spartan Forge to see what areas offer public hunting. Your options will quickly narrow as you seek out ideal turkey habitats, such as hardwood timber, water sources, and fields. But don’t just focus on one particular area…ideally, you want to identify 2-4 areas at least an hour away from each other so you have options.
It’s an unfortunate truth – budgeting is the least exciting part of the process and quite possibly the most important.
The biggest expenses for spring turkey trips are usually transportation, out of state hunting permits, and a place to stay. You typically don’t need to hire out of state hunting outfitters for spring longbeards, though they can get you on prime private ground in many places. And while you can’t change license and transportation costs, if you’re willing to camp you can save hundreds on lodging.
It’s critical to recognize how your planning affects your ability to stay under budget. But there are some aspects hunters don’t talk about – can you mentally handle 5 days living out of a vehicle or a week straight of hunting alone? If you end up wanting a hotel room on the third day, you’re going to spend way more than planned. These types of changes add major expense and derail future plans.
The last thing you want is to return home and explain to your significant other why you spent $700 more than expected. It’s the surest way to never travel again.
And it’s another reason why spring turkey season is the ideal time to expand your horizons before going after big game. You get the advantage of learning new areas and testing yourself and your gear without the time and money involved in pursuing elk or deer. There’s even a decent chance you discover a great place to hunt other species while you’re turkey hunting.
Amid the glamor around traveling to turkey hunt, there are a few topics most hunters fail to address.
While you’re preparing the gear you’ll need, don’t ignore the factors that will give you the ability to hunt with maximum efficiency. It’s critical to make sleep and nutrition a priority during your trip – especially if you’re camping. Invest in comfort and eat food that fuels you. Days are long and nights are short during turkey season. Never pass up an opportunity for a midday nap to recharge the body.
Speaking of equipment – a simple Google search for an out of state hunting gear checklist will give you an idea of what you need to bring and what you can leave at home.
Hunting efficiently means having backup plans for when you need to relocate to a new area or take a new approach. Some of the biggest challenges you’ll face are managing expectations and figuring out when you need to completely change your strategy or area.
Sure, you could step out of the truck on the first morning, strike a bird within an hour, and be eating turkey nuggets for lunch. But chances are you’ll spend 2-3 days locating and figuring out birds before you’re able to start closing the distance. And the truth is you could spend a week hunting silent birds, navigating insane hunting pressure, and getting rained on every day. It’s a sobering reality, especially away from home. Treat each day as a step in the right direction and you’ll come away a lot more satisfied than if tagging a long beard is the only goal.
Expect the Unexpected
This is where you’ll advance as a hunter and develop the mental tenacity to adapt. And it’s the same mindset that will keep you going when you’re out West elk hunting or you’re stuck in a tent waiting out a blizzard on a mountain mule deer hunt.
Once you take a trip to a new state you’ll realize it’s not just a beard and tail fan you’re after. Your highlights will be the thrill of hunting new country for the first time and the characters you meet along the way. You’re almost guaranteed to meet people you’ll never forget – it could be a new lifelong hunting buddy or a clerk at the gas station who deserves a career in standup comedy.
The challenge with out of state hunting public lands provides rewards that go far beyond a punched tag. If you’re looking to expand your horizons – there’s no better time than spring turkey season to elevate your game.
Do it right and you’ll not only have destinations you can’t wait to return to, but a whole new outlook on traveling to hunt.
The possibilities are truly endless.