Nebraska’s spring wild turkey hunting is tough to beat.
It really is.
Trust me, I know from many years of firsthand experience hunting throughout the state! And, I continue to hunt wild turkeys in the springtime from the Missouri River bottom woodlands of Washington County all the way to Platte River bottom woodlands of Dawson County.
We Nebraskans as well as our nonresident visitors have plenty of reasons,15 at least, to enjoy the state and take to the woods to call in a bearded bird this year.
1. All counties have turkeys. Wild turkeys thrive in all 93 Nebraska counties where there is suitable habitat. Interestingly, some counties in the state such as Lincoln County even rank within the top 10 counties in the nation for wild turkey abundance.
2. Variety of subspecies. Making Nebraska an even more intriguing destination for spring wild turkey hunting is the fact that you never know what coloration of feathers will be on your bird or what turkey subspecies you might shoot! Relative to biology, Jeff Lusk, Upland Game Program Manager at Game and Parks, says because of the vagaries of genetic inheritance and the subspecies involved in the hybridization, the gradation of coloration of tail feathers can resemble the appearance of Eastern, Rio Grande, and Merriam’s subspecies. Lusk explains the majority of wild turkey re-introductions in Nebraska were of intentionally hybridized turkeys (Merriam’s crossed with game farm Eastern’s). Though, he adds, there were releases of pure Merriam’s, Rio Grande’s and a few Eastern’s. Lusk adds given current knowledge, Nebraska’s turkeys are considered to be hybrids. Game and Parks is presently undertaking a study of the genetics of wild turkeys to determine the makeup of the turkey population across the state.
3. Accessible lands. More than 500,000 acres of public and public-access lands are open to hunt wild turkeys in Nebraska. Although there are good opportunities on public areas to harvest gobblers, hunters should not be afraid to knock on doors to gain access to private land as well. There are lots of turkeys and many landowners that don’t mind turkey hunters.
4. Long seasons. Nebraska’s spring wild turkey seasons are among the longest around. Archery/crossbow season opens March 25. Youth shotgun season opens April 7 and the regular shotgun season begins April 14. All seasons close May 31.
5. Affordable permits, especially for youth. At $30 for residents and $109 for nonresidents, permits remain affordable. Also, youth age 15 and under can buy a permit for just $8. For most hunters, a current habitat stamp is also required.
6. Easy permits to obtain and carry. Turkey permits may be purchased and printed out on the Game and Parks Commission’s website, across the counter at agency permitting offices, or by mail. Turkey permits also may be bought and displayed via a mobile app.
7. Three statewide permits. Spring wild turkey hunters in Nebraska are allowed up to three statewide permits, each good for either one male or bearded bird. All three legal birds may be taken in one session in a day!
8. High hunter satisfaction and success. In the 2017 spring turkey hunter survey, almost all resident (98%) and non-resident (96%) hunters indicated that they would hunt Nebraska again based on their experiences. They reported high satisfaction. Overall harvest success was just over 64% percent last spring, above the Game and Parks Commission’s strategic plan goal for spring turkey harvest success of 50%.
9. May want to head to the northern panhandle, southwest or central parts of the state. The northern panhandle area of the state, and particularly the Pine Ridge escarpment there, provides opportunities to hunt the highly-sought after Merriam’s and Merriam’s hybrid subspecies in beautiful, rugged terrain with large tracts of public lands to hunt and state park lodging available. Surveys indicate that the southwest and central Nebraska regions should not be overlooked with their good population densities of birds.
10. Nebraska’s turkey hunting outlook is good. Based on observations and current available data, wild turkey numbers in 2018 remain above the 5- and 10-year means on a statewide basis.
11. In the Top 15! Interestingly, Nebraska ranks 48th in the nation in the amount of woodland acreage, often associated with wild turkeys, but generally falls in the top 15 states in the country for overall number of wild turkeys harvested. Last year, an estimated total of 20,431 legal birds were taken by spring turkey hunters. The turkey’s return to Nebraska has been dramatic and is accented by the spring hunting harvest!
12. What others say. Brian Lovett of Turkey & Turkey Hunting Magazine, writes about spring turkey hunting in Nebraska: “Every veteran turkey hunter knows that areas with expanding turkey populations are the best spots to hunt. That’s Nebraska. You’ll find Eastern’s in the far eastern reaches of Nebraska, Merriam’s in some river drainages (in the west) and a ton of hybrids throughout much of the state. It’s full of hot-gobbling, hard-charging turkeys and some of the most beautiful scenery you’ll find.” Steve Hickoff of Realtree says he is a huge fan of Nebraska turkey hunting. “I’ve visited the state in April during the early season. We’ve always done well, despite the challenges. Cornhusker strutters coming to your calls while plowing through several inches of white stuff on the ground is a memory to be savored.”
13.Turkey isn’t the only delicacy in those woods. A freshly harvested, roasted wild turkey is a delicacy on the dinner table, but there are other delicious wild things that can be found in or around the woods during the Nebraska spring wild turkey hunting season. Patches of wild asparagus and morel mushrooms may appear. While you’re trying to locate some birds, keep your eyes peeled amid the leaf matter for these tasty treats in late April or early May.
14. A combo outdoor experience. Dusty Schelbitzki of the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission’s Wildlife Division reminds us that you can easily combine a spring wild turkey hunt in Nebraska with various other outdoor activities such as shed antler hunting, state park area camping, watching the spring migration of birds, fishing and even scouting for the fall deer hunting seasons.
15. The nicest, friendliest people are here. Expect to find super-nice, friendly people in Nebraska. It’s no surprise to those of us who reside here in the state that strangers may very well smile and nod at you while saying “hi” on the sidewalk and wave at you in your vehicle driving on the road. Even be ready for them to start up a conversation in a restaurant or coffee shop about you, where you live, work etc. and of wild turkeys, too.
So, why not purchase a 2018 spring turkey permit and habitat stamp to see all the Cornhusker State has to offer?
Remember, time outdoors spring wild turkey hunting is time well-spent in Nebraska.
A native of Gretna, NE, a graduate of Gretna High School and Bellevue University, Greg Wagner currently serves as the Public Information Officer and Manager for the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission's Service Center in Omaha. On a weekly basis, Wagner can be heard on a number of radio stations, seen on local television in Omaha, and on social media channels, creatively conveying natural resource conservation messages as well as promoting outdoor activities and destinations in Nebraska. Wagner, whose career at Game and Parks began in 1979, walks, talks, lives, breathes and blogs about Nebraska’s outdoors. He grew up in rural Gretna, building forts in the woods, hunting, fishing, collecting leaves, and generally thriving on constant outdoor activity. One of the primary goals of his blog is to get people, especially young ones, to have fun and spend time outside!