Blooming plant life, the warming of temperatures and longer, sunnier days mark springtime, but what matters to hunters this time of year is the startup of spring gobbler activity and the opportunity to go hunting again.
Turkey season in Oklahoma runs now through May 6 in most of the state, excluding the far southeast counties where the season runs April 22 through May 6.
The most popular (and probably the most successful) approach to hunting turkeys during the spring is by way of using calls that mimic hens to locate and draw male turkeys into range. When the female "yelp" call is used during the spring, the response is often a gobble from nearby toms and jakes ("tom" are mature male turkeys; "jakes" are immature male birds).
The yelp call is effective for locating birds, but it also often provokes nearby toms to begin approaching the direction of the call, frequently offering a safe and ethical shot for a hunter.
Often by the start of turkey season, the weather has warmed up more so than it has this year, and wild turkeys will no longer be spending time in larger flocks as they do throughout the fall and winter. Instead, they will be on the move, looking to breed, and preparing for nesting. Much of year's breeding may already be done as well.
This year, biologists for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation are reporting slower activity among turkey populations, perhaps because of lingering cool weather.
Rod Smith, southwest region wildlife supervisor for the Wildlife Department, said his part of the state has been "chilly," and that toms have still been with hens up until recently.
"It seems like the spring break-up of flocks is a little slow," Smith said, adding that cooler weather like that which Oklahoma has been experiencing so late into the spring can in fact slow activity and leave birds "a little subdued."
Still, the hunter's early season approach should be the same as usual, Smith said. Smith reminds hunters that some toms "will just break away" from its group and present an opportunity, even in situations like this year when birds may still be "flocked up."
"Sometimes there is a tom that is not right with the group and he might come in unannounced," Smith warned, so hunters should be ready for anything even if turkeys seem unwilling to break apart from a group.
Smith said the key early in the season is knowing which direction turkeys are moving in general once they come down from their roost in the mornings, which might allow a hunter to set up in the right area before daylight.
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Smith and other biologists report that turkey numbers appear to be on par with where they were last year, despite a poorer-than-normal year for reproduction two years ago.
To the north, Steve Conrady started observing the breaking up of flocks as early as January, when a few days at the end of the month brought warmer temperatures. However, Conrady, who is the northwest region wildlife supervisor for the Wildlife Department, said renewed colder weather appeared to cause birds to regroup. Usually, January and February marks the timing for the winter flock counts that biologists use to help monitor Rio Grande turkey populations before they break up for the spring.
Conrady said early season hunters may still see groups of eight to 12 hens with a few toms early in the season, but they are are beginning to scatter. The biggest problem hunters may face in the northwest region, according to Conrady, is an overall reduction in the amount of available cover for concealing themselves from turkeys, which are very alert. Conrady said hunters should be prepared with good camouflage and stay attentive for good cover. Additionally, when it comes to turkey hunting in the spring, remaining as still as possible is important no matter how much cover is available.
Craig Endicott, northeast region wildlife supervisor for the Wildlife Department, is reminding hunters that for the 2013 spring season, the tom turkey limit for many counties in his region and in central portions of the state has been reduced to a one-tom limit, among them Osage, Kay, Grant, Pawnee, Creek Payne, Logan, Canadian, Lincoln, Okfuskee, Okmulgee, Hughes, Seminole, Pottawatomie, McClain, Grady, Pontotoc, Garvin, Johnston, Murray, Carter, Love, Washington, Nowata, Craig, Wagoner, Cherokee, Adair, Muskogee, McIntosh, Sequoyah and Haskell counties.
Endicott said the region had fair to good reproduction last spring and there are plenty of reports of jakes in the area. Just as in other regions, Endicott said turkey acitivity in the region has been a little slower than normal this year, likely due to cooler weather. He indicated wet, cold and windy conditions as "the three things you don't want as a turkey hunter." But with warmer weather on the way, he expects good hunting opportunities and higher turkey numbers than last year.
Central region hunters also may see better numbers this year, with biologists reporting improved reproduction last spring over the previous year. Jeff Pennington, central region wildlife supervisor for the Department, noted that even after another year of drought, the worst effects of the lack of moisture did not impact the area until after reproductive success had already occurred.
Pennington said there should be a good percentage of young birds in the total flock this year. However, like the northwest region, vegetation is behind and hunters may have to be on the lookout for good cover early in the season.
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Pennington reminds hunters on public and private land to be safety conscious. Wearing orange while walking in the woods can help hunters see each other, and avoiding colors like red, white or blue is smart because these colors can be observed on the head of wild turkeys.
In the southeast, where the state's primary population of Eastern wild turkeys are found, the story is the same -- fluctuations in the weather appear to have slowed turkey activity, though hunters should be able to find birds.
"Because of fluctuations in the weather, you'll see and hear them one day, then not the next," said Joe Hemphill, southeast region wildlife supervisor for the Wildlife Department. "The weather is not giving us enough days in a row for them to get going."
However, since turkey season begins later in the region than in most of the rest of the state, the delay in observed activity could prove beneficial to hunters who may end up hitting the woods at just the right time, according to Hemphill.
The wild turkey in Oklahoma has not always been prevalent. At one time the objective for turkey conservation was to restore decimated populations, but today there are huntable populations in all 77 Oklahoma counties. Hunters' dollars and the efforts of groups like the National Wild Turkey Federation -- which actively funds and supports turkey conservation in Oklahoma -- partnered with efforts by the Wildlife Department has resulted in a very successful conservation story.
For complete regulations on turkey hunting in Oklahoma, including license requirements and season details, consult the current "Oklahoma Hunting Guide," available on line at wildlifedepartment.com.