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KY Afield Outdoors: Turkey harvest high for spring season

Hunters enjoy their third-highest harvest of the modern era


FRANKFORT--- With the early arrival of spring came another productive wild turkey hunting season in Kentucky, totaling an overall harvest of 33,460 birds – the third highest harvest on record for the state and 9% higher than Kentucky’s 5-year average.

It was a good harvest across the board this year, said Zak Danks, the wild turkey and grouse program coordinator for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources.

Kentucky’s 2024 spring turkey seasons opened the weekend of April 6-7 for youth hunters while the general season ran April 13 through May 5. The spring harvest limit is two legal turkeys, which refers to males and bearded hens.

Between Kentucky’s youth-only and general statewide seasons, this year’s total is just short of the 2023 season’s exceptional harvest of 35,655 birds.

“Based on data about our 2022 turkey brood hatch, which wasn’t as strong as in 2021, I expected 2024 to be good but a bit lower than 2023. That’s how it panned out,” Danks said.

The season began with a positive start when youth hunters hit the woods. Danks noted an especially successful youth harvest of 2,309 turkeys - up 25% from last year and 36% above the 5-year average.

Daily weather can play a notoriously unpredictable hand in the harvest outcome during Kentucky’s 23-day general spring season.

“This year, good weather meant a big hunter turnout, which is important because opening weekend typically accounts for about a third of the overall season total harvest,” Danks said. Kentucky hunters took 11,713 birds during the general season opening weekend.

The number of juvenile male turkeys, called jakes, can also affect harvest rates each year.  

“Following opening weekend, once I saw the percentage of jakes in the harvest was just under 10%, I knew we were likely in for a strong overall harvest,” Danks explained. “That’s because in recent years, a lower jake percentage indicates more 2-year-old gobblers in the population for hunters to take.”

As typical, the majority of Kentucky’s turkey harvest was taken by shotgun, falling at 33,062 birds, followed by 221 birds taken with archery equipment, 124 birds taken with crossbows and 53 birds taken with muzzleloading shotguns.

Successful hunters spent an average of 2.9 days in the field per bird harvested this season, compared to the 5-year average of 3.4 days. Across the state, hunters in the Green River region took the highest percentage of Kentucky’s total harvest at 9,439 birds compared to other regions.  

“Among Kentucky’s 120 counties, harvests were up in 44, stable in 49 and down only in 27 counties,” noted Danks. Top counties include Graves (678 turkeys), Hart (649 turkeys) and Logan (615 turkeys).

On public lands, the harvest was 24% higher than the 5-year average. Within public lands, harvest rates were 3% higher than the previous season and 13% higher than the 5-year average on wildlife management areas (WMAs). Top WMAs were Peabody (135 turkeys), Green River Lake (65 turkeys) and Lake Cumberland (53 turkeys).

Other public lands with the highest harvests this season include the Daniel Boone National Forest, Fort Knox Military Reservation, Land Between the Lakes Natural Recreation Area and Blue Grass Army Depot.

As part of the department’s ongoing turkey population studies in partnership with Tennessee Tech University, hunters may encounter or harvest a leg-banded turkey. These birds are leg-banded then released back into the wild at the same places they were captured, with goals of this study being to investigate the impact of hunting and various diseases on the species population.

Eligible license holders may be selected at random to participate in the department’s post-season hunter survey, which will include questions about hunting methods, regions and dates, amount of time spent hunting and other factors. The survey gathers important data used by the department’s wild turkey program to support hunting opportunity and population management efforts, so hunters should respond even if they have not spring turkey hunted.

Additionally, Kentucky Fish and Wildlife calls on volunteers to report sightings of hens with poults throughout July and August as part of the annual summer brood survey, which helps biologists monitor trends in the state’s turkey population.

To help plan future hunting and scouting trips throughout Kentucky’s different regions, annual harvest results are published online.


Kentucky’s fall turkey hunting season begins Sept. 7, with archery hunting. Before going afield, hunters should always consult the current season’s state hunting guide. 


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