Spring turkey season is here

March 9, 2012

A strutting tom parades in front of a game camera this week in Washington County. Contributed photo.

Florida’s regular five-week spring turkey season is March 17 to April 22

By Stan Kirkland, FWC
For spring turkey hunters, that magical time of the year is here. The spring gobbler season is upon us.

Unlike the fall season when hunters try to bust up a flock of turkeys and then call them back together, in the spring, hunters listen for the unmistakable sounds of gobblers gobbling in the distance. Ask a dozen turkey hunters and you will hear just as many strategies and tactics for hunting gobbling toms, but they all have one thing in common: hunters use a call or a variety of calls to imitate a hen and draw an amorous gobbler in close for a shot.

Florida is one of a number of states that now begin the spring season with a youth season. Florida’s youth season is March 10-11. Last year was the first year for the special season dedicated only to young hunters, and it was available only on private land. This year the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) made available 78 wildlife management areas for youth hunting.

Only hunters younger than 16 are allowed to take part in the special youth-only season. They must be accompanied by an adult 18 years or older.

Florida’s regular five-week spring season is March 17 to April 22. Hunters have a two-bird bag limit and to the uninitiated, it would seem an easy mark for most hunters. Lots of hunters bag one or even two birds in the spring, but it can be a real challenge.
What inexperienced turkey hunters, and even seasoned “pros,” often discover is the slightest miscue by the hunter – a broken twig, the movement of a hand, a sound – and an approaching gobbler will disappear in an instant.

Florida is also fortunate to have two of the five subspecies of wild turkey found in the continental United States. The eastern wild turkey is found in the Panhandle and is the same bird found throughout the eastern half of the country.

The other subspecies, the Osceola, is found throughout peninsular Florida. The dividing line between the two subspecies is roughly a line that runs from Nassau County across the state to Dixie County.

Since Florida is the only state with the Osceola subspecies, out-of-state hunter interest is high. In 2011, 2,236 nonresident turkey hunting permits were sold at a cost of $125 each. And that doesn’t include the cost of the nonresident hunting licenses.

Guides who offer or specialize in Osceola hunts have a valuable commodity. Guided or self-guided hunts commonly run $1,800 to $2,800 or more per hunt for the opportunity to bag a single bird.

A 2010 FWC survey indicated slightly over 36,000 licensed hunters (Florida residents and nonresidents) took part in the spring season. The estimated statewide harvest was 23,800 birds.