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By: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

The Turkey Hunt Is On

Wild turkey pair
Wild turkey pair
Photo credit Dennis Connell

Hunted almost to extinction at the end of the 19th century the wild turkey is now thriving in many areas, in part because of habitat preserved in 548 national wildlife refuges.  This success allows some national wildlife refuges to offer some of the best turkey hunting in the country.

Wild turkeys are abundant at the almost 9,000 acre Erie National Wildlife Refuge in Guy Mills, PA.  Anyone with a state hunting license and refuge permit (available free at the refuge office) can hunt the mostly wooded refuge during the season that begins Oct. 27 using either a shotgun or bow and arrow.  Former Erie Refuge officer Jeff Enlow recommends a shotgun because it is more accurate at a distance, and it is hard to get close to a wily turkey, which has excellent eyesight and hearing.

Enlow has hunted wild turkeys from Arizona to Maine for more than 30 years and he says even experienced hunters have to go out several times before they bag one.

The best hunting is at sunup, when the turkeys emerge from their roosts, gobble or cluck and fly around to begin their morning feeding, or late afternoon when they head back to their roosts.  It is not a bad idea to scout these out ahead of a hunting trip.

Turkeys of any size can be hunted, and Enlow estimates they range from 10 to 20 pounds at the refuge.  Choose the one you want carefully; state bag limits are one turkey.  Gobblers and hens can be hunted in the fall, but in the spring only the gobblers are fair game and distinguishable by their long beards and bright reddish-blue heads.

Erie Refuge requires hunters first to tag the bird with the date, time and location of the kill.  Some hunters like to clean the turkey on the spot. Enlow says this gives the meat a chance to start cooling down and generally helps preserve the flavor.  For more information on hunting at Erie Refuge call 814-789-3585 or visit

Erie is not the only national wildlife refuge that is great for fall turkey hunting.  Here are some others.  At national wildlife refuges all state and federal rules apply.

In the spring, nearly every wooded coulee on Des Lacs National Wildlife Refuge in Kenmare, ND, echoes with the gobbles of wild turkeys. The refuge is known for its high turkey population, and hunters know that nice gobblers are found in suitable habitat throughout the refuge. The refuge is open for fall turkey hunting, but it can be challenging to take individual birds because they congregate in large flocks. The spring hunt can be highly successful for a hunter competent in calling and scouting. Turkey hunting tags are available through the North Dakota State Game and Fish office by lottery drawing. For more information call (701) 385-4046 or visit

Mingo National Wildlife Refuge, where people can hunt wild turkesy.
Mingo National Wildlife Refuge, where people can hunt wild turkesy.

At Mingo National Wildlife Refuge in Puxico, MO, turkeys regularly wade in water up to their chests and often roost in completely different areas each night. Their behavior may be unusual, but one thing is certain – they are thriving here. The refuge has a fall archery season and one in the spring for firearms.  Hunters can expect to experience solitude and a challenging hunt in the largest remaining tract of bottomland hardwood forest in southeast Missouri.  A compass is recommended. The refuge charges an entrance fee of $3.00 daily or requires a $12.00 refuge specific annual permit, an Interagency Pass or Federal Duck Stamp. For more information call (573) 222-3589 or visit

Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge and Wetland Management District in Bloomington, MN, is a hunter’s getaway from the urban and suburban areas of Minneapolis and St. Paul. The refuge is located in a green belt of large marsh areas, bordered by office buildings, highways, residential areas and grain terminals. While this may seem like an unusual place for hunting, the refuge allows hunters to get away from the city noise and experience wild country near home. Comprised of eight units totaling approximately 14,000 acres, the refuge encompasses 34 miles of the Minnesota River. Turkeys, reintroduced in 1986, are thriving, particularly on the Rapids Lake Unit. In the fall, hunters often see flocks of 30 to 40 birds, while spring hunters can find numerous trophy gobblers.  For more information call (952) 854-5900 or visit

Little Pend Oreille National Wildlife Refuge is near Colville, WA - a popular turkey hunting destination for hunters in the Northwest. On the west slope of the Selkirk Mountain Range, the Little Pend Oreille National Wildlife Refuge is the only mountainous, mixed-conifer forest refuge outside of Alaska. Turkeys can be seen frequently on the refuge's 40,000 acres and hunting is permitted in accordance with Washington state regulations. The easy access and abundance of game make this a very popular refuge among regional hunters.  For more information call (509) 684-8384 or visit

Experienced turkey hunters are likely to have success at Sacramento River National Wildlife Refuge in northern CA.  Wild turkeys are common within the refuge’s riparian woodlands and floodplain habitats.  This relatively new wildlife refuge is composed of 26 units along a 77-mile stretch of the Sacramento River from Red Bluff to Princeton.  Twelve of these units are partially or entirely open to hunting.  The state fall season is just in time for Thanksgiving.  One turkey of either sex may be taken.  There are spring seasons for shotgun and archery.  A boat is necessary for access, except on Sul Norte Unit, which has a parking area.  The most reliable boat launches are at the Bidwell-Sacramento River State Park (Irvine Finch River Access and Pine Creek Boat Launch) and Ord Bend Park.  For more information call (530) 934-2801 or visit

Located 75 miles from Nashville, Cross Creeks National Wildlife Refuge in Dover, TN, offers a great public hunting opportunity along 12.5 river miles of the Cumberland River. The refuge’s woodland habitat holds sizable numbers of popular game species, including turkey. Turkey may be hunted in the spring or fall seasons during general-access hunts. Fall is archery only through November 14th with weekend closures for quota deer and youth hunts. The spring hunt is firearms. In addition to a state license, hunters are required to have a $12.50 refuge permit. For more information call (931) 232-7477 or visit

About the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the principal Federal agency responsible for conserving, protecting and enhancing fish, wildlife and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. The Service manages the 97-million-acre National Wildlife Refuge System, which encompasses 548 national wildlife refuges, thousands of small wetlands and other special management areas. It also operates 69 national fish hatcheries, 63 fish, wildlife management offices, and 81 ecological services field stations. The agency enforces federal wildlife laws, administers the Endangered Species Act, manages migratory bird populations, restores nationally significant fisheries, conserves and restores wildlife habitat such as wetlands, and helps foreign governments with their conservation efforts. It also oversees the Federal Assistance program, which distributes hundreds of millions of dollars in excise taxes on fishing and hunting equipment to state fish and wildlife agencies.
For more information about the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, visit our homepage at

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