Birds expanding range, increasing hunting opportunity

The return of the wild turkey from virtual extirpation to a healthy and growing population is one of the great conservation success stories in Kansas. In the 1950s, wild turkeys were almost impossible to find in the state, but thanks to a trap-and-transplant program beginning in the early 1960s, the Sunflower State's first turkey season was held in 1974. Only a handful of permits were available, and hunting was limited to the southcentral and southwestern parts of the state. Since then, continued management combined with the remarkable adaptability of the wild turkey has created excellent turkey hunting in much of the state.

Although turkey populations in portions of western and southwestern Kansas remain limited, most of the rest of the state boasts populations great enough to allow hunting in both spring and fall. (The western region, Unit 4, remains closed to fall turkey hunting.) In fact, the Kansas Wildlife and Parks Commission recently approved regulations expanding the boundaries of Unit 3 in 2007; multiple turkey permits and tags may be obtained in Unit 3 in the spring season. A separate spring archery-only season was also added for 2007.

Kansas is home to two subspecies of wild turkeys -- the Rio Grande and the eastern. The Rio Grande is a plains dweller and can be found in the western three-fourths of the state. Rio Grande turkeys roost in riparian timber and shelterbelts, and they forage in open grasslands or crop field edges. Rio Grandes tend to use open areas that make their keen eyesight a major challenge for hunters. This subspecies can weigh as much as 25 pounds, but 18-21 pounds is more common. Beards on Rio Grandes tend to be thinner than those of their eastern counterparts, and feathers on the tail and tail base have light, buff-colored tips.

Eastern turkeys prefer timbered areas in the eastern fourth of Kansas. They have a reputation as the more difficult subspecies to hunt, largely due to the thick cover they prefer. Eastern turkeys are larger than Rio Grandes, weighing as much as 30 pounds. Eastern turkey tail feathers have bronze or caramel-colored tips, and the birds frequently have multiple beards.

Where ranges overlap -- generally in northcentral and southeastern Kansas -- cross-breeding can occur. Hybrid turkeys may show characteristics of both subspecies.

Kansas is divided into four turkey management units. Unit 1, northwestern Kansas, has unlimited turkey permits, one per hunter. Unit 2 encompasses approximately the eastern one-half of Kansas and provides unlimited permits during spring and fall seasons, plus additional turkey game tags.

Unit 3, southcentral and northcentral Kansas, has unlimited turkey permits, one per hunter, plus additional turkey game tags in the spring. Unit 4, in western and southwestern Kansas, has a restricted number of resident-only spring permits and is closed for fall hunting. Due to lack of habitat, bird numbers in this region haven’t kept pace with populations elsewhere.

Turkey permits cost $22.15 for residents and $32.15 for non-residents. Additional turkey game tags (depending on season and unit) cost $12.15 for residents and $22.15 for nonresidents.

The current fall turkey season in units 1, 2, and 3 runs Oct. 1-Nov. 28, Dec. 11-31, and Jan. 8-31, 2007. The regular spring season runs April 11-31; the spring archery season runs April 1-10; and the spring youth/disabled season runs April 6-8.

A valid Kansas hunting license is required of all residents ages 16 through 64. Nonresidents must purchase a $72.15 nonresident hunting license, except that those nonresidents younger than 16 may purchase a youth nonresident license for $37.15. Anyone born on or after July 1, 1957, must have completed a certified hunter education course, except those 15 and younger hunting under direct adult supervision.

For detailed information on fall turkey hunting, including a map of unit boundaries, obtain a copy of the 2006 Kansas Hunting and Furharvesting Regulations Summary wherever licenses are sold or download it from the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks website, www.kdwp.state.ks.us.