Turkey Hunters Record Increased Harvest During 2024 - Iowa Wildlife Federation

Turkey Hunters Record Increased Harvest During 2024

Photography courtesy of Lowell Washburn, all rights reserved.

Iowa’s five-segment, 2024 spring turkey season ended May 12.  Participation ran high during this year’s spring season with hunters purchasing around 54,500 spring turkey tags.  Turkeys were harvested in all of the state’s 99 counties, resulting in a combined statewide bag of 16,051 birds – a notable increase from the average of around 12,000 to 13,000 birds bagged during recent years.

As seems to occur most years, my spring season was a blend of highs and lows.  Although turkey numbers have declined sharply across portions of southern Iowa, populations remain high across much of northern Iowa and remain particularly strong in the [northern] counties bordering the Upper Mississippi River.

When I began bow hunting in Northern Iowa on the April 8th opener, turkeys seemed to be everywhere.  On the best mornings, I could hear anywhere from a dozen to 16 or more gobblers sounding off from the same timber.  Of course, there were also plenty of hens for me to compete with.  And although I enjoyed some exciting gobbler close encounters, the hens always won out – eventually leading the fanned-out toms in the opposite direction.  As the mornings rolled by, the encounters began to add up.  The results were dismal.  Before long, I had tallied an embarrassing total of eleven Long Beards and three jakes that had all approached to distances of less than ten yards.  Although all were within good range for my Osage orange longbow, each and every bird had refused to present me with the perfect angle needed to insure a near instant kill.

Daybreak on Fantasy Ridge – this year’s spring gobbling shows were deafening.

The good news was that I was still having fun listening to and chasing wild turkeys in the spring woodlands — that is until I came down with a case of FLiRT, the latest COVID variant.  FLiRT is something you might want to avoid.  The worst of my energy draining symptoms came on about day four, when I was hit with the chills.  Fall and winter are my favorite seasons and I’m not a guy who gets cold very often.  But in this case, I was cold — sitting in my living room, thermostat cranked, wearing two shirts and with my heaviest [Sitka Duck Oven] winter coat zipped all the way to my chin and still shivering like I was about to freeze to death.  By the time I returned to the turkey woods, several days had passed.

Temporarily trading my bow and pop-up blind for a muzzleloading shotgun, I roosted a group of five gobblers at sunset and was back in the timber, seated in the oak shrouded gooseberries an hour before sunrise the following morning.  At the approach of daybreak, I found that, in addition to the five toms, there were more jakes and gobblers that I hadn’t seen the night before.  After being treated to a World Class Gobble-Fest, the first tom sailed off the roost and – amazingly — walked directly to my position.  Slowly shouldering my old Navy Arms double barrel, I let the giant bird keep coming until, from my sitting position, he looked about as big as T-Rex.  At a distance of just seven paces, I finally dropped the hammer.  The old street sweeper roared and the gobbler collapsed.  Breathing a sigh of relief, I watched as a ground hugging cloud of white muzzleloader smoke drifted down the ridge.  The tide had turned.

Fantasy Ridge – Coming off the roost, the gobbler marched in to just seven paces.  I was carrying the same Navy Arms muzzleloader that I’ve been using since Iowa’s modern-day turkey seasons first began in the 1970s.  A load of close range #8s put the 24 pounder in the bag.

Switching back to the bow, I enjoyed a couple of additional public land encounters, but was unable to fill my second tag.  Oh well; wouldn’t be the first time I ended the season with an unpunched license.  But the tide turned once again, when a lone tom suddenly decided that annihilating my jake decoy was his life’s mission.  After delivering some repeated and punishing blows to my plastic effigy, the Long Beard finally paused to present a perfect, head-on shot.  Picking a spot just above the base of the beard, I drew back, released the string, and the gobbler was mine.  

Archery Adventure – Bent on destroying my decoy, the attacking gobbler finally paused for a perfect head on shot.  Hand crafted by Iowa’s Dave Thomas, my 45# Osage orange longbow stopped the Long Beard dead in his tracks.

Of all Iowa’s game species, the eastern wild turkey is easily our most challenging – at least in my opinion.  Turkey hunting spins on a dime with success and failure residing on opposite sides of the same, razor thin line.  For me, the hunt often becomes a roller coaster series of extreme highs and extreme lows with the birds winning far more contests than they lose.  To enjoy the good fortune of bagging two mature gobblers during the final week of the waning 2024 season will certainly be remembered as an extreme high.

Leave a Comment

Scroll to Top