Youth turkey season opens April 6-7

March 27, 2024

Spring is coming, and we’re all picturing it: trekking under budding trees, brushing past blooming daffodils, eyes and ears on hyperalert through the morning fog. The gear on your back becomes weightless and you forget about the predawn chill, or maybe even welcome it.

After all, hunting is a sensory experience, and spring turkey season is a perfect call to the field. When you hear a gobble in the distance for the first time, you finally understand what the hype is all about.

Conservation Officer Sgt. Ben Fisher with the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources enjoys spring turkey season for more than just the sport of it, too. “Any parent or mentor that has taken a youth on their first hunt, especially a successful one, would tell you that the experience is like no other,” Fisher said.

Kentucky’s 2024 youth-only season opens to hunters ages 15 and younger the weekend of April 6-7; the general season runs April 13 through May 5. This spring, hunters in the state should anticipate the kind of classic spring turkey season for which Kentucky is known.

“I expect a strong harvest on par with Kentucky’s averages,” said Zak Danks, wild turkey and grouse program coordinator for Kentucky Fish and Wildlife.

Fisher and his fellow conservation officers have taken 23 disabled youth hunters into the field through his Little Heroes Disabled Youth Hunt program, which he started personally in 2016.

During the hunts, Fisher and other conservation officers help youth hunters and their parents work through the nitty-gritty details of a hunting trip.

“I knew that it would be impossible for Reagan to participate in the outdoors without my help,” said Fisher. “There are many hunts focused on youth but very few focus on youth with disabilities due to its heavy involvement and other risk factors.”

Danks expects an average harvest and noted that the 2023 spring season overall harvest was even more successful than anticipated. “Things will be back to normal this year,” he said. “Our statewide turkey hatch has been stable the past two years after the bump in 2021, which is consistent with other states across the region.”

Kentucky turkey hunters harvested an impressive 35,655 birds in spring of 2023, the state’s second highest total harvest on record. It was 21% higher than the three-year average, 23% higher than the five-year average and 18% higher than the ten-year average.

Kentucky Fish and Wildlife monitors wild turkey reproduction through annual summer brood surveys, which help biologists make season predictions each year based on the ratio of hens to poults observed during the summer months. The exceptional poult hatch of 2021, a ratio of 3.2 poults per hen, led to the boost in excitable two year old gobbler activity on the landscape in 2023. When it comes to this season’s jakes, the 2022 brood survey resulted in 2.3 poults per hens, a ratio which has stayed consistent 2019 through 2023 besides the spike in 2021.

There’s plenty of gobbling to be heard, but due to a solid mast crop last fall and the recent mild winter, birds will simply have less incentive to move, said Danks. From a hunting perspective, seasons of above-average mast crops tend to correlate with less wildlife movement. This means that hunters will want to plan on extra scouting trips this season.

Mast refers to the fruit of trees, such as nuts and acorns, and is especially important to wildlife during spring breeding. The department conducts annual mast surveys of red and white oak, hickory and American beech tree production throughout the state; Kentucky’s 2023 mast survey saw an overall higher mast production last fall than the previous year.

It seems as though spring is coming early, too, and that will play a role in the season’s outcome. Birds will also be feeding on green vegetation and insects left from a mild winter.

Kentucky’s spring turkey hunting season is planned to coincide with the breeding season, when gobblers are searching for hens. “The increase in daylight hours dictates the beginning of spring breeding, but weather can also shift the timing,” explained Danks.

He also reminded hunters that turkey hunting success is weather-dependent; the pleasant weather during opening day of the 2023 season also helped boost harvest rates. In general, hunters should hope for less rainfall and warmer temperatures. Rainy days are the worst conditions for spring turkey hunting when birds typically hunker down.

Remember that turkeys may not be hunted over bait or while roosting in trees. During the spring season, a legal turkey is defined as a turkey that is male or has a visible beard; hunters are allowed no more than two legal turkeys and no more than one bird is allowed per day. Turkeys taken by young hunters during the youth-only season count toward their spring limit. Shooting hours are 30 minutes before sunrise to 30 minutes after sunset, but hunters may be in the field before and after shooting hours.

A summary of season regulations and turkey hunting basics is available online at the department’s Spring Turkey Hunting page.

Spring turkey hunting success also relies on a good turkey call and knowing how to use it well. Some hunters set up blinds with decoys to call turkeys in, but calling from more remote locations is another common tactic. Boating into an area can help reach different locations to scout.

However, remember never to stalk a turkey. The chances of an accident overshadow the slim likelihood of making a successful shot.

Some shotgun loads available nowadays can pack a bigger punch and travel further, but these also create room for error and accidents as the pellets disperse. Additionally, be sure that no other turkeys are in close proximity with your target bird to avoid any violations such as accidentally shooting two birds or a non-bearded hen.

All harvested turkeys must be logged and telechecked. Hunters who harvest a turkey with a green or silver metal leg band are also encouraged to report band information to the department.

Download the 2024 Spring Hunting Guide Today!

Hunters should consult the online 2024 Kentucky Spring Hunting Guide before the season, which provides information about current regulations, gobbler and hen identification, licenses and permits, legal equipment, safety tips and more. The guide can be downloaded to your smart phone for easy access. Printed versions of the 2024 Spring Hunting Guide are not available.

Public land hunters will want to keep in mind that they may only harvest one bird per Wildlife Management Area (WMA) each season. Kentucky Fish and Wildlife’s online Public Lands Searchat includes maps, directions and any special regulations for all public hunting land. Prescribed burn sites are known for being great spots to target turkeys, and Danks suggested that hunters set up in open areas near past burn locations.

For more hunting tips, be sure to watch a special Kentucky Afield TVshow focusing on the spring turkey season. The program will be livestreamed on Monday, March 18. Along with Danks, biologist Jacob Stewart and Conservation Officer Travis Abrams will join host Chad Miles in answering questions from hunters.

The show will be livestreamed at 7 p.m. (Eastern) through the Kentucky Afield Facebook page, the Kentucky Afield Youtubechannel and at The recorded program will air on Kentucky Educational Television (KET) on March 23 at 8:30 p.m. (Eastern).