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Hunting Public Lands for Turkeys Day 3: Hunting Public Lands for Turkeys All Across the Nation

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Editor’s Note: David Owens from Acworth, Georgia, was the 2018 National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF) Grand National Senior Open Division turkey-calling champion. In 2017, he completed an almost unbelievable feat by taking the U.S. Super Slam of wild turkeys, taking 49 gobblers in the 49 states that home wild turkeys with 90 percent of those birds harvested on public lands. Owens started hunting turkeys when he was 13 and has been hunting them for 20+ years.

I like to hunt public lands because public lands give me the opportunity to stretch my legs and cover a lot of ground. I don’t have the ability or the finances to buy enough land to keep me occupied throughout turkey season. But with the national forests, state forests, Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lands and other public lands that I can hunt, I can cover an awful lot of ground during opening season in several states. I guess I’m a run-and-gun type turkey hunter. I don’t like to stay in one spot very long. But if you turkey hunt every day of every season in a number of different states for 3 months, you’ve got to have a lot of land to hunt to keep from over-pressuring the turkeys. I don’t want to aggravate the same turkeys every morning.

When my friends and I go out West, there’s even more public land to hunt there than we have in the East. I also like going out West, because the seasons are later, especially the seasons in the Northwest. We often go out West the first week of May and hunt 9 or 10 days in Washington, Idaho and Montana. I really enjoy hunting the Merriam’s gobbler in that mountainous terrain with big timber. I love to hunt the Black Hills of South Dakota and Wyoming. The scenery out there is just fantastic. New Mexico and Arizona are also two of my favorite states to hunt. Being able to hunt that terrain is worth the trip. If you take a gobbler in that type of terrain, you’ve truly had a phenomenal experience.

In Washington State, I like to hunt the Rio Grande turkey. I’ve also hunted them in Idaho, Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Texas. However, I don’t enjoy hunting Rios in the Midwest and in Texas as much as I do in the Mountain States. Too, the terrain is different in the Midwest and Texas than you’ll find in the Mountain States, but it’s all good. I just enjoy going to places I’ve never been before and hunting terrain and turkeys that are different than the terrain and turkeys I have in Georgia. I also enjoy pinpointing gobblers on public lands that other people haven’t found. Even if I’ve hunted a state before, I like going to another public land in that state and hunting gobblers where I’ve never hunted them before.

I like to do map study before my hunts. I’m looking for public lands where I feel I have a good chance of taking a gobbler in that state. Next I like to choose four or five places on the public land I’ve never hunted before where I think I can find a gobbler. I pinpoint those places on the maps that I have in my cell phone, on my hand-held GPS and on the hard copies of the maps I have. I look for terrain that will allow me to cover a lot of ground close to good turkey habitat on my topo maps first. Next I look for places that will be difficult for most turkey hunters to get to, and I don’t like to hunt spots close to roads. So, I look for access places that most people may not think to use to get to remote areas.

I’ll also contact the National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF) (, the U.S. Forest Service (, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM)
( and state departments of conservation. Often, I’ll try to talk to biologists who are responsible for the public lands I want to hunt, and foresters and timber harvesters who work on those public lands. Doing this kind of research allows me to hunt turkeys all year long. Toward the end of the year before turkey season begins, I really put in some long hours of map research, telephone calling and interviewing people to get me in a place where my chances are best to bag a gobbler on public lands.

I’m a turkey hunter at heart, and all I claim to be is a turkey hunter. Every decision I make in life includes turkey hunting.

To learn more about turkey hunting, check out John E. Phillips’s book, “Turkey Hunting Tactics,” at
that’s available in Kindle, print and Audible versions. You may have to cut and paste this link into your browser. (When you click on this book, notice on the left where Amazon says you can read 10% of this book for free and hear 10% for free). To learn more about other turkey books by John E. Phillips, go to

Tomorrow: Learning the Unknown Challenges of Public Land Turkey Hunters

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