Our wild turkeys are calling
Nebraska offers the best turkey hunting opportunities in the entire country. It’s not just that Nebraska’s got an awful lot of turkeys – including the highly sought-after Merriam’s – though it certainly does. Nebraska also offers plentiful and affordable permits, long seasons, great public access and $8 permits for youth.
Turkeys can be found in every county of the state, and hunters will find good turkey opportunities on more than 500,000 acres of public and public-access land in Nebraska. Want to learn more about turkey populations in Nebraska? View recent reports and survey results below.
Spring: For 2017, spring archery opens March 25, while shotgun opens April 15. Nebraska’s spring season is among the longest around, with archery and shotgun seasons closing May 31.
Fall: Hunters get another long season later in the year; the fall season runs from Sept. 15 through Jan. 31.
Buying a permit: Permits are plentiful and may be bought at Game and Parks permitting offices, online or by mail. In the spring, hunters may buy up to three permits good for one bird each; fall hunters may buy two permits good for two birds. In 2015, Nebraska also began offering mobile turkey permits.
Residents – $30
Youth resident – $8
Nonresident – $109
Youth nonresident – $8
All Permits must have a $25 habitat stamp.
With lots of birds, lots of access and lots of permits, it’s no wonder that Nebraska’s turkey hunters have high success rates. In fact a recent survey of Nebraska hunters showed 90 percent of Nebraska turkey hunters were satisfied with their hunt.
Turkey hunting video resources
The Nebraska Game and Parks Commission has produced a series of educational turkey hunting videos. Learn more about equipment, techniques, turkey biology and more.
Learn about spring turkey hunting strategies from set up approach to walking in search of them (run’n’gun).
A basic introduction to equipment including shotguns, decoys, camouflage and blinds.
Calling turkey information with demonstrations of different turkey noises using slate, box and mouth calls.
Learn more about turkey biology and places to find them.
The wild turkey (Meleagris gallopavo) was extirpated from Nebraska by 1915, but thanks to successful reintroduction efforts beginning in the Pine Ridge in the 1950s, turkeys can be found across the state today. Reintroductions included three subspecies (Merriam’s, Rio Grande and Eastern wild turkeys), as well as a hybrid between Merriam’s and a game-farm variety that was found to do well where earlier releases failed. The hybrid birds proliferated and intermingled with the pure strains as populations grew. Turkeys in the panhandle and Niobrara River valley are most consistent in showing plumage characteristics of the Merriam’s subspecies.
The wild turkey is the largest upland game bird in North America. Adult Merriam’s toms taken in the fall season average 18 pounds and adult hens average 10 pounds. Hybrid birds can be heavier, weighing more than 25 pounds.
Proper identification of the sex of a turkey before the shot is taken is a legal requirement during the spring turkey season, when only males and bearded females may be harvested.
Correct reporting of the age and sex of turkeys by hunters after the kill is valuable in managing wild turkeys. Each fall and spring, Game and Parks staff survey a portion of turkey hunters and ask them questions about the hunt. The reported age and sex information is used in making turkey management decisions for the following year.
The head and neck of male birds are scantily feathered compared to the female, and a hen lacks the distinctive fleshy folds of skin that mark the male. Bumps called caruncles, the snood (a protuberance hanging over the beak) and the dewlap (protuberance hanging from the neck) take on either a brilliant, deep red color or a pale blue color during the gobbler’s breeding display. A bristle or filament beard extends from the midline of the gobbler’s upper breast. A few hens also have beards, usually thinner and shorter than male beards, so the presence or absence of a beard is not a reliable indication of a bird’s sex.
The breast feathers of a hen are fringed in white or buff, making hens appear frosted or light gray. Juvenile birds of both sexes have small “button” spurs. The males’ spurs continue to grow, becoming pointed, curved and sharp.
The following pictures can be used to help you in determining the age and sex of your turkey.
Central tail feathers
Because of the sequence of feather replacement, the middle feathers of a juvenile bird’s tail are longer than the other tail feathers. Adults’ tail feathers are of equal length.
Jakes, or first-year males, have short, rounded spurs usually less than half an inch long. As birds age, spurs grow longer and become more pointed and polished. Adults commonly have spurs at least 1/2 inch to over 1 inch long.
Wing tips of 9th and 10th primaries
Juveniles have sharply pointed and gray wing tips with little wear. Adults have distinctly barred tips. Wing tips on males are often heavily worn.
The breast feathers of a hen are fringed in white or buff, making the bird appear frosted or lighter colored. Male breast feathers are fringed in black, making them appear darker than the female.
Male turkeys and some females (about five percent) have beards. Growth rate is normally 4-5 inches per year, so it is common for juvenile males to have beards less than 6 inches long and for age two and older males to have beards greater than 6 inches in length. Normal wear and tear causes beards to wear and break so beard length varies considerably in older birds and may be less than 6 inches on occasion.