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Art Lander’s Outdoors: Kentucky’s 2023 spring wild turkey season harvest exceeded expectations

An adult gobbler (Photo courtesy of the National Wild Turkey Federation)

Kentucky’s spring wild turkey season ended Sunday, May 7, and it’s not a stretch to say that the harvest numbers exceeded expectations.

Zak Danks, wild turkey program coordinator for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources (KDFWR) was optimistic about the season outlook.

But who could have imagined such a large harvest increase?

Wild turkey gobbler and hen (Photo courtesy National Wild Turkey Federation)

After two days of hunting during the youth season and the 23-day general season, hunters had checked in 35,639 birds, according to results updated on the department’s website as of May 8. It was the second highest spring harvest on record, just 458 birds less that the all-time high of 36,097 set in 2010.

The 2023 spring season harvest results will long be remembered as a big time harvest rebound to levels recorded between 2010 and 2020, when hunters bagged more than 30,000 turkeys during eight spring seasons.

This spring hunters reported taking a whopping 8,777 more turkeys than the previous season, a 32.6 percent increase. Last spring hunters reported taking 26,862 turkeys.

High Percentage of Adults Birds Taken

Danks had forecasted a good year for gobbling by 2-year-old birds based on the above-average turkey brood survival rate recorded in 2021. “We have observed more large groups of gobblers and other indications that further support the forecast for great opportunities for hunters to harvest mature gobblers,” Danks said prior to the season.

That prediction also held true as hunters reported taking 31,890 adult bearded turkeys, or 89.5 percent of the total harvest.

Art Lander Jr. is outdoors editor for the Northern Kentucky Tribune. He is a native Kentuckian, a graduate of Western Kentucky University and a life-long hunter, angler, gardener and nature enthusiast. He has worked as a newspaper columnist, magazine journalist and author and is a former staff writer for Kentucky Afield Magazine, editor of the annual Kentucky Hunting & Trapping Guide and Kentucky Spring Hunting Guide, and co-writer of the Kentucky Afield Outdoors newspaper column.

Harvest Statistics

• The top 10 Kentucky counties were: Ohio, 720; Pulaski, 653; Graves, 623; Breckinridge, 622; Hart, 612; Logan, 607; Owen, 599; Muhlenberg, 589; Hardin, 576, and Grayson, 573.

• The top three wildlife regions were: Green River (25 counties), 10,048; Bluegrass (31 counties), 8,203, and Southeast (29 counties), 7,895.

• Public lands open to hunting include: state wildlife management areas, hunting access areas, state park lands, state forests, national forests, national recreation areas, federal army bases and depots, and recreation areas around major lakes.

Hunters reporting taking 2,119 turkeys on public lands (135 areas) in 2023

The top five public lands were: Daniel Boone National Forest, 629; Ft. Knox Military Reservation, 163; Peabody WMA, 126, Land Between the Lakes, 104, and Blue Grass Army Depot. 71.


The weather during the season was typical for spring in Kentucky.

There was a mix of warm, dry, sunny days, perfect conditions for hunting, a few frosty mornings, a few dreary cool overcast days, and some localized rains.

There were also a few days when high winds made hunting difficult, and there was a wide spread downpour of rain across the state, and some localized hail storms, on the last day of the season.

Wild turkey populations in Kentucky seem to be on the rebound, as evidence by this dramatic harvest increase. This is due to improving hatches and survival in recent years.

Danks said he can’t over emphasize the importance of the turkey hatch to hunter success.

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