Last updated on August 10th, 2023
In this article, we look at Georgia’s turkey population, the state’s turkey hunting statistics and opportunities, as well as the upcoming 2023 turkey season.
Like flipping a light switch, when the sun sets on the last day of deer season, my mind immediately transitions to cool spring mornings and the gobbles of an old tom turkey echoing through a hardwood bottom. Unfortunately for Georgia hunters, those gobbles have gotten fewer and further between over the last 20 years.
Based on 2021 data, the overall Georgia turkey harvest has declined from a high of over 40,000 birds in 2005 to just 18,763 in 2021. Subsequently, the harvest rate (turkeys harvested per hunter) has dropped from an average of over 0.65 to a low of 0.34 in 2021. So Georgia hunters, as a whole, are only killing half the turkeys we once did. If you’ve hunted turkeys for very long, you’ve undoubtedly noticed the decline.
But it’s not just a Georgia issue.
Turkey populations appear to be declining across much of the southeast, and many states are starting to take reactive measures.
Major Changes to Georgia’s Turkey Season
In response to the steady decline in turkey numbers and hunter success, the Georgia DNR made some aggressive changes for the 2022 spring turkey season that will also carry over to the 2023 season.
The first of those changes was a one-week delay in the season opener on private land and an additional week delay on public lands. The DNR also reduced the season bag limit from three to two gobblers, and only one bird may be taken per day.
At the time I write this, harvest data from the 2022 spring turkey season has not been released, so I’m not sure what impact the new regulations had on the turkey population. It will likely take several years before we truly know if shorter season and reduced bag limits turns the tide on declining turkey numbers.
2023 Georgia Turkey Season Dates
So, what does all this mean for the 2023 season?
The 2023 Georgia turkey season will open Saturday, April 1 on private lands and Saturday, April 8 on public lands, and will wrap up May 15 statewide. Keep in mind that each of Georgia’s 100+ wildlife management areas (WMAs) has specific season dates and rules, so check the current hunting regulations before heading out to your favorite WMA.
Youth hunters 16 and under continue to have a one-week jump start on the season with a March 25-26 Special Opportunity Season on private lands only.
|Turkey Season||Season Dates|
|Special Opportunity Youth/Mobility Impaired||March 25-26, 2023|
|Statewide (Private Land)||April 1 – May 15, 2023|
|Statewide (Public Lands)*||April 8 – May 15, 2023|
* Each Georgia WMA has its own season dates and regulations, so be sure to check the current hunting regulations for the WMA you intend to hunt before heading afield.
Best Counties to Kill a Turkey
Just because Georgia turkey numbers have been on the decline for a while, doesn’t mean there isn’t great turkey hunting to enjoy in the Peach State. However, some counties and public lands offer higher odds of success than others.
The Piedmont and Upper Coastal Plain regions of Georgia have consistently produced the highest turkey harvests over the last two decades. But on a local level, several counties in northwest Georgia actually lead the statewide harvest.
Top turkey-producing counties in that area for 2021 were Floyd County at 246 birds, followed by Polk (222), Bartow (188), Gordon (172), and Walker (171). In the east-central part of the state, Burke County had a harvest of 200 birds, while nearby Hancock County came in at 164. In the southwest portion of the state, Talbot County led the pack with a 2021 harvest of 96 birds, followed by Stewart County with 85. In the southeast, it was Laurens (163) and Dodge (129) counties that led the way.
For detailed county-by-county turkey harvest data, check out Georgia DNR’s Interactive Turkey Harvest Map.
Best Public Lands to Kill a Turkey
If you don’t have access to private land, there are plenty of public land options for Peach State turkey hunters. Georgia hunters are fortunate enough to have access to over 1 million acres of public hunting land spread over 100 wildlife management areas and two national forests. Some of these WMAs only allow turkey hunting through a quota system, while others are open for anyone who wants to sign in and hunt. More about the quota hunt system below.
In 2021, just under 16,000 turkey hunters signed in to hunt on Georgia’s WMAs, and those hunters harvested 1,069 gobblers. That’s an overall 6.7% success rate, which is pretty dismal. Keep in mind, however, that some WMAs boast much higher success rates than others.
While I can’t cover every public land option in this one article, what I can do is hit the areas with the highest turkey harvests last season to give you a potential starting point. But keep in mind that the overall turkey harvest on a property doesn’t paint the whole picture. The size of the property and the total number of hunters using it are also important factors in determining how good the turkey hunting truly is. For example, more turkeys were killed on the Chattahoochee National Forest than any other public land, but when you consider the massive size of the forest, other WMAs actually produce more turkeys per acre.
With that in mind, here are some of the top Georgia public lands for turkey hunting in terms of total harvest:
|Public Land||2021 Turkey Harvest|
|Chattahoochee National Forest||127|
|Dawson Forest WMA||27|
|Oconee National Forest||25|
|Crockford-Pigeon Mountain WMA||23|
|Berry College WMA||22|
|Pine Log WMA||22|
|Paulding Forest WMA||21|
Applying for Georgia Quota Turkey Hunts
As I mentioned earlier, many of Georgia’s best public land turkey hunting opportunities are quota hunts. That means you must apply for the hunt prior to turkey season and be drawn in order to participate. Each year you apply for a hunt and don’t get drawn, you will earn a preference point, which improves your odds of being drawn in future seasons. The best hunts will probably take two to four years to draw. You can see the odds of drawing specific hunts based on previous years on the Georgia DNR’s website at this link.
That application period for quota turkey hunts begins June 1 each year with a deadline of February 15. The DNR typically conducts the drawing and notifies everyone a day or two following the deadline.
While the “good old days” of Georgia turkey hunting may be in the past, there are still plenty of opportunities to have a great hunt in the Peach State. And who knows, maybe the shift to more conservative season dates and bag limits will turn the tide on the declining turkey population. Regardless, I’ll be out there on April 1 listening intently for that first gobble of the spring season.