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Spring Wild Turkey Season in Cherokee National Forest

Male (tom) wild turkey displaying. The wild turkey is an upland ground bird native to North America and is the largest nesting bird in Tennessee. This large-bodied, species only flies short distances but roosts in trees at night. The historic range of Wild Turkey extended from southern Canada throughout the United States to central Mexico. The eastern subspecies occurs in Tennessee.

Staff Report

CLEVELAND, TENN, February 26, 2021 – USDA Forest Service officials say spring is a popular time of year in the Cherokee National Forest. The Cherokee National Forest covers 659,000 acres of public land in ten east Tennessee counties. The area offers a variety of outdoor recreation opportunities including hunting, fishing, boating, camping, hiking and more.Many outdoor enthusiasts consider spring their favorite time of year. Not just because it is a beautiful time of year, but because that is when wild turkey season begins in Tennessee.

The wild turkey is very vocal during the spring breeding season. The call, or gobble, of the wild turkey in the mountains of east Tennessee is an unforgettable sound. Male turkeys, known as toms or gobblers, usually begin attracting female (hen) turkeys by gobbling in late winter and early spring. This thunderous sound is a sure sign that spring is in the air. Gobblers are very competitive and become quite vocal at times.

The 2021 Tennessee statewide spring wild turkey season opens April 3. Some people believe the Cherokee National Forest (CNF) offers the ultimate turkey hunting challenge. The steep rugged terrain and remoteness of much of this area makes it a unique place to hunt. Although turkeys can be found throughout the CNF, they can be difficult to hunt. Much of the area is rugged and steep ranging from 1,000’ to 5,000’ in elevation. Experienced hunters rely on topographical maps and a compass or a global positioning system unit to make the most of their hunts.

Many roads within the CNF are closed to motorized vehicles, but are open to foot, bicycle, and horse travel unless posted otherwise. Many of the gated roads are maintained as linear wildlife openings that provide food for a variety of wildlife and “bugging” areas for young turkeys (poults). Insects are an important source of protein for poults.

Doing pre-season scouting, knowing how to read a map, knowledge of turkey habitat and habits, physical stamina and determination are keys to a successful turkey season in the CNF. Hunters often walk ridge tops and gated roads in hopes of hearing a turkey gobble. That’s the easy part. When a hunter hears a turkey gobble it often requires a cross-country trek to get into position closer to the bird. This sometimes forces hunters to hike into deep hollows and up steep rugged slopes.

For the determined hunter a typical hunt in the CNF can cover several miles. Experienced hunters say there’s just no easy way around it – you must be willing to work hard at turkey hunting in the mountains. Many people hunt the CNF because of the challenges it offers and believe that if it was easy it wouldn’t be as rewarding. Harvesting a turkey is only one aspect of a hunt. Using your navigational skills, going into places that most other hunters do not, and enjoying the sights and sounds of the spring woods are all part of why people hunt the Cherokee National Forest.

With the Tennessee spring turkey season just around the corner Forest Service officials remind hunters to check with the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA) for specific hunting regulation information. The TWRA is responsible for setting seasons and bag limits and for licenses and regulations.

For more information visit the website.General national forest information and maps are available at Forest Service offices in Greeneville (423-638-4109); Unicoi (423-735-1500); Tellico Plains (423-397-8455); Benton (423-338-3300) and in Cleveland at (423) 476-9700, or visit the website.