National Wildlife Refuge System

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Hunting Turkey and Upland Birds

Wild turkeys find the mix of hardwoods and prairie on many refuges in the Midwest to be ideal habitat. Thanks to reintroduction efforts, wild turkeys are thriving. On refuges that had no turkeys 20 years ago, hunters can now encounter flocks of 40 birds or more.

Some of the best turkey areas in the nation can be found in the bottomland hardwood forests of refuges in Missouri and other states with Mississippi River tributaries. At DeSoto NWR in Iowa, turkeys roam nearly every corner of the refuge, which holds wheelchair accessible turkey hunts in the spring, as well as youth and archery hunts.

In the Southeast, calling wary old gobblers in mysterious cypress brakes is one of the longest-standing sporting traditions. The turkeys there are some of the wariest in the country, and calling in a big gobbler in the thick swamps and forests is difficult but exciting. The spring turkey hunt at St. Marks NWR is one of the most popular quota hunts in Florida.

Northeast gobblers are equally cautious, but more hunters are taking up the challenge as the turkey population continues to recover. More refuges now offer turkey hunts in the spring and fall. Wallkill River NWR in New Jersesy is known for its spring and fall turkey seasons.

And keep the Northwest in mind for turkey. There are some overlooked hotspots here. At Little Pend Oreille NWR in Washington, turkeys can be seen nearly everywhere on the refuge.

Upland Birds
Some of the best pheasant hunting in the country can be had in the Northern Plain states. With a good dog and a willingness to work thick cover, hunters can pursue what is arguably still the most popular game species in this part of the country.

Upland bird hunters can find large populations of grouse in the Northeast, while hunters come from as far away as Alabama to hunt American woodcock at Moosehorn NWR in Maine, where the bird is thriving in the refuge’s alder thickets.

Since many refuges in the Northeast are in areas with high human density, refuge hunts are tightly managed for quality and safety. While this guide provides an overview, regulations vary by refuge. Check the refuge Web sites for specific rules and regulations.

Other Upland Bird Opportunities:

  • In the Midwest, refuges and Waterfowl Production Areas offer world-class hunting for upland birds. Pheasant, sharp-tailed grouse and gray partridge are common on many refuges, and an ambitious hunter with a good dog can take all three birds in one day. Pheasant can often be found in the cattails around the marsh, while the healthy prairies hold sharptails and partridge.
  • Hunters should not overlook the desert refuges in the Southwest for excellent upland bird hunting. While the desert may look like a monotonous landscape from the interstate, it has abundant game populations of quail and dove. In fact, some of the best quail hunting in the country can be found on Arizona’s national wildlife refuges. Hunters can expect large coveys of quail, challenging shooting and very little hunting pressure.
  • Upland game bird hunting is available on many refuges in the Northwest, including a number of wetland refuges better known for duck hunting. Pheasant, California valley quail, gray partridge, blue grouse and other species are often overlooked by hunters focusing on ducks and geese.
Last updated: November 21, 2012