Northwest Oregon | Southwest Oregon | High Desert/Central Oregon | Northeast Oregon
Male turkey displays rival the spectacle of sage grouse during spring mating season. The fairer sex in the turkey world, toms use their iridescent red, green, copper, bronze and gold feathers to try and attract a mate—fanning their tails and strutting out in the open to show off. Their brightly colored heads can alternate between red, white and blue, often changing color in just a few seconds.
But unlike sage grouse and many other species, hunters can pursue turkey at the height of this mating spectacle, which makes for a very exciting hunt. Hunters use calls to mimic the sound of other turkeys and call in a tom to harvest—using the male’s eagerness to find a hen and its aggression against other males to their advantage. The spring turkey hunting season runs April 15-May 31 statewide in Oregon.
Last year’s spring harvest of 4,948 turkeys was the up 17 percent from the previous year and the highest since 2010. This spring turkey hunting season could be even better.
“Production was good last year and despite more snow this winter, we didn’t see any significant over-winter mortality among turkeys,” said David Budeau, ODFW upland bird coordinator. “The above average precipitation should result in good habitat conditions throughout the state.”
All you need to spring turkey hunt is camo, a call, and a shotgun. A hen or jake decoy can also improve your odds. You can hunt for six weeks (April 15-May 31) anywhere in the state. New for 2016, the season bag limit is up to three turkeys statewide (previously, hunters could only use a third tag in parts of western Oregon). The daily bag limit remains one and hunters need to purchase a tag before harvesting each turkey. There is no deadline, just get one before you go hunting.
Budeau urges kids to turkey hunt and notes the high rates of success for those who do. “There is a high level of harvest of turkeys from kids in general,” he said. “Youth tag holders took 22 percent of the total turkeys last year, 75 percent of it during the general season.” There is also a special youth-only season each year the weekend before the general season opener (so April 9-10 in 2016).
Kids get a discounted turkey tag ($10.50). Kids age 9-13 who are not yet hunter education certified are welcome to hunt on an adult’s turkey tag under the Mentored Youth program.
Where are the turkeys?
Turkey hunting opportunities have drastically expanded in the last 20 years, as these maps from 1993 and 2013 show. (Wildlife biologists looked at the overall harvest and individual hunter success to judge each of Oregon’s wildlife management units as good, fair or difficult.)
Southwest Oregon continues to be the leading place to find turkeys. For the second year in a row the Melrose Unit did not take first place in turkey harvest— that honor went to Rogue Unit again. This was partly due to a decline in hunting pressure in Melrose, which could be related to lack of public lands in the unit (just 16 percent of Melrose is public land and some private land is tied up by leases).
ODFW is working to increase accessible turkeys throughout Oregon. This winter about 400 nuisance turkeys from private land were relocated to public lands or public accessible areas.
Those who want to hunt southwest Oregon may have an easier time accessing land in Rogue, which is 57 percent public lands, or another leading unit like Applegate or Evans Creek. While a lot of turkey harvest in the Rogue is on private land, there is good turkey habitat in the Jackson Cooperative Travel Management Area and some USFS land. See the Jackson County report below for more information.
The White River Unit continues to lead in hunting pressure and came third in overall harvest level. Biologists advise scouting in advance, hunting on a weekday or waiting until later in the season for the best experience in White River Unit.
Don’t forget about northeast Oregon. Nearly half (47%) of the turkeys harvested during the spring 2015 season were harvested east of the crest of the Cascade Mountains. Mt. Emily, Sled Springs, Ukiah, Heppner, Northside, consistently rank high in terms of total harvest and individual hunter success rates are generally better in the northeast part of the state. Many northeast Oregon birds are found on public lands, particularly national forests. In most years, birds can take advantage of open southern exposures at higher elevations before the hunters can get to them, but this year snow may not limit access to these areas.
Finally, if you have access to private land, hunting can be excellent in northwest Oregon.
Visit ODFW’s oregonhuntingmap and click on Game Bird Range Maps/Turkey to get a sense of where to find turkeys in Oregon. ODFW’s turkey hunting page also provides a map showing turkey distribution throughout the state. The Game Bird Harvest Statistics page shows the level of effort and harvest in each wildlife management unit.
The increased snow pack will lead to better habitat condition, but hunters should check road conditions and access before heading out, especially early in the season. Snow may limit access to some areas.
Tags and regulations
Spring turkey hunting is general season, and anyone can purchase a tag any time before going hunting. Turkey tags are $22.50 for residents, $10.50 for youth hunters (age 17 and under). Hunting licenses are $29.50 for residents. New in 2016, all youth hunters age 12-17 can get a $10 combination license (includes hunter, angler, shellfish and Columbia River Basin Endorsement).
The daily bag limit is one male turkey or a turkey with a visible beard (so hens with beards may be lawfully taken). The season limit is three legal turkeys; hunters must purchase a tag for each turkey. See page 19 of the Oregon Game Bird Regulations for more information. Note that ODFW is out of 2015-16 Game Bird Regulations so use the online version if you don’t have a copy already.
Finally, don’t forget to report results for each tag you purchased no later than Jan. 31, 2017. Report online or by phone (1-866-947-6339), even if you didn’t take a turkey or didn’t go hunting. Hunters need to know their hunter/angler ID number, hunting location (wildlife management unit), and days spent hunting to complete the report. Spring turkey hunters that do report by Jan. 31, 2017 are entered into a contest to draw a special 2017 big game tag of their choice (deer, elk or pronghorn).
Turkey hunting: Tips, equipment, and safety
While turkeys are notoriously difficult to sneak up on due to their excellent eyesight, the urge to mate makes wary toms (males) a little less cautious when they hear the call of a hen in the spring.
In general, turkeys will be moving higher in elevation in the spring, following the snow line. They do not favor areas with a lot of underbrush for mating displays, so look for openings in the forest (meadows, old roads, power line clearings, etc.). Don’t forget to visit recent burns or clear cuts when doing your pre-season scouting. Wild turkeys will vocalize most in the morning and evening, so go early and stay late to figure out where the birds are spending their time.
Toms can become harder to hunt and less vocal later in the season as the mating season falls off the peak. A realistic jake or hen decoy which will draw the bird’s attention away from you and put him right where you want him.
The National Wild Turkey Federation’s website collects their best tips and tactics, or check out ODFW’s turkey hunting brochure (PDF). Highlights:
- Scout the area where you want to hunt first. Look for turkey sign like tracks and droppings.
- Once you know where to hunt, set up to call. Stay at least 100 to 150 yards from roosting turkeys; getting closer could spook them away.
- Don’t set up to call in cover or thick brush—turkeys tend to avoid these. If possible, set up with a tree or rock wider than your shoulders and taller than your head at your back, to protect yourself from a shot by a careless hunter.
- Be motionless while calling. Remember turkeys have a great vision.
- Experience will teach you how to call. Sometimes loud, aggressive calling works; other times soft, infrequent calls are best.
- Call your bird within 25 yards before taking a shot; aim for the base of the head when shooting. (Turkeys are very large birds and can be tough to bring down, so don’t shoot from too far away.)
- Immediately tag your bird and don’t delay in dressing it either.
- For safety, place your bird in a sack or cover with hunter orange when leaving the woods.
Equipment needs: You need a shotgun no larger than 10 gauge or smaller than 20 gauge, camouflage clothing (because turkeys have excellent eyesight) and a turkey call to get started. Shot size must be no larger than No. 2 but there are no longer minimum shot size restrictions. Sizes 4, 5 and 6 tend to be best for turkey. Bows are also legal weapons for turkey hunting. A hen or jake decoy can help improve your odds.
Safety: Never wear red, white, blue or black when turkey hunting. You could be mistaken for a turkey. Use caution when calling turkeys where other hunters may be present—and realize that the calling you hear may be other hunters.
Trask and Willamette Units
Turkey hunting opportunities in the Trask Unit and Willamette Unit (north of Salem) will be limited for hunters who do not have access to private lands. There are a few widely scattered turkey flocks located within this area, but they are concentrated on local farms and ranches. Hunters will have needed to contact landowners before the season to have the best chance of success. Hunters willing to knock on doors may find some willing landowners and hidden flocks of turkeys. Hunting should be good for those hunters lucky enough to have obtained permission to access private lands to hunt.
Turkey populations are extremely low and not widely distributed. Hunters will need to have scouted early to find turkey flocks and obtained permission to hunt on private property to be successful.
Stott Mt. and Alsea Unit
Turkeys are found on the private agricultural lands with rolling oak woodlands adjacent to the larger private timber holdings. Most turkey populations are in the eastern third of these units, closer to the Willamette Unit. Remember to get permission to hunt on private land.
Santiam and McKenzie Units
Hunting success is dependent upon securing access to private lands with turkeys and early scouting. Turkeys are most often found on private lands in the foothills along the west side of these units. It is uncommon to find turkeys in the Douglas fir forests at higher elevations. Hunting can be very good in the McKenzie and southern portions of the Santiam Units for hunters that have done their homework and obtained access to private lands. Turkey are not abundant in the northern portions (north of Silverton) of the Santiam Unit and hunters will have difficulty finding the few scattered flocks.
|Nghia and Kirsten Pham of Prineville with Kirsten’s first spring turkey, taken last year in the Ochocos.
-Photo by NH Pham-
Click photo to enlarge.
For the second year in a row, Coos County has seen a relatively mild winter. Rainfall amounts were high but temperatures remained relatively warm. It is unclear how these conditions will effect brood survival. Turkey populations generally do not reproduce as quickly on the coast as they do in inland areas, so total numbers tend to be lower in Coos County than some other counties. However, populations in Coos County are increasing and spreading throughout the county. Presently, birds can be found in almost all lowland areas associated with agriculture. Since these lands are private, in most cases, hunters should be prepared to knock on doors to gain access to quality hunting areas. Hunters who are willing to do that have fairly high odds of filling their tags.
The turkey population has been low for several years. Reproduction along the coast is often slower than inland areas; survival is harder with the rains that occur here. But expect a fair hunting season this year. Hunters will need to have scouted early to find turkey flocks and obtained permission to hunt on private property. Look in areas where oaks and grassy prairies and taller timber for roost sights are found.
Hunters can expect a good spring gobbler hunt this year. Last year, the chick/poult counts were down from the last two years. However, carryover of adult from this year’s winter should make for a good hunting season. While the hens are off nesting during the first part of the season, most gobblers can be found on private land, usually in oak savannah habitat. The county has a lot of turkeys on private land in the Melrose unit but there is public hunting opportunity on the Umpqua National Forest (Tallow Butte in the South Umpqua near Tiller plus Toketee Air Strip and Fish Creek area on the North Umpqua). There are a few Roseburg BLM lands adjacent to private lands, like N. Bank Habitat Area, offering excellent opportunities for hunting in low elevation oak savannah habitat which is great for turkey. If you are looking for a private lands hunt, asking for permission later in the season, after landowner’s friends, family and guides have hunted, sometimes brings results. It can be hard for a regular hunter to gain access on some private property on the valley floor because some of them work with guides that have clients that hunt exclusively on their property.
This past winter, about 200 birds in Douglas County causing nuisance or damage, including 70 male turkeys, were relocated to public lands within the county.
Turkeys are on the rebound after a few years of poor nesting success. This year’s turkey numbers are up, and hunting is expected to be good to above average. Turkeys will be feeding on green grasses and insects. Use locator calls before light or after dark to locate roosting trees; then set up in an area of their travel and begin calling as light approaches. Turkey flocks continue to be found in a wide variety of places in Jackson County. While most turkeys will be found on private lands, plenty of public lands have turkey, including grassy/oak savannas on BLM lands and lower elevation timber/meadow lands of the Rogue National Forest. The best areas in the Rogue Unit to hunt would be all the roads along the Butte Fall-Prospect Hwy between Butte Falls and Prospect. Other spots are found in areas within the Jackson Cooperative Travel Management Area map.
Turkey numbers in Josephine County increased with last year’s increased successful production of poults. Hunting is expected to be good to above average. Turkeys can be tough to hunt in the county as most are found on private property. Don’t be afraid to ask landowners to hunt on their property; turkeys can be a problem for them and they may be willing. Most turkeys are found along the Applegate River and Evans Creek drainages, but turkeys can also be found on most BLM lands. Try areas off of Galice road.
Turkey numbers going into the winter were above average in Baker County and there should have been good over-winter survival. The recent warm weather has triggered a spring green-up at lower elevations and hunters should concentrate their efforts near these areas. Hunters can improve their early season success by walking into areas that are not accessible by vehicles due to snow. Access to forestlands in the mid to upper elevations will still be limited due to snow in April. As the season progresses and snow lines retreat, turkeys will follow. There are public land hunting opportunities on the BLM and the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest as well as the ODFW-managed Elkhorn Wildlife Area. The Pine Creek, Sumpter and Keating units all hold good numbers of birds on public land. Remember to ask for permission before hunting on private properties.
Turkeys are widely distributed and continue to increase throughout the county. Over-winter survival was good this year and moderate spring conditions should start moving birds onto Forest Service lands as snow recedes and spring green-up occurs. During early season, some turkeys may persist on private property and permission is needed to hunt. Hunters have been successful in finding birds in the Middle Fork John Day River, Murderers Creek, and North Fork John Day River. However, turkeys appear to be abundant throughout the county. Other drainages recommended for hunters who are unfamiliar with the area to try are Ingle Creek, Fields Creek, Murderers Creek, and Deer Creek in the Murderers Creek Unit. In the Northside Unit, hunters may try Camp Creek, Pass Creek, Fox Creek, and Cottonwood (but much of Cottonwood is private), Dixie Creek, or the large tracts of National Forest. In the Desolation Unit, hunters may focus in the areas of Big Creek, Mosquito Creek, Vinegar Creek, or Desolation Creek.
Morrow, Gilliam, Wheeler Counties
Turkey numbers on Forest Service land and surrounding forested have increased over the past couple of years but are still below the population levels seen five or six years ago. Still there are good numbers of birds for hunters to pursue. Over-winter survival appears good again this year. The heavier snow pack will make access more difficult for hunters this year. Hunters will want to target the lower elevation portions of the forest at least until the snow pack recedes. Target the north slopes of the Blue Mountains as well as the North Fork John Day drainage. As the snow recedes, the turkeys will continue to move upslope following the receding snow line.
Turkeys inhabit Umatilla County in good numbers all along the front face of the Blue Mountains and they are expanding into new areas. These areas are dominated by private land and access is sometimes difficult. However, turkeys do inhabit some public land areas as follows: central Ukiah Unit on national forestland, southern Ukiah Unit on Pearson Ridge and surrounding drainages, Umatilla National Forest lands in the eastern portion of the Heppner Unit, Mt Emily Unit on Umatilla National Forest lands on ridges below Black Mountain. Turkeys will inhabit the low and mid-elevation areas while the snow is still present in high elevation habitats. Low elevation areas are dominated by private ownership and permission is needed to hunt. Warm temperatures in the latter half of March have reduced the snow pack in lower elevation areas. Turkeys will spread out from their wintering areas into this expanded area and be available to hunters over a larger area than in years when there is more snow.
Access to lower or mid elevation hunting locations should be good this year, but expect higher elevations to be snowed-in, especially in April. Due to an excellent hatch in 2015, turkey numbers are up from last spring and hunters can expect to find more jakes than in previous years. Birds may use areas with residual snow cover, so these spots should be considered when scouting for new hunting locations. Look for birds at the north end of the Grande Ronde Valley, Palmer Valley and the south end of the Catherine Creek Unit. The highest concentrations of birds will be in the west Sled Springs, Wenaha and east slopes of the Mount Emily unit within Union County. The Wallowa Whitman National Forest and Hancock Timber lands both hold great turkey habitat around the edges of the Grande Ronde Valley. Hancock lands are open to the public and provide several walk-in hunting opportunities within Union County. The Little Catherine Creek Travel Management Area provides access into road systems on the east side of the Grande Ronde valley; maps are available at the La Grande ODFW office and online. The Elkhorn Wildlife Area located in the southern portion of the Starkey Unit routinely holds good bird numbers and provides excellent public access. Ask for permission before entering private lands.
Turkeys wintered well and production was good this past year so numbers will be high again this season. While there is a little snow at mid-elevations, access to most units should be better than in most years. There will likely still be some drifts blocking a few forest roads. Many birds are already widely scattered throughout forested areas so hunters should put in some time hiking, listening, and looking for signs of turkey activity. Hunters are reminded that cooperative travel management areas are in effect in the Wenaha and Sled Springs Units, including on Hancock Timber property.
In Crook County, the best turkey hunting opportunities will be on forestland in the Ochoco, Grizzly, and Maury WMUs. Turkey numbers and distribution in the district are gradually increasing, with groups scattered throughout the national forest. This winter was more severe than the mild, open winters of recent years. Significant green-up is starting to occur at lower and mid-elevations, and turkeys will likely be found in these areas as they migrate up from wintering areas. Some north-slope and high elevation areas still have snow, and hunters should contact both the Ochoco National Forest and Prineville BLM offices for road conditions and motorized access restrictions. Motorized restrictions remain in effect year-around in the South Boundary Cooperative Travel Management Area (TMA) along the southern boundary of the Ochoco National Forest. Maps of the area are available at entry portal signs, and at ODFW and Ochoco National Forest offices in Prineville.
White River and Hood Units
Favorable weather conditions have maintained a stable turkey population in this area for the upcoming season. Turkeys in the White River Unit tend to be found primarily within the oak-conifer transition zone. Focusing your efforts on ridgetops in this zone should prove the most effective. The northern portion of the unit can provide good hunting opportunity but it’s mainly private land, so be sure to secure permission. Birds within the Hood Unit are at lower densities than in the White River, but tend to favor similar habitats. The White River Wildlife Area (WRWA) is a very popular area to hunt with good turkey numbers. Harvest in the unit has continued to increase due to high hunting pressure. Try hunting weekdays when it’s less crowded. Pre-season scouting can also be very helpful in locating the elusive spring gobbler. Identify where they roost, travel and feed and you will be more likely to bag one of these wary birds. Be careful and aware that other hunters could possibly be hunting the same turkey that you are after and take necessary safety precautions. Recent changes on the White River WA prohibit the use of ATV/OHVs, a parking permit is also required for all users of the wildlife area (permit comes with your hunting license but don’t forget to put it on your car dash).
Turkey populations remain low and not widely distributed. Turkey numbers are increasing slightly in the northern part of the Upper Deschutes unit. Look for turkeys on USFS and private timber company lands. Make sure to secure permission before hunting on private lands. Due to heavy snow pack in some areas, access could be difficult early in the season.
In Harney County, turkeys are restricted to the northern portion of the county on or near national forestland. Wild turkeys are not expected to have had good over-winter survival due to an extremely harsh winter. Local turkey populations are expected to be fair to potentially poor. An above average over-winter snow pack will limit access to many areas and especially north slope or shaded roads in the national forest.
Hunters should have a fair opportunity in Jefferson County in the Metolius Unit. Birds are widely scattered. The best locations are on Green Ridge from Black Butte north to the Warm Springs Reservation, and east into the juniper zone. Hunting pressure will drop off significantly after opening week. Some lower elevation roads, although bare, may be soft and muddy, or blocked by downed trees. Contact the Sisters Ranger District of the Deschutes National Forest for road conditions and motorized access restrictions.
For Klamath County, turkeys are primarily restricted to the Keno Unit although a few birds have been taken in the Klamath Falls Unit over the last few years. Hunting access is good in the southern portions of the Keno Unit as a result of low snow pack levels over winter. This area is predominantly either open-to-hunt private timberland or BLM land. Areas to check for turkey activity are south of Hwy 66 and west of the Klamath River Canyon to Copco Road. Turkeys can also be found north of Hwy 66 around Johnson Prairie. Hunters who take a banded turkey are asked to please contact the local ODFW district office in Klamath Falls (541-883-5732).
Turkeys continue to increase in both number and range in the northern portions of Malheur County. The forest fringe habitat from Juntura to Ironside has increasing numbers of birds in recent years and good public land access in many areas. However birds are not evenly distributed, hunters will need to spend some time in the area to locate areas that hold birds. The larger snow pack this winter may have also reduced bird numbers in this area.
Contact: Michelle Dennehy (503) 947-6022 / (503) 931-2748 / Michelle.N.Dennehy@state.or.us / Fax: (503) 947-6009