Northwest Oregon | Southwest Oregon | High Desert/Central Oregon | Northeast Oregon
April 9, 2015
Last year’s spring harvest of 4,229 turkeys was the up 9 percent from the previous year and the highest since 2010. This spring turkey hunting season could be even better.
“With the mild winter, more turkeys survived the season, particularly in areas of eastern Oregon where winter weather can be a limiting factor,” says David Budeau, ODFW upland bird coordinator.
Mikal Moore, Pacific Northwest regional biologist with the National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF), agrees. “Expanding turkey populations coupled with favorable over-wintering conditions should make for a very exciting wild turkey season this spring,” she said.
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, and buy up to three turkey tags in some areas. There is no deadline to purchase a tag, just get one before you go hunting.
The sight and sound of a turkey’s mating display is enough to quicken the pulse of even the most experienced hunter—and makes calling in a spring tom as exciting as calling in a bull elk.
The fairer sex in the turkey world, toms use their iridescent red, green, copper, bronze and gold feathers to their advantage when trying to attract a mate—fanning their tails and strutting out in the open to show off. Adding to the spectacle, their brightly colored heads can alternate between red, white and blue, often changing color in just a few seconds.
Youth-only weekend April 11-12
Budeau encourages kids to hunt the youth-only season this weekend (April 11-12), noting last year’s success rates. “There is a high level of harvest of turkeys from kids in general, and many of those were taken during the youth-only season last year,” he said. (Youth tag holders took 781 turkeys, 290 of those on the youth-only weekend.)
This weekend’s hunt is reserved for kids age 17 and under who are hunter education certified. Kids who hunt must be accompanied by an adult 21 years of age or older. See the Oregon Game Bird Regulations for details.
Where are the turkeys?
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.
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. But last year was the first time that Melrose Unit didn’t take first place in turkey harvest—that honor went to Rogue Unit (by just 7 turkeys) instead. This was partly due to a decline in hunting pressure in Melrose, which may 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. Last year it transplanted 45 Douglas County nuisance turkeys to public lands within the county. Another 80 birds went to public land in eastern Oregon.
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. Almost half (47%) of the turkeys harvested during the spring 2014 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. The Willamette, Santiam, and McKenzie made the top 10 units for turkey harvest.
Though the mild winter has led to better conditions this year, hunters should check road conditions and access before heading out, especially early in the season. Even without snow, some roads may be too wet and muddy to travel.
Tags and regulations
Spring turkey hunting is general season, meaning 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 or $14.50 for hunters age 9-17.
The daily bag limit is one male turkey or a turkey with a visible beard (hens with beards may be lawfully taken). The season limit is two legal turkeys; hunters must purchase a tag for each turkey. Hunters can get a third bonus tag to take an additional turkey in most of western Oregon (see page 15 of the Oregon Game Bird Regulations for Details).
Finally, don’t forget to report results for each tag you purchased no later than Jan. 31, 2016. 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, 2016 are entered into a contest to draw a special 2016 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.
Mikal Moore, with the National Wild Turkey Federation, recommends getting out early this year. “The very mild winter will mean an early start to the mating season with favorable nesting conditions by the start of the hunting season,” she said. “For the turkey hunter, this translates to getting out in the field earlier in the season and working the high elevations where turkeys migrate after snow melt. With hens on the nest, lonely toms will be susceptible to hunters and should respond well to hen calls.” Moore cautions that toms will become harder to hunt and less vocal later in the season as the mating season falls off the peak. She recommends 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:
|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.
Turkey hunting in the Trask and the Willamette Unit (north of Woodburn) remains difficult for hunters who do not have access to private lands since turkey flocks are concentrated on local farms and ranches. Hunting should be good for those hunters lucky enough to have obtained permission to hunt; the Willamette Unit came 5th in turkey harvest last year. Those willing to knock on doors may find some willing landowners and hidden flocks of turkeys.
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.
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 on 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.
Coos County has seen a relatively mild winter with lower than normal rainfall and fairly mild temperatures. This has resulted in better than expected survival rate for broods. If those conditions persist through spring nesting, we should also see higher than average production for the 2015 nesting season. Turkey populations generally do not reproduce as quickly on the coast as they do in inland areas and total numbers are lower. However, populations in Coos County are doing better. 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 taking a bird.
Hunting this spring is expected to be slightly better than last 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 are found.
Hunters can expect a good spring gobbler hunt this year. Last year, the chick/poult counts were well above average. An excellent carryover of adult gobblers due to a mild winter will also contribute to 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 excellent 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, 279 turkeys causing nuisance or damage issues in Douglas County were relocated. Most went to supplement populations in Lake and Klamath Counties. But about 125 birds, including 45 male turkeys, were relocated to public lands within Douglas County.
After last year’s successful nesting season, the district has an increase in turkey numbers which should make this season better than the past few years. 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. Another spot would be Worthington Road in the Green Top unit of the Jackson Cooperative Travel Management Area map off of Hwy 140.
Turkey numbers in Josephine County increased with last year’s higher successful production of poults and a mild winter. Hunting is expected to be better than the past few years. Turkeys can be tough to hunt 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.
Turkey numbers going into the winter were average in Baker County. However, a mild winter should have led to good 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 may still be limited in April. As the season progresses and snow lines retreat, turkeys will follow. There is public land hunting access on 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. Hunters planning on using Wallowa Mountain Loop Road (Forest Service Road 39) for access should be aware that the Forest Service has closed the road. For the latest information on the road closure, check the Forest Service website.
Turkeys are widely distributed and continue to increase throughout the county. Over-winter survival was good this year and conditions last spring were favorable for young birds. The turkeys should start moving onto Forest Service lands as snow recedes. Early in the season, some turkeys are 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. Turkeys are really just about everywhere but here are some recommended drainages for hunters unfamiliar with the unit to try: Murderers Creek try Ingle Creek, Fields Creek, Murderers Creek, or Deer Creek. In Northside, try Camp Creek, Pass Creek, Fox Creek, Cottonwood (but much of Cottonwood is private), Dixie Creek, or just about anywhere on the National Forest. In Desolation, try Big Creek, Mosquito Creek, Vinegar Creek, or Desolation Creek.
Morrow, Gilliam, Wheeler Counties:
Turkey numbers on Forest Service land and surrounding forested have decreased over the past couple of years but there are still good numbers of birds for hunters to pursue. Over-winter survival appears good again this year. The light winter will make for access easy into most of the forest and hunters should expect the birds to be widely scattered. 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 snowpack at lower and mid-elevation areas at a faster rate than usual. 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. Over-winter survival should be good this year. 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 units 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. The Elkhorn Wildlife Area located in the southern portion of the Starkey Unit routinely holds good bird numbers and provides excellent public access.
Turkeys wintered well and production was good this past year so numbers will be higher than the last few years. 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 better opportunities will be on national forestland in the Ochoco, Grizzly and Maury WMU’s. Winter conditions were mild and turkey survival appears to have been good. Spring started earlier than normal, and green-up has been early and rapid. Birds have moved from many lower elevation wintering areas to higher elevation public lands. Some north-slope 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:
A relatively mild winter and favorable spring conditions have helped maintain turkey numbers in this area for the upcoming turkey 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 during weekdays for less hunting pressure). 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 WRWA 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).
Although still at very low densities, turkey numbers are increasing slightly in the northern part of the Upper Deschutes unit. Look for turkeys on USFS and private timber company lands between Bend and Sisters.
In Harney County, turkeys are restricted to the northern portion of the county on or near national forestland. Wild turkeys are expected to have had good over-winter survival due to an extremely mild winter. Local turkey populations are expected to be fair to good. A below average over-winter snow pack will allow access to almost the entire national forest.
Hunters should have a fair opportunity in Jefferson County in the Metolius Unit. Birds had a relatively mild winter and 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. In addition to natural reproduction which is expected to be at or slightly below normal this year, turkeys removed from populated areas in southwest Oregon due to agricultural damage and nuisance animal complaints were released in the Keno Unit since last year. Hunters who take a banded turkey are asked to please contact the local ODFW district office in Klamath Falls (541-883-5732).
Contact: Michelle Dennehy (503) 947-6022 / (503) 931-2748 / Michelle.N.Dennehy@state.or.us / Fax: (503) 947-6009