Southwest Oregon | Northwest Oregon | High Desert/Central Oregon | Northeast Oregon
Turkey hunting opportunities have drastically expanded in the last 20 years. Hunters can now find good turkey hunting in northwest and northeast, not just in southwest Oregon. Last year’s spring harvest of 5,245 turkeys was up 12 percent from the previous year and the highest since 2010.
Expect similar conditions in most of the state this year—except in northeast, where a tough winter likely reduced turkey numbers and will limit access at higher elevations early in the season.
“Production was good last year, but deep snow in some areas, particularly northeast Oregon, will have reduced over-winter survival,” said David Budeau, ODFW upland bird coordinator. “However, the above average precipitation should result in good habitat conditions throughout the state.”
Where are the turkeys?
Southwest Oregon continues to be the leading place to find turkeys. For the third 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 300 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 second 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 (49%) of the turkeys harvested during the spring 2016 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.
This year more than ever, it’s important for hunters to check road conditions and access before heading out, especially early in the season. Snow may limit access to some areas.
Tags and regulations
|Snow didn’t stop Tanner, age 14, from a successful turkey hunt in NE Oregon during the 2017 youth season. He is pictured with mom Sandra and dad Cary. Family friend Dean Brown called in the bird.
-Photo by Roblyn Brown-
Click photo to enlarge.
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. 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.
Spring turkey hunting is general season, and anyone can purchase a tag any time before going hunting. Turkey tags are $24.50 for residents, $10.50 for youth hunters (age 17 and under). Hunting licenses are $32.00 for residents.
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.
Finally, don’t forget to report results for each tag you purchased no later than Jan. 31, 2018. 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, 2018 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
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.
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.
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.
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.
Reports from local districts follow.
The winter of 2016/17 was very wet, windy and cold in Coos County. These conditions are not conducive to high winter survival for turkeys. However, prior to 2016/17 the past several winters were very mild and the summers were relatively dry—good conditions for turkey survival. So, turkey populations are still relatively high in the county and birds can be found in almost all areas where there is a significant amount of agricultural land. 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. Turkeys are beginning to create nests and incubate eggs. If wet, cool conditions persist as is anticipated, brood survival is expected to be poor compared to past years.
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. 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.
All indicators point to a healthy turkey population in Douglas County. In general, most turkeys are found on or adjacent to low-mid elevation private lands associated with oak savannah habitat. ODFW has also supplemented prime habitat within the Umpqua National Forest with turkeys over the last several years. 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.
This year’s turkey numbers remain strong, and hunting is expected to be 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 remain very strong. 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 many landowners that grow crops and they may be willing to allow hunters to come and hunt turkeys to reduce damage. 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.
Trask and Willamette Unit
Turkeys are actively strutting and gobbling. Finding a place to hunt is challenging in Northwest Oregon. Turkeys are primarily found on private lands and are not readily available to the public. Those hunters without local contacts should be out talking to landowners to acquire access to the few and widely scattered flocks. Some hunters knock on landowners’ doors where they see turkeys and ask permission to hunt. To find public land opportunities, consult Bureau of Land Management (BLM) or U.S. Forest Service maps and look for pockets of public land off the main roads, but adjacent to agricultural land and mixed hardwood forests since turkeys key in on acorns, but also feed in meadows on grubs and other insects. Pay special attention to river bottoms in these areas too. At this time of year, turkeys are found at lower elevations in areas with mixed hardwoods (such as oak savannah) and pasture—the type of habitat found mostly on private lands, although some BLM and Forest Service lands feature this habitat.
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.
Turkeys can be found on forestland in the Ochoco, Grizzly, and Maury WMU’s. Turkey numbers and distribution in the district are gradually increasing, with groups scattered throughout the national forest. There is still significant snowpack at higher elevations and north-facing areas of the forest, so travel will be limited. Slight green-up is starting to occur at lower and mid-elevations, and turkeys will likely be found in these areas. 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
With the heavy snowpack we got this year, turkeys should be a bit more concentrated in lower elevations during the early season than years past. Opportunity should open up in higher elevations as snow melts off. On public land in the southern portion of White River, covering a lot of ground and calling to listen for “shock gobbles” will be your best route to success. The northern portion of the White River unit will provide better hunting opportunity but it’s mainly private land, so be sure to secure permission. The White River Wildlife Area (WRWA) is a very popular area to hunt with decent turkey numbers. Harvest in the unit has continued to increase but hunter success is low. Try hunting weekdays or evenings when it’s less crowded. There are turkeys spread out over most of the wildlife area, hunting areas that have diverse oak/pine habitats and fields with plenty of forbs are generally the best places to start. Please obey all wildlife area signs and be cautious of other hunters. A parking permit is 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 in the Hood Unit are small but not many people hunt them. If you can find them, there’s a good chance you can succeed at harvesting a bird.
Turkey populations remain low and not widely distributed. Due to harsh winter conditions we expect overwinter survival to be lower than in recent years. Access may also be difficult early in the season. Lower numbers will impact hunter success. Look for turkeys on USFS and private timber company lands. Make sure to secure permission before hunting on private lands.
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 the 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.
There are a few turkeys along the west side of the Goose Lake Valley in the Interstate Unit.
The best locations to hunt turkey are in Jefferson County in the Metolius Unit on Green Ridge from Black Butte north to the Warm Springs Reservation, and east into the juniper zone. Hunting pressure usually drops off significantly after opening week. Lower elevation roads without snow 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 restricted to the Keno Unit. Hunting access is fair in the southern portions of the Keno Unit, though snow levels over winter have made many 2 track roads and trails too muddy to be driven without causing damage to the road. As a result, cooperators involved in the Pokegema Winter Range Road Closure have elected to delay opening those gates 1 week (Gates will open April 6). 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 but the harsh winter will have reduced bird numbers this year. 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.
|Talin and Mason both 11 years old with a bird taken in the Starkey Unit on public land during the 2017 youth season. These boys sat for a long time to bag this bird which came in silently.
-Photo by Hans Hayden-
Click photo to enlarge.
Turkey numbers going into the winter were above average in Baker County; however harsh winter conditions could have reduced 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 fair this year with a slightly higher mortality rate than previous years. However, turkeys remain abundant throughout the county. 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. 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. However, there are still good numbers of birds for hunters to pursue. Over-winter survival appears fair again this year; however 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 snowpack 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.
Heavy snowfall concentrated turkeys at lower elevations this winter. However, with the recent warm temperatures turkeys are making their way to higher elevations where there is suitable habitat. This year’s snowpack will limit hunter access to some of those higher elevation areas until later in the season. 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.
Access to lower elevation hunting locations should be good this year, but expect higher elevations to be snowed-in, especially in April. Due to an exceptionally hard winter, bird numbers may be down a bit from last year’s bumper crop. 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. At Ladd Marsh Wildlife Area, turkeys can also be found on Glass Hill. These birds spend their time in the transition between the open fields and the dense forest feeding and traveling amongst the brush. The birds are sensitive to pressure so hunters might be successful trying slow, soft calling. Also prime times will be the first part of season and the last based on hunter pressure.
Turkey numbers have dropped as a result of deep snow and cold temperatures this past winter. Road access is expected to be difficult, due to snow drifts, until late April at high elevations in the Wenaha, Sled Springs, and Chesnimnus units. Most of our snow is gone from low elevation areas and south-facing slopes of the district. Birds are beginning to scatter throughout forested areas so hunters should put in some time hiking, listening, and looking for signs of turkey activity. Call for them or just listen for their calls early in the morning. Hunters are reminded that cooperative travel management areas are in effect in the Wenaha and Sled Springs Units, including on Hancock Timber property.
Contact: Michelle Dennehy (503) 947-6022 / (503) 931-2748 / Michelle.N.Dennehy@state.or.us / Fax: (503) 947-6009