An Oregon “Pilgrim” gets his turkey—Martin Pilgrim of Salem took this turkey while hunting near Grants Pass this year.
|12-year-old Hunter Paustian of La Grande with turkeys taken with a compound bow on a family hunting trip in Northeast Oregon this fall.
SALEM, Ore.—Make turkey hunting, not just turkey-eating, a family tradition this year. Nearly 700 general season tags are still available for purchase by anyone that wants to hunt fall turkey in Oregon.
Turkey hunting is growing in popularity nationwide and in the West. The National Wild Turkey Federation estimates there are now more than 7 million turkeys and 3 million turkey hunters nationwide. While 3,720 people hunted turkeys in Oregon during 1990, last year 16,493 people hunted turkeys in the state.
“Turkey hunting isn’t ingrained in our heritage like it is in eastern states, but hunters are picking it up out West,” says Ryan Mathis, National Wild Turkey Federation regional biologist. “People are turning it into a family tradition like deer or elk camp or the opening day of dove or waterfowl season, and hunting on the millions of acres of public land available in the West.”
Turkeys are not native to Oregon but the Oregon Game Commission introduced them in the 1960s with the public’s support. The two turkey subspecies present in Oregon are Merriam’s and Rio Grande, though most Merriam’s have since hybridized with Rio Grande turkeys. Turkeys have proven highly adaptable to different habitat types and their current occupied range is about 35 percent of the state.
ODFW sometimes traps and relocates turkeys that are causing property damage or being public nuisances to supplement flocks in other parts of the state. (Like other wildlife, turkeys will become a nuisance when they are fed and come to associate people with an easy meal.) The turkeys are usually taken to Eastern Oregon, where there is plenty of public land.
While fall turkey hunting in Eastern Oregon is limited and requires advance application, anyone can purchase a tag for the general fall turkey season which runs through Dec. 31, 2008 in 10 Western Oregon counties: Curry, Josephine, Jackson, Coos, Douglas, Lane, Benton, Polk, Marion and Linn. ODFW offers 3,000 tags for this hunt and sells them on a first-come, first-serve basis through the end of the season. Turkey tags cost $18 for residents and $64 for non-residents and the bag limit is one turkey of either sex.
Finding a place to hunt is challenging in Western Oregon. 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. To find a hunting spot, talk to friends whom you know have turkeys on their property or the type of habitat turkeys use. Some hunters also knock on landowners’ doors where they see turkeys and ask permission to hunt. Remember you must ask permission to hunt on private land and build good relationships with landowners if you expect to come back and hunt next year.
Those that don’t get a chance to fall turkey hunt can go during the statewide spring season April 15-May 31, 2009. Spring turkey tags go on sale Dec. 1, 2008.
Tips for hunting fall turkey:
Hunting tactics: Remember toms are not actively looking to mate this time of year like they are during the spring, so different calls and tactics are needed for fall turkey hunting. Try some of the following:
- Sneak up on them. Turkeys have sharp eyesight and hearing so be quiet.
- Scout to learn their patterns, and catch them along the way. Figure out where turkeys roost and feed; then hide out along the way, behind a tree or bush or in a blind you create. Turkey sign can include tracks and droppings. Hen tracks rarely exceed 4.5 inches in length;
- Scatter then call. A popular fall tactic is to ambush or disrupt a flock, than call them back in using an “assembly” call or one of the varieties available. Visit your local outdoor store for calls.
- Carefully choose calling/waiting location: Wild turkeys are hesitant to walk through thick brush, so select a calling position in relatively open country. Also avoid cover that restricts your sight path. You could be sitting for awhile; take a cushion to stay comfortable.
- Don’t shoot beyond 25 yards. Wild turkeys are tough to bring down so don’t attempt a shot beyond 25 yards. Wait for the turkey to extend its head and neck and aim for the base of the head, not the body.
What to wear: Because turkeys have excellent eyesight, many hunters wear head-to-toe camouflage and even wrap their shotguns in camouflage tape to prevent gun barrel glint. Most hunters do not wear blaze orange except when traveling to or from their hunting area. Hunters should not wear red, white, blue or black clothing (including socks, bandanas, hats) as these colors could be mistaken for a turkey’s head or body by another hunter.
Legal weapons: Shotguns no larger than 10 gauge or smaller than 20 gauge; shot size no larger than No. 2 or smaller than No. 6; and recurve, long and compound bows may be used to hunt fall turkeys. Dogs may also be used during the fall season only.
Dressing your turkey: Tag your turkey immediately and don’t delay too long before dressing it out. To do so, open the body cavity from just below the breast to the vent. Remove internal organs and allow blood to drain from the body cavity. For safety, place your bird in a sack or cover with blaze orange wrapping when carrying it out of your hunting area.
For more hunting tactics and important safety tips, download ODFW’s turkey hunting brochure or visit the National Wild Turkey Federation website.