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April 10, 2014

Turkey seasons are here

Bryer Jenks bagged his first turkey on opening day, April 8, in the Orofino area.

By Phil Cooper, Wildlife Conservation Educator

   Hunting is generally a fall activity, however, there are a few spring hunts in Idaho that provide a great opportunity to get outside in what is often really nice weather.

   Turkey hunting has already opened for youth aged 10-15. The youth season runs from April 8-April 14. The general turkey season opens April 15. With turkey populations currently very high, there should be plenty of opportunity to put one on the table. However, since many turkeys spend most of their time on private property, now is a good time to ask for permission for the general hunt.

   Turkey hunting is a sport rich in tradition that began long before Europeans ever arrived in North America. Historical accounts indicate that hunting the wild turkey for food goes back centuries.

   When European immigrants arrived, they hunted this abundant bird for both food and sport. Populations declined and reached near extinction by the early 1900s following a century of habitat change and unregulated harvest. The few remaining turkeys lived in the most inaccessible habitats. By the Great Depression, only 30,000 wild turkeys remained in the U.S.

   The regeneration of forest stands after the depression set the stage for the return of the wild turkey. Today, thanks to our nation's hunters, game agencies and wildlife conservation organizations such as the National Wild Turkey Federation, there are more than 7 million wild turkeys roaming the continent. There are populations large enough to hunt in every state of the U.S. except Alaska.

   Turkeys have been transplanted into suitable habitats where they did not naturally occur, including the Pacific Northwest. Today, turkey hunting is one of the most popular types of hunting in the U.S. with close to 2.5 million sportsman pursuing turkeys annually.

   Due to the keen senses possessed by wild turkeys, hunters dress in complete camouflage and make turkey sounds to attract a turkey into range. While hunting is statistically a very safe pursuit, the use of complete camouflage clothing and the call of the quarry pose specific concerns for turkey hunting safety. Thanks to particularly knowledgeable and safety conscious hunters, Idaho has experienced very few turkey hunting accidents.

   One very popular turkey hunting technique is using decoys to attract turkeys into range. While decoys can be very effective, they can also convince another hunter to think your decoy is a live turkey.

   The National Wild Turkey Federation offers several guidelines on the safe use of decoys while hunting turkeys. Decoys should never be visible while being transported. Never carry an uncovered decoy any distance. I use a collapsible decoy which I fold up and put into a backpack before moving.

   Consider the efforts you have made to blend into the surroundings. Sneaking through the woods full of new Spring growth, while carrying a look alike for a hunted species, can create a danger. This is particularly the case if you are making turkey calls as you walk.

   Decoys should be set 20 yards in front of the hunter, in an area with a clear sight line beyond the decoy. Sit down with your back to a tree wider than your shoulders. Should another hunter come into view, call out to them in a clear voice to let them know you are there. Do not use a turkey call to alert the hunter to your presence, and do not wave your hands. Your call and hand motions, in line with a decoy, could give the other hunter the illusion that the decoy is a moving turkey.

   When you decide to move to another location, look around carefully to see that no other hunters are approaching before you move. You might even see a silent turkey approaching that you hadn't known was in the area.

   Another safety precaution is to avoid wearing red, white or blue clothing. These colors are prominent on the head of a wild turkey. Blue socks or a red handkerchief, in an otherwise green and brown woods could lead another hunter into thinking a turkey is present.

   Several turkey hunting safety videos are readily available on YouTube. It would be a good idea for anyone planning to turkey hunt to take a moment and review turkey hunting safety practices.

   Turkey hunting is a great sport, and a really fun spring activity. Unlike elk hunting, when you are successful you can carry out your quarry in one easy trip!

   Permission is required to hunt on posted or cultivated private property. Yet, most landowners with turkeys are willing to allow hunting. With turkey numbers expanding many landowners want some hunters because a large group of turkeys can leave quite a mess.

   Landowners who have an abundance of turkeys that would welcome hunters, can call the IDFG office at 769-1414 and give a phone number. We frequently have hunters call us asking if we know of landowners who want to reduce the number of turkeys on their property. We can help you connect, and benefit both a landowner and a hunter in the process.