During the fall turkey season, hunters stand a much better chance of taking young birds like these jakes. Novice hunters may find it difficult to distinguish a young jake from a hen, especially birds from a late hatch. Due to reproductive issues, most hunters would rather take a young male over a hen Ė even though hens are legal. JIM WARD photos
Turkey day has different meaning for some folks
With the memories of Thanksgiving still fresh in our minds and the after-taste of cranberry sauce, giblets and the Butterball lingering on our taste buds, “turkey day” was a day for family and friends. Others have a slightly different approach to putting a fresh turkey on the table.
These folks think of box calls, camo-garments and 12-gauge magnums.
The fall turkey season began October 6 and will run through December 31 in the Blue Mountain hunt areas. In a lottery draw, 500 permits were issued for the hunt. Those with the permit can take one turkey of either sex. To focus hunters on birds that might be causing damage, the second half of this hunt (December 1 to December 31) requires hunters to hunt on private land only – with permission of course.
Mark Kirsch, Umatilla District biologist for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, suggests that the fall turkey hunting seasons are more about population control and getting a handle on turkey depredation. “The spring turkey hunts are about recreation. With the requirement that only gobblers can be taken, you really can’t control the flock’s numbers effectively.” he says. “You could take a substantial number of males from a flock and still have adequate reproduction.” he adds. Kirsch says that fall hunts can help keep turkey numbers in check, address damage concerns in some areas and still provide a good amount of recreation.
Turkey numbers are continually growing, but in a two-year period (January 2002-December 2003), over 284 complaints were logged in to the state’s ODFW offices which resulted in the ballpark of $25,000 worth of damage to private interests.
Many other hunts are going on during the fall turkey season in the Blues. This can give hunters the opportunity to combine hunting efforts. Elk hunters with a fall turkey tag can harvest a bird if they should come across a flock in their elk hunting efforts.
Large toms can still be taken during the fall turkey hunts, but hunters have to adjust their hunting strategies. Toms tend to gather in bachelor groups and donít respond well to calls. Oftentimes, a spot and stalk method can be effective or an ambush can be set up ahead of the birdís predicted route.
Grouse season runs the same time as the fall turkey season. Often, grouse hunters will add a turkey to their game bag while in pursuit of their main target. Kirsch says that most fall turkeys are likely taken by hunters looking for other species. He suspects that few hunters actually go out just for turkeys.
To say wild turkeys have done well in our state would be an understatement. Although a release of the Merriam’s subspecies in 1961 didn’t do well, turkey numbers really didn’t take off until the Rio Grande subspecies were brought to Oregon in 1975. Since that date, more than 9,600 Rios have been released. The state’s first turkey season opened in 1987. In 2003, 14,152 turkey hunters took to the woods and generated over $11 million dollars in revenues. Now, wild turkeys inhabit over 35 percent of our state.
Even Ben Franklin was a turkey lover. So much so that he tried to persuade our newly-formed Congress into selecting the wild turkey over the bald eagle as our national emblem. In a letter he wrote to his daughter he chastised the bald eagle — suggesting it was lazy and cowardly — stealing food from other birds and often resorting to feeding on carrion. “For, in truth, the turkey is in comparison a much more respectable bird and withal a true original native of America. He is, besides, though a little silly and vain, a bird of courage and would not hesitate to attack a grenadier of the British Guard who should presume to invade his farm with a red coat on.” Franklin wrote.
It appears that not many hunters in the Blue Mountains hunt fall turkeys like they do in the East.
Many resort to road hunting or ambushing a flock heading from their roost to a nearby cattle feedlot or crop field. Although many prefer to pursue big toms in the spring, fall turkeys can be fun if you hunt them the way they do in the East. Your tactics are quite different though.
In the fall, most flocks contain a good number of young birds. Turkeys are very gregarious — especially family groups. So, just as the spring hunter uses the mating urges of a gobbler and deploys suitable calls to lure the bird in, a fall hunter can use calls to his advantage — only the calls and hunting tactics are dissimilar.
Dogs are illegal to use during the spring hunts, but are legal in the fall and can be quite useful during autumn hunting strategies. A fall hunter can take advantage of a young turkey’s desire to be with its family group.
Send dog into flock
Upon discovering a flock of birds, the hunter can send the dog into the flock – scattering them in all directions. After a bit, sitting quietly and muttering young turkey calls can really be productive in bringing the birds back to their friends.
Instead of the usual hen yelps used during the spring season a series of calls referred to as the “kee kee run,” which imitates a young turkey, are very attractive to the birds.
In the fall, toms tend to be in groups with other toms. Since they have little desire in the opposite sex at this time, calling toms can be a bit discouraging. Often the hunter pursuing older males resorts to a spot and stalk method or someway to ambush the birds by getting ahead of their predicted travels. Fall hunting is usually about taking young males or jakes — if the hunter has no desire to take a hen.
For the novice, a jake can be a bit difficult to tell apart from a mature hen as the jakes don’t have sizable beards by fall. And many late-hatched birds haven’t had time to develop mature plumage. Although hens are legal during the fall hunting season, most turkey hunters leave those hens to bring off a clutch of young the next spring.
As one who has taken and eaten a good many wild turkeys over the years, this wrangler would prefer to share the cranberry sauce with Mr. Butterball. But, with all due respect for the hard working turkey farmers of America, stalking my quarry in the aisles of the local supermarket just doesn’t compare to the pursuit of the wild bird amidst the golden tamaracks of the Blue Mountains.
For a hunter, turkey day can come within a period of several months each year. And, the memories of the hunt with family and friends can be just as vivid as that one day in November.