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First autumn turky hunt approaching

- Dick Mason

The Observer

A red-letter date is fast approaching in Union County wildlife annals — one that some hunters would not have thought possible 20 years ago.

Sept. 29 will mark the opening of the first fall turkey hunt in Union County.

"We have all been looking forward to this day,'' said Rod McKee, president of the Union County chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation.

The controlled fall hunt complements the spring turkey hunt, which has been conducted in Union County and throughout Northeast Oregon for about two decades.

The fall hunting opportunity is being made available because the population of Rio Grande turkeys has expanded dramatically since transplants started here in the mid-1980s.

Hunters will be able to take one bird of either sex during the season, which runs to Nov. 30. This is different from the spring when hunters can take only a male or a turkey with a visible beard. Females are protected in the spring because they are nesting.

Hunters entering the fall season expecting to succeed with the same tactics used in the spring will struggle. The primary reason is turkeys are not breeding now like they are in the spring. The birds thus are not scattered but instead are in flocks.

Sneaking up on flocks is hard since there are many birds watching, which can alert others of a threat. Hunters are encouraged to flush the flocks and then call the birds back. Turkeys often return to where they were before they were flushed, McKee said.

Hunters will find two types of turkey flocks:

• those with hens, the young of the year and a few two-year-old males.

• flocks comprised of adult toms.

Hunters will be able to flush turkey flocks with dogs, which they are allowed to use in the fall but not in the spring.

Hunters will find that turkeys are not as responsive to calls in the fall as the spring because it is not breeding season. Still, calls will help hunters draw in birds, McKee said.

The upcoming autumn hunt in Union County is not a separate event. The Oregon Fish and Game Commission simply expanded the Blue Mountain fall turkey hunt to include much of Union County. One hundred tags were added with the expansion, boosting the Blue Mountain total to 400 tags. The deadline for purchasing a tag was Wednesday. The parts of Union County which will be open for the hunt are:

• the portion of the Wenaha Unit south of the main stem of Lookingglass Creek.

• the portion of the Sled Springs Unit west of the Wallowa River.

• the Mount Emily Unit, a portion of which is in Union County.

• the Starkey Unit except for the Starkey Experimental Forest and Range enclosure.

• the Catherine Creek Unit.

Areas outside Union County that are part of the Blue Mountain fall turkey hunt area include the Murderers Creek, Northside, Desolation, Heppner, Fossil and Walla Walla wildlife management units.

Hunters are more likely to find turkeys on private land closer to populated areas during the fall because it is not breeding season. Hunters need to be careful not to hunt on private land without first getting permission.

"The key is to respect the rights of property owners,'' McKee said.

Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife biologist Jim Cadwell said that turkey hunting prospects are solid.

"We have had adequate production but it has not been excessive. Hunting should be good.''

Last spring hunters in the Mount Emily, Catherine Creek and Starkey units enjoyed a 29 percent overall success rate, with 1,372 hunters harvesting 405 birds, according to the ODFW. The success rate for these three units was 31 percent in the spring of 2006 with 1,206 hunters taking 385 turkeys.


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