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A male turkey grows a tuft of stiff feathers in the middle of its chest referred to as a beard. Mature males sport beards 9 to 12 inches long. The bag limit on the youth turkey hunt is one male turkey or one turkey with a visible beard. About 4 percent of hens have beards but are generally shunned by hunters due to their importance in reproduction. JIM WARD photo
Turkey hunters who do their “homework’’ always have better odds of bringing home a bird.
This will be particularly true this spring.
Turkeys are less concentrated and more widespread in Northeast Oregon than in many recent springs, a reflection of the mild winter the region experienced. This means hunters will find turkeys in places they normally do not see them early in the spring when the season opens. As a result hunters who have checked out areas before hand will have a bigger edge than they normally do.
“Pre scouting will be very important this year,’’ said Phil Gillette of La Grande, a hunter who teaches turkey calling classes and has given presentations to the Oregon Hunters Association about turkey hunting.
Turkey season opens April 15 statewide. The opening will follow a turkey youth hunt for those age 17 and under which begins Saturday and runs through Monday.
Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife biologist Leonard Erickson is optimistic about the prospects for this spring’s season. He said turkeys have benefitted from the mild winter and that their population should be strong.
Gillette said the light winter also means that hunters throughout Northeast Oregon will have access to many areas and roads which are normally are still blocked by snow. Hunter density will not be as great as a result.
“You will not find a bunch of cars and trucks parked at the same snow bank (blocking a road),’’ Gillette said.
He also said hunters may find turkeys more responsive to calls early in the season than they sometimes do. The reason is that although the region had a mild winter, it did not enjoy any extended periods of warm weather in February or March. This means that area turkeys likely have not already completed their first breeding cycle. Male turkeys, toms, as a result will be more responsive to the calls of hunters at the start of the season than they sometimes are.
Erickson noted that hunters need be cautions when calling for turkeys since predators including cougars, coyotes and bears may be drawn in by their calls. Several years ago a La Grande hunter was attacked but uninjured by a cougar he drew in with a turkey call. The cougar apparently thought he was closing in on a turkey, not a person. The cougar quickly ran off after a brief confrontation.
Erickson said hunters need to watch the area around them for any predators they may be drawing in.
One precaution hunters can take is to protect themselves from predators is to always call with their back against a tree, Gillette said.
A number of hunters get up early to pursue turkeys but this is not necessary.
Gillette said that the vast majority of turkeys taken in the spring by hunters are killed between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. He said it is easier to call in toms then because they are out strutting and looking for more hens.
The bag limit for the current Oregon turkey hunt for youths age 17 and younger is one.