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Snow keeps turkeys low

Lingering winter-like weather and deep snowpack at higher elevations has turkeys concentrated on or near valley floors.
Lingering winter-like weather and deep snowpack at higher elevations has turkeys concentrated on or near valley floors.
Hunters will find plenty of Rio Grande turkeys in Union and Wallowa counties when Oregon’s hunting season for the elusive birds opens Tuesday.

Hunters will also find lots of snow and if they are not careful — conflict.

Extended winter-like weather has left higher areas covered with snow. Most turkeys are concentrated on valley floors.

“They are distributed at lower elevations because their summer range is still covered with snow,’’ said Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife Biologist Jim Cadwell.

Hunter numbers will be dense at lower sites, making it easy for them to hone in on turkeys other hunters are calling.

“There will be more opportunities for conflict. ... Sportsman ethics will be important,’’ said

La Grande outdoorsman Phil Gillette, owner of Phil’s Outdoor Surplus and More.

To illustrate how much more crowded areas might be, Gillette used the example of a typical

10-mile-long forest road. During most turkey seasons one could expect to see 10 hunter vehicles on such a road, each parked a mile apart. This year there may be 10 vehicles parked at the road’s entrance because it is blocked by snow.

“This is more snow than we have had in 20 years,’’ Gillette said.

Biologist Mike Hansen, a technician with the ODFW’s Enterprise office, is also struck by how slowly spring is arriving.

“The joke is that this is the second month of March,’’ Hansen said.

He said most of the unplowed side roads in forested Wallowa County areas have 2 to 3 feet of snow. Snow levels are particularly high above 4,500-feet elevation.

He said turkeys in Wallowa County were hurt a little by the region’s harsh winter but overall numbers are strong. Numbers are also high in Union County, where the winter did not make a dent in their population levels because the birds are adept at surviving difficult conditions.

“The turkeys overwintered well,’’ Cadwell said. “They are good at scratching out a living in the winter.’’

Turkeys are so concentrated at low levels that Cadwell is encouraging people to get permission to hunt on private property. Moving to private land will reduce congestion on lower elevation public lands.

Hunters are advised to be prepared for inclement weather. Everyone should bring tire chains, shovels and overnight survival gear, Cadwell said.

This year’s Oregon spring turkey season runs through May 31.

The daily limit is one male turkey or a turkey with a visible beard.

The season limit is two turkeys except for those with a bonus turkey tag.

Hunters may purchase tags through the end of the season. Bonus tags can only be used to take turkeys in Douglas, Coos, Curry, Josephine, Jackson, Lane, Linn, Benton, Polk and Marion counties.

Forest visitors who see young hunters with shotguns this weekend should not call the police since the hunters are likely participating in the spring youth hunt. The hunt will be Saturday and Sunday throughout Oregon and is open to those age 17 and younger. Each youth must be accompanied by one adult at least 21 years old. That person is not allowed to hunt.

Youths must possess a 2008 spring turkey tag. Youths with an unfilled tag may also hunt during the general spring turkey season.

Everyone participating in any of this spring’s turkey hunts is urged to check the ODFW’s 2007-08 Oregon Game Bird Regulations.


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