Turkey tips for opening day

By Dick Mason, The Observer April 09, 2010 02:41 pm

Put down the television remote, take off that baseball cap, look upon snow as an opportunity and be on the lookout for elk.

Northeast Oregon hunters should embrace this advice as the turkey season April 15 opening day nears.

Knowledge-filled La Grande outdoorsmen Jim Ward and Phil Gillette explained why during a April 1 turkey hunting seminar conducted by the Union/Wallowa county chapter of the Oregon Hunters Association at Cook Memorial Library.

Gillette pointed out that TV hunting programs often provide valuable information to hunters, but not necessarily when it comes to hunting turkeys in Northeast Oregon. Gillette explained that most turkey hunting programs are shot in the eastern United States. They show Eastern turkeys, which are more aggressive when responding to calls than the Rio Grandes of this region. Gillette believes this may be because Eastern turkeys are naturally more aggressive, have fewer predators and more flat land where they can see for greater distances than in mountainous areas.

This explains why hunters after watching hunting programs may expect turkeys to be more aggressive in Northeast Oregon than they are.

The bottom line? Turkey hunters in Northeast Oregon need to be more patient than those they usually see on television.

“The biggest fault of hunters is that sometimes they don’t stay put,’’ said Gillette, the owner of Phil’s Outdoor Surplus & More.

Gillette said hunters should be prepared to wait up to 45 minutes for turkeys to come in after being called.

Underestimating the vision of turkeys, in addition to being impatient, is another mistake some hunters make. Gillette said the birds have 13-power vision. A human would have to walk around with 10-power binoculars attached to experience comparable vision.

“Imagine all that we would see. We would not miss much,’’ Gillette said.

The spectacular vision of turkeys knows few blind spots due to almost complete peripheral vision.

“They can see 322 degrees out of 360 digress,’’ Gillette said. “You can’t walk up behind a turkey. It will see you.’’

The vision of turkeys makes it easy for them to make out shapes from great distances. This explains why Gillette never wears a baseball cap when hunting but instead dons a broad-rimmed hat. He explained that his silhouette does not change when he turns his head while wearing a broad-rimmed hat but it does when wearing a baseball cap. Gillette said turkeys will detect the silhouette change of a hunter turning his head with a baseball cap and move away.


Elk and turkeys

Hunters searching for a general area with turkeys are wise to look for elk. Gillette explained that turkeys are drawn to elk scat because bugs and larvae they eat germinate in it. Turkeys are more frequently found near elk early in the season before additional food sources like grasshoppers become available as the weather warms.

Hunters looking for turkey sites should not let snow banks blocking road access deter them, Ward said. He explained that individuals on horseback or on foot can easily go around snow in shady places and soon find themselves in an area with many turkeys and few if any people.

“Often you will have a good hunting area all to yourself. It is a like a seasonal wilderness,’’ said Ward, a member of the Union/Wallowa county chapter of the OHA.

Regardless of where one is hunting, turkeys can be hard to find after being shot if they are able to fly or run off before dying.

“More people lose turkeys than anything else,’’ Gillette said. “They are 10 times easier to lose than elk. Their camouflage in habitat is very difficult to pick up.’’

This is why hunters are urged to take head shots that kill instantly. Hunters who want to mount their bird should not worry about damaging the head since taxidermists replace it regardless of its condition.

One element of turkey hunting sometimes overlooked is timing. Ward said hunters would be wise to be out late in the morning in the spring because this is when many females return to sit on their nests. Toms often have no females to keep them company during this time so they are likely to respond to a hunter’s hen call.

Hunters can also help themselves by getting up early. Ward explained that turkeys begin gobbling an hour before daylight so this is a good time to pinpoint their locations. Climbing to a high area is good because this makes it easier to pinpoint locations.

Regardless of the time of day hunters never know when a turkey will respond to a call. It may be in seconds or in an hour.

Being set up to take a turkey the moment you begin calling can prove important.

“You might call and all of sudden a turkey is 50 yards away and you are not ready. That has happened to me,’’ Gillette said.

Ward noted that hunters do not have to call to be successful. One alternative is to determine the route a group of turkeys regularly take and then get ahead of them, hide and ambush the birds.

Safety was also a point of emphasis at the seminar. Hunters are urged not wear red, white and blue clothing because it increases the odds they can may be mistaken for a turkey. Hunters are urged not to don T-shirts, white socks, blue jeans,  red suspenders or red flannels. People may find it hard to believe that they can be mistaken for turkeys, but its easier than one thinks.

Gillette explained that if one is walking through a forest dressed in red, white and blue a hunter might get a glimpse of the colors and mistake the person for a turkey.

Turkey hunting did not take off in Northeast Oregon until about two decades ago years ago when Rio Grande populations began booming following successful transplants. Spring turkey hunting quickly became a tradition in Northeast Oregon, one for which family ties are developing, Gillette said.

He believes that the number of parents going turkey hunting with their sons and daughters over the past three years has tripled in Northeast Oregon. This is likely a credit to Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife programs promoting youth hunting.

And the lure of a season

that in the eyes of many is a rite of spring.