FINS, FUR & Feathers: More talk about turkey hunting

  • Saturday, March 23, 2002 10:00am
  • Sports

In our first part we gave you ideas on how to spend your tax refund in pursuit of the largest of upland game birds. Now that you are fully equipped, we will discuss the tactics and best places to put that new stuff to work.

Turkey hunting is more similar to elk hunting during the rut, than it is bird hunting. The whole ploy is to tap into the male’s drive to mate. The hunter lures the bird in thinking it will find a receptive female, only to become Thanksgiving dinner. The first step is to put the birds to bed.

Preseason scouting is important. Turkeys usually roost in the same area every night. Finding the roosting trees is one of the keys to success. If you have not scouted an area all is not lost. You will need a locator call to find cover ground quickly. A locator is usually a crow or coyote call. Walk likely areas and blow loudly, this will induce a responsive “shock gobble.” Once you locate an area where the birds are roosting, quietly back away, get a good night’s sleep and plan your ambush for the morning.

Now that you are up and in a likely area, listen carefully for the turkeys to come off the roost. These are large birds and they are not the most graceful. Usually the hens fly down first. When they do they let out a few clucks giving the boys an idea where they are. There are wings you can buy to make it sound like a bird coming off the roost, but unless you are absolutely sure how to do this, it is best to wait for the real birds to wake up. Once you hear birds coming off the roost, start with a few soft yelps and purrs. Hens are not usually very talkative in the morning; so aggressive calling could spook them.

When you hear gobbles answer your calls, try and calm the heartbeat, then you have to do your best to sound like a hen turkey that is in the mood. What that is exactly is hard to tell. Just like humans, these birds are individuals. Some toms want to hear an aggressive female, while others are more receptive to the shy, demure type. Just like the rituals of dating we all went through, you have to figure out which is preferred.

Now that the tom is strutting and coming in, you must remain perfectly still. These birds have fantastic eyesight. Any movement will send the birds running, and trust me, they can run faster than you can swing on them for a shot. If you have done your homework, you know the optimal range of your gun. When the bird is within that range, center in on the head and let loose your shot. If you knock down the bird, get up quickly and run to the bird. I have seen a number of birds that appeared down to the shot, get up and run away never to be found. After all is done, marvel at the vibrant colors and knowing you outwitted one of nature’s craftiest creatures.

If this scenario sounds like fun to you, then you will want to know where to go. To be blunt, if you want the best turkey hunting available, it will require some traveling. No, you don’t need to book a flight to the south, but a drive over the mountains is required.

There is no doubt that the northeastern corner of the state has the best turkey hunting in the state. Annually Stevens and Pend Oreille counties have the largest harvest of birds. There is ample public land in the area, but it will be crowded during the opener. The best hunting will occur on private land, which means some PR work for you. When you do get permission, thank the owner and respect all private property.

There is some hunting available over on this side, albeit small. Areas in and around the Fort Lewis area, as well as some areas of south central Washington hold huntable populations of birds. This is a small area, and you need to have done scouting for success.

The great part about hunting turkeys in Washington, you need not know the particular species you are hunting. Our state classifies the species you shoot, based on where it was taken, so you could feasibly hunt both sides of the state and score a “Washington Slam.” The limit this year is three birds, two on the east side one on on the west. Check the 2002 Turkey regulations for details on season times, shooting hours and bag limits. Also, remember that you must be shooting a bearded turkey. This band of feathers from the between the breasts usually is on males, but there have been cases of hens with beards. The state does not require you to identify the sex of the birds; only that it has a visible beard.

Since all the main hunting seasons are over, and we have all dreamt about the possibilities at the shows, why not try some spring hunting in our great state. It is a great cure for cabin fever, and if you play your cards right, you may just find the perfect place to do some great whitetail hunting this fall.