Just about all turkey hunters have been in this situation at one time or another in the woods. Here I was nestled against a thick pine, and a mature tom was strutting some 60 yards away. Each time I sent him a chorus of love-sick yelps, his chest would expand and then exhale a belly-deep gobble that echoed through the canyon. For the next 20 minutes I pulled everything out of my seasoned turkey toolkit: yelps, clucks, purrs, but nothing seemed to get him to edge closer. It
looked like this he-said/she-said long distance romance was at a stalemate and there wasn’t anything I could do about it. I guess after a couple of seasons under his belt, this veteran gobbler suspected something was awry, and he was right. All I could do was watch him strut and listen to his bellowing gobble, but I wasn’t complaining. How could I? Here I was hunting on some of Colorado’s prime public ground, with an over-the-counter tag in my back pocket and I’d just witnessed a spring heavyweight in all his glory.
The Rocky Mountain West is a big-game hunter’s paradise. Not only do western sportsmen get to enjoy falls filled with bugling elk, wide-racked mulies, sharped-eyed pronghorns and wise whitetails, but if the stars align and they are lucky enough to draw a tag, they might just get a crack at moose, goats and the elusive bighorn sheep. Although these stunning critters are what the west is no doubt known for, once winter’s grip loosens and spring settles in, we offer some pretty good turkey action as well. With success rates as high as 70 percent in some states, some westerners might argue that the turkey hunting could be in the epic category.
With solid turkey hunting opportunities in virtually every corner in the Rocky Mountain West, you can’t go wrong wherever you decide to go come spring. With tags as easy to get as taking a trip to the local Wally World, millions of acres of prime public ground and tons of gobbling toms, you need to look no further than New Mexico, Colorado and Idaho.
CENTENNIAL STATE TOMS
If you’re a turkey enthusiast looking to hunt where turkey numbers are strong and hunters have an opportunity to hunt nearly 18,000 square miles of public ground with an over-the-counter tag in their back pocket, then start making plans to spend some time in scenic Colorado to chase the king of spring.
This past season over 13,600 turkey hunters headed to the woods, which is up from the previous spring, which hosted nearly 13,156 hunters. More importantly, 26 percent of hunters with an over-the-counter tag reported that they carried out a longbeard, with most of those coming from public land. Those who were lucky enough to draw a limited tag had a success rate of 57 percent. In all, an estimated 2,500 toms fell to well-placed shots last spring.
The Merriam’s are indigenous to Colorado and are located west of Interstate 25 and south of Highway 160 in southern Colorado. These thunderous birds roam far and wide and are mainly located in the foothills of the Front Range, the southwest region of the state, and in parts of the Western Slope. Colorado also enjoys a healthy population of Rios, and they are generally located east of Interstate 25 in the river bottom habitat of the Platte and Arkansas rivers, as well as other tributaries. Although Rios are localized to these relatively small regions, their numbers are as boastful as their gobble. Don’t expect to hunt them this spring unless you have already drawn one of the coveted tags.
Wild turkeys are well-distributed throughout the state, with some of the best locations to bag a tom being in the vast Four Corners region, central and southern Front Range and in limited pockets along the riparian zones out east. The top producing counties last spring were Yuma County in far eastern Colorado, in which 226 toms were harvested; Delta County, out west, in which 217 toms were harvested; and Las Animas County, which encompasses the southern Front Range region, that spit out an estimated 209 toms. Other top producers were La Plata and Archuleta counties in the southwest and along the Front Range in Fremont County.
From a public land perspective, some of the best areas in Colorado are El Paso, Teller, Pueblo, Huerfano, Custer and Fremont counties. However, because this region is located close to the populated Front Range, it does get its share of pressure, but the weekday hunter usually has plenty of elbow room. Other notable areas that are off the beaten path are Montrose, Ouray, Dolores, San Miguel La Plata, Archuleta and Montezuma counties. This southwest region is vast and offers plenty of public turkey hunting opportunities