Below us was a creek and beyond that, barbed wire. We crossed the stream and set up at the fenceline. My friend, fellow writer and turkey enthusiast Troy Rodakowski, pointed up the hill at the spot where he figured the turkey was.
Troy putted and purred with his call and the turkey fired off, just above us behind a ridge of lava, a rolling gobble-obble-obble that rattled the branches. When next we heard him, he was on the ridge going away.
We followed our ridge downhill, crossed two more creeks and stopped to check the tom's temperature with hen talk from time to time. There were two gobblers and they were on the move. After 45 minutes of cat and mouse, we found ourselves just in front of them. I slid in next to a pine and Troy set up behind me.
A little hen talk fired up the closest gobbler again and that was when we heard the female, berating him.
If momma isn't happy, no one is happy. She squawked and Troy purred and putted, coy and alluring.
I saw the gobbler's white head crest the top of the hill. He ran toward us, gobbling all the way, then turned to strut as if to say, "Ain't I the pretty one?" In range, he strutted again and gobbled. My heart rate up, I had to pull my facemask off my nose to get a breath.
Focused now on that white/blue head and the red of his wattles, my Tru-Glo fiber-optic front sight covered him when he stepped into an opening.
We paced it off later at 23 yards. The gobbler's spurs would have measured an inch if they hadn't been rounded by running the lava. He weighed in at 16.1 pounds and his broomed-off beard measured 7.5 inches.
When the sun comes up on opening day of turkey season, you want to be in the woods, your back against a tree, shotgun across your knees. With turkey populations at all-time highs in many areas, today's turkey hunter has more options than ever before. But where does a hunter start when he's planning? What units and what counties offer the chance to look at a lot of birds and call one in to the decoys?
You have come to the right place. While you were getting ready for deer and elk seasons, Washington-Oregon Game and Fish magazine was talking turkey with the experts in both states.
Going by the numbers, Oregon's best turkey habitat is in the southwest corner of the state in the Melrose, Rogue, Applegate and Evans Creek units.
- The NWTF offers a more detailed hunt guide with exclusive, member-only information prepared by NWTF biologists and field staff. To access this information please join the NWTF. Please check with your local wildlife agency to confirm seasonal information before planning your hunt, as information is subject to change.
The Melrose Unit is regarded as Oregon's turkey capital and that is not likely to change anytime soon. The good news is that turkeys can be found in every county in the state of Oregon. District Wildlife Biologist Tod Lum reported that in years past the Department of Fish and Wildlife used to trap and transplant turkeys to other areas of the state. Those requests have dried up, Lum said, which means that people are satisfied with turkey numbers elsewhere and Oregon's turkey nursery is likely to be well stocked in years to come.
According to the harvest information from the 2011 spring season (the last year for which the data was available), the Melrose Unit produced 563 turkeys for 1,108 hunters with a success rate of .51 birds per hunter. In a unit that is comprised of agricultural land and private timber holdings and 16 percent public land, it is easy to guess that most of those birds were taken on private ground. For those with access or the boldness to knock on doors and follow up leads on the phone, the Melrose Unit is the best bet to tie a tag on a spring bird.
Public lands hunters should take heart, though. In third place for the highest turkey harvest is the Rogue Unit in Jackson County, which turned out 260 birds for 1,030 hunters in the 2011 season.
For the hunter that wants to get away from the crowds, but still have a chance at seeing a lot of birds, the Applegate (57 percent public lands), the Evans Creek (43 percent public lands) and the Dixon (77 percent public lands) units get less pressure, but still turn out enough birds to put them in Oregon's top 10 units. Three other standouts in the turkey harvest numbers are the Alsea, Siuslaw and Willamette units.
Dave Budeau, Oregon's upland bird coordinator, described his department's turkey population surveys as "opportunistic," made in conjunction with quail and chukar surveys.
"It does look like production was improved in 2012 compared to 2010 and 2011," Budeau said. "We have not had significant winter mortality in the last two years." This could point to a higher number of jakes in the population in the 2013 season.
Over on the dry side, the White River, Ukiah, Murderer's Creek, Wenaha, Mt. Emily and Sled Springs units produce the most gobblers.
In the 2011 season, 1,870 shotgunners and archers hunted the White River Unit and tagged 381 toms; hunter success ran .2 birds per camo-clad hunter. With 43 percent public lands, the White River Unit has ample room for a hunter to ply his or her calls.
A better bet than hunting in Oregon's most popular turkey unit might be to explore the Ukiah (35 percent public), Murderer's Creek (65 percent public), Wenaha (70 percent public), Mt. Emily (44 percent public) or Sled Springs (21 percent public) units. Of these, the Ukiah, Wenaha and Murderer's Creek units are the top three.
A look at the ODFW website harvest statistics gives a hunter a good idea on turkey distribution, but more insight can be gained by closer study. Some of the smaller units that fall at the bottom of the list, like the Imnaha, Trask and Powers units, produced a small number of birds for a small number of hunters with an average of fewer days in the field for the turkeys harvested.
Budeau recommends that public lands hunters give northeast Oregon a try.
"Access can be a little easier because of the larger amount of public land in the Wallowa Whitman Forest and Umatilla National Forest."
In the Heppner and Fossil units, District Wildlife Biologist Steve Cherry noted that turkey numbers are down as a result of the cold winters and wet springs of 2010 and 2011.
"In the spring, they are going to be in the foothills, primarily on the north slopes and then also on the south slopes where the snow has abated. Basically, they follow the snowline as it recedes back into the forest and the green forbs start to pop out of the ground."
According to Cherry, concentrations of birds can be found in the northern portions of the Fossil Unit.
"In Heppner they are scattered through the forested portion clear from Monument to the North Fork John Day and all along the northern portions of the forest," Cherry said.
Oregon's turkey hunt begins April 15 and runs through the end of May. The daily bag limit is one bearded turkey. Hunters are allowed two turkeys for the season, except that a third may be taken in some westside counties. A separate tag is required for each turkey. See the 2012-2013 Oregon Game Bird Regulations for details.
Each season, more than 14,500 turkey hunters go afield in the state of Washington for a harvest of more than 5,600 birds. In the 2010 season (the last year for which data was available), hunters reported a success rate of 39 percent.
While most of Oregon's turkeys are of the Rio Grande variety, Washington has Rio Grandes in the Blue Mountains, Merriam's in the northeast and in the Klickitat and Eastern birds in the southwest. Hunters learn to adapt to hunt the birds in various habitats.
The Northeast produced the most birds with a total harvest of 3,197 gobblers for 8,303 hunters. This corner of the state has enough turkeys that the department has added a number of fall hunts to keep the numbers down. Some of the biggest concentrations of birds are found in Pend Oreille, Ferry and Stevens counties.
To the south, Lincoln, Whitman and Spokane counties turn out their share of gobblers each season.
Mike Atamian, an assistant district biologist in the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife office in Spokane, recommends hunters look at the Mica Peak Unit and also, north of Spokane, in the Mount Spokane Unit.
In southeast Washington, the Dayton and Blue Creek units produce the highest numbers, while the Prescott, Tucannon, Couse and Mayview units are also consistent.
Another turkey-hunting hotspot in the Evergreen state is the Klickitat region, which turned out the highest success rate with 863 birds for 1,869 hunters for a 46.2 percent harvest. These are mainly of the Merriam's variety with more white in their primary and secondary feathers than the Rio Grande.
Tracy Zoller watches turkeys throughout the year, even from the seat of his drift boat on his favorite river, the Klickitat.
"In the valley here, sometimes you will see 200 birds in one spot in the winter. But in the spring, they spread out." That is when Zoller and his sons set out to find the roosts.
"We spend massive amounts of time finding roost locations." The more roosts a hunter has in his back pocket, the more options he has on opening day.
Zoller prefers the first two weeks of the season to the warmer weather in May. "Birds are harder to call later on than they are earlier in the season. Sometimes the second week can be better than the first week."
To accommodate his hunters, he builds ground blinds out of logs and brush and burlap wrap.
"How we place the decoys is really important. You do not want to put the decoy in close to the blind. You want the decoy out where you are shooting."
To add more realism to his setups, Zoller employs real turkey fans on his full-body tom decoys.
"I zip-tie the wings to the sides. Around the head I put a piece of fishing line. You give that head just a little bit of movement and sometimes you don't have to use the call."
Like a lot of experienced turkey hunters, Zoller believes that less is more.
"The biggest thing people make a mistake on is over-calling. I mainly just use purrs and clucks."
Just like everywhere else, some landowners like the turkeys and some do not. Turkeys, not native to the Evergreen State, have made themselves right at home and a lot of people think they are a nuisance.
"There are some landowners that are very welcoming to hunters," Zoller said.
West of the Cascades is where a hunter can find the Eastern subspecies. This may be the hardest of Washington's three subspecies to bag. Habitat is the key to a turkey's success and with more people in Western Washington than on the east side of the state, there is less room for a turkey to make a living. Still, there are birds to be found in and around agricultural lands in southwest Washington. Hunter success runs highest in the Wind River, Skookumchuck, Lincoln and Winston units.
With three subspecies, Washington hunters have a chance to try to take the Washington turkey slam all in the same season.
Washington's statewide turkey hunt begins April 15 and runs through May 31. The combined spring season limit is three birds. Only two turkeys may be killed in Eastern Washington, except only one may be killed in Chelan, Kittitas or Yakima counties. One turkey may be killed per year in Western Washington outside of Klickitat County. Two turkeys may be killed in Klickitat County. See Washington's 2013 Big Game Regulations for the state's Youth Only season.
To order a signed copy of Hunting Oregon, send $24.85 (includes shipping) to Gary Lewis Outdoors, PO Box 1364, Bend, OR 97709 or visit online at Gary Lewis Outdoors.
Arkansas turkey hunting is still on life support, but it's showing remarkable signs of improvement. After a record year in 2003, Arkansas fell to 9,000 birds harvested in 2012 — 11,000 less birds in a 10-year span. The state has responded by cutting back on hunting opportunities, and it feels confident numbers will slowly rise.
For more information about turkey hunting in Arkansas, be sure to check out the 2013 G&F turkey hunting forecast.
The turkey population in most areas is robust this year and hunter success should be high. As usual, several factors will come into play, including the timing of breeding phases and inclement weather. The turkeys are there and the trick is to persist until you find yourself in the right place at the right time.
For more information about turkey hunting in California, be sure to check out the 2013 G&F turkey hunting forecast.
With the ability to hunt two species of wild turkey in the same state, Florida hunters definitely have an edge. Although Florida doesn't do statewide turkey assessments, officials believe numbers will be as strong and impressive as last year.
For more information about turkey hunting in Florida, be sure to check out the 2013 G&F turkey hunting forecast.
Turkey populations for 2013 are estimated to be around 335,000, which has remained steady since 2010. The numbers are very solid — even more impressive when you consider they were around 17,000 in 1973. Much like last year, hunters in Georgia can expect a great chance at a turkey again in 2013.
For more information about turkey hunting in Georgia, be sure to check out the 2013 G&F turkey hunting forecast.
It's hard to conceive of a better place to hunt turkeys than the Great Plains region. You can buy multiple permits across states, seasons are liberal in length and you can hunt Rios, Easterns and Merriam's in the same state. It doesn't get much better than that.
In Nebraska, 32,520 permits were issued and 21,419 turkeys were harvested in 2012 — that's a 62 percent success rate, well above the national average (25 percent).
For more information about turkey hunting in the Great Plains region, be sure to check out the 2013 G&F turkey hunting forecast for Kansas , Nebraska
, North Dakota and South Dakota.
Illinois turkey numbers in 2012 grew to 15,121, which was better than an already impressive showing in 2011. Will the same trend prove true in 2013? According to biologists, turkey numbers are still strong, but the state DNR is taking a wait-and-see approach.
Northern Illinois typically provides the best harvest numbers, with 8,935 turkeys taken in 2012. The southern part of the state was still at an impressive 7,006 turkeys harvested. Biologists in Illinois predict that turkey numbers in 2013 will be the same, or slightly improved, from last year, which is great news for hunters.
For more information about turkey hunting in Illinois, be sure to check out the 2013 G&F turkey hunting forecast.
Despite warmer conditions in 2012, hunters killed 12,655 turkeys in Indiana, which made for a solid year. Does that mean 2013 is set up to be a great year? Biologists in Indiana are hesitant to make that bold of a prediction, especially since brood numbers haven't been that great in recent years. This has mainly affected the number of jakes harvested.
Even with some of these concerns, state biologists are optimistic about turkey production in 2013.
For more information about turkey hunting in Indiana, be sure to check out the 2013 G&F turkey hunting forecast.
Turkey harvest numbers were up slightly in 2012 from the year prior — a positive trend for turkey hunters in Iowa. With a robust youth season and strong adult harvest numbers the last couple of years, state officials think 2013 is going to be a strong year as well.
For more information about turkey hunting in Iowa, be sure to check out the 2013 G&F turkey hunting forecast.
With strong survival and nesting numbers in 2012, officials in Kentucky are predicting another solid year in 2013. Despite two years of odd weather, Kentucky has maintained strong numbers all around. Officials also believe a dry spell actually helped more than it hurt.
For more information about turkey hunting in Kentucky, be sure to check out the 2013 G&F turkey hunting forecast.
According to biologists, this spring's hunting in Louisiana should be a bit tougher than last year's. In some areas the birds had a hard time in the spring of 2011, resulting in both poor nesting success and adult bird mortality. That doesn't mean the turkey population is in trouble, but it does mean hunters may be in for a couple of years of more challenging hunting.
For more information about turkey hunting in Louisiana, be sure to check out the 2013 G&F turkey hunting forecast.
Michigan has not had a banner turkey hatch in several years, but it looks like 2012 may provide just that. As a result, Joe Robison of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources predicts 2013 will be a fantastic year for turkey hunters.
With an already impressive population of right at 200,000 birds in 2012, Robison predicts that number will increase this year. Also, Michigan has a high success rate — 36 percent — which should make for an exciting turkey hunting season.
For more information about turkey hunting in Michigan, be sure to check out the 2013 G&F turkey hunting forecast.
Minnesota had a great spring for nesting in 2012, something that should bring great turkey hunting this year. While in the past hunters had to traverse to the southern part of the state if they wanted to bag a turkey, numbers have rapidly expanded all across the state.
"I'm thrilled with what turkeys are doing in Minnesota," Tom Glines, National Wild Turkey Federation regional director, said. According to Glines, lottery tags are up 10 percent in many areas, and 20 percent in others. All that means lots of opportunity in 2013.
For more information about turkey hunting in Minnesota, be sure to check out the 2013 G&F turkey hunting forecast.
Mississippi boasts one of the largest wild turkey populations in the country. And with over a quarter million of these birds scattered from the Tennessee line to the Gulf of Mexico, hunters should have no problem finding a gobbler to chase on opening morning.
For more information about turkey hunting in Mississippi, be sure to check out the 2013 G&F turkey hunting forecast.
The Missouri Department of Conservation estimates the state's current spring turkey population is at around 300,000 birds. Unfortunately, poor production in recent times has caused a decline in the turkey population, due to abnormally wet periods during nesting and hatching periods. However, because the last two years were so good in terms of production, it is likely 2013 will be a high water mark, which is great news for hunters.
For more information about turkey hunting in Missouri, be sure to check out the 2013 G&F turkey hunting forecast.
There are no two ways about it — New England is stocked full of turkeys, which is great news for hunters in 2013. With an estimated turkey population of 214,000, hunters have great chances to tag a bird. Maine has the highest numbers, while New Hampshire, Vermont and Massachusetts are not far behind.
For more information about turkey hunting in New England, be sure to check out the 2013 G&F turkey hunting forecast.
While turkey hunting numbers should remain somewhat steady, early data in North Carolina suggests the downward trend of turkey populations may continue into the 2013 season. Almost 20 percent of turkeys harvested in 2012 were jakes, which means less mature turkeys this year. State officials also recommend hunting federal lands, though permits are required for these particular hot spots.
For more information about turkey hunting in North Carolina, be sure to check out the 2013 G&F turkey hunting forecast.
Ohio looks to be in good shape for the 2013 turkey hunting season, with great populations of birds across the state. Officials estimate 2013 and 2014 will both be great years, with harvest rates predicted to be around 18,000 birds.
For more information about turkey hunting in Ohio, be sure to check out the 2013 G&F turkey hunting forecast.
Depending on what happens with the drought, Oklahoma officials predict the 2013 turkey season will be a mirror of what happened last year. The state had solid numbers, despite obviously dry conditions. That said, the drought definitely had a negative impact on overall turkey numbers state wide. Numbers are still strong — 55,747 turkeys in the western region alone — but down 9 percent from last year.
For more information about turkey hunting in Oklahoma, be sure to check out the 2013 G&F turkey hunting forecast.
States like Oregon and Washington, both in the Pacific Northwest, have an optimistic turkey outlook for 2013. The southwest corner of Oregon is the state's typical hot spot for turkey hunting, and it looks good this year as well. Since 2011, the Melrose unit in southwest Oregon has a 51 percent success rate, which is well above the national average.
Washington figures not to be far behind, with a success rate of 36 percent last year and a harvest of 5,600 birds. The hottest areas are in northeast part of the state.
For more information about turkey hunting in the Pacific Northwest, be sure to check out the 2013 G&F turkey hunting forecast.
Pennsylvania turkey numbers have continued to rise and fall over the last few years, but the good news is results have been consistently stable. According to officials with the Pennsylvania Game Commission, population numbers have dropped off a little, but that was after a roaring boom in the 2000's. They also predict a solid year for turkeys in 2013.
For more information about turkey hunting in Pennsylvania, be sure to check out the 2013 G&F turkey hunting forecast.
When most sportsmen think of Colorado, Wyoming and much of the Rocky Mountain region, they think of monster mulies and bugling elk. And for good reason. But with a turkey hunting success rate of 25 percent in Colorado — on par with the national average — and 70 percent for non-residents in Wyoming, it's also a great place to track down a turkey.
For those hunters lucky enough to draw a limited tag, there is usually a success rate of 55 percent. Hunting Rio Grandes is a bit tougher, as the tag usually takes about 3 to 4 years to acquire.
For more information about turkey hunting in the Rocky Mountain region, be sure to check out the 2013 G&F turkey hunting forecast.
After two productive years for wild turkeys, South Carolina looks to be in good shape for the 2013 turkey season. According to state officials, some of the best places to hunt are public land areas like those in the Sumer National Forest. With good production since 2010, these areas are full of 2-year-old gobblers.
For more information about turkey hunting in South Carolina, be sure to check out the 2013 G&F turkey hunting forecast.
Coming off great turkey harvest years in 2010 and 2012 — with 37,000 and 33,789 birds harvested, respectively — things look good again for Tennessee in 2013. Amazingly, Tennessee harvested 30,000 birds every year for the last decade, which says a lot about its ability to produce great turkey hunting year after year.
For more information about turkey hunting in Tennessee, be sure to check out the 2013 G&F turkey hunting forecast.
Virginia state officials believe the state is in the midst of a leveling off period, which means consistent turkey harvest rates statewide. Turkey populations have dropped by about 1.2 percent over the last decade, but harvest numbers have remained strong.
For more information about turkey hunting in Virginia, be sure to check out the 2013 G&F turkey hunting forecast.
In 2012, West Virginia saw a fairly substantial decline in turkey harvest numbers, which was probably affected by low brood numbers dating back to 2009. Likewise, state officials believe a strong hatch in 2011 should translate into much improved harvest numbers for 2013.
For more information about turkey hunting in West Virginia, be sure to check out the 2013 G&F turkey hunting forecast.
Wisconsin has consistently been rising in turkey production each year, and this year it looks like it has reached a place of dynamic stability — turkeys are present everywhere in hearty numbers. In 2012, 42,612 turkeys were harvested — a 6 percent increase over the previous year.
Likewise, a mild winter and early spring appear to have helped turkeys pull off successful broods, according to the state DNR. With 82 percent of broods consisting of toms last year, biologists say hunting should be great in 2013.
For more information about turkey hunting in Wisconsin, be sure to check out the 2013 G&F turkey hunting forecast.
State officials in Alabama say 2012 was a solid year for turkey hunters across the state. They predict 2013 will be much of the same, with good poult production to show for the last couple of years. As is the case in many states, quality turkey production in Alabama has come as a result of good habitat management.
Private land in Alabama offers some of the best hunting options, though a $16 permit gives you access to Wildlife Management Area lands that are also prime hunting grounds for turkeys.
For more information about turkey hunting in Alabama, be sure to check out the 2013 G&F turkey hunting forecast.
According to state officials, there are around 500,000 Rio Grande turkeys living in Texas, meaning there are lots of opportunities for hunters across the state. The state also had above average survival rates, which should make for a great season in 2013.
For more information about turkey hunting in Texas, be sure to check out the 2013 G&F turkey hunting forecast.