Despite the dry weather and fires of recent times, Centennial State turkey hunters have a number of places to pursue birds this year.
Photo by Bill Lea
By Cathy Clamp
The landscape has an alien feel. Charred, black stumps stand witness to the raging fires that reddened last summer's skies. But the rising sun highlights tiny blades of grass poking through the snow and soot. Look closely; you'll notice new growth on a nearby pine, even though the bark has been darkened by heat.
In the distance, a sound flutters your heart, and you move toward a patch of forest that was remarkably spared. Yes, there it is again - a soft purr, followed almost immediately by an authoritative gobble. A dozen birds darken the dawn as they glide toward a field 100 feet away. The hunt is on!
Make no mistake - Colorado's third year of drought has affected the state's turkeys, but not for the reason you think. "Turkeys don't actually need water to drink," says Rick Hoffman, with the Colorado Division of Wildlife's Fort Collins field office. "They obtain the liquid they need through the food they eat. However, the drought has affected the insect population, as well as the growth of oak brush, berry-producing bushes and ponderosa pines that the turkeys use for food." Also, Scott Wait, from the CDOW's Durango office, has noticed smaller clutches this year, a likely result of lack of green nesting areas. However, the experts all agree that because of the large flocks that already exist, Colorado will provide excellent hunting in 2003.
Some biologists worry that the drought has caused lower than average food production all over the state. If the winter is mild, as the last several have been, turkeys will be fine. However, if it's a hard winter, the birds won't be able to dig down far enough to reach what food there is and the population might suffer. While there are a few artificial food plots in the state, such as farmed grain crops or cattle feeding operations on the eastern slope, many of the western and northern turkeys depend primarily on natural food supplies.
State biologists, as well as the those with the National Wild Turkey Federation, were heartened that last year's fires occurred after hatchings, leaving hope that many poults survived. The fires in southeastern Colorado occurred before incubation was complete. However, Scott Wait has noted some movement of habitat where roost trees were destroyed. "It's likely that those birds will move to different locations."
They probably won't move far, according to Charlie Stockstill, the NWTF's Colorado director. "The burns occurred in a mosaic pattern, meaning one area would burn, and the next was untouched." This mosaic burning, while on an unusually large scale, imitated controlled burns often initiated by the Forest Service. Burns such as this are actually beneficial. Some traditional roosts will survive and there will be new grass shoots and oaks to replace the old.
How are turkeys faring over the state? Rick Hoffman was optimistic. "There are plenty of birds out there." Even though turkeys didn't historically exist on the plains before 1980, when the CDOW began its trap and transplant program, the Rio Grande turkey imported from the Colorado/Oklahoma border quickly adapted to the river bottom areas all along the front range. The native Merriam's also benefited from the relocation plans, causing a near explosion of the population in prime mountain terrain. "The real trick now," says Hoffman, "is to make sure that we continue to only populate prime habitat. There are hundreds of 'marginal habitat' locations where we know that people would like us to move turkeys to, but it wouldn't be to the benefit of the bird."
|Is Your Land Turkey Friendly?|
Think you have a good home for a flock of wild turkeys? Apply for an evaluation!
Colorado DOW biologist Rick Hoffman says landowners can apply to have turkeys transplanted onto their property if their land meets a few stipulations.
To qualify, your property needs:
- Large, sturdy trees for roosting.
- Berry bushes, oaks or ponderosa pines as primary food sources.
- Artificial food sources, such as grain fields or livestock feeders.
- An altitude no higher than 8,500 feet with nearby water.
- Public access for hunting.
- No existing flocks of turkeys nearby.
If your land meets these criteria and you want turkeys, contact either the CDOW, 303-297-1192, and ask for a guidelines brochure, or call Charlie Stockstill at the National Wild Turkey Federation, 303-694-0100. -- Cathy Clamp
Another major concern to the CDOW is the illegal importation and release of farmed birds. "They're a real danger," Hoffman said. "There are a number of nasty diseases that they might pass to our native turkeys. Plus, we don't want the wild birds breeding with the farm birds. Many of the traits that a wild bird needs to survive have been bred right out of the farm birds."
REGULATIONS There have been no significant regulation changes for the 2003 season. Regulations still prohibit rifles and handgun takings in the spring season, and in Units 91, 92, 94, 96 and 951 in the fall season. Bag and possession limits are one bearded turkey in the spring and one turkey of either sex in the fall. Hunters with a limited spring tag may take a second turkey with an unlimited license. New limited areas to be opened include areas between Basalt and Carbondale and in the San Luis Valley. These new units will be noted on the CDOW Web site - http://wildlife.state.co.us. - before the 2003 spring season opens.
EASTERN COLORADO Once again, look for Rio Grande turkeys to be gobbling all over the Plains. River bottoms along the Republican River and the three Bijou Creeks in Kit Carson and Yuma counties (Units 113, 114, 116 and 117) have great possibilities. Future hotspot: An area owned by a gun club near Bijou Creek, which is slated to receive a group of transplants in 2003 or 2004. Remember that eastern Colorado has more private than pu
blic land, so get a map of the area and scout before you hunt.
SOUTHERN COLORADO Drought conditions haven't been kind in Southern Colorado. According to Jeff Yost, with the CDOW's Lamar office, reproduction was down significantly. Locals he asked had not seen poults for most of the summer. Yost suggests that anywhere along the Arkansas is good and birds have been spotted in the east around Trinidad and in the west near Disappointment Creek. He reminds readers that there is very little public land available in Southeastern Colorado, so check your maps or hire a guide.
WESTERN COLORADO Although much of the area used to be a little-known secret, more hunters are discovering the bounty of turkeys surrounding Mancos, Cortez and Durango. Look for Bayfield to once again be in the spotlight for both quantity and quality. "Bayfield will be great hunting this year!" says Stockstill.
Wait cautioned hunters that the Southern Ute Tribe has land in and around much of the public hunting areas. "There are no licenses available for non-tribal members," he said. "You can apply to the tribe for a permit to cross tribal land to reach land-locked public areas, but you'll have to apply well in advance to receive the permit. The borders are well marked, but I suggest people visit the BLM office in Durango and pick up a surface map." Surface maps show not only rivers and roads but also boundaries of private, public and tribal lands.
NORTHERN COLORADO Units 7, 11, 19 and 71 are your best bets for a bird in Northern Colorado, according to Hoffman. For a change, try the small areas of national forest in western Boulder County. Also, Yost recommends Tamarack SWA near Crook as a hotspot.
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