Wild Turkey Flocks Grow

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Idaho's wild turkey hunting is increasing in popularity with each passing year, and wild turkey hunting is the fastest growing form of hunting in the United States. During the 2005 Idaho turkey seasons, hunters took home 5796 turkeys for a success rate of over 30%.

Wild turkeys are not native to Idaho. They were first introduced in the state in 1961 near Riggins. Hundreds of transplants have been conducted since then, involving birds from other states and birds trapped from thriving populations in Idaho.

Three wild turkey subspecies have been introduced in Idaho. The Riggins release and most subsequent releases have been Merriam's turkeys which are native to mountainous woodland habitats from the southwest U.S. to central Colorado.

The Rio Grande wild turkey subspecies was released in Idaho in 1982. "Rios" are native to riparian and scrub woodlands from the southern Great Plains southward into northeastern Mexico. They have become established in Idaho along the Payette, Snake and Weiser Rivers. Additional habitat remains for continued introduction of Rio Grande turkeys to Idaho although Merriam's have proven to be adaptable to similar areas along the Bear River in southeastern Idaho.

The Eastern wild turkey is considered to be the most wary and difficult to harvest. Easterns have been introduced to a few sites near Dworshak Reservoir. They are native to deciduous forests common in the eastern U.S. and generally grow slightly larger than the Merriam's or Rio Grande subspecies.

The first turkey hunt in Idaho was held in the fall of 1966. Both hens and toms could be harvested. Rifles were permitted in addition to the usual turkey hunting firearm, a shotgun. Following a few years of fall hunts, spring hunting became the mainstay of turkey hunting. In 1998, Idaho had its first, modern day large fall turkey hunt. Fall hunting has continued and in 2006 fall hunts will be available in many areas of the state.

Fall hunts have differed from spring hunts in that any turkey is legal game in the fall. Only bearded turkeys are open for spring harvest. The regulations do not specify "gobblers", because occasionally a hen will have a beard. Beards are comprised of modified feathers protruding form the breast. Bearded hens are distinguished from gobblers by turkey hunters because hens are smaller, have blue/grey heads (gobblers heads are more red in color and when excited actually become white), and hens have less white on their tail feathers than gobblers.

Fall hunts for turkeys have been expanded because turkey populations have expanded dramatically. Some landowners are reporting damage to crops and other property and are asking for bird numbers to be reduced. While birds can be trapped and moved, all quality habitat in Idaho is already stocked with birds. Transplanting birds to marginal habitat can result in poor survival of transplanted birds. Providing additional harvest opportunity, particularly when the birds are concentrated in the fall, is the best way to address these landowner concerns. If and when unfavorable winters reduce turkey numbers, fall hunting will be curtailed.

A hunting license and tag are required and the tag must be validated immediately upon harvest just as a big game tag is. Tags for general hunts are available in unlimited numbers from all license vendors.

Because hunters dress in complete camouflage, make the sound of a turkey, and often conceal themselves in dense vegetation, turkey hunting presents some unique safety concerns. Hunters must always be certain of their target and what is beyond before pulling the trigger. The National Wild Turkey Federation has excellent turkey hunting safety information on their outstanding web site.