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 Turkey Hunting Tips

Ellensburg area turkeys

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This hunting information is provided as advice only.  It is the duty of the hunter to ensure that he or she is complying with all current laws and regulations.

Beginning with the 2009 Fall turkey seasons hunters must use #4 shot or smaller to hunt turkey

Public land map

For this species there are a few basics you need to understand in order to hunt them legally with the proper licenses and tags.  The WDFW regulations have a number of exceptions to the information provided below, these are general statements meant to help point the beginning hunter in hunting this particular species.  It is also the duty of the hunter to ensure that he or she is complying with all rules and regulations put in place for that season, species, and area they are hunting.

Turkey populations are exploding all over Washington State.   A hunter must purchase a small game license and up to three separate tags (transport tags) for fall and spring general seasons.  Only two birds can be harvested in Eastern Washington per year.  Spring seasons only allow for Gobblers and Turkeys with visible beards ONLY.  Fall allows for some harvest of beardless turkeys (hens)   Check the most current game rules for clarification on where and when these general seasons occur.

There is no single "right" way to hunt turkey... being flexible and paying attention to your surroundings will increase your success.

 

Biology                                                                                                                                              

  • Since 1960, three subspecies of wild turkey have been introduced in Washington: the Merriam’s, Rio Grande, and eastern. Currently, the Merriam’s subspecies occupies portions of Ferry, Klickitat, Pend Oreille, Skamania, Stevens, Spokane, Okanogan, Chelan, Kittitas, and Yakima counties. Rio Grande turkeys can be found in Asotin, Columbia, Garfield, Lincoln, Walla Walla, and Whitman counties. Turkeys of the eastern subspecies can be found west of the Cascades in Cowlitz, Grays Harbor, Lewis, Mason, Pacific, Thurston, and Wahkiakum counties. (WDFW website)

  • West side turkeys are the planted subspecies Eastern.

  • Eastern Turkeys tail feathers are tipped in brown and the body feathers are tipped in black. They are metallic looking as the feathers have an iridescence about them.

  • Blue Mountain area turkeys are the planted subspecies Rio Grande.

  • Rio Grandes have light brown lined tail feathers and on the lower back feathers.

  • Most all other Eastern Washington area turkeys are the planted subspecies Merriam.

  • Merriam turkeys have white lined tail feathers and on the lower back feathers.

  • Ponderosa Pine nuts are the number one winter food source of turkeys in Eastern Washington WDFW Game Status and Trends Report

  • In 2006, Washington State WDFW reported a total harvest of an estimated 6400 turkeys. WDFW Game Status and Trends Report

  • Average beard length of a turkey is around 8-9 inches.  They don't get much longer because the Toms end up stepping on them or catching them on underbrush.  10+ inch beards are very unusual.

  • Turkeys are like all game birds and need to collect gravel to help digest their food.  It is not uncommon to see turkeys spending a lot of morning hours in the middle of a logging road. (courtesy Mike D.)

  • Some hens grow beards and is the reason that the seasons are set as bearded or non-bearded rather than hen or tom.

  • Gobbling can happen at all times of the year.  However, active toms will begin the heaviest gobbling from early April through early June.

  • A mature tom will have 18 tail feathers.

  • A turkey's head can change color.  From white, to blue, to full red.  Red headed birds typically mean that the bird is in a fighting mood.  Blue and white will mean they are ready to breed.

Techniques                                                                                                       

  • First rule!  Know what you are shooting at !!!  There is no excuse for accidentally shooting something you did not intend to. HWS staff

  • You have to pay attention to turkey droppings and foot prints.  Look for these signs in openings in the forest. 

  • Hire a guide for one season.  Chances are that guide will teach you more during your hunt than you would learn from years of "trying to figure it out on your own."  Guides are willing to teach and are getting paid to give you all their attention.  Most guides will be flattered if you continually pick their brains for information.

  • Always get permission before hunting land that is private.  You may think that the landowner wouldn’t mind if you took one out of that flock of 40, but, trespassing is never OK, nor is taking animals off of someone’s land.

  • There are quite a number of different types of turkey calls.  Before purchasing one, ask around and see which ones work well.  Diaphragm calls take a huge amount of practice to master.  Slate calls are useless when raining.  Box calls can be cumbersome and take both of your hands to operate.

  • If you spot another hunter who is working a bird, be considerate and back off from the flock.  It is unfair and unsportsman-like.

  • If using a shotgun, practice shooting with the same loads as you will be taking out in the field.  Get used to how it patterns and your effective range.

  • Head shots are the most appropriate shot selection for shotgun hunters.  Archery hunters should aim low in the vital area.   Too high on the body will not hit any organ.

  • Older mature gobblers usually have beards that average 7 to 10 inches in length. Many jake males taken during the fall hunting season have beards that are shorter than 2 inches. Juvenile hens rarely possess beards, but a portion of the adult females may be bearded. Beards on hens rarely exceed 5 inches and are meager compared with the beard of a full-grown tom.

  • Turkeys are smart but have bad long term memory.  Turkeys will come back a few days after being disturbed.  If you've seen a couple of toms and have shot one in the group, the chances are the other toms will be back within a few days.

  • According to State biologists and experts, turkeys typically only have a home range of about a mile.

  • Full-grown toms have prominent spurs on the backs of the lower legs, which become longer and more pointed with age. On an old bird, spurs can go over an inch in length. Hens and juvenile toms (jakes) have only small, subtle spurs.

  • Turkeys have phenomenal eyesight.  Camo up!  Including your hands and face.

  • Believe it or not, a number of people have been able to use tree stands for turkey.  It relies on the predictability of certain flocks of turkeys and limits your ability to be mobile.  However, being well above the turkeys in the very early mornings and the evenings can allow you to not worry as much about your body movement.

  • Bad weather usually forces turkeys to shut down, they like to seek cover and attempt to stay dry.  It is important to note that the turkeys are still in the woods, just not as vocal.  Don’t let a rainy day spoil your attempt at a turkey hunt, but realize that once the rain starts it will be quite difficult to locate them by ear.

  • Don’t overuse your turkey call.  Public land turkeys have heard the gambit of hunters calling at them.  Use clucks and purrs and gently scratch the ground (do what others are not)

  • Turkeys are extremely mobile, they will cover significant ground during the day, so hunt the entire day.  And if you don’t see turkeys right away, but, you see significant sign.  Wait… they will show.

  • "Shock Calling" is something that can be done.  Before heading into an area at first light.  Blow a predator call or yelp like a coyote.  Turkeys tend to "sound the alarm" when they hear a predator or when they are alarmed.  If you pay close attention to where the bird has called from, sneak in that general direction.

  • When hunting a creek bottom or near a water source, turkeys will rarely cross water to go after another male or female.  If you hear your birds on the other side.  Move to their side.

  • Think like a bull elk when you are spring hunting.  Pretend to be a satellite bull (jake) or a lone cow (hen) and pull that nasty old gobbler in to either fight or mate.

  • Be very certain that the bird in your sights is a male during male seasons.  Look for the beard protruding from the breast and look for spurs.  There is no excuse for mistaking a juvenile (jake)  with a hen. Limit your shots to 25 yards or less.  This will ensure proper identification of the bird and a good close shot.

  • When scouting or hunting really early or really late in the day.  Look up in the trees.  This is where turkeys roost.  While it is very unsportsmanlike to shoot a turkey in a tree, mark where the bird is and come back later before first light and catch the birds when they come down off the roost.  Turkey roosts are safety zones for hens and gobblers.  Only specific trees are preferred by turkeys to use as a roost (lots of bare branches well above the ground) Shooting straight up into a roost can damage the tree and the roosting branches making them unusable for future flocks.  It can also be difficult to correctly id your bird as a hen or a tom.  In fact, some states actually make it illegal to shoot turkeys out of their roosts.

  • Believe it or not, turkeys can fly quite some distance.  They are very mobile and spook easily.

  • There are a lot of turkeys now in Washington State.  Chances are most of them are going to be on private land.  Get to know landowners before the season and seek their permission.  The population seems to be exploding and with a yearly bag limit of 3, the WDFW seems to think so, as well.  The turkey population increase on private land could mean that hunting turkeys on adjacent public land will be much easier in the future as the carrying capacity for these lands will eventually push more and more birds into more accessible land.  It is important to note that a few of us here at HuntWashingtonState who have hunted in Washington all of our lives never saw turkeys growing up.  Now it is not uncommon to see flocks of a hundred or more birds.

  • When contacting landowners be courteous and respect their not wanting to allow hunting of turkeys.  Numerous landowners understand that turkeys actually help decrease the rattlesnake population.  This is especially important if a landowner has cattle or other livestock.  You can perhaps offer to do a bit of summer rattlesnake cleanup for the landowner in exchange for the opportunity to hunt a tom or to improve his land for turkey production.  The National Wildlife Turkey Foundation has excellent tips on how to best enhance habitat for turkey production. http://www.nwtf.org/ When contacting landowners, offer to do some work.  Chances are this offer will resonate much more than some strange guy in camo walking up to him and asking to trespass.

  • Purchase a turkey seat, you will make yourself much more comfortable for a much longer time.

  • It is very difficult to still hunt for turkeys.  Listen carefully to your surroundings and wait for the telltale gobbles of the Tom's in the area.  Get near where you hear the gobbler and set up and let him come to you.  More often than not, it will be very difficult to sneak up on  a turkey.  They have excellent hearing and eyesight.  Ambush is the Key!

  • Fashion a simple lanyard to help carry your bird out of the field.  Carrying a bird like the hunter in the picture to the left can  be strenuous.  A loop of parachute cord tied to the legs and the other end tied to a dowel, piece of deer antler, or plastic PVC will ease the fatigue in your arms.

  • Be flexible in your choice of camouflage, be prepared to hunt in snow, open areas or deep forests.  Have different camo patterns to blend into your surroundings.  (courtesy Mike D.)

  • Place your decoy well inside the effective range of your shooting ability.  If a Tom hangs up 10 yds from your decoy placed at the outer range of your ability, you are going to want to be able to still have a shot at the bird. Move the decoy in closer to you. (courtesy Mike D.)

  • If you are driving and spot turkeys, never stop and watch them.  It'll surely spook them.  Keep driving at a normal speed and look for a place out of the way to stop your vehicle.  (remember to obey all gun handling laws when you are in and near your vehicle!) (courtesy Mike D.)

  • Break out your binoculars.  Many flocks and roosted birds can be discovered by simply glassing an area.  Spot and Stalk works very well for quiet birds. (courtesy John H, Spokane)

  • Intentionally spooking a large flock of birds could easily work to your advantage.  Break them up by some method that doesn't overly spook them.  By breaking up the group they will be confused and eager to band up again.  You will have a good chance of sneaking on on one of these confused birds. (courtesy John H, Spokane)

  • If you are well hidden, you can add to your turkey calling by also scratching at the ground with a stick hitting the ground with your cap or glove.  This simulates a bird who is dusting or shaking itself out.(courtesy John H, Spokane)

  • Try a duck hunting tactic.  Some of the open areas of turkey habitat can be used to decoy in a gobbler.  Use a dozen or so hen decoys to simulate a hen group.  Place the decoy spread somewhere near a good place of concealment (pit blind?) and catch the gobbler as he comes to investigate. (courtesy John H, Spokane)

  • We use trail cameras to locate our birds.  If left undisturbed, you can pattern them pretty well by checking the time stamp on your camera. (Philip R, Spokane)

  • If hunting big areas of the blue mountains, we get up on top of ridgelines and wait for the gobblers to speak.  You can pinpoint specific drainages this way and not have to burn elevation going down into draws where no birds are active (Philip R, Spokane)

  • In the fall hunts of Eastern Washington, birds will keep to shade during mid day.  Look for these isolated pockets to find your bird. (courtesy Robert K)

  • Hunt all day!  don't go back to the truck at noon.  These birds continually move. (courtesy Robert K)

  • Stay absolutely still when the bird comes in.  They have eyesight much better than humans and will bust you if you so much as move a finger.  (courtesy Alan K)

  • We pair a jake decoy with a hen decoy. It really seems to mess with the Tom's need for dominance.  Place the decoys very close together like they are mating.  That old Tom will want to come in and break this up. (courtesy Stanley T)

  • Point the decoys in the opposite direction you think your birds will come in.  The birds will come in faster and quicker when they aren't facing another bird. (courtesy Stanley T)

  • When setting up, choose a place that is comfortable.  You might need to sit for a while. (courtesy Stanley T)

  • Walk down closed logging roads where there are different types of habitat.  Listen for the distinctive gobble and move towards where you think the Gobbler is.  Set up as close as you can and soft cluck and purr.  The chances of getting that turkey to gobble back is pretty good. (Bill G, Pullman)

  • When walking the logging roads, keep your head up and be careful approaching bends in the road.  Approach the bends and hills like you would still hunting deer.  More often than not, turkeys will be found graveling in the middle of the roads.  See them before they see you! (Bill G, Pullman)

  • Hunt turkeys similarly to how you hunt rut elk.  They inhabit the same habitat.  They vocalize when mating.  They are always looking to fight off less dominant males or attract a lone hen.  When they have a sufficient number of mates, they will protect their "herd" any way they can. (Jeff L, Seattle)

  • Look around for turkey spoor (poop) The presence of the J shaped excrement will divulge the presence of turkeys. (Bill G, Pullman) 

J hook turkey spoor, note the white tip and thick goose like poop.

  •  Use a mouth diaphragm call and practice every available cluck, whine, purr, gobble.  You'll need your hands free when using a bow or aiming your shotgun (Brenton U)

  • Practice and get good at using all of the calls of a turkey (youtube has a ton of videos out there to help)  Try every call in areas where the gobblers have gone silent.  You never know which sound will get that Gobbler to sound off (Brenton U)

  • We use old turkey fans as decoys.  You can easily mount the fan to a stake and place them amongst or on our decoys.  This makes the decoys very realistic. (Tim P, Valley)

  • When getting into a huge flock of birds, try to bust them up without revealing who/what you are.  The resulting confusion and their tendency to want to regroup can provide a couple of hunters with some great shooting. (Tim P, Valley)

  • After a few weeks of the spring season, turkeys tend to move away when you call at them.  We split up and have one hunter do an "end around' on the bird while the other hunter stays put.  Either the bird will spook back towards our stationary hunter or the bird will move directly towards our other hunter.  For safety, our stationary hunter does not move from their spot until both guys see each other.  (Tim P. Valley)

  • Fall turkey hunting finds the birds in our hunting area all bunched up in big flocks.  We will get in and spook the flock and have them take off in every direction.  We then stake a decoy into the ground and call these birds back to imitate the regrouping of the flock.  It's a fast way to fill all your tags (Gene, Spokane)

  • Bird Cleaning Tips

Safety Tips!                                                                                                      

  • Be careful in chasing what you think is a turkey.  In public land hunts, what may sound like or perhaps look like a strutting Tom, could be another hunter and a decoy or two.  Remember that hunter orange is not required to hunt turkeys in Washington State.  Always identify what you are shooting at. 

  • Know your background before you shoot, turkey shot can carry quite a distance.

  • When going into an area or leaving, wear hunter orange.  Easy way to keep yourself safe.

  • If you have decoys, stow them away when moving around.  Don't have a decoy sticking out of a pack or under an arm.  If you really are well camouflaged, other hunters will only see the deke.

  • Shoot at the head and neck of the bird.  Don't shoot at the body.  1) you don't want to waste meat. 2) you don't want to ruin the feathers 3) your chances of merely wounding a bird are much higher.  You don't want to have to go chasing your bird over hill and dale and screwing up other's hunting.  And 4)  If you wound and have to go chasing after the bird, your crashing around sounds exactly like a foraging or alarmed bear.  There are some areas where bear hunters and turkey hunters share space.  Keep yourself alive!

  • Modern style decoys are becoming more and more realistic.  Be aware of other hunters approaching and that they may shoot at your decoy.  In reciprocal to this advice, never shoot at a Tom unless you are sure it is a real bird.

  • When setting up, sit with your back against a tree which is wider than you.  Other hunters might mistake a revealed arm or your camo'd head and mistake it for a bird.

  • Spring turkey season is tick season in Eastern Washington.  It is highly likely that you will encounter ticks.  Get tick spray and use it!  Check yourself a few times a day for these creepy crawlies.

  • After leaving our hunting area and packing a bird, we always carry an extra hunter orange vest to drape around the bird.  No one can mistake us for a bird going through the woods. (courtesy  Alan K)

Areas to hunt                                                                                                      

  • Check out the big game species areas on this site to find access to public lands (go to Sitemap) for links.

  • WDFW has built a great game range map which will tell you generally where to look for the birds.

"This is a reproduction of a Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife document and is not the official document or regulations of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. The accuracy of the reproduction cannot be guaranteed by WDFW."

 

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