Rio Grande turkey
Statewide

2018 Spring Turkey Hunting Forecast

ODFW District Biologists
April 6, 2018

Spring turkey hunting opportunities in Oregon continue to expand, and the recent mild winter bodes well for winter survival. Get the latest updates in the 2018 spring turkey forecast.

Turkey hunting opportunities have expanded significantly in the last 20 years. Hunters can now find good turkey hunting beyond just southwest Oregon and into the northwest and northeast parts of the state as well. Last year’s spring harvest of 4,797 turkeys was down 9 percent from the previous year, largely due to the harsh winter in the northeast part of the state. However, production was likely good last spring and we had a mild winter, so over-winter survival should be good. Expect better conditions and a good number of birds in most of the state this year.

Where are the turkeys?

Southwest Oregon continues to be the leading place to find turkeys. The Rogue Unit took the honor again for highest turkey harvest in 2017. The Melrose Unit followed in second place, although the lack of public land in the Melrose Unit can make hunting difficult (just 16 percent of Melrose is public land and some private land is tied up by leases).

ODFW is working to increase accessible turkey hunting throughout Oregon. This winter, about 550 nuisance turkeys from private land were relocated to public lands or publicly accessible areas.

Those who want to hunt southwest Oregon may have an easier time accessing land in the Rogue Unit, which is 57 percent public lands, or another leading unit like Applegate or Evans Creek. While a lot of turkey harvest in the Rogue is on private land, there is good turkey habitat in the Jackson Cooperative Travel Management Area and some US Forest Service land. See the Jackson County report below for more information.

The White River Unit continues to lead in hunting pressure and came in fourth in overall harvest level. Biologists advise scouting in advance, hunting on a weekday or waiting until later in the season for the best experience in White River Unit.

Don’t forget about northeast Oregon. Just under half (42 percent) of the turkeys harvested during the spring 2017 season were harvested east of the crest of the Cascade Mountains. Mt. Emily, Sled Springs, Ukiah, Heppner and Northside consistently rank high in terms of total harvest, and individual hunter success rates are generally better in the northeast part of the state. Many northeast Oregon birds are found on public lands, particularly national forests. In most years, birds can take advantage of open southern exposures at higher elevations before the hunters can get to them.

Finally, if you have access to private land, hunting can be excellent in northwest Oregon. Last year, the Willamette Unit ranked third in total harvest.

Visit ODFW’s oregonhuntingmap and click on Game Bird Range Maps/Turkey (under Layers) to get a sense of where to find turkeys in Oregon. ODFW’s turkey hunting page also provides a map showing turkey distribution throughout the state. The Game Bird Harvest Statistics page shows the level of effort and harvest in each wildlife management unit.

It is important for hunters to check road conditions and access before heading out, especially early in the season. Snow may limit access to some areas.

Tags and regulations

All you need to spring turkey hunt is camo, a call, and a shotgun. A hen or jake decoy can also improve your odds. You can hunt for six weeks (April 15-May 31) anywhere in the state.

Spring turkey hunting is general season, and anyone can purchase a tag any time before going hunting. Turkey tags are $25.50 for residents, $10.50 for youth hunters (age 17 and under). Hunting licenses are $33.50 for residents.

The daily bag limit is one male turkey or a turkey with a visible beard (so hens with beards may be lawfully taken). The season limit is three legal turkeys; hunters must purchase a tag for each turkey. See page 19 of the Oregon Game Bird Regulations for more information.

Finally, don’t forget to report results for each tag you purchased no later than Jan. 31, 2019. Report online or by phone (1-866-947-6339), even if you didn’t take a turkey or didn’t go hunting. Hunters need to know their hunter/angler ID number, hunting location (wildlife management unit), and days spent hunting to complete the report. Spring turkey hunters that report by Jan. 31, 2019 could win a special 2019 big game tag of their choice (deer, elk or pronghorn).

Turkey hunting: Tips, equipment, and safety

The sight and sound of a turkey’s mating display is enough to quicken the pulse of even the most experienced hunter—and makes calling in a spring tom as exciting as calling in a bull elk.

While turkeys are notoriously difficult to sneak up on due to their excellent eyesight, the urge to mate makes wary toms (males) a little less cautious when they hear the call of a hen in the spring.

The fairer sex in the turkey world, toms use their iridescent red, green, copper, bronze and gold feathers to their advantage when trying to attract a mate—fanning their tails and strutting out in the open to show off. Adding to the spectacle, their brightly colored heads can alternate between red, white and blue, often changing color in just a few seconds.

In general, turkeys will be moving higher in elevation in the spring, following the snow line. They do not favor areas with a lot of underbrush for mating displays, so look for openings in the forest (meadows, old roads, power line clearings, etc.). Don’t forget to visit recent burns or clear cuts when doing your pre-season scouting. Wild turkeys will vocalize most in the morning and evening, so go early and stay late to figure out where the birds are spending their time.

Toms can become harder to hunt and less vocal later in the hunting season as the mating season falls off the peak. A realistic jake or hen decoy which will draw the bird’s attention away from you and put him right where you want him.

The National Wild Turkey Federation’s website collects their best tips and tactics. Highlights:

  • Scout the area where you want to hunt first. Look for turkey sign like tracks and droppings.
  • Once you know where to hunt, set up to call. Stay at least 100 to 150 yards from roosting turkeys; getting closer could spook them away.
  • Be motionless while calling. Remember turkeys have a great vision.
  •  Experience will teach you how to call. Sometimes loud, aggressive calling works; other times soft, infrequent calls are best.
  • Call your bird within 25 yards before taking a shot; aim for the base of the head when shooting. (Turkeys are very large birds and can be tough to bring down, so don’t shoot from too far away.)
  • Immediately tag your bird and don’t delay in dressing it either.
  • For safety, place your bird in a sack or cover with hunter orange when leaving the woods.
  • Don’t set up to call in cover or thick brush—turkeys tend to avoid these.
  • If possible, set up with a tree or rock wider than your shoulders and taller than your head at your back, to protect yourself from a shot by a careless hunter.

Equipment needs: You need a shotgun no larger than 10 gauge or smaller than 20 gauge, camouflage clothing (because turkeys have excellent eyesight) and a turkey call to get started. Shot size must be no larger than No. 2 but there are no longer minimum shot size restrictions. Sizes 4, 5 and 6 tend to be best for turkey. Bows are also legal weapons for turkey hunting. A hen or jake decoy can help improve your odds.

Safety: Never wear red, white, blue or black when turkey hunting. You could be mistaken for a turkey. Use caution when calling turkeys where other hunters may be present—and realize that the calling you hear may be other hunters.

Local area updates

NORTHWEST AREA

NORTH AND MID-COAST

Stott Mt. and Alsea Units
Turkeys are found on the private agricultural lands with rolling oak woodlands adjacent to the larger private timber holdings. Most turkey populations are in the eastern third of these units, closer to the Willamette Unit. Remember to get permission to hunt on private land.

WILLAMETTE UNITS

Trask and Willamette Units
Turkeys are actively strutting and gobbling. Finding a place to hunt is challenging in northwest Oregon. Turkeys are primarily found on private lands and are not readily available to the public. Those hunters without local contacts should be out talking to landowners to acquire access to the few and widely scattered flocks. Some hunters knock on landowners’ doors where they see turkeys and ask permission to hunt. To find public land opportunities, consult Bureau of Land Management (BLM) or U.S. Forest Service maps and look for pockets of public land off the main roads, but adjacent to agricultural land and mixed hardwood forests -- turkeys key in on both acorns, and grubs and other insects in meadows. Pay special attention to river bottoms in these areas, too. At this time of year, turkeys are found at lower elevations in areas with mixed hardwoods (such as oak savannah) and pasture—the type of habitat found mostly on private lands, although some BLM and Forest Service lands feature this habitat.

Scappoose Unit
Turkey populations are extremely low and not widely distributed. Hunters will need to have scouted early to find turkey flocks and obtained permission to hunt on private property to be successful.

Santiam, N. Indigo, and McKenzie Units
Hunting success is dependent upon securing access to private lands with turkeys, and on early scouting. Turkeys are most often found on private lands in the foothills along the west side of these units. It is uncommon to find turkeys in the Douglas-fir forests at higher elevations. For hunters that have done their homework and obtained access to private lands, hunting can be very good in the McKenzie, N. Indigo, and southern portions of the Santiam units. Turkey are not abundant in the northern portions (north of Silverton) of the Santiam Unit and hunters will have difficulty finding the few scattered flocks.

SOUTHWEST AREA

COOS COUNTY

The winter of 2017-18 was much milder that 2016-17.  Survival for turkey populations in Coos County through the winter months appears to have been very high. If one considers conditions over the past four years, they have been conducive to good survival for turkeys resulting in increasing overall abundance. This has resulted in turkey populations expanding into new areas.

For the most part turkeys can, now, be found near all agricultural lands in the county. Hunters who are willing to knock on doors and ask for permission to hunt on private agriculture lands generally see fairly high success. Habitat on public lands managed for timber or private timber lands is generally less attractive for turkeys, unless those lands are adjacent to private agricultural lands. Scouting for turkeys before the hunt in key to finding them especially if hunting public land or private timber lands.

CURRY COUNTY

The turkey population has been low for several years. Reproduction along the coast is often slower than inland areas; survival is harder with the rains that occur here. Hunters will need to have scouted early to find turkey flocks and obtained permission to hunt on private property. Look in areas where oaks and grassy prairies and taller timber for roost sights are found.

DOUGLAS COUNTY

Hunter Pariani 10 poses with a shot turkey

Douglas County continues to have a strong turkey population due to an abundance of oak-savannah and oak woodland habitat in the low-mid elevation Umpqua Valley. ODFW has also supplemented prime habitat within the Umpqua National Forest with turkeys over the last several years. There is public hunting opportunity on the Umpqua National Forest, especially in the South Umpqua. Turkeys can be found in mixed oak woodlands in the Jackson Creek drainage and national forest lands along the highway south of Tiller. There are a few Roseburg BLM lands adjacent to private lands, like N. Bank Habitat Area, offering excellent opportunities for hunting in low elevation oak savannah habitat which is great for turkey.

If you are looking for a private lands hunt, asking for permission later in the season, after landowner’s friends, family and guides have hunted, sometimes gets results. It can be hard for a regular hunter to gain access on some private property on the valley floor because some landowners work with guides that have clients that hunt exclusively on their property.

This past winter, about 200 birds in Douglas County causing nuisance or damage were relocated to public lands within the county and in Lake County.

JACKSON COUNTY

This year’s turkey numbers remain strong, and hunting is expected to be above average. Turkeys will be feeding on green grasses and insects. Use locator calls before light or after dark to locate roosting trees; then set up in an area of their travel and begin calling as light approaches.

Turkey flocks continue to be found in a wide variety of places in Jackson County. While most turkeys will be found on private lands, plenty of public lands have turkey, including grassy/oak savannas on BLM lands and lower elevation timber/meadow lands of the Rogue National Forest. The best areas in the Rogue Unit to hunt would be all the roads along the Butte Fall-Prospect Hwy between Butte Falls and Prospect. Other spots are found in areas within the Jackson Cooperative Travel Management Area map.

JOSEPHINE COUNTY

Turkey numbers in Josephine County remain very strong. Hunting is expected to be good to above average. Turkeys can be tough to hunt in the county as most are found on private property. Don’t be afraid to ask landowners to hunt on their property; turkeys can be a problem for many landowners that grow crops and they may be willing to allow hunters to come and hunt turkeys to reduce damage. Most turkeys are found along the Applegate River and Evans Creek drainages, but turkeys can also be found on most BLM lands. Try areas off of Galice road.

COLUMBIA AREA

WHITE RIVER AND HOOD UNITS

Snow pack was about average this year, so access throughout these units should be decent early in the season with more access opening up at higher elevations in May. On public land in the southern portion of White River, covering a lot of ground and calling to listen for “shock gobbles” will be your best route to success. The northern portion of the White River unit will provide better hunting opportunity but it’s mainly private land, so be sure to get permission.

The White River Wildlife Area (WRWA) is a very popular area to hunt with decent turkey numbers. The Mt. Hood National Forest throughout the White River Unit is also very popular with good turkey numbers. Harvest in the unit has continued to increase but hunter success is low, likely due to heavy hunting pressure. Try hunting weekdays or evenings when it’s less crowded. There are turkeys spread out over most of the wildlife area and the Mt. Hood National Forest. Hunting areas that have diverse oak/pine habitats and fields with plenty of forbs are generally the best places to start. Please obey all wildlife area signs and be cautious of other hunters. A parking permit is required for all users of the wildlife area (permit comes with your hunting license but don’t forget to put it on your car dash).

Private timberlands in the northwest portion of the White River unit also provide great turkey hunting opportunity. Hunters need a permit to enter Weyerhauser lands, so make sure you have one if you plan to hunt those properties. SDS Company lands also have great access to wild turkeys. Turkey populations in the Hood Unit are small but not many people hunt them. If you can find them, there’s a good chance you can tag a bird.

CENTRAL AREA

CROOK COUNTY

Turkeys can be found on forestland in the Ochoco, Grizzly and Maury WMU’s. Turkey numbers and distribution in the district are gradually increasing, with groups scattered throughout the national forest. Several turkeys were relocated to the eastern portion of the Ochoco WMU this winter. There is still snow at higher elevations and north-facing areas of the forest, so travel may be limited. Green up is occurring below the snow line and turkeys can often be found in these areas.

Hunters should contact both the Ochoco National Forest and Prineville BLM offices for road conditions and motorized access restrictions. Motorized restrictions remain in effect year-around in the South Boundary Cooperative Travel Management Area (TMA) along the southern boundary of the Ochoco National Forest. Maps of the area are available at entry portal signs, and at ODFW and Ochoco National Forest offices in Prineville.

DESCHUTES COUNTY

Spring Turkey season opens on April 15 and continues through May 31. The spring youth turkey hunt opportunity runs the weekend of April 7-8. The daily bag limit is one male turkey or a turkey with a visible beard.

Turkey populations remain low and not widely distributed but due to a mild winter numbers are increasing slightly in the northern portion of the Upper Deschutes Unit and select areas of the Metolius Unit. Look for turkeys on USFS and private timber company lands. Make sure to ask for permission before hunting on private lands

For more information on spring turkey hunting refer to page 19 of the Oregon Game Bird Regulations.

JEFFERSON COUNTY

The best locations to hunt turkey are in Jefferson County in the Metolius Unit on Green Ridge from Black Butte north to the Warm Springs Reservation, and east into the juniper zone. Hunting pressure usually drops off significantly after opening week. Lower elevation roads without snow may be soft and muddy, or blocked by downed trees. Contact the Sisters Ranger District of the Deschutes National Forest for road conditions and motorized access restrictions.

SOUTH CENTRAL AREA

LAKE COUNTY

In Lake County, turkey numbers are low. However, the last couple of years the population has been supplemented with nuisance turkeys relocated from private lands to Fremont National Forest lands. Turkeys are restricted to the southern portion of the county on or near national forestland along the west side of the Goose Lake Valley in the Interstate Unit. Turkeys are expected to have had good over-winter survival due to the mild winter.

KLAMATH COUNTY

For Klamath County, turkeys are restricted to the Keno Unit. Hunting access is fair in the southern portions of the Keno Unit. Winter precipitation has made many 2-track roads and trails too muddy to be driven without causing damage to the road. As a result, cooperators involved in the Pokegema Winter Range Road Closure have elected to delay opening those gates one week (gates will open April 6).

This area is predominantly either open-to-hunt private timberland or BLM land. Areas to check for turkey activity are south of Hwy 66 and west of the Klamath River Canyon to Copco Road. Turkeys can also be found north of Hwy 66 around Johnson Prairie. Hunters who take a banded turkey are asked to please contact the local ODFW district office in Klamath Falls (541-883-5732).

SOUTHEAST AREA

HARNEY COUNTY

In Harney County, turkeys are restricted to the northern portion of the county on or near national forestland. Wild turkeys are expected to have had good over-winter survival due to the mild winter. However, local turkey populations are expected to be only fair to potentially poor due to the poor survival from the previous winter.

MALHEUR COUNTY

Turkeys continue to increase in both number and range in the northern portions of Malheur County. The forest fringe habitat from Juntura to Ironside has increasing numbers of birds in recent years and good public land access in many areas. However birds are not evenly distributed, hunters will need to spend some time in the area finding places that hold birds.

NORTHEAST AREA

BAKER COUNTY

Turkey numbers going into the winter were average in Baker County and the mild winter should have led to good over-winter survival. The recent warm weather has triggered a spring green-up at lower elevations and hunters should concentrate their efforts near these areas. Hunters can improve their early season success by walking into areas that are not accessible by vehicles due to snow.

Access to forestlands in the mid to upper elevations will still be limited due to snow in April. As the season progresses and snow lines retreat, turkeys will follow. There are public land hunting opportunities on the BLM and the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest as well as the ODFW-managed Elkhorn Wildlife Area. The Pine Creek, Sumpter and Keating units all hold good numbers of birds on public land. Remember to ask for permission before hunting on private properties.

GRANT COUNTY

Turkeys are widely distributed and continue to increase throughout the county. Over-winter survival was good this year with mild winter conditions. Spring green up should start moving birds onto Forest Service lands. During early season, some turkeys may persist on private property and hunters will need permission to hunt. Hunters have been successful in finding birds in the Middle Fork John Day River, Murderers Creek, and North Fork John Day River drainages.

Other drainages recommended for hunters who are unfamiliar with the area are Ingle Creek, Fields Creek and Deer Creek in the Murderers Creek Unit. In the Northside Unit, hunters may try Camp Creek, Pass Creek, Fox Creek, and Cottonwood (but much of Cottonwood is private), Dixie Creek or the large tracts of National Forest. In the Desolation Unit, hunters may focus in the areas of Big Creek, Mosquito Creek, Vinegar Creek or Desolation Creek.

MORROW, GILLIAM, WHEELER COUNTIES

Turkey numbers continue to improve on Forest Service land and the surrounding forested habitat years but are still well below the population levels seen in the past. However, there are still good numbers of birds for hunters to pursue. Over-winter survival appears fair again this year; however, the late winter snows will make access more difficult for hunters this year.

Hunters will want to target the lower elevation (mainly western) portions of the Umatilla National Forest at least until the snowpack recedes. Also target the north slopes of the Blue Mountains as well as the North Fork John Day drainage. As the snow recedes, the turkeys will continue to move upslope following the receding snow line.

UMATILLA COUNTY

Late snowfall this winter concentrated turkeys at lower elevations. However, with the recent warm temperatures turkeys are making their way to higher elevations. This year’s snowpack will limit hunter access to some of those higher elevation areas until later in the season. Over-winter survival for turkeys appears to be good this year in Umatilla County. There are good numbers of turkeys all along the front face of the Blue Mountains and they are expanding into new areas.

These areas are dominated by private land and access is sometimes difficult. However, turkeys do inhabit some public land areas as follows: central Ukiah Unit on national forestland, southern Ukiah Unit on Pearson Ridge and surrounding drainages, Umatilla National Forest lands in the eastern portion of the Heppner Unit, Mt Emily Unit on Umatilla National Forest lands on ridges below Black Mountain.

Turkeys will inhabit the low and mid-elevation areas while the snow is still present in high elevation habitats. Low elevation areas are dominated by private ownership and hunters will need permission to hunt.                                                      

UNION COUNTY

Turkey numbers are looking good for Union County this spring. Broods are showing high rates of over-winter survival. This will mean a nice crop of jakes for the spring hunt. Access to lower elevation hunting locations should be good this year, but expect higher elevations to be snowed-in, especially in April. Birds may use areas with residual snow cover, so these spots should be considered when scouting for new hunting locations.

Look for birds at the north end of the Grande Ronde Valley, Palmer Valley and the south end of the Catherine Creek Unit. The highest concentrations of birds will be in the west Sled Springs, Wenaha and east slopes of the Mount Emily units within Union County. The Wallowa Whitman National Forest and Hancock Timber lands both hold great turkey habitat around the edges of the Grande Ronde Valley. Hancock lands are open to the public and provide several walk-in hunting opportunities within Union County.

The Little Catherine Creek Travel Management Area provides access into road systems on the east side of the Grande Ronde valley; maps are available at the La Grande ODFW office and online.

The Elkhorn Wildlife Area located in the southern portion of the Starkey Unit routinely holds good bird numbers and provides excellent public access. At Ladd Marsh Wildlife Area, turkeys can also be found on Glass Hill. These birds spend their time in the transition between the open fields and the dense forest feeding and traveling amongst the brush. The birds are sensitive to pressure so hunters might be successful trying slow, soft calling. Also prime times will be the first part of season and the last, based on hunter pressure

WALLOWA COUNTY

Turkey numbers have rebounded this past year and hunters can expect good numbers of birds in most areas of the county. Road access to high elevations is expected to be difficult, due to snow drifts, until late April. Our snow is gone from low elevation areas and south-facing slopes of the district.

Birds are beginning to scatter throughout forested areas so hunters should put in some time hiking, listening and looking for signs of turkey activity. Call for them or just listen for their calls early in the morning. Hunters are reminded that cooperative travel management areas are in effect in the Wenaha and Sled Springs Units, including on Hancock Timber property.

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