image of a hunter with a nice spring turkey
Statewide

2020 spring turkey hunting forecast

April 7, 2020

ODFW biologists share the latest updates for turkey hunting in their local district, as well as tips and tactics for bagging a bird.

Table of contents

Hunting access in 2020
Where are the turkeys
Tags and regulations
Turkey hunting: Tips, equipment and safety

Northwest Area
Southwest Area
Columbia Area
Central and South Central areas
Southeast Area
Northeast Area

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 estimated spring harvest of 6,018 turkeys was up 17 percent from the previous year. Turkey production and survival were not limiting factors in 2019. Expect good to excellent habitat conditions and thriving turkey populations in most of the state this year.

Hunting access in 2020 – know before you go

As land managers try to comply with current “stay home” and social distancing recommendations, several state and federal land management agencies (Forest Service, BLM) are closing campgrounds and day use areas. However, many federal public lands remain open for dispersed recreation, including hunting. 

EXPECT ADDITIONAL CHANGES TO PUBLIC LAND ACCESS THROUGHOUT THE SEASON. Be sure to contact the agency that manages the land you to hunt on, and confirm access before you head out to hunt.

State lands

Oregon Department of Forestry manages Oregon state forests.
Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife manages state wildlife areas. These are currently open from 4 a.m. to 10 p.m. Overnight camping is not allowed.

Federal lands

US Forest Service has shut down developed recreation sites, but roads and lands remain open.
BLM has closed developed recreation sites, but roads and lands remain open.

Since many turkeys in Oregon reside on private land, finding a place to hunt can be challenging. The Turkey Hunt by Reservation Program brings hunters and landowners together to provide quality hunting experiences.

A male turkey stands on the edge of a treeline

Where are the turkeys?

Southwest Oregon leads the way

Southwest Oregon continues to be the leading place to find turkeys. The Melrose and Rogue units have the highest turkey harvest in the state, however hunters had to work harder to be successful in the Rogue. Hunter use on the Rogue Unit is second only to the White River Unit. 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).

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 other leading units 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.

ODFW is working to increase accessible turkey hunting throughout Oregon. This winter, biologists relocated about 776  nuisance turkeys from private land to public lands or publicly accessible areas, 24 percent more than last year.  

ODFW is expanding a pilot project to connect turkey hunters with private landowners experiencing turkey damage on their property. Learn more here.

The White River Unit continues to lead in hunting pressure (6,432 hunter-days), and ranked third in overall harvest level (439 birds). 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 eastern Oregon

Forty-four percent of the turkeys harvested during the spring 2019 season were harvested east of the crest of the Cascade Mountains. After White River, Heppner, Northside, Murderers Creek, Sled Springs and Mt. Emily were the highest performing units 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 fifth in total harvest and the McKenzie ranked seventh.

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.

image of a young hunter carrying his turkey home

Tags and regulations

The statewide spring turkey season is from April 15 to May 31.

Spring turkey hunting is general season, and anyone can purchase a tag any time before going hunting. Turkey tags are $25.50 for residents and $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.

Report your hunt

All hunters who purchase a 2020 spring turkey tag are required to report their hunt results online or by phone (1-866-947-6339) no later than Jan. 31, 2021. Reporting is required even for those who did not hunt or were unsuccessful. ODFW uses this information to determine harvest and effort and set future hunting regulations.

the back of a man who is looking ahead at a turkey decoy

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.

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. A realistic jake or hen decoy which will draw the bird’s attention away from you and put him right where you want him. 

Recommended basic equipment

  • A shotgun no larger than 10 gauge or smaller than 20 gauge*.
  • Shotgun shells with size 4, 5 or 6 shot.
  • Camouflage clothing (because turkeys have excellent eyesight).
  • A turkey call or two.
  • Or, substitute a bow for the shotgun and shells.
  • Hen or jake decoy (optional)

The new .410 and 28 ga tungsten loads are more deadly than a lead 20 ga load.  If you are small-framed or a youth, consider a smaller gauge with TSS loads. 

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.

Even more tips and tactics

At home practice tips for spring turkey is a Facebook livestream that walks you through conditioning and practicing your turkey calls at home.

Tod's 10 tips for taking toms (in the spring) for some pointers for turkey hunting in Oregon.

Finally, visit the National Wild Turkey Federation’s website where they’ve collected 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.

image of two turkey hunters posing with their birds

Reports from local areas 

Northwest Area

NORTH AND MID-COAST

Stott Mt. and Alsea Units

Turkeys are only found on the east side of the coast range in these units. The best place to find turkeys is on the private agricultural lands with rolling oak woodlands adjacent to the larger private timber holdings.  Remember to get permission to hunt on private land.

WILLAMETTE UNITS

Trask and Willamette Units

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. Recent reports of turkey activity in the eastern foothills of the coast range highlight limited opportunity on predominantly private lands. 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.

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

Winter conditions in 2019-20 were conducive to high survival for turkeys.  Also, over the past several years turkey numbers appear to be increasing and the distribution of flocks has clearly increased. That said, the vast majority of flocks spend most of their time on private land because habitat types on most public lands are not productive for these birds.

Gaining permission to hunt on private land is clearly the most effective way to hunt turkeys in Coos County.  However, looking for pockets of public land that are in close proximity to private land birds can be a productive tactic for hunting these birds too. In Coos County much of the BLM lands are scattered small tracts of land surrounded by private lands.

Turkey abundance is highest in the vicinity of Coquille, Myrtle Point, Powers, and Fairview but there are a few turkeys in other parts of the county, as well. Scouting for turkeys before the hunt is key to finding them especially if hunting public land or private timberlands.     

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

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 national forest. There are a few Roseburg BLM lands adjacent to private lands, like N. Bank Habitat Management 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 300 birds in Douglas County causing nuisance or damage were relocated to public lands within the county and in Klamath 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

Access in the White River and Hood units should not be much of an issue this year, snow loads are average at high elevation but lower than most years at middle to low elevations. Much of the north half of the White River, and most of the Hood unit comprise of private timber and county forest lands taht are closed to public entry at this time. It will be more important than ever that hunters know the ownership of lands prior to heading out for their hunt.

Current conditions have allowed birds to migrate earlier this year than in the past, and having birds scattered will benefit hunters looking to get away from the crowd. Hunters should scout for turkey sign and be willing to cover ground to locate birds. Running ridges and seeking out “shock-gobbles” will help hunters avoid crowds and find birds that have been pushed out of lower elevation lands where hunters tend to congregate.

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. In the Hood unit, look for mixed oak and conifer woodlands on private timberlands for your best bet at finding turkeys.

All upland bird populations experienced a significant increase throughout the mid-Columbia district during the 2018 summer survey season, likely due to low amounts of spring rain throughout the area.  Biologists in the mid-Columbia district counted our highest overall turkey count since we started collecting data on turkeys in 2014. Assuming that turkeys had good over winter survival, this should translate in some above average turkey hunting throughout White River and Hood Units

Maupin and West Biggs

Turkey populations have been expanding to many new areas within these units. Most of them are on private lands, so make sure you get permission to access these areas. Turkeys can also be found in the Deschutes and John Day River canyons and many other side- drainages of the river canyons, some on BLM and state managed lands. These areas could be a great opportunity to get away from other hunters.

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. Turkeys were relocated to the southern portion of the Ochoco WMU and the Eastern portion of the Maury WMU this winter. There is still snow at higher elevations and north-facing areas of the forest, and spring so far has been pretty wet, 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

Turkey populations remain low and not widely distributed throughout Deschutes County.  Numbers are increasing slightly in the northern portion of the Upper Deschutes Unit and select areas of the Metolius Unit. Mild winter conditions will result in good overwinter survival. Look for turkeys on USFS and private timber company lands. Make sure to ask for permission before hunting on private lands.

JEFFERSON COUNTY

The best locations to hunt turkey in Jefferson County are 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.

Increased overwinter survival and favorable spring conditions have led to an increase in turkey numbers in the Metolius Unit. 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 extremely low. However, this winter the population was supplemented with nuisance turkeys relocated from private lands in Grant County to Fremont National Forest lands. No translocations occurred during the previous winter of 2018/19.

Winter conditions in much of the turkey range in Lake County experienced significant snow load this winter with thawing and freezing patterns that significantly affected food availability through portions of the winter period. As a result, we expect that turkey populations have been further reduced in the area to levels that may make locating turkeys very difficult. 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. 

KLAMATH COUNTY

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, (gates will open April 10). Turkey releases were made this winter in the area south of Hwy 66, Klamath Canyon, as well as Johnson Prairie.

This area is predominantly either open-to-hunt private timberland (Green Diamond Resource Company), 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. Local turkey populations are expected to have improved over the past few years as mild winter conditions should have resulted in excellent overwinter survival.  However it may take a few more years of good winter conditions for turkey populations to fully recover.  Overall snowpack was near average, so snow will likely limit access to higher elevations and northern aspects early in the season. 

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 good in Baker County and chick production was high last spring. Recent warm weather has started 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 has started moving birds onto Forest Service lands. The late season snow that the area is currently receiving could make access difficult in the early season as some roads may could have substantial snow drifts, especially on north facial corners. Hunters should carry tire chains and snow shovels with them. 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 but are still 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, snow levels 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. Access to higher elevation hunting areas may prove difficult through much of May this year. Lower elevations should have decent access. 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 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 snowdrifts, through April. Our snow is mostly gone from low elevation areas and south-facing slopes.

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 and late in the evening. Hunters are reminded that cooperative travel management areas are in effect in the Wenaha and Sled Springs Units.

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