Hunters should expect to see an average number of wild turkeys in the field when Washington’s spring hunting season opens April 15.
The largest wild turkey populations can be found in some of the favorite hunting areas in the state – the Colville area, the Blue Mountains and Klickitat County.
“Hunters should see a similar number of birds as they have the last two seasons,” said Brian Calkins, section manager for small game for the state Department of Fish and Wildlife.”
As many as 15,000 hunters could head out this season in hopes of bagging one of the three subspecies of turkey that live in Washington – the Eastern, Merriam’s and Rio Grande. And if this year is like most others, about 40 percent of those hunters will be successful.
Mikal Moore, the Bend, Ore.-based Northwest regional wildlife biologist for the National Wild Turkey Federation, said trying to gauge likely hunter success is “more art than science.”
“The best we can really look at is past harvest rates, harvest rate trends, weather patterns and what kind of winter survival they had,” she said.
“At the very least, we should expect an average year. We’re still feeling the effects of a few tough winters,” Moore said.
Here is the outlook at some of the key hunting areas around the state:
Northeast: The Stevens-Pend Oreille County area is home to the state’s largest number of turkeys, in this case Merriam’s. “There will be pretty good opportunity up there,” Calkins said. “Harvest rates have been on the decline over the last couple of years. The last report, we saw some improvement but not back to the record level we were at about five years ago,” Moore said. Moderate winters the last two years should help boost the number of adult turkeys in the area.
Blue Mountains: The southeast corner of the state is home to a population of Rio Grande turkeys, and produces the second highest harvest statewide. “I believe those birds are really thriving. Recovery from past wildfires has been really beneficial, with lots of forage and lots of habitat,” Moore said. Hunters need to remember the elevational rule, she added. Birds here will keep moving higher as the snow melts off and more habitat becomes available.
Klickitat: “A favorite for many people, the area is holding its own,” Calkin said. While the harvest numbers are fairly high here and in Skamania County, they seem a bit low compared to how many birds are seen before hunting season.
Eastern Cascades: This region was hit hard by wildfires last year that should really affect habitat. “It is difficult to say what hunters will find when they go to their favorite areaa. It depends on how long the vegetation will take to recover,” Moore said.
Southwest Washington: This is where hunters can pursue Eastern turkeys, but they will have to put in the work. The best areas are state and private timberlands in Wahkiakum and Lewis
counties. “The Eastern subspecies hasn’t taken off and flourished like those have on the eastside,” Calkins said. “I think that has surprised a lot of people. We truly don’t understand what might be limiting the population from growing more than it has in Western Washington.”
2013 spring turkey season
Season: April 15-May 31
Hunting hours: One-half hour before sunrise to sunset
Legal birds: Gobblers and turkeys with visible beards only can be harvested.
Limits: A total of three turkeys can be taken in the spring season with following restrictions: Only two turkeys may be taken in eastern Washington and only one of those may be taken in Chelan, Kittitas and Yakima counties (combined); only one turkey may be taken in western Washington per year outside of Klickitat County. Two turkeys may be taken in Klickitat County.
Small game license: An adult resident license is $40.50 and $18.50 for a youth 15 and younger.
Small game when purchased at the same time as a big game license: $22.00, $8.80
Primary turkey tag: $15.90 for an adult, free for a youth
Additional turkey transport tags: $15.90 and $11.50
Special turkey hunting rules
- Spring turkey season is open for shotgun (10 gauge or under capable of holding three or fewer shells. A plug may be used to meet this requirement), muzzleloader with shot or bow-and-arrow only
- A valid hunting license and an unaltered, unnotched turkey transport tag are required for hunting turkey.
- Immediately after killing a turkey, hunters must validate their own tag by completely removing notches for month and day of kill and securely attach tag to carcass.
- It is unlawful to use dogs, electronic calls or electronic decoys to hunt turkeys.
- Baiting game birds is illegal.
- Turkey hunters must report hunting activity by mandated deadlines.
- Turkey hunters must use No. 4 shot or smaller.
- It is illegal to possess in the field or transport game birds unless a feathered head is left attached to each carcass, except falconry-caught birds.
2011 General Hunting Season Total
Total harvest: 5,551
Total hunters: 13,704
Success rate: 40.5 percent
Note: The 2011 harvest was a 3 percent increase from 2010 levels and 21 percent above the 10-year average. 2011 was the last year for which information was available.
Spring season turkey harvest