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 elevation 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,” Calkins said. While the harvest numbers are fairly high here and in Skamania County, they seem a bit low compared with how many birds are seen before hunting season.
Eastern Cascades: This region was hit hard by wildfires last year, which probably will affect habitat. “It is difficult to say what hunters will find when they go to their favorite areas. 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 east side” of the state, 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.”Jeffrey P. Mayor: 253-597-8640 email@example.com blog.thenewstribune.com/adventure