2018 Pacific Northwest Turkey Outlook

The author (right ) called this big 21 lb. Boss Tom in for a friend last season. Curiosity and loneliness around mid morning once the hens had went to nest brought this guy into 18 yards. (Troy Rodakowski)

By Troy Rodakowski

I’m going to go out on a limb here! No pun intended but I’m going to go ahead and say that the 2018 Oregon spring turkey season will be fantastic! Why will it be fantastic might you ask?

First of all, last year’s dry spring and mild winter made for a great hatch and good poult survival. Secondly, we have had a fairly mild winter with less snow pack in many portions of the Pacific Northwest equating to less winter die off of birds. Yes, some of the late cold and snowy weather took its toll on some flocks but for the most part they are doing better than ever.

Good Bets: In order to find a gobbler this spring a hunter should be prepared to look higher in elevation. Lack of snow pack in many locations has enabled birds to disperse quicker into the high country. This spring will be similar to last year in many ways and hunters should keep in mind where they found birds last year and begin their searches in those areas. Turkey are drawn to food around small creeks with fresh vegetation, newly hatched insects, snails and small amphibians which are all irresistible to them. If you walk ridges above draws with creek bottoms that have freshly sprouted plant life you will eventually run into turkeys.

Turkey populations continue to expand throughout the Pacific Northwest as birds continue to do well and thrive in many locations. Now is the time to get involved and become a part of this exciting sport throughout our region. If you haven’t been turkey hunting yet I highly recommend giving it a try because the prospects for the 2018 season are looking pretty darn good.

A group of mature gobblers in search of a lonely hen. Often times during the early season birds will be found in larger groups with multiple gobblers hanging together. (Troy Rodakowski)

Western Oregon: Last season 13,716 hunters managed to harvest 5,246 birds during the spring season in the Beaver state. The top five units on the west side were the Melrose, Rogue, Willamette, Evans Creek and the Applegate. All of these units had good harvests with some of the highest harvests coming from Melrose and Rogue followed by Evans Creek & Willamette respectively. Many of these birds congregate on private lands or borders of private timber and BLM tracts. With Douglas County being the “Turkey Capitol” of Oregon over a third of the annual harvest occurs here.

One unit to keep an eye on for this year will be the Siuslaw near Lorane especially in the southeast portions near the small towns of Drain and Creswell. Also, the McKenzie, Alsea, Chetco and Keno units have seen increasing numbers of birds on private lands near the foothills. Spend a little time door-knocking in these units and you could score some primo turkey hunting ground.

These are all great areas but Northeast Oregon in my opinion is one of the best regions to hunt spring turkey in the Beaver state. Locations near LaGrande, Imbler, Elgin, Union, Cove, Wallowa, Sumpter, and Flora all hold decent flocks of birds. Catherine Creek, Sumpter, Walla Walla, Pine Creek, and Minam GMU’s all saw decent harvest in 2017. Units that showed significant increases in harvest during the past few years were the Sled Springs, Chesnimnus, Keating, and Starkey.

Getting our youth out is important. Be sure to look into your states youth hunts for turkey this coming season. (Troy Rodakowski)

Washington State: The state of Washington has seen turkey harvest rise from a mere 588 birds in 1996 to nearly 5,000 in the past few seasons. Last year the total spring harvest was 4,980 birds taken by 9,565 hunters across the state. In the Northeast region of the Evergreen State the turkey harvest in GMU’s 101-136 have held at or near 3,000 birds. Both Yakima and Kittitas counties turkey populations have held fairly steady also with some minor declines over the last few years.

In Okanogan County turkey are found in scattered groups and are primarily found in larger numbers on private agricultural holdings. GMU’s 231 and 232 hold the best populations of birds and see some of the highest harvest rates in this district. With reduced numbers in the Methow Valley hunters are finding it a bit more difficult to fill a tag.

The Stemilt Basin outside of Wenatchee and lands along the Wenatchee River usually hold several flocks of birds. Most of the lands near Wenatchee are private and hunters looking for public lands need to search closer to the Stemilt Basin. In addition, the east slope of the Cascade mountain range is showing expanding populations of turkeys. The Eastern species of turkey in Western Washington are continuing to expand with GMU’s 667, 510, 672, and 520 being the best. Many of the turkey in these units are on private farmlands or timberlands and permission is required to access these birds.

Every once in a while a bird will come in silent. So always keep your eyes peeled for that red bobbing head. (Troy Rodakowski)

Idaho: Turkeys are found throughout the Panhandle Region, except in the mountainous units 7 and 9. Turkey hunting is usually pretty good in the Panhandle region however this past winter may have taken a toll on turkey populations.

The 2017-18 winter had above normal snowpack with lower elevations also receiving a good amount of snow. Birds will be concentrated in areas with feed following the receding snow lines. Decent hunting can be found on public land adjacent to private land in lower elevations especially in units 1, 2, 3, and 5. Obtaining permission from private landowners is a good option for finding turkey hunting spots. Many private landowners will provide access because they want turkey flocks reduced on their lands.

Good opportunities for turkey hunting are also found in and near Idaho Fish and Game’s Craig Mountain Wildlife Management Area south of Lewiston, as well as state and federal land, private agriculture land and corporate timber land.

Turkey production the past three years has been near the long-term average in the Clearwater Region resulting in numbers that should provide hunting success consistent with recent years.

Mild conditions during the past few winters in the Clearwater region has resulted in good survival into spring and also helps give hunters access to higher elevations early in the spring.

In the Clearwater Region hunters will want to focus their effort near the Clearwater River up to the Lochsa and Selway. Also, the Snake River, lower Salmon River, and White bird have held decent numbers of birds.

For early season success make sure to scout prior to season and obtain permission on private ground if possible. Figuring out a flock’s daily routine will help to put you in a good spot during the opening week of the season. If you plan to hunt some of the higher terrain be prepared to cover some ground to locate birds. Turkeys in the mountains are concentrating their effort on finding fresh food and dispersing into the higher meadows where the snow has melted off. These Rio’s and Merriams tend to be more nomadic and are not as easy to pattern.

Also, make sure to take some time and practice your calling. You don’t have to be a World Champion or even close to a professional caller but try your best to sound as much like a turkey as possible. Listening to You Tube Videos or having a friend or family member who is an experienced caller help you can make a huge difference. Simple box calls are easiest for beginners and with just a little practice slate calls can be mastered fairly quickly, as well. Mouth diaphragms tend to take a bit more practice but are very effective and best of all they render a hunters hands free and ready to shoot.

Turkey hunting is catching on out here in the Pacific Northwest and populations are continuing to grow and expand. Washington, Oregon and Idaho offer some of the best turkey hunting across the country and now is the time to start planning your 2018 turkey hunt. With the winter snows melting in the lower elevations now is the time to get out there and locate some birds ahead of the openers in these great Western states.

 

Troy Rodakowski
Outdoor Line Blogger
Western Oregon Region
The Outdoor Line
710 ESPN Seattle

4 Tips for Taking More Coyotes

by Jason Brooks

With winter in full swing and our big game season’s over the hunter who doesn’t chase waterfowl might be finding themselves wishing it was still October. But there are a few other things that those who prefer to chase after ungulates instead of fowl can do right now to keep the hunt going and help our quarry through the winter. The most obvious is to go predator hunting, especially for coyotes. Here are a few things to consider when taking afield to hunt the killers of elk calves and deer fawns, the wily coyote.

The author chose to wear solid earth tone colors when hunting near an orchard-Jason Brooks

Know how to set-up to call and your surroundings

A few weeks ago I took my boys and my brother out to call coyotes in Eastern Washington. On our first set of the day we positioned ourselves on a rim above a steep canyon that led down to the Columbia river and an orchard. Using a remote electronic caller, I varied the calls from pup whimpers and birds fighting. Knowing that the coyotes would be coming in from a long distance the call choice was pretty much the highest shrills and screams the electric call had so it would carry a long distance. After twenty minutes we decided to try a new spot and stood up, only to find a coyote running away on the ridge above us. All of us set up thinking any coyotes would be coming in from below and when we saw the dog it was too late, realizing that someone should have set-up to look behind us.

Troy Brooks keeps an eye out for songdogs as he heads for a calling set-Jason Brooks

Use cover and camo

Coyotes have very good eyesight and their hearing allows them to pinpoint exact locations. This is why a remote with an electronic call has really helped those who hunt alone. But if you choose to use mouth calls just know that good camo and sitting inside or alongside cover will keep the coyotes from figuring out you’re not a dying jackrabbit. Western Washington has a lot of neighborhood havoc causing coyotes. Hunting small parcels of land near developments isn’t uncommon as long as you have permission from private land owners or the public land is zoned where you can hunt. In these cases, the hunter should wear earth tones, such as brown’s greens, and black so not to draw attention from others.

A hunter sits in a sagebrush bush to conceal himself while calling coyotes-Jason Brooks

Be persistent and patient

Depending on where you are and the terrain you are calling will determine how long to call for. A few weeks ago while chasing deer in the late December archery season in Western Washington I cut several coyote and bobcat tracks. Just about every clear-cut landing had some kind of sign of the predators. If I know a bobcat is in the area then I will call for a much longer period of time as they are very patient and so should you be. In a small clear-cut, a hundred acres or less, then twenty minutes is plenty of time for coyotes. The dense forest of Western Washington means the calls won’t carry too far. For the large timber cuts, over a hundred acres, then treat it like you would in Eastern Washington. Give the predators time to cover the distance. I often set a minimum bench mark for 20 minutes and go from there up to an hour.

Western Washington is very dense and coyotes will come in close-Jason Brooks

Use the right gun and ammo

Hunting coyotes and other predators in Eastern Washington means that their pelts are worth money. There are several fur buyers that will buy the coyotes whole or skinned, as long as the fur isn’t damaged. I have three guns that are my “coyote hunting arsenal”. The first is my all-around rifle, a Winchester Model 70 Ranger chambered in .223 Remington. This caliber is light, fast, and perfect for shooting coyotes from 50 yards to 200 yards with little pelt damage and is the rifle I use the most. If I am hunting the wheat fields of the Palouse where shots can be very far then I take my Thompson Center Encore in .243 Winchester. I also take this rifle for hunting Western Washington or any other places where I might run into a Cougar (when the season is open). Lastly, is my 12 gauge. A Mossberg 500 with a modified choke. The shotgun goes with me on all of my hunts and sometimes is the only gun I take for Western Washington hunting and is used for shots from 40 yards and under.

The author’s favorite coyote guns, .223 Remington, .243 Winchester, and the 12 gauge (left to right)-Jason Brooks

The ammunition you choose also makes a big difference. You want a light bullet that enters but then explodes and does not exit. The idea being a small hole going in, and none coming out. Shot placement makes a big difference in this as well but after several years of hunting coyotes I have found the V-Max by Hornady does a great job with little pelt damage. I stopped re-loading my predator rounds awhile back too, since the line of Hornady Superformance Varmint is extremely accurate and can be found with their V-Max bullet. Hornady also makes a Heavy Magnum Coyote shotgun load in 12 and 20 gauge. I prefer the BB size shot in 3-inch magnum 12 gauge. The BB’s are lead and nickel coated, so do not use these for a goose hunt or ducks, even if you jump some while out coyote hunting.

Quality ammo and bullet selection is very important to minimize fur damage or make a lethal kill-Jason Brooks

Why you should hunt coyotes

Some people have a hard time shooting an animal and not using it in some way. The coyotes hunted in Western Washington have no value on the commercial fur market and in a few weeks the dogs in Eastern Washington and Oregon won’t be worth anything either. Once the breeding season starts, usually around the first of February, coyotes start to rub and this ruins the fur. So, why hunt coyotes? Simply put, they are predators and kill a lot of deer fawns and elk calves. As a hunter we owe it to our quarry to conduct sound wildlife management and as we build shopping malls and sub-burbs we shrink the healthy deer and elk habitat but coyotes can thrive in these same locations. If a non-hunter challenges you about hunting coyotes remind them that they also carry a variety of diseases including Parvo and Mange that is easily transferred to our family pets. And speaking of family pets, coyotes love to eat our furry friends and have even tried to grab toddlers and young kids, though very rare. Just because deer and elk season is over doesn’t mean hunting season is over. Head out and hunt coyotes.

Coyotes kill  deer during the winter as well as fawns and elk calves in the Spring-Jason Brooks

Jason Brooks

The Outdoor Line Blogger

www.jasonbrooksphotography.com

Tag Team Turkeys

The author and his father used many of the tactics discussed to harvest these two birds on opening day a couple seasons back. (Troy Rodakowski)

by Troy Rodakowski

The companionship of hunting with a friend of family member is half the reason we hunt spring turkeys. The other and most important half, however, is that working as a team is probably the best possible way to put some turkeys on the dinner table.

While hunting spring turkeys it is at times very beneficial to set a caller 10-15 yards or more behind a shooter. Why might you ask? That wise old gobbler will often hang up just out of range and if he feels the hen is still a bit further he might just break that magical barrier needed for your shotgun or bow.

Natural obstacles like creeks logs and other barriers can make turkeys “hang up,” and not commit to your set up. (Troy Rodakowski)

Another great benefit to hunting with a partner is the ability to sound like multiple turkeys when both hunters are calling. Getting gobblers fired up is a key to success in the spring and if you can sound like multiple turkeys a long beard is more likely to come in and join your party. Additionally, I have found it pays to have an extra set of eyes on that bird when you are stalking into closer range to make a set.

One year we had a bird across a canyon that wasn’t willing to come through the bottom to meet us so we took matters into our own hands. My buddy set up high all the while keeping an eye on him through the binoculars as I hiked closer to the bird. I was able to get fairly close to that turkey through hand signals from my partner as to the birds movements and whereabouts. I got setup, did a little calling, and the rest is history.

Birds often times do not like to cross creeks or thick obstacles such as logs or dense brush. Gobblers will pace back and forth along a creek or brush barrier searching for that hen that keeps calling to them. The best approach to this is to have the caller stay in place and have the shooter sneak into position near the brush line or creek channel where the bird is pacing. This has worked several times for me over the years!

Food Sources / Strut & Dust Zones: Find food sources, such as old oak stands with acorns, open fields with seeds and plentiful insects. Creek bottoms with snails and amphibious life are also hot spots. Turkey tracks are easily observed in soft soils during the early spring. Places where birds spend time strutting and dusting zones become prime areas to set up an ambush or catch birds moving. Often, birds will find old burns or slash pile remnants to dust in. Looking for areas where birds have scraped and taken dust baths can help point a hunter to an area where they will likely return.

If you plan on using decoys be sure to use dekes that look as realistic as possible. I like to save fans from some of my jakes to attach to various decoys to give them a more realistic look and I’ll paint faded decoys to give them a little brighter look. I’ll even go so far as to attach a jerk string or cord to one of my standing hens or jakes so I can give it some movement. This works pretty well on birds from a distance and has helped bag some birds for my hunting partners and I over the years. This is one trick where the buddy system really comes in handy!

Even the most wary gobbler can be fooled. You just need to know when and how to make the right moves on an old wise bird. (Troy Rodakowski)

Regardless of your approach using the “buddy” system in the turkey woods this spring can be very beneficial. I sure do appreciate the help a hunting companion and what’s even better is sharing that experience with a good friend or family member.

Troy Rodakowski
Outdoor Line Blogger
710 ESPN Seattle

5 Turkey Musts For This Coming Season

Make sure to have the scales tipped in your favor come this April and you’ll surely find yourself packing more birds out of the field. (Troy Rodakowski)

By Troy Rodakowski

In general, extreme weather patterns are not beneficial for wild turkeys.  In particular, winters with deep snow at lower elevations can impact overwinter survival when turkeys can’t dig down for their favorite foods. “We have actually seen them stay in the roost for days at a time when snow is too deep to feed,” says Mikal Moore NWTF Biologist for the Pacific Northwest. The other big driver of turkey population’s dynamics is wet springs, which can inhibit hatching success.  For those poults that do hatch, protein-rich insects will be plentiful in wet years, a critical component of bone, muscle, and feather growth in young wild turkeys,” adds Moore.

The yin and yang of a severe winter in the Pacific Northwest may keep some from hunting turkeys while others will find success. My advice is that there’s never a better time than the present to pursue these handsome birds.

A spring gobbler searches through the grass for other turkeys while listening carefully for hens and keeping an eye out for danger. (Troy Rodakowsk)

Over the years I have made plenty of mistakes and learned some valuable lessons when hunting turkeys. Here are a few tips of what not to do on opening day to help you be a more successful turkey hunter.

1.) Don’t expect to pull into a place that you have seen turkeys and find them in the same location during season. This has happened to me a few times and is a lot like going to a job interview without your resume. Locating a prospective spot, not taking the time to scout it out and still hoping for positive results just doesn’t work. Unfortunately, most of us have been in this position at least once, had a lack of time to spend in the woods prior to season and hurried out on opening day only to find disappointment. The lesson here is get out before season, get out often, scout and you will be rewarded with more birds for the freezer.

2.) If you hear a gobble don’t get excited and over call. Hunters need to remember that it is natural for a hen to go seek out a tom. We as hunters are trying to convince these birds the opposite of what comes naturally to them. When first encountering a bird I like to gently test him out with just some light yelps and purring. If he doesn’t respond then hit him with a couple cutts and cackles to see if he will shock gobble.

I like to mimic what a hen is saying. If she yelps at you yelp right back with the same tone and cadence. If she cackles and cutts make sure to do it right back at her, make her mad, you are there to steal that gobbler from her.

3.) After a long morning, find a tree, take a short nap, get a bite to eat, drink some water and relax. I have harvested countless birds in the afternoon and just prior to sunset. Many hunters get frustrated and call it a day after hiking a few miles without hearing any gobbles or even seeing a bird. Remember, most of the breeding occurs in the morning within the first few hours after fly down. Gobblers urge to breed and their potency is higher during the morning hours and they will usually, try to locate a receptive hen immediately after fly down. Afternoon hunts are great because many of the hens will return to their established nesting sites to lay and incubate eggs. This leaves Mr. Tom lonely and in search for any hens that are still wandering about and feeding.

Gobblers are smart. Getting one to make a mistake isn’t always easy. (Troy Rodakowski)

4.) Be prepared to cover lots of ground. Nesting hens usually stay within a radius of 1 mile spending the day feeding, laying and sitting on eggs. Gobblers on the other hand can cover ground often times wandering up to 2 miles from their roosting site looking for receptive hens. Hearing a gobble over a ridge doesn’t mean you will find that bird in the original location that he sounded off from. I remember one year I contacted a bird and ended up killing him 3 miles from where I had first heard him. Wear good base layer clothing and plan on sweating a little.

5.) When hunting from a blind make sure to know what stage of the breeding cycle the birds are in. Don’t “over –do” your decoy spread and make sure not to over call. Larger breeding groups of turkeys and birds at fly down are very vocal but solo gobblers are not always keen to radical calling techniques. Infrequent calling and silence can be exactly what a bird is looking for as it stirs their curiosity and seems more natural especially later in the day when birds are a somewhat less vocal.

Troy Rodakowski is an award winning outdoor writer based out of Western Oregon.

The Outdoor Line
710 ESPN Seattle

 

World Champion Elk Callers Crowned in Vegas

RENO, Nev.-Elk callers from nine states and one Canadian province have earned Top 3 honors in the RMEF/Leupold World Elk Calling Championships for 2011.

Competition was held as part of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation's annual Elk Camp & Hunting, Fishing and Outdoor Expo, which ended March 6 in Reno, Nev. The event helps raise awareness of elk, habitat and the conservation initiatives of RMEF.

Results:

Professional Division
1. Corey Jacobsen, Boise, Ida.
2. Joel Turner, Eatonville, Wash.
3. Audrey McQueen, Eagar, Ariz.

Men's Division
1. Dirk Durham, Moscow, Ida.
2. Gary Nemetchek, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan
3. Dustin Howard, Friday Harbor, Wash.

Women's Division
1. Misty Jacobsen, Priest River, Ida.
2. Amy Morris, Payson, Utah
3. Jessie Coy, Cody, Wyo.

Natural Voice Division
1. Michael Hatten, Elko, Nev.
2. Remi Warren, Reno, Nev.
3. Sheila Veerkamp, Victor, Mont.

Youth Division
1. Greg Hubbell Jr., Belmont, Calif.
2. Brayden Langley, McMinnville, Ore.
3. Russell Nemetchek, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan

Pee Wee Division
1. Colton Crawford, McMinnville, Ore.
2. William Card, Fallon, Nev.
3. Tucker Rash, Fallon, Nev.

In the competition, amateur-level callers have 30 seconds to mimic cow elk sounds, followed by bull sounds. Professionals are required to make specific calls such as barks, whistles and screaming bugles. Most callers blow across a latex reed placed inside the mouth. In the natural voice division, however, no reeds are allowed. A variety of plastic tubes are used like megaphones, giving the sounds realistic resonance. Judges score each competitor anonymously.

Winners received prizes and cash ranging from $500 to $2,500.

Prize sponsors included Leupold, Block Fusion, Cabela's, Horn Hunter Packs, Hoyt, Kershaw Knives, Montana Decoy, Montana Silversmiths, New Archery Products (NAP), Remington, Schnee's and Traditions Performance Firearms.

Leupold, America's Optics Authority™, has been a title sponsor of the competition for three years, as well as a longtime supporter of RMEF's work to ensure the future of elk, other wildlife and their habitat.

About the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation:
Snowy peaks, dark timber basins and grassy meadows. RMEF is leading an elk country initiative that has conserved or enhanced habitat on over 5.9 million acres-a land area equivalent to a swath three miles wide and stretching along the entire Continental Divide from Canada to Mexico. RMEF also works to open, secure and improve public access for hunting, fishing and other recreation. Get involved atwww.rmef.org or 800-CALL ELK.
Contact:
Steve Wagner, Blue Heron Communications, 800-654-3766 or steve@blueheroncomm.com

Setting up the J-Hook Decoy Spread

You'd think a bird with a brain the size of a tomato seed would find it's way into the decoys no matter how they are arranged, but as we all know that's seldom the case. Ol' "bird brain" isn't as gullible as you'd think. Here's some tips from frequent Outdoor Line guest Robert Strong, owner of Ruckus Outfitters and state duck calling champion, on how to set up your next decoy spread for a successful hunt.  

The "J" spread that's been around for decades is Strong's go-to setup early in the season. "If the wind is blowing right to left I'll pack the right side of the dekes pretty tight and set up my kill zone right in front of the blind at about 25 yards. I'll put a long string of decoys at around 40 yards to form the long leg of my "J" and that tends to funnel them towards the blind. Once they hit the tight group of dekes they'll generally throw down the landing gear and try to settle in front of the blind," he says about his decoy arrangement.

Hen mallards are usually the ones doing the majority of the talking and Strong will place two or three hen mallard decoys right in front of the blind so that his calling seems more natural. He also likes to direct his calling down towards the decoys instead of up towards the sky as much as possible. "When I do this it sounds like the decoys are talking and not the blind," says Strong.

The most important part of tricking ducks into the decoys is to impart some motion. He used to employ the Winduk religiously, but really likes a new decoy called the Knotty Duck that allows hunters to start and stop the flapping wings by pulling on a string. Once the action is stopped the mechanical wings automatically fall back into place with the dark side of the wing blade facing up.

Strong also likes to have a jerk string on at least one decoy in the spread to make things look even more natural. He'll designate the jerk string to the second hunter in the blind and he'll concentrate on calling and manipulating the Knotty Duck to bring'em around and into the landing zone.

As the season carries on and ducks have been hunted over for a few months Strong will usually go with the "less is more" philosophy. "The more dekes you have later in the season the more reason you have for them to find something wrong and flare away. The birds get wary of four to six dozen deke spreads after looking at them all winter and will usually respond better to a really small spread of only four to eight decoys.     

Get some duck calling tips from Robert Strong in this Outdoor Line podcast:

 

Rob Endsley
The Outdoor Line
710 ESPN Seattle
www.theoutdoorline.com