Colorado’s spring turkey season offers hunters one of the most unique experiences in the field.
From late April through mid May, turkeys are at the height of their mating season. The hens are calling for the toms, and the toms are on the move looking for mates and putting on their displays of wild machismo.
“There is nothing else like hunting turkeys,” says Tom Spezze, southwest regional manager for the Colorado Division of Wildlife. “You call them in, the toms are making all kinds of noises spitting and drumming, and they’ll get right next to you. It’s incredibly exhilarating.”
The 2009 spring turkey season starts April 11 and continues through May 24, although dates vary in some units. Over-the-counter licenses can be purchased for most units in the state; but some areas are limited so be sure to check the 2009 turkey hunting brochure.
Turkey hunters can use shotguns and bows during the spring hunt. Shots are usually made within 30 yards of a bird. Hunters must be sure of their targets—only toms can be hunted during the spring.
Because turkeys are very wary and spook easily, hunters are allowed to dress in full camouflage. One note of caution: Because hunters wear camouflage, turkey hunting can be dangerous in popular areas. As with every other type of hunting, only shoot at what you see and clearly identify. If you shoot in the direction of a sound you might be shooting at another hunter making a call. If you need to signal to another hunter the best method is to whistle.
Turkeys roost in trees at night so the hunter’s first task is to locate the resting spot. Spezze recommends that hunters arrive near the roost just before dawn and find a place to set up without spooking the birds. Hens welcome the day with a very sleepy “tree call.” The toms will gobble in response to nearly every hen call made in the roost. After adequately announcing the day, the birds will fly down from the roost once light is full. Then they’ll begin calling to gather the flock for the day.
Seasoned spring turkey hunters will usually begin calling to the toms before any of the birds fly down in an effort to direct them away from the roosted hens.
A common mistake turkey hunters make is “over-calling,” says Spezze. Hunters should only imitate the various calls the turkeys are making at that moment.
“Nothing scares off an already-wary tom more than calls that are too loud or too frequent,” Spezze says.
As toms approach, the hunter must sit absolutely still. Any shot must be executed very quickly. Shotgun pellets won’t penetrate a turkey’s plumage, so the aim must be at the head and neck.
Two types of turkeys live in Colorado. The Merriam’s turkey lives primarily in the mountains, while the Rio Grande turkey lives on the flat lands east of I-25. Populations of both types of turkey are healthy and have been growing during the last few years.
The Merriam’s turkey is partial to open meadows and usually roosts in ponderosa pine trees. They can also be found in oak brush and pinon-juniper stands. Hunters should find areas where turkeys have cover, forage and nesting habitat. Look for meadows in narrow valleys where there are grassy areas, aspen groves and ponderosa pines. The Merriam’s, however, are wanderers and will roam over large areas.
The Rio Grande is the larger of the two birds and can usually be found in cottonwood trees and along riparian areas. The birds are creatures of habit, often roosting in the same tree and feeding in the same fields every day. Rio Grande turkeys are easier to locate than Merriam’s and hunting them is generally not as difficult.
Turkeys forage for seeds, grasses, forbs and insects. Hens usually nest in tall grass and prefer to be near a water source.
Hunters should scout areas looking for sign — tracks, feathers, droppings, scratching and dusting areas. Even if turkeys are not seen or heard, it’s a good bet to hunt in places where there are lots of fresh sign.
Turkey calls also are essential — box calls, slates and mechanical-plunger calls are easy to use.
Your calling position should have a solid back as wide as your shoulders while providing you with a wide area of visibility. Don’t hide so well that you can’t see what’s happening in front of you.
Hunters should not try to stalk turkeys in the spring because chances of success are slim. Set up in a somewhat concealed location and wait for the birds to come to you.
Hunting in the morning is typical, but toms can also be called in late in the afternoon. So don’t hesitate to hunt late in the day.
The long season also works to hunters’ advantage. Some of the best hunting occurs late in the season when hens are on the nest. If you miss opening day, you won’t be missing your chance to get a turkey.
This “rite of spring” is an experience that turkey hunters look forward to every year. Successful hunters are rewarded with fine, lean meat. With careful cooking, wild turkey makes an excellent and highly nutritious meal.