OLYMPIA – The spring hunting season that opens April 15 and runs through May 15 should provide abundant opportunities to bag a bird because of increases in wild turkey population, says WDFW Upland Game Section Manager Tom Keegan.
"Like most other states in the country, we set another new record in wild turkey harvest during the 2000 spring season," Keegan noted. "Harvest increased about 9 percent from 1999, and I expect another increase for the 2001 season."
In 1999, hunters harvested 1,616 turkeys statewide; in 2000, an estimated 1,757 turkeys were bagged. Part of the modest rise in harvest was due to a change in license structure that increased hunter interest and participation in the sport, which is relatively new to Washington. Another factor was WDFW's efforts the last couple of years to increase distribution of the birds on lands open to public hunting.
Although wild turkeys were introduced to Washington as early as 80 years ago, Keegan explained, it wasn't until the 1960s that the state made concerted efforts to establish populations with wild-trapped stock. Ten to 12 years ago, WDFW began aggressively translocating turkeys both from out of state and from already established populations within Washington.
In the last several years, WDFW has been trapping and relocating surplus turkeys to boost populations in various areas open to public hunting. This past winter, almost 900 wild-trapped turkeys were moved within eastern Washington; most of the birds came from Stevens and Ferry counties. Members of the National Wild Turkey Federation have been instrumental in translocation efforts, supplying volunteer labor, transportation, and materials.
"This species has taken off in virtually every place we've moved them," Keegan said. "They've become so prolific in some areas that they've become a nuisance for some landowners. We've targeted many of those birds for trap-and-relocate operations as well as implementing fall permit-only seasons in a few counties."
Proposals for fall permit hunts include: Stevens Co. (300 permits); Klickitat and Skamania cos. (75 permits); GMU 133 (75 permits); Ferry Co. (50 permits); Asotin, Columbia, Garfield, and Walla Walla cos. (50 permits); and Pend Oreille Co. (25 permits). Those interested in obtaining a fall season permit should check the Big Game hunting pamphlet for details; applications will be due at the same time as big game applications (June 10).
Expanding turkey populations in northeastern Washington has also led to more hunting opportunity. Little Pend Oreille National Wildlife Refuge will be open to spring turkey hunting this year. The refuge was open during most fall seasons, but was closed in spring because of Air Force training. "Everyone involved agreed to open the refuge for spring turkey hunting, and hunters will benefit from the added opportunity starting April 15," said Keegan.
Turkey hunters can take up to three birds (gobblers or turkeys with visible beards only) during the season. Rather than having to buy turkey transport tags before the season starts, hunters may now buy tags at any time. However, hunters must possess a valid tag while hunting and follow bag limit and geographic restrictions.
Also for the first time this year, turkey hunters are no longer restricted to one bird per subspecies. Hunters with valid tags can harvest two gobblers in eastern Washington (only one can be taken in western Washington or Yakima, Kittitas, and Chelan counties combined).
In yet another change designed to reduce the amount of paper needed by hunters, paper harvest report cards are a thing of the past. But at the same time, the responsibility of all hunters is increasing. A paperless hunting activity report system will be implemented this year where hunters report via a toll-free phone call (1-866-945-3492) or over the Internet (www.fishhunt.dfw.wa.gov) after May 1, 2001. Successful hunters must still report within 10 days of harvesting a turkey and unsuccessful hunters must report by January 31. Everyone who purchases a 2001 turkey tag will have to report their hunting activity before they will be able to purchase a turkey tag for 2002. The same reporting system applies to deer, elk, and bear.
The three subspecies of wild turkeys are distinguished by area in Washington: eastern turkeys are found in western Washington, except for Klickitat and Skamania counties; Merriam's turkeys are located in Ferry, Klickitat, Pend Oreille, Skamania, and Stevens counties; and Rio Grande turkeys occupy the rest of eastern Washington.
Washington's $30 resident small game license (or the $15 youth license for those under 16 years old) includes one turkey tag. If the small game license is purchased at the same time as a big game license, the fee is $16 for adults and $8 for youth under 16. Up to two additional tags may be purchased for $18 each.
More information about regulations, turkeys and turkey hunting, may be found in WDFW's Wild Turkey Spring Season 2001 pamphlet, available at license dealers and on the agency's web site.