Washington's wild turkey populations are on the increase virtually everywhere according to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW).
That means the spring hunting season that opens April 15 and runs through May 15 should provide abundant opportunities to bag a bird for Easter dinner table fare, says WDFW game division manager Dave Ware.
"Wild turkey harvest was up about 49 percent from 1998 to 1999," Ware noted. "I think we'll see continued increase in harvest this year."
In 1998, hunters harvested a total of 828 turkeys statewide; in 1999, 1,616 turkeys were bagged. Part of the big jump in harvest has been due to an increase in hunter interest and participation in the sport, which is relatively new to Washington. But a big factor is also WDFW's efforts in the last couple of years to increase distribution of the birds on lands open to public hunting around the state.
Although wild turkeys were introduced to Washington as much as 70 years ago, Ware explained, it wasn't until the 1960s that the state made concerted efforts to bring birds in. Ten to 12 years ago, WDFW began aggressively transplanting turkeys both from out-of-state and from county to county within the state. In the last couple of years, WDFW has been trapping and relocating surplus turkeys to boost populations in various areas open to public hunting. This winter additional Eastern subspecies turkeys were acquired from Iowa and released in western Washington, thanks to the Washington Chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation.
"This species has taken off in virtually every place we've moved them," Ware said. "They've become so prolific in some areas that they've become a bit of a nuisance for some landowners. We've targeted many of those birds for trap-and-relocate operations."
Turkey hunters can take up to three birds (gobblers or turkeys with visible beards only) during the season, provided they are each of a different subspecies and a tag has been purchased for each bird.
The three subspecies of wild turkeys are distinguished by area in Washington: Easterns are in all of western Washington, excluding Klickitat and Skamania counties; Merriam's are in Ferry, Klickitat, Pend Oreille, Skamania, and Stevens counties; Rio Grandes are in the rest of eastern Washington.
Washington's $30 resident small game license (or $15 under-16-years-of-age youth license) includes one turkey tag. If the small game license is purchased at the same time as a big game license, the fee is just $16 for adults and $8 for youth under 16. Up to two additional tags can be purchased for $18 each, on or before April 14.
More information about regulations, safe and ethical turkey hunting, sex and age of turkeys, past harvest by county and subspecies, and the Washington chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation can be found in WDFW's Wild Turkey Spring Season 2000 pamphlet, available at license dealers and on the agency's website.