The next month and a half is the time to hunt turkeys. This season is unusual as it is a hunting season that occurs in the spring rather than the fall. Hunting in April and May is possible because this time overlaps the bird’s mating season and only males can be harvested. Not only is spring a unique time to hunt, this hunt is unique because until about 30 years ago there were no turkeys in Cache Valley.
Turkey populations in Utah and Idaho have been expanding quickly since the 1990s as these states have been transplanting large numbers of birds into unoccupied habitat. Now turkeys are so well established they’re considered nuisance species on some private lands in Cache Valley. Estimates of turkey populations in Idaho and Utah suggest each state is home to around 30,000 birds.
Utah has been selling around 12,000 tags and harvesting around 3,200 turkeys each year for the last few years. In Southeast Idaho and Northern Utah populations of these birds were down a bit in 2017 because of the deep snow the previous winter. These birds, however, lay large number of eggs — generally around 10 — so numbers can recover quickly. Last summer was productive and was followed by a mild winter so many young birds survived. Hunting should be good this year as every place I have scouted this spring had signs of turkey use.
In Utah much of the hunting pressure is in the northern region if for no other reason than this is where most of the state’s people live. Given this, the success of hunters in this region is low compared to other parts of the state. One way to avoid hunters is to get permission to hunt on private land. Another way to see fewer hunters is to hunt in Idaho as the number of turkey hunters there declined when Utah went to a general season. Although a non-resident turkey tag and hunting license in Idaho costs more than $200, it opens up a lot of new country and gives hunters an excuse to pursue other game birds in this state during the fall.
Scattered flocks of turkeys can be found from the south to the north end of the valley and along the base of both the mountain ranges that enclose us. Furthermore there are birds on the west side of the Wellsville Mountains, around Pineview Reservoir and in the many of the watersheds that feed the Bear River in Idaho. In Utah the limited entry hunting season starts Saturday, April 14. Once this season ends there is a three-day youth hunt from April 27 to the 29. Utah’s general season runs from April 30 to May 31. In contrast Idaho’s general season runs from April 15 to May 25.
The best way to hunt these birds is to be out early in the morning and hear them gobble from their roost trees. Once a bird has been located the hunter should try to get within a 100 yards of where it is gobbling to set up and start calling. Many people like to use decoys but I don’t find them necessary unless you are hunting an area with lots of visibility. Please don’t stalk gobbling birds for two reasons. First, these birds have excellent eyesight and will often disappear before you see them. Second, stalking increases the chances another hunter will mistake you for a turkey and shoot in your direction.
Once you know where birds are, it is possible to get them to respond to a call in the morning and afternoon. That is because once hens have completed laying their eggs, they sit on the nest for around 28 days. This means as the season progresses there will be fewer responsive hens. You can take advantage of this by being in areas that birds are using and calling later in the day. Another approach is to pattern turkey like deer. If you know the paths birds are traveling it is easier to call them those last 20 yards to get them within shotgun range.
The best time to hunt turkeys is the first few days and toward the end of the season. Unless you have a place where no one else can hunt, birds will get very secretive after the first couple of days of the hunt. They often become more vocal at the end of the season when there are fewer hens and fewer hunters in the field.