If you’re a Colorado big-game hunter, now’s the time to prepare for the 2019 hunting seasons.
Colorado Outdoors, Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s conservation magazine, is a valuable planning resource for hunters. The Jan/Feb issue features big-game preference points for deer, elk, pronghorn, bear, bighorn sheep, mountain goat and moose.
The author displays a Merriam’s turkey.
The best-known book of turkey hunting’s poet laureate, Colonel (retired) Tom Kelly, is Tenth Legion. The title comes from the Tenth Legion of the Roman Army, a matchless military force that stood fast against barbarian hordes for centuries. Over generations, the soldiers forming the Tenth Legion’s ranks became a cult, a breed apart, and their feats have become a touchstone for unstinting commitment, writes Jim Casada in his American Hunter article, “Reflections of a Marvelous Madness.” Such is the commitment and dedication I see demonstrated by those like my friend, Rick Hooley, and conservation officer, Rob Brazie. Read more
Tip 1: It’s not too late to get a spring turkey license.
If you are a last minute planner or you did not draw a turkey license during the limited draw, you still have an option to hunt. Spring OTC licenses are unlimited in number so anyone with a hunter education card can purchase a license to hunt turkeys this spring. 2018 OTC licenses are valid from April 14 through May 27 and provide access to some of the best turkey hunting in the state. While preplanning and a little scouting always produce the best hunts, a little virtual scouting and a long spring season can also be a recipe for success. Use the 2018 Spring Turkey OTC maps and the Colorado Hunting Atlas to zero in on a great hunting location. Read more
Colorado’s 2018 turkey season kicks off Saturday, April 14. And, if you plan to hunt gobblers, there are plenty of reasons to get out there and “strut your stuff” this spring. Abundant turkey populations, easy to obtain licenses and good access to public land are all available to hunters this season.
“Turkey hunters should see a good season here in Colorado in the spring of 2018,” said CPW Small-Game Manager Ed Gorman. “Populations are healthy and robust. Production was good last summer. Good numbers of birds, good access–all the things you look for in a successful turkey season.”
The “gobble” of a wild turkey is one of the most recognizable sounds in all of nature. Yet, the wild turkey’s boisterous call was nearly silenced in the early 1900s due to poaching and habitat loss. Thanks to decades of conservation programs and aggressive trap-and-transplant efforts, however, the turkey is now one of Colorado’s most abundant gamebirds and also one of the state’s biggest conservation success stories. Read more
Many people mock the tale of Benjamin Franklin suggesting the wild turkey as a symbol for our young nation. Those people have obviously never hunted for turkey. If they had, ol’ Ben wouldn’t seem so far off base. Photo by © Vic Schendel/CPW
During the last 30-plus years, I have hunted in four states and have harvested one or two turkeys each year (I struck out one year). Having spent my professional career as a biologist, I’ve always combined my hunting experience with biology. Most of my hunts have been for the Rio Grande subspecies in river bottom habitat, but I also have hunted the Merriam’s subspecies in three states.
There are key turkey biological periods during a typical spring hunting season, and hunting tactics need to match these specific periods. Learning to recognize these distinct periods can be the secret to harvesting the long beards in any area.
Alexa with her first turkey. Photo by Derek Vaughan
Hunter: Alexa Vaughan
The night before my first turkey hunt I was nervous and excited. That day I had just completed my hunter safety course and went and got my turkey license. I was eleven years old and it was my first hunt ever. I had practiced shooting a few days before and felt confident with my gun, a single-shot, 20-gauge shotgun. My Dad and I went out opening morning April 8th outside Durango in GMU 75. We settled into our blind. My dad was calling in the turkeys and I was holding my gun. We had only been waiting 20 minutes when a lone tom came strutting in. I slowly raised my gun. My hands were shaking so bad that I bumped the barrel on the blind opening. The sudden sound scared the Tom and he began to turn away. I took a deep breath and placed my sight on his head. An ear-splitting boom filled the morning air. We collected the turkey and marked my tag. It was a good day and the meat he provided we ate on Easter.
The author displays a San Juan turkey.
I’ve hunted Merriam’s turkeys on public lands in southwest Colorado’s San Juan Mountains for seven years running now with Colorado Backcountry Hunters & Anglers Habitat Watch Volunteer (HWV) Rick Hooley. Rick is a HWV for the San Juan National Forest, and there’s likely few outdoorsmen with his breadth and depth of hunting-angling experience in this part of the state.
We hunt an over-the-counter (OTC) unit, and the most recent Colorado Parks & Wildlife turkey harvest data (for 2015) shows a 30 perecent success rates for OTC licenses holders versus 50 percent for limited license holders. Realtree contributor, Steve Hickoff, says: “The [Colorado] Merriam’s population lives in some rugged country; their nomadic traits can really spread them out and test your patience. You can go for hours, even days, and not hear a gobble.”
But as American Hunter contributor, Sgt. Michael Marek (82nd Airborne Division), wrote: “If it was easy, everyone would do it … hunting is difficult, and that’s what makes being a hunter so great. You truly become a cut above the rest.” Mountain Merriam’s turkey hunting is both physically and mentally challenging, and—in my admittedly biased opinion—truly a cut above the rest. Read more
Kevin Brookes celebrates his Colorado tom. Photo by Kevin Brookes.
Hunter: Kevin Brookes
I typically hunt big game in Colorado. This year I decided to try my luck with a turkey hunt along the Front Range. Growing up on the East Coast, our turkey hunting consisted of corn fields and lightly wooded areas. This particular hunt, I found myself deep in the woods as the sun broke through the tree cover. Fortunately, it wasn’t long until the hillside erupted with multiple toms gobbling. I decided to hold off on an approach until I had a good understanding of what direction they would be traveling. As it turned out, I did not need to move far as 6 toms chased a hen within 40 yards of me. I have had the opportunity to hunt turkeys from New England to Nebraska, and this was one of the most exciting hunts I have been apart of.
Cole Poland with his Colorado tom. Photo by Cole Poland.
Hunter: Cole Poland
It was a great morning in the woods. I got to my spot a little after first light. Walking in I bumped two hens where I wanted to set up, and I took that as a good sign. For a little over an hour, I was in between two different gobblers, and then just like a light switch, they went silent but the woods came alive: wood ducks screaming through the trees; fox squirrels jumping limb to limb; multiple drake mallards chasing hens and pairs of geese letting their honks echo through the river bottom. I would hear an occasional yelp from a hen and had a few come say hi to my decoys. At 8:20 a.m. I picked up my box call, and before I was done with my sequence of calls, a gobbler answered back from within 100 yards. I gave it a few moments and two more gobbles came roaring back to my soft yelps. My gun was on my shoulder and my heart was racing. When what ended up being a 3-pack of toms started gobbling on their own and each one closer, I knew I had them. I watched the first one drop into a slough bottom and the others right on his tail. Once they popped up on to my side they all let out a gobble. Coming from my rear left, the first one appeared from behind a tree at 10 yards. I squinted in fear they were going to see the whites of my eyes, and I wanted to melt into the tree I was sitting against! The second bird strolled out from behind the tree, neck stretched, and my old 870 rang out with a trusty home-load.
David Lien with a San Juan tom.
Colorado’s southwest corner is home to some of the highest, wildest public-lands wildlife habitat in Colorado and the country: the San Juan Mountains. The San Juans encompass both Bureau of Land Management and National Forest lands, and contain not only the largest designated wilderness area in the southern Rockies, the 500,000-acre Weminuche Wilderness, but also the largest roadless area, the 150,000-acre Hermosa Creek watershed.
And it’s a place both Merriam’s turkeys and Rocky Mountain elk call home. My first San Juans turkey was taken only a couple miles (and a couple hundred feet in elevation change) from where I killed my first elk. Zach Roth, Littleton-based regional director for the National Wild Turkey Federation, says the Merriam’s turkey sub-species is often found in the hilly big-game habitat comprising much of the state’s public lands. “Anywhere that people hunt elk, there are probably turkeys there too,” says Roth.
However, taking a mountain Merriam’s can be as difficult as killing an elk. Statistics compiled by Colorado Parks and Wildlife for the 2012 turkey season (the most recent available) showed hunter success rates for over-the-counter (OTC) license holders at around 25 percent, with limited license holders achieving a much higher 55 percent harvest rate. Read more
Photo by David Lien.
For the last six years I’ve been privileged to hunt public lands Merriam’s turkeys in southwest Colorado’s San Juan Mountains with Colorado Backcountry Hunters & Anglers Habitat Watch volunteer Rick Hooley. Although Rick makes his living as a fly fishing outfitter/guide, he’s also a crack turkey and elk hunter.
In a May 2015 Colorado Outdoors Online story “5 Tips for Hunting Merriam’s Turkeys,” I shared some of what I’ve learned about turkey hunting from Rick and other informed hunters/sources. Here I’ll expand on some of what was covered in the 2015 tips and add a few new ones for this year. Read more