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
Whether you hunt turkeys or simply enjoy hiking in Colorado’s backcountry, you need to be on the lookout for ticks. Ticks can carry Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever and other serious diseases. In this Colorado Outdoors “Quick Tip” video, you will learn a few precautions that you can take to prevent tick bites anytime you are hunting or hiking in tick-infested areas.
The author with a Marriam’s tom.
Colorado has two subspecies of wild turkey—the Merriam’s, also known as the mountain turkey, and the Rio Grande, primarily found in eastern Colorado. Merriam’s are wanderers and frequent ponderosa pine forests. The Rio Grande prefer cottonwood trees along riparian areas. Colorado Parks & Wildlife (CPW) says Rio Grande turkeys are larger and easier to locate than Merriam’s, so hunting them is generally not as difficult.
Merriam’s turkeys were historically found in the mountain forests of Colorado, New Mexico and northern Arizona. They have been transplanted into the pine forests of Utah, Idaho, Washington, Oregon, California, Montana, Wyoming, Nebraska and South Dakota. Merriam’s can be found not only in ponderosa pine forest but also other vegetation types in elevations ranging from 3,500 to 10,000 feet. Read more
The spring snows continue to come but soon they will fade to the green leaves of a new season’s birth for Colorado. Turkey season is just a month away, and I find myself tuning calls, checking my old turkey vest and, at times, day dreaming about those gobbles at first light.
I thought about how we might approach this new season for the novice hunter and will work to provide some insight about what you should attempt to put in practice in the woods this spring. Here are a few tips to help you prepare for the upcoming season: Read more
The author displays a Merriam’s turkey he harvested in the San Juan Mountains.
Colorado has two subspecies of wild turkey—the Merriam’s, also known as the mountain turkey, on the Western Slope and the Rio Grande on the Front Range. Turkeys are most often hunted during the spring, when their mating season occurs, with females laying a clutch of eight to twelve eggs that hatch in May.
Just as bull elk are more vulnerable to human hunters during their fall rut/mating season, male wild turkeys (called toms or longbeards) become more susceptible to hunting in the spring. The tom is identifiable by hair-like feathers, called a beard, on its breast and red (white and blue) head. Colorado has spring and fall turkey hunting seasons. Be sure to check the current regulation brochure for season dates.
The limit is two turkeys in the spring (one may be taken with a limited license and one may be taken with an over-the-counter license). One turkey may be taken in the fall. Hunters can harvest only tom turkeys in the spring with shotgun or bow. Either sex of turkey is fair game in the fall, and hunters may use rifles and handguns. During 2012, about 55 percent of limited-license hunters reported harvesting a bird, compared with just 25 percent of over-the-counter (OTC) or unlimited-license holders. Read more