Perhaps you heard this sort of speculation in the past several weeks — the mild winter and early spring will lead turkeys to breed ahead of schedule, which could make things tough when the gobbler season opens Wednesday, April 15.
Indeed, the Inland Northwest has basked in unseasonably warm temperatures of late, and many eager hunters have reported seeing toms strutting and gobbling in the glorious sunshine. But two wildlife biologists said the pleasant weather isn’t likely to put the clamps on turkey hunting and it might even make it better.
Paul Wik, district wildlife biologist for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife at Clarkston, said the meager snowpack combined with an early thaw, has allowed turkeys to disperse much sooner than normal. That means they won’t be bunched up in low elevation areas that tend to be dominated by private land.
“They are very well distributed,” he said. “There are a lot of turkeys that winter on private land that have moved to public land.”
He also noted even in years with normal winters, turkeys begin breeding prior to the April 15 opening of the general spring turkey hunting season.
“There is a lot of breeding in early April,” he said. “I’ve seen them strutting in mid-March.”
Dave Koehler, a wildlife biologist for the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, agreed with Wik’s assessment that hunters will find turkeys in more places because of the warm weather and early snow melt.
“Some years when you have more snow on the opener, they are still really congregated in large, large groups on private ground and consequently they are much more difficult to access.”
Even when they move to higher ground in years with heavier snow loads, Koehler said that can make it difficult for hunters to find them, because mountain roads often are either still blocked with snow or too muddy for vehicles.
“That is certainly not the case when you don’t have snow to contend with. It’s a lot easier to get places,” he said.
But Koehler said even if birds breed earlier in low snow years, that can be a boon to hunters.
“I wouldn’t disagree with the fact that mild conditions may start birds in breeding activity a little early, but I would argue that makes hunting a little better,” he said.
On a typical opening day, big toms often have corralled a harem of hens that they keep tabs on. He said it can be nearly impossible to get those gobblers to come to a call. They may be willing to gobble after a hunter imitates the sound of a willing hen. But getting them to leave the hens they have for one they don’t is difficult.
“They are not going to leave a number of hens to investigate and come find you,” he said.
When breeding is well underway by the opening of the season, many hens will have already started to nest, and still randy toms are more likely to come in hot to hunters’ calls.
“It’s easier to call toms a couple of weeks into the season than it is on opening day for that very reason,” he said. “That is my opinion based on my observations.”
“I would expect a pretty good season,” he said. “All appearances are that the birds are at least stable in the region.”