Spring Turkey Talk

Hunting wild turkey is always a learning experience. The combination of knowing the quarry, as well as a variety of hunting techniques, habitat requirements, and your own personal abilities, all add up to an enjoyable outing for Idaho’s largest game bird in the state.


Idaho gobbler in full strut for spring

Columbus, on his fourth voyage, was supposedly among the first party of Europeans to observe the wild turkey, and in no small numbers. The vast populations of wild turkeys in the land we now know as the United States was astronomical.

Various accounts of Indians and turkeys indicate that some tribes were reluctant to touch the meat. Others used the turkey as a bird fit for training youthful persons in hunting skills, improving agility, and archery abilities. Some tribes considered the turkey meat quite tasty and nourishing.

With the settling of the colonies though, the turkey provided a stable food source for early Americans, and the Pilgrims’ first Thanksgiving story readily proves that. As settlers moved west, so did turkey hunting and early accounts provide lavish tales of huge flocks of the birds in trees along the way. Turkeys were harvested with wild abandon, and around the turn of the century, the birds were already being considered for some type of protection.

Not until a few decades ago, when game departments in most states finally began to take a concerned interest in turkeys, did the flocks of wild birds begin to take a swing toward improved populations. But this was not without its problems. Biologists learned quickly that birds raised behind wire enclosures would not survive in the wild. Turkeys needed to be captured in the wild, and transported to new habitat, where new flocks may be started.

Much like the bull elk, the turkey tries to impress the lady of the species with their noisy activities, manly strutting, and challenges to other male turkeys. Any number of sounds can set them off into gobbling in spring – a poor imitation on a call, a whistle, car horn, slamming of car door, even the hoot of an owl, or a crow call – but nothing beats the low, purring sound of the hen.  (Editor’s note: a crow call may be used to locate gobblers.)

Old gobblers that readily live together peacefully through the other seasons, will fight viciously during the spring mating season. A big tom collects his harem, and is a very jealous critter. He protects his flock with a vengeance, often losing several pounds of body weight fighting off other males. The female sounds, however, will cause him to abandon his flock briefly, as he goes in search of an addition to his flock. Hence, hunters who take time to learn the effective sounds of hens will fare considerably better.

Secondly, the successful hunter will learn the secrets of good camouflage and effective use of natural cover as much as possible. Research shows the adult turkey has sight abilities nearly eight times better than man. And, his hearing is equally as acute; a low hen call might be answered by a tom half a mile away.

In Idaho, Merriam and eastern turkeys are mostly forest dwellers. (Transplants of Rio Grandes, an arid climate species, have worked only in a few scattered riparian areas of southern Idaho.) They may range toward open fields to feed on seeds, planted areas, or to rest in sunny pastures, but they maintain easy escape routes to timbered safety. They prefer habitat that at times climbs to elevations approaching 6,000 feet, as well as valley floors. And they always prefer sites near water, or wet hillsides. Hunters sometimes observe turkeys at high elevations in the same open areas with herds of elk and mule deer.

Blinds provide the most benefit. Camouflage is vital, including camo headnet and/or camo face paint, gloves, quiet camo-shoes, non-noisy camo jacket, camo tape on gun. Turkeys are spooky and if they spot anything that doesn’t look right, they’ll leave. All this makes turkey hunting a challenge, as it should be.

Turkey Seasons:

The general season for hunting spring turkeys in Idaho begins April 15 (get your taxes done early!) through May 25. Youth hunts start April 8 through April 14. Youth hunters must be age 10 to 15. Youth applying for controlled hunts must be age 10-15 by opening day of hunt for which they are applying. (At age 9, a youth can purchase a junior hunting license, tag and apply for a youth controlled hunt, but must be 10 by opening day of hunt.)

All youth hunters must be accompanied by a licensed adult age 18 years or older and must be within normal conversation distance. The adult cannot hunt, but is there to supervise.

Spring controlled hunt application periods are from February 1 to March 1. Leftovers go on sale April 1. (Fall controlled hunt applications from May 1 to June 5. Leftovers go on sale July 15. See Idaho Fish & Game regulations booklet for Fall seasons; they vary.)

Always check with Fish & Game for accurate season & license information. Pick up a free copy of Seasons and Rules at local vendors.

Dogs can be used in fall hunts only.

More Information:

2015 Idaho Department of Fish and Game Turkey Rules:

Idaho State Chapter of NWTF; National Wild Turkey Federation

Gobbler Fever Hits the Northwest



Practical Turkey Hunting Strategies, Paperback book



Primos Turkey Hunter Starter Pack; collection of calls

Primos Power Owl Call

Ameristep “Doghouse” Spring Steel Blind