2020 Northwest Turkey Hunting Forecast

By author of Turkey Blog with Steve Hickoff

How are the spring gobbler prospects looking in these five states? Read on

The northwestern region of the United States includes Washington, Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Wyoming. Our overall forecast is diverse as the habitat found in these five states, from the coastal range to mountainous inland terrain. And while the current COVID-19 situation may affect travel plans to this region, the prospects for a quality hunt once you get there are good.

You'll find Merriam's, Rios, Easterns and hybrid wild turkeys in the Northwest region. © John Hafner photo

Washington

The first wild-trapped turkeys were brought to Washington state back in 1960 from Arizona, New Mexico and Wyoming. While the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) says finding hunting access on private lands is becoming more of a challenge, there are still a number of options available to hunters on public land. WDFW’s wildlife areas are good bets, while private landowners also sign up to allow public hunting access to their properties. These lands can be found on the "WDFW Hunting Access" web page.

Where to Go

The WDFW tells us three subspecies of wild turkey have been introduced in Washington: the Merriam’s, Rio Grandes and Easterns. Merriam’s occupy portions of Ferry, Klickitat, Pend Oreille, Skamania, Stevens, Spokane, Okanogan, Chelan, Kittitas and Yakima counties. Rio Grandes can be found in Asotin, Columbia, Garfield, Lincoln, Walla Walla and Whitman counties. Easterns live in the Cascades in Cowlitz, Grays Harbor, Lewis, Mason, Pacific, Thurston and Wahkiakum counties.

Insider Intel

According to state officials, hunter success usually runs between 30 to 40% depending on the region. This past winter has been mild, especially in the northeast where turkey populations are the greatest, which bodes well for good hunting and survival rates.

Estimated Population

Some 28,000 turkeys roam Washington.

Spring 2019 Kill

As of this writing, the WDFW has no data on last year’s turkey take. Current bag limit is three spring gobblers or “turkeys with visible beards,” with the following restrictions: Only two turkeys may be taken in eastern Washington, and only one of those may be tagged in Chelan, Kittitas or Yakima counties (combined). Only one bird may be taken in western Washington per year outside of Klickitat County. Two turkeys may be taken in Klickitat County.

Turkey Hunting in Washington 

Idaho

Wild turkeys are not native to Idaho but were first transplanted here in 1961. Since then, more than 150 translocation efforts have been conducted statewide. As our forecast goes, state officials report turkey numbers are good and public land remains abundant.

Where to Go

Most birds are found to the north (near Bonners Ferry), throughout the Panhandle all the way south to Boise, right along the Washington state line. Other pockets of turkeys include the regions outside the towns of Salmon, Chalis and Rexburg south to the Utah and Wyoming borders.

Insider Intel

Hunt northeastern Washington and the Idaho Panhandle for the greatest turkey densities in this region.

Estimated Population

While Washington officials to the west of Idaho speak in terms of three distinct subspecies, the Idaho Department of Fish and Game (IDFG) views their turkeys as hybrids. Population estimates sit at 30,000 birds.

Spring 2019 Kill

Some 5,250 birds. See the IDFG website for tag options.

Turkey Hunting in Idaho 

Montana

When Montana decided to trap-and-transfer turkeys in 1954, it selected the Merriam's subspecies as the best choice. Thirteen birds from Colorado were introduced into the Judith Mountains of central Montana at the time.

The following year, 18 more Wyoming Merriam’s were released into southeastern Montana. In subsequent years, more birds were placed into the Ashland area of southeastern Montana, which marked the last time turkeys were transplanted from another state. Well, you get the idea …

It was obviously a success, as Big Sky Country is one of the strongest turkey regions in the West, though often overlooked.

Where to Go

Turkey populations are located on both public and private ground throughout Montana.

Hunters continually find success in the Long Pines and Ashland areas of Custer National Forest in the Southeast (wildfires moved through the upper third of this habitat a handful of years ago). The Missouri River Breaks and the Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge in central Montana, and within the Intermountain Valley Region out West, are also good places to check out.

According to sources, Montana has the largest Merriam's turkey population in the Rocky Mountain West. © John Hafner photo

Montana also offers the Block Management Program (BMP) in all seven wildlife regions throughout the state. Over 8 million acres are currently enrolled.

The BMP is a cooperative effort between private landowners and Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks (MFWP), which helps landowners manage hunting activities, while providing the public with free hunting access to private land.

Insider Intel

According to sources, Montana has the largest Merriam's turkey population in the Rocky Mountain West. The state also leads the nation with close to 200 NWTF Wild Turkey Record Book entries for this subspecies.

Estimated Population

Some 120,000 turkeys.

Spring 2019 Kill

Unavailable. Check the MFWP website, as limits vary for licenses, and the state manages turkeys with both spring and fall in mind.

Turkey Hunting in Montana 

Oregon

Wild turkeys are not native to Oregon, and were first successfully introduced in 1961. Since then more than 10,000 birds have been transplanted to locations all over the state. Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) biologists agree that southwest Oregon continues to be the leading place to find turkeys. 

Where to Go

The Rogue Unit has the highest turkey harvest in the state, however hunters had to work harder to be successful. Hunter use on the Rogue Unit is increasing, with the second-most hunting pressure in the state. The Melrose Unit was a close second in harvest, and successful hunters required less time in the field. The lack of public land in the Melrose Unit can make hunting difficult (just 16% of Melrose is public land and some private land is tied up by leases).

Insider Intel

According to state officials, success rates run between 40 to 50% within most turkey hunting areas. However, the White River Unit continues to lead in hunting pressure (6,331 hunter days) and fourth in overall harvest (374 birds). Biologists advise scouting in advance, hunting on a weekday, or waiting until later in the season for the best experience in the White River Unit.

Estimated Population

Today, the Beaver State is primarily home to the Rio Grande subspecies, some Merriam's and a hybridization of the two. 

Spring 2019 Kill

Unavailable statewide. See the ODFW website for information on tags and season limits.

Turkey Hunting in Oregon

Wyoming

Historically, Wyoming wild turkeys were first trapped-and-transferred from New Mexico to the state in 1935. Modern hunters, distanced from this history, sometimes simply view it as a place to “get your white-tipped-fan Merriam’s.”

Where to Go

Like many states, Wyoming also offers numerous walk-in areas, namely private ground that offers public-lease hunting rights. Properties in 14 counties provide this access and are often prime locations. 

One of the most popular areas to hunt the Merriam's wild turkey is the Black Hills region.

Insider Intel

According to state officials, some 5,500 turkey hunters head to the woods each spring; a little over 2,000 of them are successful on average. The typical non-resident hunter success rate is about 70%, and about 40 to 50% for residents.

Estimated Population

At last count, roughly 15,000 birds, sources suggest. Others suggest the number is even lower, at around 10,000 turkeys. Overall, as our forecast goes, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department (WGFD) reports statewide numbers are stable. Winter weather conditions remain mortality factors, and in some areas, turkey sightings are down.

Spring 2019 Kill

Some 2,506 turkeys were taken. Check the WGFD website for specific license and limit information.

Turkey Hunting in Wyoming 

2020 Southeast Turkey Hunting Forecast 

2020 Midwest Turkey Hunting Forecast 

2020 Southwest Turkey Hunting Forecast 

2020 West Turkey Hunting Forecast

2020 New England Turkey Hunting Forecast

2020 Northeast Turkey Hunting Forecast

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