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In The Field

Thanksgiving has passed, and most of the wild turkeys hunters bagged last season are consumed. Never fear! Turkey season is just around the corner (so to speak). The Idaho Department of Fish and Game (IDFG) has scheduled a public meeting on turkey season proposals for the 2001 spring and fall turkey seasons. The meeting is scheduled for Thursday, November 30 from 7:00-8:30 pm at the IDFG regional office, 2750 Kathleen Ave in Coeur d'Alene. The IDFG is seeking comments on two options proposed for spring hunts, and two options for fall hunts. Comments received will be forwarded to the Idaho Fish and Game Commission for consideration when they set turkey seasons at their December meeting. For several years, spring turkey hunting in the Panhandle has opened with two limited controlled hunts followed by general hunting. The controlled hunts spread out the hunters at the beginning of the gobbling season and reduced the potential for hunters interfering with the efforts of other hunters. This system was developed when turkeys occupied only a portion of the Panhandle. Now that turkey numbers have grown and the occupied area has expanded, some hunters feel the controlled hunts are no longer necessary. One spring proposal includes a controlled hunt with 525 permits valid from April 15-30, followed by a general hunt from May 1-25. Hunters would be eligible to purchase a second tag which would be valid May 10-25. Turkeys tend to remain concentrated on their winter grounds (agricultural areas with grain fields) until May 1 in the Panhandle. Offering the controlled hunt ensures low hunter density that reduces access conflicts on private property, improves hunter safety (although this has not been a problem in Idaho), and reduces the frequency of hunter disturbance from other hunters. The second proposal calls for a general hunt only, running from April 15-May 25. Again, the second tag would be valid May 10-25. With a general hunt beginning on April 15, more hunters would have the opportunity to hunt during the peak of gobbling activity. Additionally, hunters would spend less on tags, as there would not be an application fee or a controlled hunt fee. This proposal would also make Panhandle season dates consistent with those around the state. The fall proposals include general hunts either from October 20-31, or, September 15-30. Last fall, a controlled hunt was held, but participation was low. The low number of tags sold was due to the cost which included application fees and controlled hunt fees. Either general season proposal reduces the costs to the hunter. The October season is desirable because young of the year turkeys are significantly larger in October than they are in September. However, a September hunt would likely have better weather conditions and would not overlap with elk rifle seasons when some hunters are concentrating on filling their freezers with elk meat. The September season proposal is four days longer, and would run concurrently with other fall general hunts in the state. Twenty years ago (1980), there was no turkey hunting opportunity in the Idaho Panhandle. In 1990, about 100 turkeys were taken here. In 1995, about 300 birds were taken. The year 2000 saw a harvest of about 900 turkeys. As the number of turkeys and the occupied range have increased, so has the interest and the number of hunters. There has also been growing willingness of landowners to permit turkey hunting. In the 80's, having a few turkeys on your property was a novelty and a status symbol. As numbers increased and everybody had turkeys, the status went away. As the number roosting on porches, cars, barns, farm equipment, hay lofts, etc. increased, the novelty not only decreased... it vanished completely! Many landowners began inviting hunters and asking for more harvest and longer, more liberal seasons. Fall turkey hunts allow the harvest of toms and hens. Only the taking of hens aids in long term population reductions where numbers are higher than landowners want them. Anyone interested in turkey hunting is encouraged to attend the public meeting on November 30, and to consider joining the new Panhandle Chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation. The Federation meets every third Tuesday at the Leo Hadley Indoor Shooting Range in Sandpoint at 7:00 pm. Anyone interested in contacting the chapter regarding membership can attend one of these meetings, or call me at the IDFG regional office, 769-1414.