Idaho's wild turkey population and hunting opportunity has increased dramatically over the past decade. Tag sales increased from 1,333 to 16,781 between 1989 and 1999. Similarly, the harvest increased from 228 to 5,458 turkeys during the same time. With this increase in popularity, some hunters have asked, "why not allow outfitting for turkey hunting?"
The Idaho Outfitters and Guides Association (IOGA), a statewide business trade organization, supports the addition of licensed guided turkey hunting as an opportunity to diversify their operations. Historically, the Idaho Department of Fish and Game (IDFG) and Fish and Game Commission have been opposed to outfitting for upland game birds and waterfowl because of the potential overall loss of access to private property for bird hunting. Turkeys were classified as upland game birds when introduced into Idaho (1961) and have never been eligible for outfitted hunting.
Members of IOGA believe this is a fairness issue and outfitting should be made available to those who wish to hunt with a professional guide. Some members of the general hunting public have indicated they would enlist the services of an outfitter for turkey hunting if it were allowed. Other hunters have expressed a concern that they may lose access to private property because private leases for hunting access would exclude them from using the same property. Both IOGA and IDFG agree that guided turkey hunting would not have a negative biological impact at current levels of wild turkey populations. It is the social issue of how outfitting may or may not impact access to private property for turkey hunting that remains unknown.
In March, the Fish and Game Commission appointed a task force to evaluate the possibility of allowing some form of outfitting for turkey hunting in Idaho. The task force was comprised of four turkey hunters, two outfitters, two IDFG staff, the IOGA Executive Director, and the Outfitters and Guides Licensing Board Executive Director. Part of their assignment was to develop a public input process to collect comments on the potential options.
The task force consolidated their ideas into four proposed options. These options are (1) no outfitting for turkey hunting under any circumstance, (2) no outfitting for turkey hunting except licensed outfitters on their own deeded land, (3) allow up to 25 existing outfitters to guide turkey hunters on private and public land for a test period of three years, and (4) allow unlimited outfitting for turkey hunting.
Wildlife biologist Jeff Gould, who represents Fish and Game on the task force says, "now it is time to learn what the general hunting public thinks. People should remember that a group with wide-ranging ideas about turkey hunting created these proposed options. Should turkey outfitting be allowed, and if so, which of the options do you prefer?" Comments on this issue will be accepted through the mail, Internet, and during public open houses held in August at each IDFG regional office. For more information please contact an IDFG office or visit the web site under "What's New?" at http://www.state.id.us/fishgame.