While hunting wild turkeys in the fall often takes a back seat to big game, waterfowl and upland bird hunting, pursuing the elusive birds in the fall has its advantages.
“Hunting turkeys in the fall can be just as exciting as in the spring,” said Jeff Knetter, Fish and Game upland game and migratory game bird program manager.
For hunters looking to put a wild bird on their Thanksgiving or Christmas table, Idaho’s Panhandle and Clearwater regions both offer general fall hunting seasons and hold the majority of the state’s birds.
The general season in the Panhandle runs through Dec. 31 in management units 1, 2 (except Farragut State Park and Farragut WMA), 3, 4, 4A, 5 and 6. In the Clearwater, the season runs through Dec. 31 in management units 8, 8A, 10A, 11, 11A, 13, 14, 15, 16, and 18. Either sex may be harvested during the fall seasons, and the daily bag limit varies by unit.
Hunters must have a valid Idaho hunting license and a General, Extra, or Special Unit tag. Special unit tags are valid for the fall season only in Units 1, 2, 3 or 5.
For more information, review pages 18-28 of the 2018-19 Upland Game, Furbearer and Turkey Seasons and Rules booklet available at all Fish and Game office, license vendors and online at https://idfg.idaho.gov/rules/upland.
Fall turkey hunts in Idaho have expanded over the years as turkey populations have increased. In northern Idaho, turkeys are widespread and abundant, especially where there are fields or other open country adjacent to timbered lands. Quality hunting can be found on both public and private lands, and finding a place to hunt can be as easy as looking at a map or asking a landowner for permission.
“Many landowners will welcome hunters because they want turkey flocks reduced on their lands,” Knetter said. “But it’s critical hunters always ask for permission first, and if allowed to hunt, always follow the landowner’s wishes.”
Because it is fairly common for several hundred turkeys to congregate on or near private property where livestock is fed, or crops being stored, the damage and nuisance they can cause can quickly become a problem. Providing additional harvest opportunity, particularly in the fall and winter when the birds are concentrated and multiple hens can be harvested, is the best way to address landowner concerns.
"Hunters should drive around and, if they see turkeys in a field, they should identify the landowner and ask for permission to turkey hunt," said Micah Ellstrom, wildlife manager in the Panhandle Region. "It is a great way to build trust with a private landowners: Getting permission to turkey hunt, and then demonstrating you are a responsible hunter, could help you get your foot in the door to additional hunting opportunities in the future."
In addition to the fall general season turkey hunts in northern Idaho, there are a handful of Landowner Permission Hunts available throughout the state, including some that were recently approved in Southwest Idaho.
Landowner Permission Hunts are a type of depredation hunt designed to address multiple depredations over a large area. Landowner Permission Hunts give landowners the flexibility needed to address depredations on their property by making it easier for hunters who acquire landowner permission to harvest depredating birds and minimize damage.
Permission slips are given to eligible landowners to designate to hunters, which the hunter can then use to purchase the appropriate tag at a Fish and Game Regional Office. Landowners sometimes contact Fish and Game requesting hunters to help address depredation, so even if a hunter does not know a landowner with depredations issues, sometimes the department can connect a hunter with a willing landowner.
Fall offers a different hunting experience
Hunters will need to adjust their hunting tactics during the fall, as there is little or no gobbling activity, and gobblers are in small flocks. Hens and young of the year are together in larger flocks that may contain dozens of birds.
The basic hunting strategy is to find and break up a flock, scattering them in all directions. Hunters then wait as near as possible to the spot where the flock was first encountered. Younger birds will usually return within an hour while an old gobbler may take three to four hours.
“It's an entirely different hunting experience in the fall, but the sounds and sight of dozens of turkeys returning to you from all directions can be as exciting as calling one in during the spring,” said Knetter.
Fall turkey hunting presents some unique safety concerns, as turkey hunters dress in complete camouflage, make the sound of a turkey, and often conceal themselves in dense vegetation. They also share the woods with camouflaged big game hunters in some areas, and because either-sex hunting is legal for turkeys during the fall general season, some hunters may put less emphasis on identifying their target.
“All hunters must be especially diligent about safety, especially in those units where turkey hunters are likely to encounter white-tailed deer hunters,” said Knetter. “Hunters must always be certain of their target and know what is beyond before pulling the trigger.”
Fish and Game encourages hunters to follow the basic rules of safe turkey hunting:
- Be sure to look beyond an approaching bird to see whether other hunters are in the line of fire before firing.
- Never wave, whistle, or make turkey calls to alert an approaching hunter to your presence. Always shout to reveal your presence to an approaching hunter.
- Pattern your shotgun, learn its effective range, and learn to accurately judge distances. Always shoot at the head and neck to ensure a clean kill.
- Never wear red, white, blue, or black in the turkey woods.
- Always clearly identify your target before firing.
- Never assume you are the only hunter in the area. Assume every sound or movement is another hunter until you can safely identify it as otherwise.
- Once you have a turkey in hand, tag it and cover with a hunter orange ribbon to carry it out of the woods.