Editor’s note: This is an abridged version of Troy Rodakowski’s Oregon spring turkey prospects story that ran in the March 2019 issue of Northwest Sportsman magazine and was written in early February, before heavy winter snows that are now melting fell across eastern portions of the Beaver State.
By Troy Rodakowski
I always wonder where my opening day will take me as I try to think of new options, consider revisiting old haunts and wondering what the new season might have in store.
Talking to a few biologists never hurts and I have found that sometimes they have good insights for hunters looking for new locations and tracking where flocks are moving.
“We are seeing some range expansion in parts of the Columbia Basin and eastern Malheur County, where Idaho birds are pioneering some new areas,” notes Mikal Cline, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife’s game bird biologist.
The state agency also conducts some trap-and-transplant operations, moving problem birds to more desirable locations, but only to improve existing flocks.
According to several local landowners and turkey hunters there are also improving flocks in the upper Deschutes watershed and locations around Bend, as well as the Hood River Valley.
With below average snowpack and a fairly mild winter – at least as of this writing – larger flocks have been congregating in the lowlands near the mountain ranges of Northeast and Central Oregon. I have also seen some expansion of several flocks throughout the Umpqua River drainage.
According to biologists, we are also seeing some range expansion in southern Wasco and Wheeler Counties, part of the Fremont National Forest north of Lakeview, and south of Ontario. No matter where you look it is very likely that there are some new areas to check out this spring.
“The mild winter throughout Oregon has provided good conditions for our wintering turkey flocks,” notes Cline.
It is likely that weather-related mortality will be low, but hens should be going into spring in good physical condition as well.
“This of course also allows the hens to produce plenty of eggs and withstand the energetic needs of incubation,” adds Cline.
We of course have been fooled by mild early and midwinter patterns only to have onslaughts of wet, cold and snowy conditions later on, turning the tables and changing things drastically as we progress into spring.
Of course it is no secret that turkey populations seem to be robust throughout much of the Northwest. Oregon has a very liberal bag limit, with hunters able to purchase three tags apiece throughout the season. The West is becoming a turkey hunting destination for many across the U.S. Throughout Oregon harvest rates have been steady over the past five years, “though this doesn’t reflect the increasing density of wild turkeys that are not in huntable locations,” Cline says.
“Our Eastern Oregon brood survey routes show a 27 percent bump in turkey density from 2017 to 2018, so I would expect a strong showing this spring, particularly in the vicinity of the Umatilla, Malheur, Wallowa-Whitman, and Ochoco National Forests,” she forecasts.
THE TOP FIVE Western Oregon units in recent years have been the Melrose, Rogue, Willamette, Evans Creek and Applegate. All had good harvests, with some of the highest in Melrose and Rogue, followed by Evans Creek and Willamette respectively.
One unit to keep an eye on for this year will be the Siuslaw near Lorane, especially in the southeast portions near the small towns of Drain and Creswell. Also, the McKenzie, Alsea, Chetco and Keno Units have seen increasing numbers of birds on private lands near the foothills.
In Central and Eastern Oregon, locations near LaGrande, Imbler, Elgin, Union, Cove, Wallowa, Sumpter and Flora all hold decent flocks. The Catherine Creek, Sumpter, Walla Walla, Pine Creek and Minam Units all saw decent harvest in 2017-18. And units that showed significant increases in harvest during the past few years include the Sled Springs, Chesnimnus, Keating and Starkey.