Wild turkeys are the comeback champions in the Inland Northwest.
While two tough winters and springs previous to this year hammered the region’s popular hunting species – including deer, elk, pheasants and quail – the middle linebackers of the game bird world took the weather’s best shot and rallied.
“Turkeys do pretty well even in a tough winter around here, but they did very well in this mild winter,” said Jim Hayden, Idaho Fish and Game Department regional wildlife manger in Coeur d’Alene.
Indeed, the agency trapped 275 turkeys in the Panhandle this winter to give some landowners relieve and spread the birds into other areas where they’ll be available to hunters, he said.
Most of the birds stayed in the Panhandle, but a few went to southern Idaho, he said.
“There’s very little available turkey habitat in Idaho that doesn’t already have turkeys,” he said.
Compared with last year, the turkeys have broken into smaller flocks sooner and they’ll be more spread out when the general spring seasons open Thursday in Idaho and Washington.
“That’s good, because it spreads the hunters out, too,” Hayden said.
Eastern Washington wildlife managers said turkey numbers look good in most areas this spring. Winter surveys suggest the flocks in the Arden, Haller Creek and Chewelah areas have the highest total counts, number of flocks and average number of turkeys.
Most of Washington’s turkey hunting occurs east of the Cascades in Stevens, Ferry, Pend Oreille, and Spokane counties. The Merriam’s strain of wild turkey is found in northeastern Washington and North Idaho.
Much of Lincoln County as well as southeast areas around Whitman, Walla Walla, Columbia, Garfield and Asotin counties are primarily populated with the slightly buffier-colored Rio Grande strain turkeys.
Western Washington holds the state’s only flocks of darker-colored Eastern strain turkeys, primarily in Mossyrock, Satsop, Ryderwood, Lincoln, Willapa Hills, Minot Peak and Capital Peak game-management units.
Washington’s other notable hotspot for Merriam’s strain turkeys includes Wind River, Klickitat County around the Columbia River Gorge and the Klickitat Wildlife Area.
Hunters are allowed to shoot only male turkeys with visible beards during the spring general seasons.