Spring turkey hunting starts in Montana

Story and photo by Kurty Dehmer Explorebigsky.com Contributor

Wild turkeys, not unlike the whiskey
for which they provided the namesake,
can bring an otherwise sane person to
the heights of elation, the depths of
depression, or the brink of madness.

While not native to Montana, this
wily fowl has proven its staying power
against the Treasure State’s harsh climate,
numerous predators and legions
of experienced hunters.

Judged the most likely turkey subspecies
to survive in Montana, the
Merriam’s Turkey was introduced in
1954 by Montana Fish, Wildlife and
Parks (then called Fish and Game). The
first 13 birds were released near the
Judith Mountains in the central part
of the state, and a subsequent release
was conducted in the Long Pines area
in southeast Montana. Other releases
occurred until 1957, and since then
there have been no birds introduced
from outside the state. The Merriam’s
can now be found and hunted in many
regions around Montana.

Montana’s spring turkey season lasts
just over a month, usually running
from April 14 – May 20. While the
bulk of the turkey population resides
mainly in the eastern and southeastern
reaches of the state, good-sized flocks
do exist in several areas in western and
southwestern Montana, as well.

Similar to mountain goat, moose and
bighorn sheep hunts, there is a special
draw for spring turkey tags in FWP
Region 3, the game management area
within approximately 100 miles of the
Bozeman area.

If so inclined, and provided one has
a likely spot in which to bag a big
gobbler, applicants should set their
sites on Broadwater, Lewis and Clark,
Gallatin, Madison, Park, Beaverhead,
Jefferson and Silver Bow counties.

It’s important to note that several of
these tags are designated as “youth
only,” which means the hunter has
to between the ages of 12 and 15 and
should have completed the mandatory
hunters safety course.

The drawing process is simple, and
through the advent of modern
technology putting in for a Region
3 turkey-tag is a breeze, provided
one has access to a computer and the
Internet. Log onto fwp.mt.gov, navigate
to the special drawing section
of that site and apply. By the time
you read this, the drawing for the
region three tags has already taken
place. Plan ahead for next year.

Access in this region is difficult
because many (if not most) of these
turkey flocks inhabit private land,
and without knowledge of their
habits and landowner permission,
drawing the tag is only a fraction of
the battle. Do the homework, and
you’ll find that bagging a turkey in
this region is possible if you’re is
willing to put in the time and the
legwork to get it done.

Provided one has access and has
drawn the tag, the hunt itself may
be the simplest piece of this hunt –
ing puzzle. While wary, wily and
cunning, turkeys tend to be crea –
tures of habit. Big toms choose
their favorite roosts, feeding and
breeding areas based on the maxi –
mum amount of return for the least
amount of output. Find the birds
and get a good setup.

Patience is paramount for wild
turkey. Get up early, stay out late,
learn their habits and wait for the
right chance. Turkey hunting is
similar to other types of hunting.

When scouting get to the highest
ground possible, and put in the
time glassing. Likely feeding areas,
roosts and breeding grounds should
all provide good chances for a shot.
Turkeys have eyesight similar
to that of raptors like eagles and
osprey. This means not only can
they see in color, but they also have
excellent depth perception. Camouflaging
yourself and your stand
is key to a successful hunt. Match
your camo pattern to the foliage
and terrain of your area, and keep a
low and quiet profile. Using decoys
is common practice, and it’s best
to choose one that resembles your
quarry.

When calling and using a decoy,
always exercise caution. If hunting
on public land, you’re likely to have
a lot of human company. If other
hunters are in the area, make sure
they know you are there. When
calling, use yelps, clucks and chal –
lenge calls, and call about half as
much as you might want to. Overcalling
may alert the birds to your
presence.

It can take years of experience
hunting turkeys and learning good
calling technique, plus a lot of luck
to get a gobbler in the freezer.
If luck wasn’t on your side in this
year’s special draw, or you couldn’t
find access, there’s still hope to
salvage this year’s earliest hunting
season. In eastern Montana turkeys
thrive on U.S. Fish and Wildlife
Service and Bureau of Land Man –
agement land. Again, do the home –
work, and spend lots of time on
preseason scouting.

For more information on turkey
hunting in Montana visit fwp.
mt.gov, or nwtf.org. Good luck,
long beards and long spurs.