The Spring Trifecta: Turkeys, Ticks, and Rattlers 

photo of a wild turkey


Historical Museum at Fort Missoula
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Yep, it’s about to start again: tick season I mean. These blood suckers start maturing just as male gobblers are roaming around, strutting their stuff, looking for love, and being slightly less wary than normal. If you are heading out to ambush turkeys, then realize you may have these dastardly hitch hikers along for the hunt. It doesn’t matter if you’re a spot- and-stalk turkey hunter or a sit-and-wait hunter, ticks are just part of the experience. 

Spring is in the air when turkey season rolls around, and birds aren’t the only critters looking for love. As weather warms up rattlesnakes wake up, and males start to travel far and wide to find a willing female. So, before you plunk down next to a rock pile to glass for turkeys, take a moment to be sure you’re not sharing the space with a recently awakened rattler. 

There are two familiar ways of hunting turkey: move around the woods looking for signs, while using calls in areas that have been productive before, in hopes of enticing a tom to scurry out of the brush into shotgun range or, harder yet, bow range, looking for a hen. 

And then there’s sitting quietly in areas previously scouted with obvious signs of feathers, tracks, scat, and scratched up dirt, using calls frequently. 

The mother lode of all signs is a roost tree, and, when a hunter finds one, she knows turkeys are in the vicinity. 

While flocks move throughout the day foraging for food, most often they return to a familiar roost tree at night. 

There’s no one right way to hunt turkeys, so let experience and past success be your guide. If this year is your first time hunting turkeys, then pairing up with an experienced partner is a good idea. Turkeys are notoriously tricky to bag. 

Many ardent and successful turkey hunters mimic the same effort they put into big game hunting by spending a lot of time scouting and figuring out the best units to hunt. In my area, the first turkey tracks are always seen in snow around 4,300 feet in elevation, usually in mid to late March. Turkeys are known to follow the snowline up in elevation as new green shoots of tender plants begin to appear. Scouting too early may mean the turkeys during season are nowhere near where they were earlier. 

It pays off to scout for turkeys over several weeks prior to season, to figure out where the birds are likely to be on opening day. 

In winter, it’s not unusual for me to see flocks of 20 to 30 birds down low along the river corridor where snow rarely falls. Some of those birds will stay at lower elevations all the time while others will journey higher as snow melts. 

Our nearest neighbor has made a habit of feeding turkeys, something I don’t recommend. Wild turkeys don’t need artificial feed, and it encourages concentrations that attract predators, of which we have many. But it does bring up an important point: you can hunt turkeys on both public and private land, and many hunters do reach agreements with landowners to prowl around for these birds. 

Turkeys are a population success story, so hunting on either private or public land will not negatively impact the species. 

Turkey season is a great way to introduce youngsters to hunting. The weather is usually mild, daylight is longer, and weekend and late afternoon hunts are very doable. Turkeys are generally more active early and later in the day, making half-day hunts a good choice for kids. Plus, it’s thrilling to call in a big male with his tail feathers fanned out displaying his dominance for all he’s worth. 

But because turkeys have excellent eye sight, be sure you and your little buddy are wearing camo from head to toe. And be sure to check the game regulations: some areas have specific youth hunts to encourage the next generation of  hunters. 

So, get ready for the spring trifecta while turkey hunting:  there’s never a bad day spent outside, despite, the ticks and rattlers. MSN

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