Springtime in the Rockies, when the turkey hunting is good

The main lure at this time of year for outdoor enthusiasts is putting new line on reels and tuning up boats as they ready to fish lakes and reservoirs.

The hunters are pretty much idle at this time of the year, and for good reason. The only hunting seasons in April are the tail-end of the light goose conservation season (and there still are a few, mostly Ross’s, geese in the Arkansas Valley) and the traditional spring turkey season, which began in April.

The Colorado Wildlife Commission generally approves two turkey seasons per year: a fall (Sept.-Oct.) season allows a hunter to take one turkey of either sex and a spring (April-May) season for bearded, or tom, turkeys only.  Since a single tom will mate with several hens there is virtually no degradation to future turkey populations by this spring hunt.

Over the past few decades turkeys have proven to be a highly successful wildlife transplant action undertaken by the Colorado Parks & Wildlife (CPW) biologists and personnel.  Whether it was from obtaining the Rio Grande breed of wild turkeys from a southern state; enhancing Colorado’s native Merriam turkey populations birds by receiving birds from an eastern state; or from the dedicated habitat efforts of conservation organizations like the National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF), the introduction, or enhancement, of wild turkeys in Colorado has been highly successful.

Current turkey populations are estimated at around 40,000, a record high.  This equates to more turkey license sales resulting in more conservation dollars for the state.

I recently headed down to the Arkansas Valley to try and bag a tom. There are a few different tactics for spring turkey hunting, with the most popular being using 2-4 decoys and having at least one hen decoy and one jake, a young tom, who portrays a “youngster”  and thereby instigating a live mature tom to charge in and run the younger tom off.  In addition, other hunters might use a full tom decoy as a challenge match to lure in an aggressive live tom.

Decoying also includes learning to use a slate, box or diaphragm call for bringing in interested toms.  Another accepted hunting tactic is to use a “run & gun” technique whereby a hunter tries to locate a flock by moving quietly through the tamaracks, forests or whatever terrain one is hunting, and stopping frequently to call in or locate a flock using a turkey call, or even an owl or crow call which alarms a flock that replies with the traditional gobble.  Once a flock is heard, the hunter quickly sets up a small decoy spread and attempts to draw toms in by calling.  Finally, there’s a tactic called “reaming” which involves hiding behind a decoy and stalking and crawling to within gun range of a live tom by the enticement of a shaking silhouette decoy hiding your body.

My half day hunt started out an hour before sunrise when I set up 3 decoys (2 hens and 1 jake) at the mouth of a canyon along the Purgatoire River south of Las Animas.  While I had frequently seen numerous birds in this area, I could not get any type of response but had a fun morning photographing the springtime activities of other large birds like blue herons and horned owls. I also observed numerous flocks of migrating mourning doves and ducks headed north.

I did receive a vote of confidence to the authenticity of my decoy spread as it fooled a Wile E. coyote who snuck up on the decoys in hopes of getting his own tasty turkey.

At 10:30 a.m., with a strong wind building, I elected to switch to the “run & gun” technique and left the decoys to climb along the shady steep southern bank of the Purgatoire as it cut through the canyon. Like a ship, the winds were contained on this alee side and my call could be heard.  Within 20 minutes of walking, stopping and calling I got my first gobble response.

Over the next 15 minutes I would call sparingly, and each time get a response gobble which was increasing in volume as the birds moved closer.  Looking down into the river bottom full of tamaracks I finally started seeing movement as two nice toms flashed through the thickets. The result of a good fair chase and planned hunt paid off as the first tom came into a small opening between the tamaracks and stopped at a soft cluck by my mouth call.  With one shot from the 20 gauge my spring turkey hunt was over.

By 3 p.m. I had my 18-pound tom turkey plucked, cleaned, tagged and iced down (with beard left attached per regulations) and was on my way back to Lone Tree with the continued replaying of that awesome vision of those toms coming through the tamaracks etched in my mind.

Colorado’s spring turkey season will run until May 31; and with warm weather forecasted and hopefully a lessening of the recent strong winds, the best times for bagging a tom may be yet to come. There are plenty of public state wildlife areas with good opportunities for taking a tom available to hunters.

Be sure to refer to, and understand, the rules and regulations in CPW’s 2022 Colorado Turkey booklet.

Kirk Davidson first started writing outdoor articles for Colorado newspapers when he was stationed at Fort Carson from 1981-1985.


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