Start new Thanksgiving tradition: turkey hunting

Thanksgiving may be over but it’s a good time to start planning for next year.

Think about hunting turkeys. You can make turkey hunting, not just turkey-eating, a family tradition this year by purchasing a general-season fall turkey tag. Even though the dinner’s over, you can work out the bugs now by purchasing one of nearly 700 general-season tags still available and giving it a shot.

Turkey hunting is growing in popularity nationwide and in the West. The National Wild Turkey Federation estimates there are now more than 3 million turkey hunters nationwide. While 3,720 people hunted turkey in Oregon during 1990, last year 16,493 people hunted turkey in the state and hunters can now participate in both a fall and spring season.

“Turkey hunting isn’t ingrained in our heritage like it is in eastern states, but hunters are picking it up out West,” says Ryan Mathis, National Wild Turkey Federation regional biologist. “People are turning it into a family tradition like deer or elk camp or the opening day of dove or waterfowl season, and hunting on the millions of acres of public land available in the West.”

ODFW often traps and relocates turkeys to supplement flocks in other parts of the state where hunters have access to more public land. The turkeys are usually taken to Eastern Oregon, where ODFW increased hunting opportunities by adding 200 limited-entry fall tags this year.

While fall turkey hunting in Eastern Oregon is limited and requires advance application, anyone can purchase a tag for the general fall turkey season which runs through Dec. 31, 2008 in 10 Western Oregon counties: Curry, Josephine, Jackson, Coos, Douglas, Lane, Benton, Polk, Marion and Linn. ODFW offers 3,000 tags for this hunt and sells them on a first-come, first-serve basis through the end of the season. Turkey tags cost $18 for residents and $64 for non-residents and the bag limit is one turkey of either sex.

Finding a place to hunt is challenging in Western Oregon. At this time of year, turkeys are found at lower elevations in areas with mixed hardwoods (such as oak savannah) and pasture—the type of habitat found mostly on private lands, although some BLM and Forest Service lands feature this habitat. To find a hunting spot, talk to friends whom you know have turkeys on their property or the type of habitat turkeys use. Some hunters also knock on landowners’ doors where they see turkeys and ask permission to hunt. Remember you must ask permission to hunt on private land and build good relationships with landowners if you expect to come back and hunt next year.

Those that don’t get a chance to fall turkey hunt can go during the statewide spring season April 15-May 31, 2009. Spring turkey tags go on sale Dec. 1, 2008.

Here are some tips for hunting fall turkey:

Hunting tactics: Remember toms are not actively looking to mate this time of year like they are during the spring, so different calls and tactics are needed for fall turkey hunting. Try some of the following:

– Sneak up on them. Turkeys have sharp eyesight and hearing so be quiet.

– Scout to learn their patterns, and catch them along the way. Figure out where turkeys roost and feed; then hide out along the way, behind a tree or bush or in a blind you create. Turkey sign can include tracks and droppings. Hen tracks rarely exceed 4.5 inches in length;

– Scatter then call. A popular fall tactic is to ambush or disrupt a flock, than call them back in using an “assembly” call or one of the varieties available. Visit your local outdoor store for calls.

– Carefully choose calling/waiting location: Wild turkeys are hesitant to walk through thick brush, so select a calling position in relatively open country. Also avoid cover that restricts your sight path. You could be sitting for awhile; take a cushion to stay comfortable.

– Don’t shoot beyond 25 yards. Wild turkeys are tough to bring down so don’t attempt a shot beyond 25 yards. Wait for the turkey to extend its head and neck and aim for the base of the head, not the body.

What to wear: Because turkeys have excellent eyesight, many hunters wear head-to-toe camouflage and even wrap their shotguns in camouflage tape to prevent gun barrel glint. Most hunters do not wear blaze orange except when traveling to or from their hunting area. Hunters should not wear red, white, blue or black clothing (including socks, bandanas, hats) as these colors could be mistaken for a turkey’s head or body by another hunter.

Legal weapons: Shotguns no larger than 10 gauge or smaller than 20 gauge; shot size no larger than No. 2 or smaller than No. 6; and recurve, long and compound bows may be used to hunt fall turkeys. Dogs may also be used during the fall season only.

Dressing your turkey: Tag your turkey immediately and don’t delay too long before dressing it out. To do so, open the body cavity from just below the breast to the vent.

Remove internal organs and allow blood to drain from the body cavity. For safety, place your bird in a sack or cover with blaze orange wrapping when carrying it out of your hunting area.

For more hunting tactics and important safety tips, download ODFW’s turkey hunting brochure or visit the National Wild Turkey Federation Web site.

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Build Lebanon Trails will hold a walk on the Marks Slough Trails at 10 a.m. Saturday, Dec. 13.

The walk will start at Marks Slough Trailhead located on Tennessee Road. Total distance is just over 1 mile, half of it paved and half over slightly uneven terrain. Well-socialized leashed dogs are welcome.

To reach Marks Slough Trailhead from Main Street; Travel east on Wheeler Street past

the Wastewater Treatment Plant onto Tennessee Road. Parking is provided on the East

side of Tennessee road. Look for BLT Event signs.

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Goose numbers continue to increase in the northern end of the Willamette Valley and large flocks of Canada geese can now be seen in most grass fields. To minimize the chances of decoying Dusky Canada geese, set up your decoys in the larger open fields where Cackling and Taverner Canada geese feel more secure. Hunters are reminded that there are special regulations that apply to goose hunting in northwest Oregon.

Read the regulations on page 18-20 of the 2008-09 Game Bird Regulations before you hunt geese in this area. Remember to ask permission to hunt before entering private lands.

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Furbearer trappers and hunters should be getting their equipment ready for the ongoing/upcoming season. Gray fox, red fox, marten, muskrat, mink, raccoon, river otter and beaver trapping and/or hunting is currently open.

Furbearer hunters can use a variety of sounds from their mouth or electronic predator calls to lure fox and raccoon out into the open. Remember to keep the volume low when you start to avoid scaring any animals near your stand, then increase the volume.

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Hunters: Don’t forget! Whether or not you filled your tag, you must report the results of your hunt online or by calling 1-866-947-ODFW (6339).

Reporting is now mandatory for every big game and fall turkey tag purchased except bighorn sheep and Rocky Mountain goat.