Face to Face with Fall Turkeys
By Gary Lewis
Last December, I hunted fall season turkeys with a muzzleloader. After locating several flocks that ranged in size from 4 to 25 birds, we set up an ambush along a fence line. I could take a turkey of either sex, but the first bird to get within 15 yards was a Rio Grande gobbler with an 8-inch beard and one-inch spurs.
Southwest Oregon has more turkeys than any other corner of the state. So many, that Oregon has a fall hunt to keep populations in check. Turkeys prefer edge habitat with oak trees and pines adjacent to land used for crops and livestock. Drive outside the big cities of Medford, Albany, Salem or Eugene and you’ll see exactly the type of cover that keeps these Texas transplants fat and happy. And, you’ll see turkeys.
Curry, Josephine, Jackson, Coos, Douglas, Lane, Benton, Polk, Marion and Linn counties constitute the open area for this hunt, which runs from October 15 through December 31.
Most Oregon hunters overlook the fall season, because the bag limit is reduced and calling isn’t as effective. But in the fall, the pressure is off turkeys and, with an either-sex tag, a hunter has a good chance of bagging a tom (or a hen) for the table.
In Douglas County and nearby Coos County, seek out public-access stands of mixed oak and conifers near agricultural plots. Most of the larger timber companies allow hunter access.
Look at the area around Loon Lake in the Elliott State Forest and up Little Mill Creek. Take Highway 38 west past Scottsburg, then head south along Mill Creek. To the east, hunt the Tiller area. Follow Route 227 east from Canyonville at I-5.
Pay the most attention to the river bottoms near stands of oak. Turkeys key on the acorns, but also feed in the meadows on grubs, worms and insects. In ranchland, the turkeys spend a lot of time around livestock feeders, where they pick up spilled corn and grain.
Turkeys can be found all the way to the summit of the Cascades. Follow highways 62, 66 and 140 to the east. Look at the area around Lost Creek Reservoir, Hyatt Lake and Howard Prairie Reservoir.
In Josephine County, explore BLM land on back roads to the southwest of the towns of Ashland, Talent and Phoenix. On the south coast, in Curry and Coos counties, the best turkey hunting is found on and around private land in the river valleys. Permission to hunt fall birds is usually easier to obtain than it is in the spring, especially in places where the turkey is considered a pest.
A maximum of 3,000 tags are sold on a first-come, first-served basis. Licenses are available at most sporting goods stores or by mail-order. The bag limit is one turkey of either sex. See the Oregon Game Bird Regulations for details.