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Turkey Hunting Gains Popularity
Turkey Hunting Gains Popularity

​​​​​Turkey Hunting Gains Popularity

Written by Jim Bulger

Participation in spring turkey hunting across the United States is on the rise at significant proportions. In a recent study released by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the number of turkey hunters has increased at twice the rate of the growth of the U.S. population since 1991. Those numbers are reflected in the interest of Colorado as well and evident by the increasing number of hunters applying for limited licenses each year. The increase in popularity in turkey hunting was interesting, and after I said WOW, I asked myself WHY. So I thought I might provide the reader with some insights from an old turkey hunter and perhaps find some new hunters who would like to try their hand at one of the greatest games played in the outdoors. 

Turkey hunting growing popularity is not of real surprise for those of us who have chased long-beards for a few years. The opportunity to be in the woods in early spring, as the fields, hillsides and forests begin to awaken from winter’s sleep, is something to behold. There's a feeling of re-creation and a sense that, for just a while, all is right in the world as gobbles and clucks fill the breaking dawn. For hunters, there is not another game to play in spring. All the other hunting seasons are at bay until fall and one can focus on just one game…a tom turkey.

A Unique Experience

 

Young hunters at a CPW turkey hunt.There's that special feeling a turkey hunter gets when matching wits with a turkey. You call and he answers; you call again and nothing. You move to scratch that bump on your nose left by a voracious mosquito, and you hear a "putt" and see the movement of a dark flash exiting the area at a speed you could not believe. ​I think it's that one-on-one game, much like the pickup basketball game at the local park or something similar, which brings the challenge we all enjoy. There will be seasoned turkey hunters who can say they have not been whipped by a long beard in this one-on-one match up, but anyone who has enjoyed the game is quick to agree that getting beat is OK. The game is worth every moment. But it's not the only thing that beckons us to the spring woods each year.

Turkey hunting has become a challenge that the whole family can enjoy- something we can do together and share stories and memories which last season to season and build a heritage like none other. A couple of personal examples may help to highlight what I mean.

As the Hunter Outreach Coordinator for Colorado, I have the opportunity to take young turkey hunters on their first outings each year. A parent in tow, we arrive before the sun breaks the horizon and settle into a blind or up against a good wide tree and yearn to hear the gobbles and clucks of turkey still on the roost. The questions, shivering excitement and simple wonder of the spring turkey woods is always very evident. When the game begins, I start calling, and the toms responds. As the bird approaches us, the excitement of the young hunter becomes highly evident with the sound of rapid breaths, a gun barrel dancing so hard I am surprised a shot could be taken and a picture of pure concentration, so deep that all motion is contained in a small body about to explode. After a hunt, regardless of a harvest or just that wonderful encounter, those young hunters are hooked for life- a dedicated hunter of the long beard who vows to return each spring to the game. And most do, reflected by their annual letters to me, citing their experiences in the field.Mary Bulger with her first Rio Grande turkey.

A second example is more close to home. I took my wife Mary on her first turkey hunt several years ago. Mary enjoys her time in the field with me but is much more a waterfowl or upland bird hunter than any other species. She found the game more alluring than any other she had tried. The crisp spring air, the excitement of an approaching tom and the beauty of the drama that plays out, she has passed on the harvest, just to let the game go longer. But after two successful seasons, she seeks the mature tom now. She is even learning to call for herself and is ready to chase the old tom that will make the game more exciting. A four year old bird with two inch spurs and a foot long beard… now that will be exciting. Maybe she will let me come along.

Education and Practice

I get the interest of the new participants, a family opportunity in the spring woods. But there is quite a bit more. The increase in turkey populations across the United States, thanks to good wildlife conservation programs and the efforts of the National Wild Turkey Federation, contributes to the increased opportunity for hunters in the field.

A game camera photo of a mature Rio Grande in full strut.Some states allow multiple birds to be harvested by a hunter. Colorado allows a hunter to harvest two birds in the spring, one with a limited license and one with an unlimited license. The opportunity to participate in the game, multiple times, is an opportunity to learn, play and accept the challenge on more than one occasion.

The opportunity for old hand to mentor the young novice is something that takes us back a few decades to a time when life seemed less complicated. Turkey hunters are usually not self made. They find others to teach them to call, talk about set up tactics and other hints to promote success. They seek out the books, magazine articles and the Internet to read about new ideas, decoys, firearms and tactics and share those ideas at the dinner table, the back porch or at work/school. This collective form of mentoring and social support networking all contributes to a passion for this game like no other.

Finally, I think the opportunity to hunt this wise bird with only a small investment of money is a great attribute. Sure there is a market out there for every type of gear, decoy, call and specialized firearm you can imagine. Many of us spend more money then we need to on the latest trend in gear, but at the basic level, you can hunt a bird with a single shot shotgun, army surplus clothing and an old box call. No need for a high powered, high cost rifle, backpack, skinning knives and the variety of gear that it takes to hunt big game.

Final Thoughts 

I leave you with this final thought. If the percentage of people who are trying their hand at chasing a gobbler in the spring woods is increasing at twice the rate of the growth of the population, do you think they are on to something great?

If you have not tried this game, try it for a season. Go to a seminar, read some books and ask a turkey hunter for some tips. Then head out in April or May, and see if you can play the game. I can almost guarantee you will find a new passion, a new heritage and find re-creation in the spring woods.​