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Lesson 1
Lesson 1

​​​​The Rules of the Game

​Turkey hunting, like any other sport, has a set of rules. Some are established by the wildlife agency to insure safety of the hunter, manage the wildlife population and provide a positive experience for the participants. Others are established by the turkeys; they decide when breeding season begins, when to fly down from the roost and when to respond to your calls, or not. As we proceed through the series of lessons, we will take a closer look at the rules the turkeys establish as some of them are not hard and fast rules. Let’s begin with the rules established by the State of Colorado and Colorado Parks and Wildlife. Take a minute and go get a copy of the Turkey brochure (in English or Spanish), or see the Turkey page.

Student Note: Always pick up a couple of copies of the paper brochure. One to leave in your vehicle and one to carry with you to the field.

So let’s begin with a look at the rule book for hunting turkeys. For some readers, this may be only a refresher but recall the purpose of these lessons it to help the novice get started. Even after 12 years of working in this business, I still read the brochure cover to cover and find something new each year due to a regulation change or some change in season dates.

As you begin to read the brochure, look at the first page. Typically the
editor puts any changes to the regulations or policies up front so everyone will read it. Pay attention to the “What’s New” section as it may have some information that is important to your season, the unit you wish to hunt or a new unit you have not tried before.

The next section generally lists the Spring Limited Licenses.  If you take a look at the list, there are not a great number of limited license units in the state. Much of the state allows hunters to pursue turkeys with an over the counter or unlimited license, but as we will discuss in later lessons, not all units in the state have habitat suitable for wild turkey populations. Now back to the discussion on the limited licenses. Licenses are limited for several reasons:

  1. To manage the wildlife population in a given area,

  2. To manage the number of hunters allowed in a certain area for safety reasons and

  3. To provide a positive hunting experience for hunters by reducing the number of hunters in a given area by reducing hunting pressure.

I think it is important for turkey hunters to understand why the state limits licenses in some areas and realizes the long term benefit of doing so, even though many hunters would like to be able to draw a limited license more frequently than the current three to five year wait to draw a limited license. For the beginner, you can consider the limited license units as those units which have a greater concentration of turkeys during the season and through proper management and limiting the number of hunters in those units, you can “probably” find more turkeys during the season. Obviously there are no guarantees, but that is generally the case. If you look at the statistic pages published by the agency each year, you can get an idea of the number of preference points you will need to draw a license in a given limited unit. Take a moment to look at the turkey statistics page.

Now that you have looked at the statistics page, flip over to the Drawing Summary report and you can see how many hunters applied in a given limited unit in previous years. As an example: in Unit 96, during the first season (TM09601R) there were 40 licenses allocated and 356 people applied for those licenses in 2012. Roughly that is a 1 in 10 chance of drawing that license. If you then take a look at the number of preference points it took to draw one of those 40 licenses in 2012, it took about six (6). If you apply each year for both the fall and spring limited licenses, you would generally draw that unit every three or four years. Don’t get discouraged, we will discuss options which will allow you to hunt every year in a later lesson. The more you research and the more trips you take to the field, the better turkey hunter you will be when you do draw a limited tag.

Flip over to the end of the brochure, to the section that provides information about “In the Field: Rules and Safety.  Take a few minutes to read and understand the section on bag and possession limits. You can harvest two bearded turkeys in the spring, one must be using a limited draw license and the other must be taken with an over the counter license. The next section on validating the tag is very important for all hunters to understand. At the site of the harvest, you must detach the carcass tag and date/sign it. Do not wait until you take the bird back to your vehicle to do so. It is just easier to attach the tag at the site of the harvest rather than risk forgetting to do so later. Be sure to leave the beard attached to the bird, even if you field dress it to remove the internal organs. In the spring, this means leaving the beard naturally attached until you get home and process the bird for consumption.

Student Note: Buy a small package of Zip-Ties and carry several in  your vest or pack to attach the carcass tag to the leg of the bird.

Finally, a couple of comments about some rules that are not written in the brochure. As you become more experienced at hunting spring turkeys, you will find this sport is all about decisions as a hunter. When do I call? When do I move? What gun is best for me? Etc. We will try to discuss many of these decisions in later lessons but a few concepts need to be mentioned, right up front.

  1. Practice safe hunting methods at all times in the woods. Know your target and what is beyond it before you pull the trigger.

  2. I prefer to wear a florescent orange hat when walking in public areas to insure other hunters can see me. I take it off and hide it in my vest once I sit down and begin to work a bird.

  3. The game of the spring is to call a gobbler to you, not chase one. If hunting public woods, think twice before you attempt to stalk a bird, another hunter may be trying to use the same tactic.

  4. Shooting a tom off the roost, while not illegal in Colorado (it is in other states) is not an ethical part of this game. Let the birds fly down and then call the bird to you. That is the true fun of the spring game.