Colorado fall season forecast looks good


Oct 5, 2001
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Division of Wildlife

Turkey hunters shouldn't have any problems finding dispersed birds this season, as the wily animals can escape wildfires along with bigger game. But drought conditions could drive the mountain Merriam's turkeys as high as 10,000 feet.

Turkey hunters should find plenty of dispersed birds when the fall season opens Sept. 1, and shouldn’t worry about wildfires - turkeys are smart enough to escape the flames along with bigger game. Even the most heavily burned areas in Colorado’s two biggest forest fires, the Hayman and Missionary Ridge, left enough islands of food and cover to support the flocks.

Turkeys also are the first to return to a burn. Rick Hoffman, a Colorado Division of Wildlife biologist in Fort Collins and the state’s recognized turkey expert, says he has seen turkeys scratched in a freshly burned area while smoke is still rising from the ashes.

But Hoffman cautions that Mountain Merriam’s, the species most often hunted on public land, “are going to be high - as high as 10,000 feet. Drought conditions send the birds to higher elevations in search of more greenery.”

There’s no reliable way to census turkeys, so population figures are strictly a guesstimate, but Hoffman believes they now number 25,000, both Merriam’s and the plains-dwelling Rio Grande. “We’ve been doing intensive transplanting and we now have turkeys just about everywhere the habitat can support them,” he said. “Some areas are still closed to hunting, but new areas are opening up every year.”

The only real problem, in Hoffman’s opinion, is that many of the birds are on private lands and, as hunting pressure increases on public lands, the quality of the hunt decreases. Turkeys - and turkey hunters for that matter - do not like crowds, which pushes even more birds onto private land. Private land hunters, of course, don’t mind at all, and more Colorado outfitters are offering guided turkey hunts every year.

Turkeys still outnumber turkey hunters, however, since only 10,000 licenses are sold in the spring and about 2,000 in the fall. Between them, they account for a harvest of 3,000 to 4,000 birds a year, a respectable take given the difficulty of locating the wily birds and then coaxing them into range.

Many hunters believe that spring hunting, when only toms can be killed with a shotgun, is easier than fall hunting, because the male birds are befuddled with lust and more susceptible to the clucks and rasps of a sexy hen, but Hoffman disagrees.

“The birds are more widely dispersed, which means they can be found anywhere, and a good caller can break up a flock and then call them back into range with an assembly call,” said Hoffman. “Besides, either sex can be shot in the fall, and rifles as well as shotguns are allowed, meaning they can be shot at longer range.”

Harvest statistics bear this out. More birds are shot in the fall by fewer hunters.

Division of Wildlife

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