Spring wild turkey hunting season begins Wednesday

DAYTON -- There's a gobble in the air in the Blue Mountains and other areas of Eastern Washington.

"The toms are definitely in a mating mode. They are gobbling, strutting, and the hens seem to be responding," said Jim Macarthur, who owns the Blue Mountains KOA and the Last Resort Camp Store near Dayton with his wife, Angela, and mother-in-law.

"I think it's going to be a good opening weekend," he said.

Washington's popular spring wild turkey season, restricted to gobblers and turkeys with visible beards only, opens Wednesday and runs through May 31.

Turkeys survived the winter in good shape in the Tucannon River valley around the Last Resort, Macarthur said.

Winter, however, took a toll on bird numbers in some parts of Eastern Washington, particularly in the northeast, said Mick Cope, upland game section manager for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Numbers in some areas where the department annually counts birds were down largely because of winter kill, Cope said. But those figures are relative, as Washington's turkey population -- and hunter success -- has never been higher, Cope said.

In 2007, the latest year figures are available, hunters in northeast game units harvested 4,587 birds while hunters in southeast units took 605, down from 730 in 2006, according to Fish and Wildlife.

In comparison, the estimated spring turkey harvest in southeast units in 1996 was 104, while there were 313 taken in northeast units, according to the department.

A total of 16,612 hunters participated in spring turkey season in 2007, and they harvested 6,531 turkeys. The success rate for hunters in southeast units was about 39 percent, Cope said.

Hunters in northeast units in 2007 enjoyed a success rate of 43 percent "and that is really high," Cope said. "If you go to turkey country in the eastern United States, where turkey hunting is really popular, they may not get out of the mid-20s for their success rate.

"We've been hunting in the golden age of turkey hunting in Washington for the last six to 10 years," he said.

Macarthur said he's seen plenty of turkeys this spring, which should bode well for hunters during opening weekend and beyond.

Hunting pressure always is heaviest during the first week of the season in the Blues, then drops off dramatically, he said.

"I see lots of pressure the opening weekend, then 70 percent to 80 percent of guys are done," Macarthur said. "I've had some of my best hunting at the end of the season because there's no pressure, and a lot of the birds seem to relax again because they don't see any hunters."

For hunters who do intend to hunt public land in southeast units, Macarthur suggests they slip further into the woods.

"Scouting is key, and get away from the road," he said. "Get anywhere from a half-mile to a mile away from the road, and you'll have hunting to yourself."

* Kevin McCullen: 509-582-1535; kmccullen@tricityherald.com