Jim's Outdoor Blog

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Residents dub Southern Oregon: CAMO-LAND

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Camo-Land  Southern  Oregon’s  Spring  Incursion

It begins each November.  Low banks of clouds amass in the Pacific Ocean, lining up like battalions of Roman soldiers.  Wave after wave, storm after storm, brigades’ of rain clouds overwhelm the land.  The forward assault of this watery onslaught is eventually halted by the towering Cascade Mountains.  Positioned squarely between the high Cascades and the coastal mountains, southern Oregon is a land of perpetual green. 

Infamous Northwest rains begin to slow in March, and on occasion locals glimpse a bright yellow orb in the sky.  Daylight hour’s increase and four months of temperatures in the mid-40’s give way to fifty and sixty degree highs.  Talk of springtime fills conversations, with residents forecasting its eventual arrival.  Finally, a man dressed in camouflage is seen at a restaurant, and another was seen stopping for fuel.  A fast-food clerk said she’d served a woman wearing a camo-shirt and hat.  Quiet rainy days of winter are dissipating and southern Oregon is being transformed.  In the blink of an eye an incursion of camo-clad humans have invaded.  All forecasting is over, for spring has officially arrived.

Along the Interstate-5 corridor, from Eugene to Ashland, Oregon landscape is made up of rolling hills and green pastures.  Several species of Oak trees, along with Madrone, Fir and Cedar dot the ridge tops and canyons.  Innumerable creeks and springs careen down every slope.  If logging is the economic King of this area, ranching is certainly heir to the throne.  Tens of thousands of cattle and sheep graze within the immense greenness of this enormous basin.  Wild turkeys thrive here, and it is without question the Mecca of turkey hunting in Oregon.

To simply say turkeys are plentiful in southern Oregon is a gross understatement of fact.  Drive for thirty minutes in any direction from my home in Douglas County and you will easily see dozens upon dozens of feeding birds.

Wild turkeys were not native to Oregon, but since their introduction here in 1961 they have populated nearly every region of the state.  Merriam’s were brought from Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, Nebraska and Montana.  Their numbers have been stable for several decades, but Merriam’s reside in high rugged mountainous terrain.  Rio Grande turkeys were released in southern Oregon in 1975 and are now well established, with their numbers exceeding all initial estimates.

Turkey hunting is the fastest growing form of hunting in the United States and Oregon is no exception to this phenomenon.  The popularity of turkey hunting has grown ten-fold since Oregon’s first statewide spring hunting season in 1987.  The number of birds harvested that first year was approximately 425.  Although there is no required check station system in place, it’s estimated hunters harvested 3,700 turkeys in Oregon’s 2002 spring hunting season, with a statewide success rate reaching about thirty six-percent.

Oregon’s Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODF&W) divides the state into 57 separate Management Units.  Far and away Oregon’s best spring turkey hunting is found in southern Oregon.  The five most successful units are – Applegate, Dixon, Evans Creek, Melrose and Rogue.  Of the 3,700 gobblers taken in Oregon’s 2002-spring season, 1,585 were harvested in these five management units, well over 1/3 of all birds statewide.  Individual hunter success rates for these units approached nearly fifty-percent.

Oregon allows the taking of one male bird each day with a three-bird total during the spring season.  There is no drawing for spring tags, so they are easily purchased from any licensed agent.  Hunters can pursue birds from sunrise to sunset, seven days a week throughout the season, which runs from Aprils 15th through May 31st.  The use of dogs is not allowed in the spring. 

The State is divided into regions for fall turkey hunting.  For most southwest Oregon counties, tags are provided on a first-come/first-serve basis, with approximately 3,000 tags available to hunters.  This “first-come” season runs from October 15th through November 30th.  One bird of either sex can be taken in the fall. Those who wish to do so can utilize dogs during the fall hunt.  There are also two controlled fall turkey seasons, for which an application must be submitted.  These are in the White River and Pine Valley hunting units, with 50 tags available for each hunt.  These seasons are in October and November, but with a total of only 100 tags available in the drawing, the prize is difficult to attain.

With turkey hunting at it’s apparent peak of popularity, finding a place to hunt can be challenging.  I first began turkey hunting in Oregon, in the spring of 1995.  I live within the Melrose hunting unit and found little trouble in acquiring permission from neighbors and through friends-of-friends.  I worked hard at gaining hunting authorization from a large number of landowners, and faced little opposition.  But, by the year 2001, guides had approached most persons whose property supports large numbers of turkeys.  Some guides offer landowners $100.00 per bird they remove, and often pay an up front fee of $1,000.00 or more.

Additionally, many ranchers were “turned-off” by unethical hunters who trespassed on their land, or perhaps even worse, failed to look for and recover injured birds. 

I’ll never forget one aggravated rancher.  This gentleman told me he had lost a pregnant cow due to an unethical turkey hunter.  He said a hunter stopped on the roadway and shot an arrow at a large tom in his pasture.  The “hunter” missed the bird, and failed to recover his arrow.  One of his cows stepped on the arrow’s broad head and injured her foot.  A single blade was removed from the animal’s hoof, but the cow did not recover from an infection as a result of this injury.  He told me he frequently discovers camo-clad trespassers on his property.  He has no use for turkey hunters. 

For persons living out of state, or out of the area, contacting ODF&W could be of great value.  The state has acquired hundreds of acres, which are available to the public for turkey hunting.  One of these sites is near my home and I frequently see flocks of turkeys feeding along its hillsides.

I would also encourage prospective newcomers to telephone local sporting goods stores, primarily in the cities of Roseburg, Sutherlin, Winston, Grants Pass and Medford.  Due to customers “talking-it-up”, storeowners and staff know where turkeys can be found.  These folks hope to sell you supplies you’ll utilize in the field when chasing the illusive Rio Grande gobblers.  It is in their best interest to help you find a place to hunt.

A guided hunt amongst Oregon’s beautiful river valleys and oh-so-green hills could bring fulfilling memories for a lifetime.  Many quality guides are available throughout the state and specifically in “turkey-alley” in southern Oregon.  The costs of these services will vary widely, but you should expect to pay at least $250.00 per day or per bird.  Check for licensed guides through ODF&W or simply type “Oregon Turkey Hunting” into your favorite Internet search engine.

If you want to “wing-it” and simply come to southern Oregon and ask landowners for permission to hunt, I strongly suggest you put your hunt off until May.  The first two weeks of spring season are extremely busy, thus the local descriptor of camo-land.  I believe a polite handshake and a guarantee of being responsible could bring some success.  But remember, you represent all hunters; each time you enter the field.

Oregon’s Rio Grande gobblers will weigh sixteen to twenty-five pounds, averaging nineteen to twenty each.  The largest I’ve taken had a twelve and one half inch beard, and weighed a whopping twenty-four pounds.  He was the largest of five big toms, which came charging toward me when I imitated a lonely hen with my mouth call.

My personal hunting strategy varies greatly, depending on the lay of the land and how well I know the property.  I’ve had success by merely staking-out travel routes.  Birds often follow specific daily routines and I’ve taken several toms by just sitting above a deep ravine or gully and waiting for birds to approach.

The rolling hills of these pastures are often quite high, with deep swales between them.  When I observe groups of birds moving up or down a swale, I move as quickly as possible to cut them off.  Using the crest of the hill to hide my movements, I kneel, sit or lay down when I reach the cut off point.  The toms usually stop when they reach the end of the swale.  Like submarine periscopes bobbing over the crest of the hill, they peer over the edge before stepping out. 

Calling birds is certainly a challenge once the season is underway.  But, little in the hunting world is more satisfying than a successful session of calling and moving, out smarting this ultimate survivor.

If you choose to pit your wits and skill against those of a long-beard in this area, be extremely careful.  Once you’ve come to Oregon in pursuit of a spring gobbler, your life could change.  You may have trouble sleeping with visions of strutting gobblers dancing through your minds’ eye.  You’ll find yourself “talking-turkey” throughout the year, telling complete strangers in coffee shops about this beautiful part of our country.  Undoubtedly you’ll be watching for sales on hunting gear and clothing, mindfully preparing for your next trip to Oregon’s “Camo-Land”.

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March 11, 2008 - Posted by | Turkeys, Grouse, Pheasants and other Feathered Critters

4 Comments »

  1. Hey Jimbo, This is what I like to read, a real hunter talking about real hunting. Not rich uppity hunters who only hunt with outfitters and have tons of money to pay to hunt private lands where most of the game is baited and/or fenced in. If you ever decide to write a story on kids, I have plenty of photos of my boys and my friends kids with some pretty big critters. Take care buddy and keep these articles coming.

    Matt

    Comment by Matt Sherwood | April 1, 2008 | Reply

  2. Hey Matt,

    I got nothing against being rich. I’d like you and I to be able to try it for the next thirty years or so. But since that isn’t likely to happen, we’ll just keep doing the best we can on our own – without the benefit of gun bearers. Thanks Matt!

    Jim Gaskins

    Comment by jimgaskins | April 1, 2008 | Reply

  3. I like how you approach this – a good intro that is entertaining and light hearted – then pack in a lot of good, quality information freely shared.

    Comment by Tom Sorenson | May 10, 2008 | Reply

  4. […] hunt story or information or anything on here, until now!  Jim Gaskins was kind enough to send me this link about hunting turkey in Oregon.  Don’t get too excited, turkey hunters, it’s doubtful […]

    Pingback by Spring is For Turkeys - Base Camp Legends | May 10, 2008 | Reply


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