What to know about spring turkey hunts

SALT LAKE CITY – Utah’s general spring season turkey hunts are about to begin, and for those looking to harvest their own delicious bird, it’s not too late to purchase a permit and search a hunting area.

The Utah Youth Turkey Hunt will take place April 29-May 1, while the general spring season Turkey Hunt is scheduled to take place May 2-31. Juveniles may continue to hunt during the general season hunt if they do not harvest during the Juvenile hunt. The limited entry hunt began on April 9 and will end on April 28.

Here’s what hunters need to know about the general season and upcoming youth hunts:

Utah turkey populations have declined slightly across the state

There are two subspecies of turkeys that live in Utah: Rio Grande’s and Merriam’s. There are currently between 25,000 and 35,000 wild turkeys statewide.

“Winters with deep snowpacks are really harsh on turkeys, so the mild winter we’ve had this year will have resulted in less winterkill,” said DWR Upland Game Coordinator Heather Talley. “Another good news for hunters is that the mild winter also allows turkeys to stay longer in public areas and hopefully has prevented them from moving into residential areas in search of food. Our populations trended slightly higher for several years, but decreased last year and this year, likely due to drought and lower hatchability and poultry survival last year.

where to hunt

Central Utah: Turkey populations in central Utah seem to be doing quite well, despite last year’s drought. However, some birds in the region are in poor physical condition. For hunters targeting central Utah, some good places to find turkeys include Payson Canyon, Spanish Fork Canyon, the Grindstone Ridge area, and benches around the Utah Valley.

Southern Utah: Turkey numbers have declined in southern Utah since last year. Drought likely impacted hatchability and survival of poultry in southern Utah last summer, which could make hunting more difficult due to fewer young, inexperienced turkeys. DWR biologists are finding more turkeys in agricultural areas than in typical range areas, but large winter flocks have not been spotted this year. Hunters should look for birds in the river corridor areas and their adjacent habitats.

“Locating cottonwoods can help you find turkeys in the area,” Talley said.

Northeastern Utah: The number of turkeys in the northeast part of the state decreased slightly from previous years, likely due to the severe drought conditions that have persisted in Utah. Hunters should target corridors along the Duchesne River, Green River and Ashley Creek watershed, all of which should be good places to hunt turkeys this year. The lower agricultural areas should also have good turkey hunting, but many of these areas are privately owned, so hunters will need to obtain written permission from landowners before hunting. There are also pockets of turkeys throughout much of the Book Cliffs region and in the middle and lower areas of several major drainage basins on the northern and southern slopes of the Uinta Mountains.

Northern Utah: Many turkeys can be found on private property around Morgan, Croydon, Huntsville, Eden and Mountain Green, but hunters must obtain written permission from the landowner to hunt on private property. Turkeys can also be found on public lands in Cache Valley (including Blacksmith Fork Canyon), the Richmond Wildlife Management Area (along Cherry Creek), the Wellsville Range above Wellsville and Mendon, and the walk-in areas around Clarkston. Turkey numbers have increased in Box Elder County due to the mild winter. In Box Elder County, there are turkeys in the Raft River Mountains near Clear Creek, One Mile Creek, Johnson Creek, and Wildcat Creek. There are also plenty of turkeys in the Pilot Mountain Range.

Southeast Utah: Turkey populations have declined in southeastern Utah due to extreme drought conditions. Although exact population numbers are difficult to estimate, data suggests that there are approximately 500 to 1,000 turkeys in this part of the state. Hunters can find Merriam’s turkeys in the La Sal and Abajo mountains in ponderosa pine habitats; however, access can be difficult until later in the season due to snow in the higher elevations.

Popular areas to find Rio Grande turkeys in this part of the state include along the Colorado and Green Rivers – as well as many of their tributaries including the San Rafael River, Price River, Range Creek, Gordon Creek, Huntington Creek, Ferron Creek and Muddy Creek – and in many watersheds along the Book Cliffs. There is also a large population of turkeys along the Fremont River between Hanksville and Caineville. However, be aware that many areas along these waterways are private land and hunters must obtain written permission from the owner before hunting.

General tips

Rio Grande turkeys are usually found at lower elevations. Poplar-strewn river bottoms and areas containing mostly oak and pinyon-juniper forests are some of their favorite spots. Merriam’s turkeys, on the other hand, are usually found in ponderosa pine forests at higher elevations.

If you intend to hunt, try to get out and light a few days before your hunt begins. Familiarizing yourself with the area and locating where the turkeys are is key to a successful hunt. You should spend time observing the daily habits of the turkeys so that while hunting you can settle in an area where the birds will be active. Generally, more turkeys are harvested between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. than at any other time of the day.

“Turkeys are often found on private property, so be aware of land ownership in the area you are hunting and remember that you must obtain written permission from the owner before you can hunt on their property,” Talley said. “Also, calls and lures can dramatically increase your success, so take the time to practice with those beforehand. And finally, turkeys have amazing eyesight, so be sure to wear good camouflage and stay still.

For other general turkey hunting tips, visit the DWR website.

Buy a turkey license

Individuals can purchase a statewide general season permit any time before the hunt closes on May 31. General season permits are available on the DWR website or from various DWR licensing agents and offices.

For more information on season dates and permits, see the 2021-22 Utah Upland Game & Turkey guide. For more information on legal gun types, see page 23 of the guide and note that rimfire guns are not legal for spring turkey seasons. The free guide is available on the DWR website or at hunting license agencies and DWR offices.

Sharon P. Juarez