Colorado Turkey Hunting

Colorado Field Report – Gary Meinke (Treerooster) – 1/2013

Colorado is home to both the Merriam’s and Rio Grande wild turkeys. Generally the Merriam’s are found in the foothills and mountains and the Rios are found along the riparian areas in the eastern plains. However it seems the Rios are expanding into other areas on the plains recently. The spring season starts on the 2nd Saturday in April and runs for seven weeks closing on the 4th Sunday in May (dates are 4-13 to 5-26 for 2013). A hunter can get one general tag and one limited license tag if he happens to draw one. So it is possible to harvest two spring gobblers in one season. Most public land in the mountains and foothills occurs on National Forest or BLM land, but there are a few other public parcels such as state WMA’s that hold turkeys. On the eastern plains, private land tags are available OTC in many areas. Most public land tags are limited and must be applied for through the lottery. The majority of public land areas on the eastern planes are state WMA’s. Colorado uses a preference point system in their lottery. Preference points are explained in the Colorado Turkey brochure.

Colorado Weather

Turkey habitat in Colorado ranges from a low of 4000 feet of elevation on the eastern plains up to about 8500 feet of elevation in the mountains. This can present a problem for hunters when it comes to our volatile spring weather. On the eastern plains spring blizzards are not uncommon. I have experienced opening day temperatures from a high 80 degrees some years to a low of 2 degrees with 4 inches of snow on the ground in others. In the mountains you also have to be aware of the winter snowpack as it doesn’t always completely melt before opening day in heavy snow years. National Forest roads may be impassable or even closed in some areas. A call several days ahead of time to the local land management office can save a lot of trouble. Merriam’s that inhabit mountainous areas will migrate down to lower elevations (usually private land) for the winter and tend to follow the snowline back up to their breeding areas. This can mean the turkeys may be on private land and won’t be on public land until the snow melts. Wind is also a factor both in the mountains and the plains. Winds of 10 to 20 mph are a daily occurrence and just another day for the turkeys. When winds get up to a sustained 30 mph or more and that can affect turkeys, they may seek out more sheltered areas. I always have a loud call (usually a longbox) with me for locating turkeys on windy days.

Tips on applying for a limited tag

In Colorado’s preference point system the hunters with the most points are drawn first. Once all the tags are issued any hunter not drawn gets another preference point. Hunters that draw a tag lose their points and must start from zero in the next season’s drawing. This is a very fair system as the hunters who have been applying the longest get the tag first. To draw a tag for most public land “limited license areas” a hunter needs to have some preference points accumulated. Points are accumulated by either applying for “Preference Point Only” or applying for a hunt and not being drawn for your first choice hunt code. Preference points can be accumulated in both the spring and fall drawings. There is no difference between the fall and spring turkey points, so it is possible to accumulate 2 points per year for a spring hunt the following year. The good news about Colorado’s preference system is points are not lost if a hunter forgets to apply one year. In fact, it takes ten years of not applying before a hunter’s points are lost. The bad news is that a $10.00 annual habitat stamp must be purchased even when applying for a preference point only. A $3.00 application fee is also charged and the license fee ($100.00 for nonresident) must also be sent in, but the license fee is refunded a few weeks after the draw. In other words if a hunter applies for preference points in both spring and fall it will cost $16.00 total for 2 points, a $10.00 habitat stamp plus two $3.00 application fees. Nonresidents have an equal chance at drawing a tag as a resident. The ability to draw is totally based on how many preference points a hunter has.

To find out how many preference points it may take to draw a specific area go to “Colorado Turkey Hunting Statistics” (see link below) and then click on the “Hunt Recap” report. This seasonal report shows how many hunters applied for a specific unit and how many preference points they had, along with the number of tags that were available. An estimate can then be made to see how many points are required to draw. It is also possible to just click on “Minimum Preference Points Required” but you need to add one point to the minimum to be assured of drawing a tag. I recommend looking at the minimum points for residents only, as the nonresident minimum points are not accurate.

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Denver, CO 80216