Turkey hunting basics

By Shawn Wagner, wildlife manager, Arizona Game and Fish Department

It's been said, "If turkeys could smell, nobody would kill one." Well, this may be true. Turkeys are one of the most cautious and wary animals in the woods. They have keen eyesight and can hear a twig break in the woods for an unbelievable distance. The following tips will give you advantages you'll need to be successful in pursuing these wily gobblers this spring.

Don't be seen. Choose camouflage clothing that blends with the habitat you'll be hunting. Make sure you are completely covered. Gloves, facemask and a hat are a must. Be sure all your gear, including your gun, is camouflaged, too. Turkeys can pick up glints from metal objects a long way off. Once you set up, do not move. If the turkey sees you, you may never get a chance to see him.

Set up in a good spot. When you get a gobbler to answer a call, you'll want to get in fairly close and set up. Remember, the tom may come in quickly to find the hen it thinks is beckoning him. Pick a large tree or rock you can sit against, and try to sit in the shade if you can. This will help hide any of your movements. Face the direction the turkey is coming from, but angle your shoulders slightly away from the bird's direction so that your shotgun fits more comfortably. Sit with one knee bent so you can rest your gun on your knee with the butt of the gun in your shoulder, because you may be in that position for a while. Getting pre-set will minimize your movements when the bird arrives. Try to move only your eyes to scan for the first glimpses of an incoming tom.

Make the call. Place your favorite call next to you so you can use it without much movement. If the turkey is in view, use the call when it's behind a tree or rock, so it won't see you moving. Mouth calls are more difficult to use than hand-friction calls, but they are the best for calling without giving away movement. Lower your call volume as the turkey closes in. Preseason practice is the key to sounding convincing during the season, no matter what type of call you use.

Make the shot count. The turkey should be within approximately 40 yards to ensure a good hit. Aim for the neck of the bird. Make any adjustments to get your shot lined up while the turkey's head is behind a tree or bush, or even behind his tail if he is strutting. Take the shot when the turkey has his head stretched out to maximize your target area. And, be sure to keep your head down on your stock when you shoot. A lot of people miss because they picked up their head to look.

Good luck, and as always, make sure of your target and beyond.

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Spring turkey outlook
By Brian Wakeling, big game supervisor, Arizona Game and Fish Department
Map of regions

Spring turkey hunts this year have the potential to be really good--or, really bad.

Turkey populations do not typically respond to dry winters the way most wildlife populations do. Overwinter survival, and hence spring populations, are highly dependent on winter food availability. Last fall, most areas of the state had good production of mast (acorns, pinyon pine seed and other seeds). This provides the food that turkeys heavily rely on throughout the winter. Couple ample food resources with an already robust turkey population, a good poult crop last spring, and little snow to limit their access to food, and there are likely to be excellent turkey populations in most parts of the state.

A year ago the Arizona Game and Fish Commission authorized a record number of spring permits for 2005, and hunters harvested a record number of gobblers. The number of permits offered in spring 2006 is another record. Many people are reporting encounters with large flocks of birds in areas where there have not been a lot of turkeys in the past.

Now for the bad news. The incredibly dry winter may result in turkeys breeding less predictably and moving to places that they normally don't inhabit until the snows melt later in the spring. Although abundant, turkeys might not be easy to locate because they may not be calling actively, and they won't be where they were in recent springs. And, despite the precipitation we received in March, it is possible the Forest Service may need to restrict access to some areas to deal with fire dangers. Check before you head out.

If you have a spring tag, be persistent. Turkeys will still be responsive during the spring season, and they will still come to calls; they may simply be quieter and more elusive than they usually are. If you are having difficulty finding turkeys, try a little higher elevation than what you are used to hunting. Consider varying your techniques by using a variety of calls, and try calling in mid-day as well as in mornings.

The only portion of the state where wildlife managers indicate that turkey populations have been lower recently is north of the Colorado River. For the past several springs, hunt success has been low on the Kaibab. However, hunt success jumped up this fall and the population is in good condition. The birds will be there, the odds just won't be stacked in your favor.

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Been hunting? 
Alex Howard gets her third Coues buck in as many years

Alex Howard, 12, of Safford, Ariz. took her third Coues buck in as many years this past season. After a failed stalk on a really big buck in the morning, she and her father Danny located a bedded buck later in the afternoon. Alex viewed the buck through the spotting scope and decided she wanted it. She had taken a three-point buck each of the past two years and wanted something different this year. A short stalk brought her to within 230 yards of the bedded buck.

Alex and her dad waited patiently for more than an hour for the buck to get up and move out into the open. Alex was a nervous wreck, but her dad helped her practice holding her aim on the buck. Her brother Chase wasn't helping matters, as he kept bumping into her as she was trying to aim. Alex's dad kept reassuring her that she would do fine, and he kept her brother away. When the buck got up and exposed itself to an open broadside shot, Alex finally took her shot and took a nice buck.

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The hunt recommendation process 
By Leonard Ordway, game branch chief, Arizona Game and Fish Department

"How do you determine how many deer permits to authorize for a unit each year?"

This is a common question our Game and Fish Department staff hears each year--not just for deer, but for all big game species. Some would say there is no rhyme or reason, but quite to the contrary, we do have a hunt recommendation process we follow each year. It is founded on two sets of factors--biological and social.

On the biological side, we have population index parameters for each species that we measure and evaluate each year to determine population status and available animals for harvest. In the case of deer, these parameters are buck-to-doe ratio, fawn-to-doe ratio and population abundance. These parameters are tracked similarly each year to determine trends. Our wildlife managers survey the deer population in their respective units during midwinter when the rut is ongoing. The surveys are conducted from aircraft as well from the ground--vehicle, foot or horseback. Survey efforts are directed to derive a statistically valid sample and to replicate previous years' efforts so that valid comparisons can be made.

We also monitor harvest and hunt success for each species through the hunter questionnaire program (yes, it is very important that you complete and return those little cards that we send to you in the mail each year), check stations and biological specimen collection. And finally, we work with the various land management entities to assess habitat trend and condition as it relates to harvest objectives and hunter access. All of this biological data is then evaluated against species-specific management guidelines to determine permit numbers and/or needed changes from preceding years.

For the social aspects of the process, the department works with and through the Arizona Game and Fish Commission to establish hunt guidelines. The commission, through the public commission order process, directs the department on how to distribute permits relative to hunt method (e.g., general, archery and muzzleloader), hunt type, hunter group, season timing, designated animal for harvest, bag limits and possession limits. During public meetings the commission takes department recommendations (based on the commission-approved guidelines) for hunts and shares them with the public. You are able to provide comment at these meetings and through other means to assist the commission in deriving the final commission orders for the various species.

On April 22, the commission approved the final commission orders for the upcoming fall hunting seasons (see article in this newsletter). The process took many months and involved an extensive amount of public input. We encourage your continued involvement in the process in the coming years. Visit azgfd.gov to stay informed as to upcoming commission meeting agendas and subsequent hunt regulations. Enjoy Arizona's great wildlife resources!

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Junior hunters 
Christopher Cox gets his first deer

Christopher Cox, 10, of Las Vegas, Nev. got his first deer last fall during the Arizona junior deer hunt in Game Management Unit 12AW. He hiked into the Kanab Creek wilderness area with his father, Donald Cox, and hunting buddy Sal Moccio. Chris spotted a group of does on a ridge and put all his practice at the rifle range to good use. He quickly found a steady rest and checked the yardage to the deer. The rangefinder reported 187 yards.

With a solid rest on a dead tree, Chris steadied the cross hairs on the point of the deer's shoulder and fired. The shot rang out and the doe dropped. Chris didn't need any tracking skills for this deer: It was waiting to be packed out right where it landed.

Chris developed a passion for hunting at an early age. "My dad loves to hunt, and ever since I was four years old, I'd think about his trips--whether it was just a local quail hunt or an African safari," he says. "I'd ask my dad about hunting, and he'd tell me everything I wished to know."

When he was six years old, Chris got a .22-caliber rifle from his dad for Christmas. His first hunt, for rabbit, helped stoke his passion for the sport and eventually led to a try at bird hunting with a 20-gauge shotgun. "Then came my first big game tag that allowed me to pursue a doe mule deer on the Kaibab," he says. "That was followed by my tag this year, which allowed me to get my first deer with a new rifle."

Chris's father Donald says, "Kudos to the Arizona Game and Fish Department for their junior hunt opportunities and reduced-price junior licenses. Hopefully, other state wildlife agencies will see the wisdom of not making kids wait until they're older to start hunting with an experienced mentor. In today's world, if they wait too long, other interests can get in the way of an outdoor lifestyle. And we need all the responsible outdoorsmen we can get to insure the future of our hunting and fishing heritage."

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Lots of changes this year to big game hunt seasons
Don't forget: You can apply online again this year

By Rory Aikens, public information officer, Arizona Game and Fish Department

Hunters will want to get copies of this year's hunt regulations when they are available online and via hunting license sales dealers: There are lots of changes this year to the big game hunt seasons, in large part to assist efforts to retain and recruit hunters.

The Arizona Game and Fish Commission on April 22 set the commission orders for deer, elk, pronghorn, turkey, javelina, bighorn sheep, buffalo, bear, and mountain lion, along with the small game hunting seasons, predator/furbearer seasons, and trapping seasons.

The newly adopted hunt regulations will be available online at the Arizona Game and Fish Department's Web site at azgfd.gov by the first week of May. The printed regulations should be available at license dealers throughout the state by mid-May. The fall hunt application deadline is 7 p.m. (MST) June 13. Hunters can again apply online for the big game hunts this year at azgfd.gov .

Here is a quick summary of changes this year:

  • The online application process is again available this year.
  • There are fall javelina big game hunt permit tags available this year.
  • Bonus points and loyalty points now also apply to javelina, turkey and bear.
  • A 10-percent non-resident cap now applies to bighorn sheep, buffalo, all antlered deer, bull elk, javelina, antelope and turkey. There is no longer a 15-percent bighorn sheep set-aside of hunt permit-tags for non-residents.
  • The $5 application fee per applicant will no longer be refunded on rejected applications.
  • Applicants must be 10 years old by deadline day (June 13) to apply for bonus points. However, if applying for a hunt, applicants must be 10 years old by the beginning date of any hunt they select.
  • Hunters are required to physically check-in for bear and mountain lion kills.
  • Archery deer hunters are still required to report their harvest; compliance for this requirement last year was low.
  • The 20-percent bonus point pass, meaning that 20-percent of tags in each hunt will be set aside for applicants with the highest number of bonus points, now applies to bighorn sheep, buffalo, antelope, bear, deer, elk, javelina and turkey.
  • Metro unit numbers and boundaries have changed. Units 4A and 5A also changed.

Game Branch Chief Leonard Ordway said the department conducted an exhaustive effort to come up with strategies and efforts to increase hunter retention and recruitment, including maximizing hunting opportunities where feasible. Those recommendations resulted in a lot of small structure modifications this year, and even some significant changes, such as establishing some limited fall hunting for javelina.

Other proposed changes, such as having an earlier draw for elk and pronghorn antelope, will be implemented next year (some require rule changes before being implemented).

Saturday's commission meeting wasn't the only time public input has been gathered during the hunt-regulation process. During January and February, the Arizona Game and Fish Department conducted 11 public meetings throughout the state that were attended by approximately 600 people. The department also received approximately 350 written comments, mostly via e-mail.

"Because of all the proposed changes this year, we received what may be a record amount of public comment, which shows we have a robust process in place," Ordway said.

One area of ongoing concern, Ordway said, is the lack of reporting this past year by archery deer hunters. He explained that as of last year, successful archery deer hunters were required to contact the Game and Fish Department by person or via phone within 10 days of harvesting a deer. Unfortunately, department analysis indicates that only 25 to 30 percent of the successful archers complied with the new requirement last year.

The archery report-in process was put in place to gather data on archery harvest rather than going to a full draw system for archery.

Ordway noted that both mountain lion and bear hunters have mandatory check-ins within 48 hours of harvesting an animal. "The mountain lion check-in requirement is new this year," he said.

A piece of good news, Ordway said, comes from the small game arena: the Gambel's and scaled quail harvest was almost 1.5 million birds this past season, which is the best quail harvest since the early 1980s.

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Stories from the field: successful HAM javelina hunt
By Jean Wilson, Yuma, Ariz.

The key to any hunt, big game or small, is being in the right place at the right time. And how do you figure what that right place at the right time may be? You don't, at least not for certain. Other hunters may disagree with me, but a lot of a hunter's success usually turns out being pure luck. We can prepare, we can scout and we can go by past experiences, but it still depends on what the animals will decide to do and when they'll decide to do it--like playing a guessing game.

When opening day of the 2006 HAM javelina season arrived, my son Kevin and I were more than ready. We had practiced long and hard with the pistols we planned to hunt with. We arrived at our campsite in Game Management Unit 18B near Bagdad, Ariz. the previous day, set up camp and were fully prepared to spend the full season going after our "choice" javelinas.

It was up and at 'em early that Friday. After eating a hardy breakfast, we headed for the hills where we "knew" the javelina were bound to be. After climbing up one hill after another, we prepared to head off to the right to the area we'd planned to hunt. But first, we used binoculars to scan down a hillside to the left.

Let me tell you right now how helpful (and necessary) binos are. They save foot power and energy like all get out! Binos helped us spot a herd of at least seven javelina, completely unaware of our presence, hanging toward the bottom of the hill. Kevin was the first to spot them. Shooting a Smith & Wesson Model 500 Magnum revolver, he chose his javelina and got his shot in first--an instant success. The animal rolled down the hill without another move of any kind. I followed, sighting in a javelina that was running up the hill. Shooting my Smith & Wesson .357-caliber Magnum pistol, I got my first javelina ever! After waiting a while, we crept our way down the hill and over to where Kevin's javelina was, got it field dressed, then went back uphill to recover mine and get it field dressed. Kevin's javelina weighed in at 48 pounds, mine weighed 52 pounds (field dressed). What a super hunt! We'll have some mighty fine meat for some time to come. But when I think about it, we still just happened to be at the right place at the right time.

I'd planned for my 12-year-old grandaughter, Cari, a graduate of the hunter education class in Yuma, to come down from Kingman for the long weekend to enjoy the hunt with us. Because our success came early, she didn't arrive in time, and she was definitely disappointed. She did, however, get in on the scouting to help other hunters in the camp area that weekend, and she is more than ready to try her luck on our next big game hunt (hopefully archery elk this fall).

During our hunt, we discovered a really useful tool. The T-Post Stepper by Lobo Products is tremendous in assisting a person climb over barbed wire fences that are on most mountains and tall hills. It's compact and inexpensive.

After getting back to camp and skinning our javelina for the trip home, we wrapped them in cheese cloth game bags and hung them in a tree for safe-keeping, then spent the rest of our hunt time assisting the other hunters in attempting to locate their javelina. Sadly, nobody saw any javelina in the area after ours were harvested. We would like to give a huge "thank you" to those other hunters who helped in hauling our javelina out of the field that first day out. Hunters are like that--they never hesitate to help others.

Conservation spotlight 

National Wild Turkey Federation, Arizona Chapter
By Bernardo P. Velasco, state chapter president

How did your group get started? The National Wild Turkey Federation started in 1973 at a time when there were only about 1.3 million wild turkeys in the entire United States (today there are about 7 million). This was particularly alarming to many turkey hunters nationally, who decided to take action. The current state chapter of the NWTF was started in 1993 by Judge Richard Fields, at that time a practicing lawyer in Tucson, Ariz. The state currently has 12 active chapters, with at least two or three more coming on board this year.

What is NWTF’s purpose? The NWTF works toward the conservation of wildlife and the preservation of hunting. As such, the organization works in partnership with the Arizona Game and Fish Department to transplant Merriam's wild turkeys within the state and relocate Gould's wild turkeys within the state and from Mexico. There are now Gould's in the following mountain ranges: Huachucas, Chiricahuas, Catalinas, Pinalenos, Galiuros and Santa Ritas. These populations appear to be thriving, and with a little luck and a lot of rain, hunting may soon be upon us. The organization is also actively involved in Guzzlers for Gobblers, which provides water development projects to help turkeys and other wildlife have sustainable access to water.

How many members do you have? There are now 500,000 members throughout the country. The state of Arizona has about 1,000 members. This number will increase as new chapters are formed in Prescott and Cottonwood, Ariz.

What else does NWTF do? The NWTF also sponsors events such as Women in the Outdoors, Wheeling Sportsmen (disabled hunters), and JAKES (youth) activities. Individual chapters throughout the state do charitable work by distributing turkeys on Thanksgiving Day and gifts at Christmas to the less fortunate.

While the conservation spotlight is shining on NWTF, what would you like to say? My message to the hunting public is, "Join the NWTF." We rank third in the nation for using monies raised for the express purpose they were donated.

How can people reach you? The Web site for the NWTF is www.nwtf.org. Arizona chapter information can be accessed from that Web site. The current state chapter president is Bernardo P. Velasco. You can contact him at (520) 205-4630 (work) or (520) 982-5457 (cell). The regional director is Jim Warren, who can be reached at (520) 237-5824.

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Volunteer opportunities for hunters 
By Sandy Reith, volunteer coordinator, Arizona Game and Fish Department

The Arizona Game and Fish Department’s volunteer program provides opportunities for volunteers to participate firsthand in managing Arizona’s wildlife resources. Our goal is to provide you with a congenial and cooperative atmosphere where you can build relationships with staff and other volunteers, and gain knowledge about Arizona wildlife and wildlife management. We recognize that your time is important and strive to provide rewarding and educational volunteer experiences.

We’ve listed some opportunities below that we think you might find interesting. To learn about other opportunities or to submit information about a project that would benefit from our volunteers, check our volunteer page.

May 20-21 (half-day on May 21)
Fence removal in the Big Lake area
Volunteers will help with fence removal. This project is being done in conjunction with the Arizona Elk Society. Contact Arizona Game and Fish Department Volunteer Coordinator Sandy Reith at (623) 236-7680.

Ongoing project: habitat restoration for pronghorn and grassland birds
Volunteers will be using loppers and hand saws to thin juniper south of Mormon Lake at Mud Lake, on Forest Road 82 (Kinnikinick Lake Road). Dates are May 20, June 17, July 22, Aug. 19, Sept. 23, Oct. 14, all at 8:30 a.m. Contact Arizona Game and Fish Department Volunteer Coordinator Sandy Reith at (623) 236-7680.

Ongoing project: range safety officers needed at Ben Avery Shooting Facility
Responsibilities include checking the safe condition of customer firearms, observing participants while they are shooting on the range, maintaining safe operation of the shooting line, and providing superior customer service by answering customer questions about firearms. Volunteers shoot for free at the Ben Avery Shooting Facility. Contact Arizona Game and Fish Department Volunteer Coordinator Sandy Reith at (623) 236-7680.

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Vol. 2 No. 2 April 2006
In this issue:

Manage your account:
Follow the link below to unsubscribe from this mailing, to change other account subscriptions or to change your e-mail address and contact information. Edit your account.

Visit the archives:
February 2006

December 2005

October 2005
August 2005

Send us your stories and questions! We welcome mail from readers and will feature the following in each issue:

Been hunting?
Do you have a photo and story you’d like to share about your recent hunting trip? We’d like to include one hunter's story in each issue of Hunting Highlights. Send your picture and a brief story to the Hunting Highlights editor.

Junior hunters
Do you have a photo and story about a youth hunt (your own, or that of your child or grandchild)? We’d like to share one junior hunter’s story in each issue of Hunting Highlights. Send your picture and a brief story to the Hunting Highlights editor.

Conservation spotlight
Are you excited about the mission and activities of your wildlife conservation organization? In the Conservation Spotlight, our readers will share your excitement. To get your group into the spotlight, e-mail the Hunting Highlights editor.

Ask a wildlife manager
Is there something you’ve always wanted to ask a game warden? All questions are fair game in this regular feature. If you’ve got a question for our wildlife managers, e-mail the Hunting Highlights editor.

Hunter education
Hunter education classes are scheduled throughout the year in many locations around the state. This list is updated weekly and new classes are being offered all the time.

If you are planning on hunting in another state, please check with that state well in advance of your hunt to see if proof of hunter education is required.

Remember our safety phrase: T.A.B. T=Treat every gun as if it were loaded. A=Always point your muzzle in a safe direction. B=Be sure of your target and what is beyond. Happy hunting!

News and notes

Legislative update

Several bills important to the hunting community have been making their way through Arizona's legislative process this session. Two that have been approved by the Legislature and recently signed into law by the governor are:


H2130 - Hunter Harassment. This bill makes it a class 2 misdemeanor for anyone to interfere with lawful hunting activity. It specifically lists eight violations.


H2127 - Nonresident Big Game Permits; Limits. This bill mandates that the Arizona Game and Fish Commission shall limit the number of big game permits awarded to nonresidents during random drawings to 10 percent or fewer of the total awarded. There is a provision that, in extraordinary circumstances, the commission may, at a public meeting, increase the number of permits issued to nonresidents in a random drawing if, on separate roll call votes, the members unanimously support the finding of an extraordinary circumstance and adopt the increased number of nonresident permits for the hunt. (Note: The Arizona Game and Fish Commission has separately approved administrative rules that limit nonresident permits to no more than 10 percent of the total on a per-hunt basis).


Another bill that has been approved by the Legislature and will be submitted to the governor for her signature is:


H2129 - Illegal Hunting; Penalties (with wildlife feeding amendment attached) - This bill increases the fines for the illegal taking of wildlife. The Arizona Game and Fish Department would be able to permanently revoke, or suspend for a period of five years or more, a person's hunting privileges for repeat violations, unlawful taking of trophy or endangered species, or taking three times the established limit. The bill creates a civil assessment and revocation system based on the number of convictions an individual has for unlawful taking or wounding of wildlife. Another provision in the bill makes it a petty offense to feed wildlife (with certain exceptions); this latter provision applies only in counties with a population larger than 280,000 people (currently Maricopa and Pima counties). A petty offense carries a fine of up to $300.

National Volunteer Appreciation Week

The week of April 23-29 is National Volunteer Appreciation Week. The Arizona Game and Fish Department would like to thank all of the volunteers who contributed their time and services in assisting the department with wildlife and habitat conservation projects. Your efforts are truly appreciated.

Game recipe
Chicken fried turkey
From bowhunting.net

  • 1 skinned, cleaned (without the innards), de-boned turkey
  • 1-1/2 teaspoon seasoned salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 egg
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • Honey!

Cut up skinned and de-boned turkey into strips suitable for frying. To make batter, combine flour, seasoned salt and pepper, then stir in mixture of egg and milk until well mixed. To cook, put enough cooking oil in a large skillet to cover the bottom to a level of approx. 1/2 inch. Heat oil to 375 F. Dip turkey pieces into batter, coating evenly. Put a few pieces at a time in the hot oil and fry until brown. Place on a towel and allow to drain. Now the best part! Serve lightly coated with honey.

Dates to remember
April 28: Spring turkey opens in selected units, opens May 5 in other selected units.
April 28: Archery-only spring bear opens in selected units, opens May 3 in other selected units.
May 31: Correction period deadline for correcting errors on manually submitted fall big game hunt paper applications.
June 13 (7 p.m. MST): Deadline for receiving fall 2006 big game hunt applications for deer, elk, antelope, bighorn sheep, turkey and buffalo.

Hot links


Thank you hunters!
Arizona’s rich outdoor heritage is enjoyed by all, thanks to hunters like you, whose purchase of hunting equipment supports wildlife management and habitat enhancement in the Grand Canyon State. When you purchase a rifle, ammunition, archery equipment and other sporting gear, you pay a federal excise tax and import duties. Since 1937, this money has been collected by the federal government and redistributed to the states using a formula based on hunting license sales and the state’s land area. In 2004, that meant over $5 million for game management in Arizona. This money paid for game surveys, hunter education classes, wildlife water catchment construction and wildlife research, among other projects. Hunters like you are part of the largest and most successful wildlife conservation programs in the world… Thank you.