The opportunity to point a shotgun at a big gobbling bird may expand in southwestern Montana in 2018.
The Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission last week gave initial approval to a Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks proposal to end the limited permit system for turkey hunting in the southwestern part of the state and move to a general license opportunity — meaning any hunter could go buy a turkey tag.
John Vore, FWP’s game management bureau chief, said the increased opportunity would give hunters a chance to help control the expanding turkey population, which has made the bird a nuisance in some places.
“We’re seeing a lot of turkeys,” Vore said. “And they’re doing very well.”
Turkeys are hunted in the spring and in the fall. The fall season, with a few exceptions, is typically for either sex. The spring is for males only and begins in April, just after the animals breed. The spring turkey season is one of the only hunting opportunities available at that time of year. The commission’s final vote is scheduled to take place before the spring season.
Current regulations require those seeking to hunt male turkeys in the spring in Region 3 to apply by March 2 for one of 400 licenses. There are also 100 licenses available for hunters between the ages of 12 and 15. There are 250 licenses available for the fall season along with 25 youth licenses.
Wild turkeys aren’t native to the state, but they’ve been around for six decades. In 1954, biologists introduced a group of 13 Merriam’s turkeys to the Judith Mountains in central Montana, the first introduction in the state.
A few other introductions took place before the 1960s arrived, but the stocking largely stopped. Capture and relocation programs moved the turkeys around Montana.
Population growth depends a lot on the weather, said Collin Smith, a biologist with the National Wild Turkey Federation. Harsh winters and wet springs can make life tough, while milder weather can help a population thrive. The population is always fluctuating, Smith said.
He added that the big birds have done fairly well in southwestern Montana in the last few years, and that he supports the idea of expanding hunting opportunities.
“We’ve seen some increases throughout the region,” Smith said. “When the numbers are up, we certainly need to be providing opportunity.”
Dan Vermillion, chairman of the Fish and Wildlife Commission, said hunters would be happy to see the opportunity expanded in this part of the state. He said there’s more demand for turkey hunting opportunity now than 15 or 20 years ago, and that spring turkey hunting is one of very few legal spring hunting opportunities.
“People are seeing more of them, and it’s a really fun spring hunt that people really enjoy,” Vermillion said.
The commission is taking public comment on the proposal until Jan. 24. The proposal also asks to make the same change in Region 2 and to allow crossbows during the fall season. A final decision is expected in February.