Turkey troubles? WDFW may have solutions


A group of wild turkeys in a neighborhood yard.
Urban wild turkeys make themselves at home in a south Spokane neighborhood.

What goes great with a side of mashed potatoes but not so good with prized dahlias, haystacks, or your shiny new truck? Wild turkeys. While wild turkeys are fun for wildlife watching, they can be a nuisance to property owners in some situations. The good news is that they’re delicious and hunters come to Washington from all over the country to hunt them, so there may be help for you in the form of hunters if you are experiencing turkey problems on your property.

While native to parts of North America, wild turkeys were not originally in Washington state but introduced beginning in the early twentieth century. Additional introductions took place in the 1960s, 1990s, and as recently as 2003, which was a very successful effort. So successful that we now have “urban” turkeys as well as those in the wild.

“Landowners often find turkeys fascinating when a few show up on their property for the first time,” said Joey McCanna, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) Private Lands Section Manager. “The turkeys are initially welcomed instead of discouraged and become a problem when the flock increases each year and starts damaging personal property.”

Today, you can easily spot turkeys throughout most of Eastern Washington and the eastern foothills of the Cascade Mountains. Small populations also occur in Western Washington. There are three subspecies of turkey in Washington: the eastern subspecies in Western Washington, the Merriam’s subspecies throughout central Washington and the northeast, and Rio Grande turkeys in the southeastern corner of the state.

Turkeys like a wide variety of habitat, including mixed tree, shrub, and grass types but also thrive in urban areas. Often, their preferred habitat overlaps with humans. This is where they can be seen as a nuisance. Not only do they have a penchant for pecking and attacking windows, vehicles, or other objects that cast a reflection, they are also known for tearing up flower and food gardens, haystacks, and farmers field in their quest for food. Sometimes a large number of turkeys will roost on the roof of a house or business and leave a mess of droppings behind. They have even been known to become aggressive with pets and small children if habituated, defending their young, or during the mating season.

A turkey next to a garbage can in south Spokane.
A turkey on garbage day in south Spokane.

“There are some proactive steps people can take to discourage this behavior and keep turkeys from becoming too comfortable around humans,” said WDFW Private Lands Biologist Dean Nizer. “This includes not feeding turkeys (whether intentionally or accidentally such as through bird feeders), removing dense vegetation where they can root around and hide, and using bird spikes to keep them from roosting on buildings or fences.”

Once turkeys get comfortable though, those measures may not work. Hazing them with water hoses, paintball guns, scarecrows, and radios may work temporarily but often aren’t a permanent solution. One method that tends to have lasting results is lethal removal, which is where hunters can become heroes. Some landowners in WDFW’s Eastern Region 1 (made up of Asotin, Columbia, Ferry, Garfield, Lincoln, Pend Oreille, Spokane, Stevens, Walla Walla, and Whitman counties) are experiencing turkey damage to their property and would appreciate hunters taking a few of the big birds home from their land to make a nice dinner.

A young boy with two harvested turkeys.
4-year-old Boaz with two turkeys his father harvested in Asotin County.

If you’re a hunter who is interested in this, WDFW’s private lands access program helps to match hunters with landowners willing to let the public hunt their property. There are several kinds of access available to hunters through the program:

Feel Free to Hunt- Private lands where WDFW has a management agreement with the owner to provide public access for hunting. Hunters are not required to gain additional permission when hunting lands posted with a Feel Free to Hunt sign.

Register to Hunt- Private lands in which WDFW has a management agreement with the owner where hunting is regulated by registration. Hunters are required to sign in and sign out to hunt on properties posted with a Register to Hunt sign.

Hunt by Reservation- Private lands where an advance reservation permit issued by WDFW is required prior to hunting. In some cases, landowner contact may also be required. All rules of the WDFW Hunt by Reservation Program must be followed in addition to any special rules for the individual property including those posted at the site.

Hunt by Written Permission- Private lands where hunters must contact the landowner to obtain “written permission” before hunting on their property. WDFW provides signs and permission slips to landowners who make their lands available through this program. A landowner name and contact telephone number are placed on the Hunt by Written Permission signs so hunters can contact the appropriate landowner for permission.

Three men in camouflage consult a phone for directions.
Turkey hunters in Spokane County.

In Spokane County (where a hunter can harvest up to four turkeys in the fall and three in the spring), the Columbia Plateau Wildlife Management Association (CPWMA) recently added 1,000 acres in the Hunt by Written Permission Program. CPWMA is a non-profit charity corporation that manages thousands of acres of prime private property for hunting by members of the public. This property, outside the town of Tyler, is prime turkey hunting habitat and a great spot to hunt for them during the spring season. There is also a great 12-acre turkey habitat property that just became available on east Blanchard Road, north of Mount Spokane. While it is smaller than many in the program, this property is dense with turkeys.

The Hunt by Reservation Program also has a great spot for turkeys- 1,800 new acres at Long Lake (Lake Spokane) in Lincoln County that is accessible through the Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge. Because this property is part of the refuge, hunting isn’t usually allowed. Turkey hunting is allowed in the fall though, due to the large amount of the big birds on the property.

If you are interested in hunting any of those areas, or other private lands, reach out to the private lands biologist in your area. If you are a landowner outside of the city limits experiencing turkey damage we also encourage you to reach out to WDFW to explore management options. Staff may be able to connect you with hunters to help remove some of those turkeys and provide some additional services to improve habitat for other species.

“Landowners who enroll in the private lands access program can also get technical assistance to help improve fish and wildlife habitat on their lands and may be eligible for help applying for or implementing federal programs administered by the Farm Service Agency or the Natural Resource Conservation Service,” said Nizer. “There are also WDFW funded habitat programs that are also available in some parts of the state.”

For information on hunting turkeys on private property, having hunters hunt turkeys on your private property, or other topics related to fish, wildlife, or habitat on your private property, please go to WDFW’s private lands access webpage or call your regional WDFW office.



The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife is dedicated to preserving, protecting and perpetuating the state’s fish and wildlife resources.