On a recent walk with my puppy through the sleepy MSU campus, we stumbled across an American icon, the Merriam’s Turkey. A favorite target for Montana hunters in the spring, turkeys offer an abundant resource for the public to chase for quite a fair price. Along with black bears, these classic American game animals offer both a healthy, sustainable meal and an excuse for Bobcats to get out of the house while adhering to the CDC’s social distancing recommendations.
Turkey hunting can be enjoyable for novice and experienced hunters alike, as Merriam's themselves have somewhat diverse behaviors. In hilly country, such as the far southeastern portion of the state or the foothills throughout the western half, these birds can leave you hiking for miles chasing gobbles. In the river bottoms and agricultural lands, they can develop patterns nearly consistent to the minute. Figuring out the birds in your area requires plenty of study and scouting. Required gear for getting yourself a Tom, or male gobbler, is quite minimal. A 12 gauge shotgun with No. 4, No. 5 or No. 6 shot or your typical compound bow would both be great choices. A slate and mouth call are also somewhat essential, Rocky Mountain Game Calls makes some proper mouth calls, but there are plenty of slate calls you could choose from online at your favorite gear outfitter.
Black Bear offer the big game hunter a legitimate opportunity to run through the mountains again and cover large tracks of public land. The huntable behemoths can be found on south facing and other snow free slopes intensely looking for food to help recover from a long winter’s hibernation. Finding Bears requires high quality binoculars or a sporting scope in order to pick out the bears from other dark colored objects. Any big game rifle should be suffice. Clothing that can withstand mountain spring weather is potentially the most important tool for chasing these incredible animals. Outfitting yourself with the right clothes to keep you dry during spring rain and snow along with cool during warm afternoons is vital to your endurance and condition. Like any time in the backcountry, bring proper safety gear such as sufficient food and water, first aid, gps, bear spray and other backcountry necessities.
Finding opportunities to leave the house are strikingly rare during these unprecedented times. Through the most traditional of human experiences, finding yourself outside in our treasure of a state during the spring is a blessing, even more during this pandemic. This is even an activity your buddy can still join you in. Just drive different trucks to the spot and keep the distance you’d normally keep anyways (6 ft+) and enjoy a conversation you’ve been longing to have for the past month.
One of the ways you can really do your part during this pandemic is by staying home or away from people. I feel that the edge of a wheat field or the bottom of a river bottom would make rather fine “quarantine” locations. Before heading out to the mountains or the fields, find more information online about more of the specifics of hunting turkeys and bear on the Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks website fwp.mt.gov. With a few weeks to go before the seasons begin, this is a fantastic opportunity to become comfortable with these species even before you hit the field. With all the turmoil in the world surrounding the Coronavirus pandemic, I hope you also find a similar rewarding feeling from a spring hunt. Enjoy the pursuit, stay safe and Go Cats!