Wednesday, December 08, 2021
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More than turkey

by CONNOR LIESS Contributing Writer
| November 23, 2021 1:00 AM

Sure, everyone knows turkeys get all the limelight on the fourth Thursday of every November. Whether your bird is bagged from the wild, or from the freezer bin of Butterballs on aisle four, chances are that gobbler is getting front-row seats to your Thanksgiving supper this year. ‘Tis tradition after all.

But what about a new tradition this holiday weekend? A tradition that gets you and your loved ones outdoors, a tradition that opens opportunities for hunting, and potentially adds a new dish into the post-Thanksgiving potluck. No matter where you find yourself celebrating your Thanksgiving traditions in Idaho, chances are good there are hunting opportunities to be had close by.

These five Thanksgiving weekend hunts are available across much of the state, and serve as a great way to make the most of your holiday.

Wild turkey

While general fall turkey seasons have ended across much of the state, the chance to serve a wild bird at your next holiday feast is still an opportunity in Idaho’s Panhandle and Clearwater regions. Fall turkey hunts in Idaho have expanded over the years as turkey populations have increased. Quality hunting can still be found on both public and private lands in the Clearwater and Panhandle regions.

The general season in the Panhandle runs through Jan. 31 in management units 1, 2 (except Farragut State Park and Farragut WMA) 3, 4, 4A, 5 and 6. In the Clearwater, the season runs Aug. 30 through Jan. 31 in management units 8, 8A, 10A, 11, 11A, 13, 14, 15, 16 and 18. Finding a place to hunt can be as easy as looking at a map or asking a landowner for permission.

Hunters will need to adjust their hunting tactics during the fall season, as there is little or no gobbling activity and turkeys congregate in small groups. The basic hunting strategy is to find and break up a group, scattering them in all directions. Hunters then wait as near as possible to the spot where the group was first encountered. Younger birds will usually return within an hour while an old gobbler may take three to four hours.

For more information on wild turkey seasons and regulations, check out the 2020-2021 Idaho Upland Game, Turkey & Furbearer brochure online.

Late-Season Deer

Serving venison at Thanksgiving is becoming more and more of a Thanksgiving tradition, but if you missed the boat on harvesting a whitetail or mule deer during October, don’t panic. There are still opportunities to hunt into December in some units.

Archery, muzzleloader, and short-range weapon seasons are a great way to take advantage of a late-season deer hunt. Unit 39 offers archery hunting through Nov. 30, and some units in Eastern Idaho offer archers a slightly longer season.

Much of the northern part of the state, including the Panhandle and Clearwater Regions, also offer rifle hunters a chance at harvesting whitetails during late season. Be sure to review the unit you’ll be hunting to check for any unit restrictions, including Motorized Hunting Rule and limited access.

For more information on regular deer seasons and regulations, check out the 2021 Idaho Big Game Seasons & Rules brochure online.

Waterfowl

Idaho sits midway through the Pacific Flyway and attracts millions of migrating birds stopping over before their wintering habitats further south. Migrating waterfowl stop in Idaho to rest and fuel up at various Idaho waterways, ponds, lakes, marshes, fields, public parks and Wildlife Management Areas.

Fish and Game WMAs provide hunters an excellent opportunity to hunt various waterfowl species during the peak season late in November and December. Because WMAs are so geographically varied, hunting opportunities differ from region to region, and even between WMAs within a region.

If you’re new to the sport and want to get into waterfowl hunting this winter, don’t stress over the need to shell out tons of money on a boat or a truckload of waterfowl gear to have success. Jump shooting and pass shooting are both inexpensive ways to try your hand at duck and goose hunting. Using decoys, while a bit more costly and strategic, can also be a fun way to spend the long weekend.

No matter which method you go with, follow these helpful guidelines and put together a game plan to bag some birds that aren’t turkeys this Thanksgiving weekend.

For more information on waterfowl seasons and regulations, check out the 2021-2022 Idaho Migratory Game Bird brochure online.

Squirrel, rabbit and hare

Found across much of the state, rabbits and squirrels offer an incredibly exciting late-fall hunt for both freshman and senior hunters. Armed with nothing more than a valid hunting license, a small-gauge shotgun or .22 long rifle, and savvy marksmanship, hunters can spend the holiday weekend hunting these often-overlooked game animals. Hunters can harvest up to eight squirrels and eight rabbits in one day, a great way to fill up the Crockpot.

There are a number of squirrel species in Idaho, but only the red squirrel is classified as a game animal. You shouldn’t have too much trouble finding them if you use your ears: red squirrels aren’t shy about telling intruders to get off their property. They are solitary and very territorial, with ranges that stretch between two and five acres.

You’re likely going to have to do some hiking to fill your bag limit, but there are worse ways to get exercise than hiking around Idaho’s picturesque forests. If you can find a midden, which are typically near the center of a squirrel’s territory, you are likely to find the squirrel that built it.

Cottontails on the other hand can be found near agricultural land and in the brushy, rocky areas of Idaho’s sagebrush country, so keep your eyes peeled around edge habitat. They like dense sagebrush, thick plants along a streamside or the brushy edges along a forest, and are most active in the couple hours after sunrise and before sunset. Cottontails are commonly hunted with dogs, but hunters without a dog can still have success. Hunters should be aware that in much of Idaho, the cottontail's range overlaps with the pygmy rabbit, for which there is not a hunting season in Idaho.

If you're at higher elevations with forests, snowshoe hairs are another game animals available during winter.

For more information on red squirrel and rabbit seasons and regulations, check out the 2020-2021 Idaho Upland Game, Turkey & Furbearer brochure online.

Chukar/Gray Partridge

Chukar and gray partridge season runs through Jan. 31, 2022, giving upland hunters an excellent opportunity to hunt exciting uplands birds that are commonly found on public land. If you're unfamiliar with the "chukar life", check out this video to see what it's all about.

All one needs is a valid Idaho hunting license, a shotgun, and a good sense of chukar and gray partridge habitat. Distributed mostly across southern and throughout the Snake River up to Lewiston area, these upland birds can be found near river drainages and steep, rocky canyons with grassy, brushy vegetation. The Salmon, Snake and Boise Rivers are all excellent places to explore, as well as the vast, open canyonlands of the Oywhee River country.

For more information on chukar and gray partridge seasons and regulations, check out the 2020-2021 Idaho Upland Game, Turkey & Furbearer brochure online.

Connor Liess is a public information specialist for Idaho Department of Fish & Game.