The inaugural Wild Turkey Archery Hunt is underway at the U.S. Air Force Academy and if all goes as planned, it won’t be the last.
Twenty bow-and-arrow outdoorsmen, who were randomly selected from 290 applicants, have an opportunity to hunt wild turkeys in about a dozen designated areas on the Academy.
“The goal is to somewhat manage the Academy’s turkey population, hopefully by putting a little hunting pressure on them and maybe pushing them back from populated areas,” said Brian Mihlbachler, a natural resources manager with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, a federal agency that has a cooperative agreement with the Academy.
“Also, it will be another recreational opportunity to get out and enjoy an aspect of the Academy that most people don’t usually see. Most visitors hike the trails or go the cadet area. This is a chance to take advantage of a lot of open space right here outside the backdoor of Colorado Springs.”
Mihlbachler said the Fish and Wildlife Service had permitted some turkey hunting with shotguns in 2012 and 2013, but it proved to be an unsuccessful program.
“We had a lot of novice hunters and they had to be escorted,” he said. “It ended up taking too much time and resources, and not many birds were taken. Knowing the history of those hunts, knowing that the turkey numbers have been increasing and that we’ve been receiving inquiries about why we don’t hunt turkeys out here, we approached the commanders with the idea of an unescorted archery hunt. They approved it.”
Applications for the turkey hunt were taken in January and February, and the 20 finalists were selected by a random number generator. The program’s format called for dividing the 20 hunters into two groups of 10 each. The first group is currently hunting until May 3. The second will hunt from May 4 to May 26.
“The hunters range from novices to experienced archery veterans,” Mihlbachler said.
Each will be issued an over-the-counter license that allows them to take one male turkey during the spring season. All hunters have received a safety and security briefing and have downloaded a map that details the designated hunting areas on their smartphones via a GPS app. Before entering an area, hunters will be required to check in with the Academy’s 10th Security Forces Squadron and Natural Resources Office. Only one hunter at a time will be permitted in any area.
“It takes a lot of coordinating,” Mihlbachler said. “We’re most worried about people who are unfamiliar with the base. They know where the Academy is but they don’t know where they’re at when they’re on base. We’ve talked to them, had them come to a safety and security briefing and they have a map on their cell phones.”
Mihlbachler estimated that there are about 200 wild turkeys on the Academy.
“It’s not necessarily a case of being over populated,” he said. “But we want to manage it, to keep it at the level it’s at. They can be a nuisance in some areas like the officers’ club and the Rampart Lodge. Occasionally you’ll get birds that see their reflection in the glass windows at some facilities and they’ll start pecking at their reflection.
“Sometimes they’ll get aggressive toward people around vehicles. The birds see their reflection in the side of the vehicle and they start displaying and protecting their territory.”
Mihlbachler said that the Isaac Walton League helped build up the Academy’s turkey population during the 1970s, and in the past the Academy has worked with the Colorado Parks and Wildlife to relocate some of the birds to other areas of the state.
“Today, the state is pretty flush with turkeys so Parks and Wildlife is not so interested in coming here to remove them anymore,” he said.
If the current archery hunting program proves successful, Mihlbachler expects a fall turkey hunting session will be implemented at the Academy, again featuring a small number of archers. Applications for hunting permits will probably be taken in June and July, he said.
“I believe the only thing that will stop it is if people don’t follow the rules of checking in and checking out with the security forces,” he said. “We’ll again stick with 20 hunters and see how it goes.”