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Turkey season perking along, may improve as hens go nesting

By STEVE VANTREESE

Just over halfway through Kentucky's spring wild turkey gobbler season, the state's hunters are roughly two-thirds en route to what's become a conventional harvest level â “ and perhaps that's about right.

Today puts hunters in the woods and fields for the third weekend of the statewide April 12-May 4 season. The 23-day season encompasses four weekends, each of which plays prominently in the harvest because of more participation then. The earlier weekends typically bring the biggest harvests.

Going into this weekend, hunters had taken about 21,000 bearded turkeys, that harvest including two weekends of the regular season and the early youth season April 5-6.

The routine total spring harvest nowadays is something over 32,000 birds. The spring take has been better than 32,000 every year since a harvest record of 36,097 birds in 2010. Last year, after a few seasons of lower turkey reproduction, hunters took 32,444 birds in the spring.

Hunters seem to have mixed views on what's left of the season. Some lose heart and interest after the first couple of weekends, opining that the best part of the season is over. Others think the latter days of the season bring an advantage with progression of the turkeys' breeding season.

On the negative side, after two weeks of hunting, turkeys may show the effects of hunting pressure. After having heard much hunter calling and encountering the presence of more than normal numbers of people in the woods and fields, turkeys grow more guarded. Hunters in the late season tend to find turkeys more shy of calling, especially frequent, aggressive calling.

On the positive side, later in the season typically brings a transition of more hens to nesting activity. Late, more hens have been bred, and as those lady birds slip away to form nests, to lay eggs and to sit on those eggs, their absence begins to trouble the neighborhood tom turkeys. As nesting activity increases, gobblers grow lonesome and more willing to go to what seems to be hen presence nearby â “ and in some cases these are persistent turkey hunters who have been waiting for this development.

Earlier this season, some birds reportedly were running behind in the normal rituals of breeding behavior because of remnant cold weather.

Since then, thousands of Kentucky hunters obviously have had success as Telecheck harvest reporting shows. However, many hunters also have reported a high percentage of turkey gobblers being "henned up," that is, resistant to calling and decoys because there were in the company of real, live hens.

Where that has been valid, late season hunting may be improved as more hens are bred and slip away for nesting. Calling â “ especially moderated in volume and frequency â “ well may become more effective as gobblers find fewer girlfriends available.

n A former Paducahan who earned his crappie fishing wings on Kentucky Lake and Lake Barkley is on a roll at his adopted home waters of Virginia's Kerr Lake/Bugg's Island. Tim Merry, nowadays of Midlothian, Va., has taken four crappie of 3 pounds or larger in the past couple of seasons.

Merry's best was a 3.75-pound, 18-inch black crappie that was the biggest recorded in Virginia in March of last year.

Merry and a fishing partner were runners-up in a recent regional crappie tournament, a season-capping Bobcat's Virginia/Carolina Crappie Trail contest. They finished with 11.27 pounds in a seven-fish tournament limit.

n Hunters seeking permits for 2014 quota elk hunts in Kentucky's southeastern restoration zone have but a short time to apply: The deadline in Wednesday.

Indeed, online applications for 1,000 general permits and 10 youth permits to hunt elk this fall must be made before midnight on April 30. Applications are taken through the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources website, www.fw.ky.gov.

KDFWR officials encourage applicants to not wait until the last minutes to apply. An expected late crush of applicants could prevent some would-be hunters from getting their entries into a computer lottery for permits before the deadline.

With an estimated 10,000 elk in 16 southeastern counties nowadays, this season's harvest limit, based on tags to be issued, will be 250 bulls and 750 cow elk.

Applicants will vie for 150 firearms permits and 100 archery/crossbow permits for bull elk, and 460 firearms permits and 290 archery/crossbow permits for cow elk. The most sought permits are those for bull elk in firearms hunts. Conversely, the least competition is for archery/crossbow permits to take cow elk.

Last year's lottery draw saw the odds of drawing a bull firearms permit go to 1 in 134. Meanwhile, applicants ran into a 1-in-13 chance of drawing a cow archery/crossbow permit.

The cost of entering the elk permit draw is $10 per hunter.

n The River-to-River Trail Society of southernmost Illinois is hosting at free guides hike today in the Hayes Creek area of Pope County in the Shawnee National Forest. The trek will be led by Eric Johnson.

Participants will meet at 10 a.m.at the Shawnee Mart along Ill. 145 at Eddyville.

The group's next jaunt will be a hike May 3 in the Bald Knob Wilderness area on the Bridgeman/Lyerla Chapel Trail in Union County. Kelly Pearson of the U.S. Forest Service will lead the trek. Hikers will meet at 10 a.m. on that date at the Godwin/River-to-River Trailhead on Bald Knob Road, 2 miles west of Alto Pass.

More information: Gillum Ferguson, 630-357-9651.

Steve Vantreese is a freelance outdoors writer. E-mail outdoors news items to outdoors@paducahsun.com or phone 270-575-8650.

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