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Reproduction lag reflected in lower turkey gobbler harvest

By STEVE VANTREESE

Kentucky's recent spring wild turkey season took a step back in harvest this year, but no more so than might have been anticipated.

With the close of the season when shooting hours ended this past Sunday, Kentucky hunters settled for 29,893 birds. That might sound good except that the harvest has been on the plus side of 32,000 the past four springs.

Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources' turkey program chief Steven Dobey said the downturn in harvest primarily points to a drop in reproduction success. Poult counts per hen have been lower in recent seasons.

Dobey said the average poult count in 2012 was poor. That's significant to the recent season's lower harvest because the gobblers from that reproduction year are the primary class of birds for hunters to target, the 2-year-old toms.

If the2-year-olds were a bit scarce this year, the older, wiser 3-year-olds were even more difficult to come by. Dobey said the 2011 reproduction class that would have produced those gobblers was extremely poor.

Managers, indeed, are hoping for a turnaround in nesting success for turkeys this spring. Even beyond Kentucky's borders, poult numbers have been on the lean side regionally for the past few seasons. Managers in Kentucky and surrounding states are looking for a swing back to bountiful nest production.

It was high nest production and poult survival that led to a bump in gobbler availability, realized by Kentucky's standing record spring harvest in 2010. That spring hunters took 36,097 birds.

The recent season's harvest is the lowest since the record 2010 kill. While the number of mature gobblers seems to be down, the harvest was supported at least to a moderate level by an estimated overall turkey population of about 220,000 statewide.

Dobey said a hen population that may be as high as it ever has been promises another upturn in spring harvest success if weather and other variables will allow gobbler numbers to flair with improved brood success and survival.

To put this year's 29,893 spring harvest in perspective, however, it exceeds the take of tom turkeys across Kentucky in every year prior to 2010. The 2009 spring harvest was 29,007 â “ and at the time, that was the modern record.

Kentucky's statewide five-week spring squirrel hunting season begins next Saturday, May 17, and runs through June 20.

n A career wildlife biologist, hunter and angler is the new chief of the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources.

Gregory K. Johnson, 58, of Lexington has been named as the commissioner heading the state's fish and wildlife management agency. Johnson was a recent unanimous pick of the nine-member Kentucky Fish and Wildlife Commission.

Johnson is retired from more than 30 years of service in the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service. He served as a district and area conservationist, NRCS administrator, NRCS state specialist for Kentucky, then as specialist for the eight-state Midwest region. He finished his NRCS career in 2011 after conservation, technical and financial executive roles in Washington, DC.

A graduate of Eastern Kentucky University, Johnson holds a degree in wildlife management with minors in fisheries biology and chemistry. A life-long outdoorsman, he once worked as a fishing guide before his career in fish and wildlife management.

Johnson begins his role as KDFWR commissioner on Friday.

He replaces Jonathan Gassett, who resigned the agency's top job in September amid an ethics investigation by the state's Attorney General's office. Gassett eventually was fined $7,500 for infractions including use of department employees for a task at his home and for a personal use of a departmental shipping account.

n Another game quest is opening Friday. It might be hunting with a gun or bow, gigging or even a sort of fishing, but the long-haul bullfrog taking season starts next week, running May 16 all the way to Oct. 31.

The bullfrog season starts as usual at noon on the third Friday of May and runs through October. Most who engage in the frog pursuit do so by night, but once the season kicks in, it's a 24-hour opportunity. The standard season limits are 15 frogs daily â “ or more realistically, nightly â “ and 30 in possession.

To be legal in frogging pursuit, someone hunting with a gun or bow must be credentialed with a hunting license. If one uses a pole and line as when presenting a bug-type lure to hook frogs, a fishing license is required.

Many froggers take their quarry by gigging or they may simply sneak in close and grab them by hand. A hunting or fishing license will suffice.

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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