Today is opening day of Kentucky's late shotgun hunting season for wild turkeys, what might be considered the U-pick season for birds to grace Christmas tables later this month.
The weeklong hunt, Dec. 7-13, is the second of two fall hunting periods during which Kentucky hunters can use shotguns and can take turkeys of either sex. The earlier seven-day hunt opens on the fourth Saturday of October, Oct. 26-Nov. 1 this year.
In terms of conditions, the current shotgun turkey hunt might well be considered a winter season. Temperatures have had the opportunity to tumble since the October opening, but a huge change from then is the dropping of the fall foliage.
If it were difficult to evade turkey eyes a few weeks ago, it's extra challenging right now with the shrouding foliage now on the ground. Turkeys have so little sense of smell as to be inconsequential, but they have excellent hearing and their visual acuity is outstanding. And in an open woods, they don't miss much movement.
These keen senses make sneaking up on a turkey impractical at best and dangerous at worst. Because it's easier to slip up on another hunter, who might be visually confused by camouflage and partial glimpses, this maneuver raises the possibility of "mistaken for game" accidents.
Because stalking turkeys generally doesn't work and may endanger hunters, too, the clear advantage goes to ambush tactics.
Spring turkey season, when only bearded, "gobbler" turkeys can be taken, is a whole 'nuther sort of endeavor. The spring season occurs when the turkey breeding period is underway, and tom turkeys can be enticed to come to the sounds of hen turkeys faked by hunters using calls.
With no reproductive enticement out there now, calls have little to no attraction for the birds. Therefore, most hunters get best results from identifying commonly used travel areas used by flocks of turkeys between their evening roosting areas and places where they make the rounds, feeding out there in the wild neighborhoods daily.
A shortage of foliage on the trees puts a premium on hunters using effective camouflage and, even more so, minimizing movement that can give them away. Being still is the best camouflage. Some turkey hunters find that portable blinds are helpful in shielding their movement from turkey eyes, as the birds are not usually spooked by the appearance of the blinds where they had not been previously.
Another pro-active sort of fall turkey tactic is the scatter and call-back approach. Typically an opportunistic approach, when a hunter observes a flock of turkeys, he or she might close the gap on them covertly, then run at the bunch of birds, forcing them to retreat in a wing-flapping hurry. The purpose is served if the hunter can get the birds to scatter, flying off randomly.
Having broken up the flock, the hunter sometimes can plop down at the base of a nearby tree and start calling with the sounds of a hen or young bird -- yelps or "kee-kees." Oftentimes, suddenly lonely turkeys can be called, thinking they're rendezvousing with their flockmates, right at the spot where the flock was scattered. In this case, they might be drawn right back to a waiting hunter's gun.
The either-sex option of fall hunting seasons greatly widens the hunters' option for either ambush or scatter/callback tactics. Wildlife managers offer the either-sex option because of a typical surplus of hens or maturing poults in the fall, many of which won't survive until the spring reproductive season anyway.
Indeed, the mature gobblers are in shorter supply, and regulations are set to cushion the number of the older toms that are taken.
The harvest limit is four turkeys maximum per hunter for the entire fall hunting period, including shotgun, archery and crossbow hunting phases. Within that total limit, no more than two birds can be taken by shotgun. Another restriction is that no more than one of the four birds can have a beard of more than 3 inches in length, a factor to limit the taking of adult gobblers.
Each hunter age 16 and older must have a fall turkey permit as well as an appropriate hunting license. Youth hunters 12-15 in age can hunt with a youth hunting license and a youth turkey permit. Kids younger than 12 can hunt with exemption for both hunting license and turkey permit.
• Waterfowl hunters and fall/winter anglers especially should recall that a few wildlife refuge areas of the Land Between the Lakes are closed for the season to shelter migratory birds and other wildlife.
Parts of Duncan, Smith and Rushing bays on Kentucky Lake and Fulton Bay and Honker Bay on Lake Barkley are among those presently closed. The western one-third of Energy Lake is closed to all uses. All of Energy Lake and Bards Lake are closed to hunting, while the eastern two-thirds of Energy and all of Bards Lake remain open to hunting. Long Creek Refuge at the rear of Elbow Bay is closed to all uses. Hematite Lake and Honker Lake are closed to fishing and other boating activities, while the hiking trails around them remain open.
All the seasonal closures remain in effect through March 15.
Meanwhile, the Moss Creek Day Use Area on Kentucky Lake is closed through April 1.