Turkey gob gobblin'

Kentucky’s youth turkey hunt comes when tom turkeys typically are engaged in the peak of breeding behavior, including gobbling.

It is turkey time again with the onset of Kentucky’s youth spring gobbler hunting season.

The special early season for adult-accompanied kids who have not reached the age of 16 is today and Sunday, the first weekend in April. The adults can assist and must stay in close contact with their young charges, but only the kids can take turkeys.

It is the first spring turkey hunting open in Kentucky, so the youth season offers the bonus of allowing junior gobbler seekers the opportunity to hunt when the big birds are yet to grow wary over hunter incursions.

Along with a lower level of wariness now, the April 3-4 season may find turkeys a bit distracted with their breeding season typically at a peak in the first few days of the month. At the least, behavior linked to the reproductive rituals works in hunters’ favor. In particular, excited tom turkeys are more inclined to sound off with gobbles that give away their location and directs hunter tactics.

Each youth hunter must be accompanied by an adult, someone age 18 or older, who must stay in position to take control of the kid hunter’s shotgun (or bow or crossbow) at all times. The reason for the adult overseer, of course, is guidance, especially in controlling the youngster’s shooting.

The kid hunter’s chaperone can assist, including the calling of turkeys. The overseer essentially can do all but take the shot.

Each youth hunter age 12-15 must have a youth hunting license and youth spring turkey permit. Also, hunters 12-15 are required to have certification from completion of an approved hunter education course.

Young hunters under age 12 are exempted from license and turkey permit requirements as well as hunter education completion. They are still eligible to hunt if they have the standard close adult supervision.

All other turkey hunting regulations are the same for youth hunters as for adults.

The youth hunt harvest applies to the overall spring gobbler season limit, which is two male turkeys or turkeys with visible beards for the entire spring season. Youth hunters also can take part in the regular spring gobbler season.

The “turkeys with visible beards” wording covers the taking of easily mistaken-for-gobbler bearded hens. About 1% of Kentucky’s spring harvest is made up of bearded hens. (If you are in doubt about this beard thing, know it has nothing to do with chin whiskers. A beard is a cluster of bristling hairs that grow from a turkey’s breast. It is a gobbler that usually boasts a beard, but as noted, occasionally a hen turkey does, too.)

If a hunter is to take two gobblers during the season, they must be taken on different days. Regulations limit each hunter to no more than one turkey harvested on any single day.

A youth turkey permit allows the taking of a single gobbler. A successful youth hunter can buy a second youth turkey permit that will allow him to take a second gobbler. The thing that is most exciting to many about the youth turkey season is that it is followed in short order by the regular spring gobbler hunt. That all-ages hunting period begins two weeks after the youth season. This year’s spring gobbler season runs April 17-May 9 throughout Kentucky.

• No black bears presently call western Kentucky home, but people of this region are well aware that there is an expanding bruin population in the eastern end of the commonwealth.

Each spring there are reports of bears, young males seeking their own territories, making wandering swings that take them through central Kentucky counties. Each year, as the resident population expands, they seem to come closer and closer to the western region, even if only during temporary meanders.

What western Kentuckians often overlook is that there is a growing black bear population considerably nearer in the opposite direction.

The Missouri Department of Conservation just recently announced that state’s first modern black bear hunting season this fall, Oct. 18-27. The hunting will be highly restricted through a lottery-drawn permit system and harvest quota in three bear management zones.

However, the fact that any bear hunting and harvest will be allowed reflects recognition that Missouri’s own population of black bears is growing. MDC study indicates that there is an estimated population of 800 bears located in the state south of the Missouri River.

From this pool of southern Missouri bruins, the first season would allow a maximum hunter harvest of 40 animals over the three bear management areas.

As in Kentucky, Missouri historically held an abundant black bear population that was heavily affected by unregulated hunting and habitat loss from initial deforestation. Unlike Kentucky, Missouri’s bear population was never completely wiped out. A few stragglers survived.

In eastern Kentucky, bears began to re-establish themselves with incursions from bear populations in West Virginia, Virginia and Tennessee. In southern Missouri, remnant bear numbers expanded from reproduction, helped by bear reintroduction efforts in bordering Arkansas.

MDC research shows that the resident black bears in southern Missouri are increasing in numbers by about 9% each year.

The population is expected to double in less than a decade.

Here in far western Kentucky, the hotbed of this state’s re-established and expanding black bear population is about 300 miles to the east. But looking to the west, say, the Current River corridor of southeast Missouri, is only about 200 miles away.

That is 100 miles closer as the crow flies — or as a bear wanders.

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

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