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Art Lander’s Outdoors: Kentucky’s spring wild turkey season opens April 6 with youth-only weekend

A wet March, combined with the extended forecast of seasonal to above-normal temperatures in April, is a good reason to be optimistic.

Kentucky’s 2019 spring wild turkey season starts tomorrow, with the opening of the youth-only season, the weekend of April 6-7.

The 23-day general statewide season begins the following Saturday, April 13, and runs through Sunday, May 5.

Seasonal weather is good for turkeys and turkey hunters. On clear, warm mornings, there’s more gobbling, and good hunting weather translates into a higher hunter turnout. Hunting in the rain is no fun, and most hunters stay home.

In Kentucky, the spring turkey hunting season opens after the first peak of gobbling. The season is timed to give gobblers a chance to begin breeding hens before they are subjected to hunting pressure. (Photo provided)

Our wet winter means Kentucky’s woods and fields will have a robust green up, and by mid-April, turkeys will have lots of food options — grasses, clovers, and winter wheat in fields, with tender forbs in woodland edges.

The greening woods will also provide cover for hunters, making it easier to move on gobbling toms without being seen, and after the hatch, thick foliage will help young turkey poults escape predators.

Arguably, it’s been a late spring, but hopefully, a quick warm-up will fire up the turkeys — dominant gobblers will begin collecting a harem of hens, and hens will begin to look for places to nest.

When you see single hens roaming around that’s always a good sign that breeding is close, or just getting underway. A wild turkey’s home range is less than 2,000 acres, but hens have a larger home range than gobblers.

“Biologically, photoperiod (length of daylight) is the trigger for breeding,” said Zak Danks, wild turkey program coordinator for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources (KDFWR).

But a fast warm-up would certainly help encourage breeding-related activities.

Turkey Harvest Decline in 2018 Due to Poor Reproduction

Last spring, hunters reported taking 27,255 turkeys, according to harvest figures posted on the department’s website.

That’s a 17.58 percent decline over the previous year’s harvest of 33,072, and the first harvest decline in the past five seasons.

Logan County led all counties in harvest with hunters reporting 530 birds taken. Rounding out the top 10 counties were: Pulaski, 512; Muhlenberg, 510; Hardin, 503; Grayson, 450; Ohio, 445; Hart, 421; Hopkins, 417, Wayne, 412, and Breckinridge, 412.

Kentucky’s record harvest during the spring wild turkey season occurred in 2010, when 36,097 birds were reported taken.

Turkey reproduction is monitored with an annual brood survey, conducted during July and August, each summer since 1984.

In 2017, a record number of 159 persons filed 1,800 wild turkey observation reports from across the state, which was used to calculate a poult per hen ratio, which reflects the reproductive success of the flock.

The state’s turkey population is estimated to be more than 300,000, with flocks in 72 counties stabilized, 31 counties where populations are continuing to grow, and 17 counties where flocks have shown noticeable declines.(Photo provided)

In 2016 and 2017 the statewide poult per hen ratio was below the optimal level of 2.0.

“The 1.3 poult per hen ratio in 2017 was the lowest on record, and 41 percent below the 10-year average (2009-2017),” said Danks.

As a result, hunters will see fewer numbers of two-year old gobblers this season. The record low reproduction was also noticeable by the percent of juvenile gobblers in the harvest, which fell to 12.2 percent last season.

But the good news is the poult per hen average rebounded substantially in 2018, up 54 percent, Danks said.

Inclement weather during the nesting period in May and June is what causes turkey reproductive success to drop below optimal levels.

High water from flash floods can drown out nests in lowland habitat, and a cold rainy period can lead to increased mortality from hypothermia.

The hen will try to protect her newly-hatched young by keeping them under her wings and body, but extended periods of cold, wet weather cause many poults to die.

Timing of the Season / Population Estimate

In Kentucky, the spring turkey hunting season opens after the first peak of gobbling.

The season is timed to give gobblers a chance to begin breeding hens before they are subjected to hunting pressure. The reason why hunters don’t see many hens during Kentucky’s general season is because they are beginning to nest, laying a dozen or so eggs during a two week period.

According to the 2018 Kentucky Wild Turkey Status Report, the state’s turkey population is estimated to be more than 300,000, with flocks in 72 counties stabilized and 31 counties where populations are continuing to grow. However, there is some concern that flocks in 17 counties have shown noticeable declines.

2019 Spring Turkey Season Regulations

Shooting hours for both spring seasons are 30 minutes before sunrise to 30 minutes after sunset.

The bag limit for turkey hunting in the spring is two (2) birds with visible beards. No more than one (1) bird may be taken per day.

Turkeys taken by youths during the youth-only season count toward the spring turkey bag limit. Details of all harvested turkeys must be logged — written on the back of paper hunting licenses, and all harvested turkeys must be checked in over the telephone or online.

Anyone may call turkeys, or assist in the hunt. Callers and assistants are not required to possess a hunting license or turkey permit, and may carry equipment while in the field.

To read all the spring wild turkey season regulations consult the Kentucky Spring Hunting Guide: fw.ky.gov.

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Art Lander Jr. is outdoors editor for KyForward. He is a native Kentuckian, a graduate of Western Kentucky University and a life-long hunter, angler, gardener and nature enthusiast. He has worked as a newspaper columnist, magazine journalist and author and is a former staff writer for Kentucky Afield Magazine, editor of the annual Kentucky Hunting & Trapping Guide and Kentucky Spring Hunting Guide, and co-writer of the Kentucky Afield Outdoors newspaper column.

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