Kids get opening shots at turkeys _lowres

Photo provided by RUSS HARRIS A great start on a first hunt Alex Parsons had a chance to get the jump on Louisiana's spring turkey season when he made a trip last weekend to Alabama with his dad, Tommy. On a cold morning in the Alabama woods, the 11-year-old Dunham School student and is dad were in the woods and setting up near a roost in last Sunday's predawn hours, but had to wait hours for this gobbler to come within range for his firwst-ever turkey. "We had encountered these birds the previous morning but could not close the deal. (Sunday) when they hit the ground, there were about 25 hens that were yelping, so our calls were no match for that. They eventually ended up in a field in front of us about 150 yards out and were strutting for about an hour and a half. We finally got them committed, all 25 hens passed within 25 yards of us before the three gobblers entered the woods," Tommy Parsons said. Alex's trophy weighed out at 20 pounds, had a 9 1-2-inch beard and 1 1/8-inch-long spurs. Louisiana youth and physically challenged hunters special weekend comes up next weekend, March 21-22 on private lands and the statewide opener for Areas A, B and C is March 28.

Turkey season 2014 was, for the most part, a bummer: An unusually cold spring set most of the state’s wild turkeys weeks behind on the usual breeding cycle.

“We try to set the (spring turkey) season during the peak of breeding behavior, and the weather during the early part of season made it very difficult to hunt last year,” State Turkey Study leader Jimmy Stafford said Friday.

That was then. This is now, and for the 2015 season that opens Saturday for a weekend of youth-only hunting and opportunities for the physically challenged among us — it’s private-lands-only hunting — the prospect is much better.

And much different, if only that you’re going to have to add insect repellent to your haversack.

That’s because last week’s rain came on a warming period that will get warmer this week. Most woodsmen know what that means — mosquitoes — and the best protection is a repellent with at least 20 percent DEET. Because the weekend is for youngsters, take care when applying DEET repellent to faces.

Other than the insects, Stafford said he expects spring-like conditions combined with 2014’s less-than-successful take to give hunters an advantage for the upcoming season.

“Everything in the woods is starting to bud out at the proper time of year,” Stafford said, adding that he and other field staffers are already hearing gobbling.

“By the time the season opens, the turkeys should be primed and ready. We’re expecting that some hens will be nesting, and that should make the birds more receptive to calling,” Stafford said.

And, Stafford said, hunters should be able to take more turkeys — the take is restricted to gobblers only — if only because there are carry-over numbers from last year on what was an average-to-poor 2013 take by hunters.

There’s another factor hunters likely will see when the season starts.

“Last springs condition’s were poor for reproduction,” Stafford said. “During last spring and summer, when we started looking for polts (young-of-the-year turkeys) in all five habitat regions, there was less than optimal reproductive success.

“Even in the stronger breeding areas, we rated ‘poor’ in reproduction, so hunters are not likely to see lots of jakes (year-old male turkeys),” Stafford said.

“So the big picture statewide, when compared to the last 20 years, is that the (turkey) populations are not where they’ve been.”

Need tags

Another point to the start of the turkey season is that all hunters, no matter their ages, need to carry the state turkey tags with them into the field. And, if successful on a hunt, the tag must be affixed to the gobbler before taking a bird from the field.

And safety

At that point of talking about tags and carrying that day’s trophy from the hunt, Stafford said turkey hunters have been increasingly diligent when it comes to hunting safety. Turkey hunting accidents are down dramatically in Louisiana during the past 20 years, and Stafford said he knew of only one accident last season, a morning when a hunter was “peppered” by shot, but suffered only superficial wounds.

“Most all injuries are preventable,” Stafford said. “With more hunters using some very realistic decoys, hunters need to remember to fold the decoys and put them in a backpack. And make sure when you put out the decoy, that you position yourself out of a direct line of fire from the other side of the decoy, that there’s an obstacle to keep a hunter from setting up directly opposite of your hunting spot.”

And it’s a good idea to wear Hunter Orange from the time you leave your vehicle until the time you return to head home.