In my column last week I wrote that in view of what has been happening to wild turkey populations the last few years, we need to ease off the hunting pressure somewhat by re-arranging the youth season – by setting it after the regular season instead of before. We should think about shortening the regular season somewhat, and, until we see an increase in the two and three year old gobblers, cutting back to one tom per spring instead of two.
Of course, that upset some readers, especially those who take young hunters that special weekend. One fellow pointed out that it is the one time he gets to take his son out into the woods and have special time with him. In a way, that really irks me. When I was a boy seven or eight years old, and for many years to come, there was no turkey season. So I guess it follows to reason that Dad and I never spent any time together. But on that weekend that is now the “youth turkey season,” we were on the river fishing for goggle-eye, bass and green sunfish. On weekends before and after, all year long, he taught me how to set trotlines for catfish, how to shoot by taking me out to hunt squirrels, rabbits, ducks and quail. Dad looked down on deer hunting because it was a time for the red-clad crowd to descend on the Big Piney country from the city. On such times, he and I might build a johnboat together.
The point is, when someone says that having a “youth season” makes it a time for fathers to spend time with their sons, I wonder what the heck is wrong with them. I will tell you a little about the youth season… it is a time in many situations each spring, for a man to take out a boy and shoot a turkey or deer illegally, while the kid watches, and in some cases doesn’t even go. The grown-up finds a field edge he can bait with corn all winter, set up a store-bought camo blind and just about insure that gobblers will be there. Sure, I know it likely is a minority of men who shoot deer and gobblers during the youth season, but it is darn sure too many.
If the special youth seasons for deer and turkey are the only times you spend outdoors with your son then you are not much of an outdoor dad. My father worked at a shoe factory 15 miles from our home, but often he would get home in the evening and we would go down to the Piney and bait a trotline which I would run the next morning. Some evenings we would seine bait or dig nightcrawlers, or prepare some traps with my grandpa for an upcoming trapping season. We were together outdoors constantly, with no deer or turkey in mind. If the youth season for turkey in the spring is all you have for your son, you don’t have much.
Those who do not want to see any turkey season restrictions often cite weather or predation as a problem, and they are right. My old friend, Darrel Hamby, sent me a note that said the biggest adverse effect is the fact that nesting turkeys “have no friends” citing the crows as destroyers of so many nests. He is right. They are intelligent enough to watch hens and find nests. I think right now we have more raccoons, skunks, possums and weasels than ever before in my lifetime. Add armadillos to that and you see why the number of eggs per spring is declining.
Then figure the growing numbers of feral hogs. It is surprising how few turkey hunters know what feral hogs do to turkey nests. But it isn’t only turkeys that all these critters affect. It surprises me when I talk to most of today’s outdoorsmen, that so many never even hear whippoorwills in the world where they live, but that bird, a woodland ground-nester, is ever decreasing in number because of egg-eaters, number one and two among them being the armadillo and feral hogs, which weren’t even found in the Ozarks when I hunted wild gobblers with such success 20 or 30 years ago.
Hunter numbers rise every spring and big trees are being leveled everywhere. Yes, the big problem is weather and nest predation… But if you blame every thing else but hunting pressure, you aren’t looking past your own nose. all of these have contributed to what I see annually as a problem for decreasing numbers of turkeys. We can’t do anything about the weather, but we can indeed do something. We can take a good look at hunting pressure, and accept the fact that it is indeed part of the problem and it needs to be addressed somehow. And we can do something about feral hogs… I will talk about that in next week’s column.
In the meantime if you are a father wanting to spend time with your son, instead of taking him out to set at the edge of a green field in a blind, take him to the Big Piney that week-end and fish for goggle-eye. You won’t have to buy a special tag, and of course that will mean less money for the conservation department. But with their 200 million dollar budget, they can absorb the loss.
I am busy this month managing brown-headed cowbirds, the birds which destroy the eggs of songbirds which have open nests, then lay their own eggs for robins, cardinals, etc. to incubate and raise.
They are more numerous here on Lightnin’ Ridge than ever before and my management tools consist of a very accurate 22. rifle. But don’t get the idea that I am killing them. Heavens no, I am just frightening them away. It is just as illegal to kill one as it is to kill a copperhead or a woodrat in your shed or a crow in your garden. Because as that an MDC agent recently kept reminding us on a local radio station… “If we don’t say you can, you can’t.”
I will relate in next weeks column what my get together with MDC director Sara Pauley amounted to, to this point. I urge you to find a copy of the summer Lightnin’ Ridge Outdoor Magazine, now on news-stands, where you can read about things concerning the MDC that I have discussed, which many newspapers are hesitant to print. Check my website each week for those column… larrydablemontoutdoors.blogspot.com or read the columns on lightning ridge publishing—facebook. If you can’t find the magazine, call our office to obtain one. The number is 417/777- 5227. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org The post office address is Box 22, Bolivar, MO 65613.
TURKEY NUMBERS DOWN – The success of this springs wild turkey reproduction will not be easy to determine until the upcoming winter, when young birds flock together and are easily countered. But last fall, this was a place where, eight or 10 years ago, the fall gathering numbered 50 birds or more.