Those are special birthdays, the ones which we will remember for a lifetime because they connect with a specific event.
For Jameson Rausch that will be his 10th, the one in which he bagged his first wild turkey.
It happened in central Greenup County last weekend, which was set aside by the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources as a Special Youth Hunt for boys and girls age 15 and under.
We’ll let Jameson tell the story:
“My Dad woke my sister and me up at 5:30 to go turkey hunting. We got our camo gear on, Dad handed us our guns, and he carried the decoys and as we hiked up the hill.
“It was a long trip up the hill but we made it. We took off in the direction where Pappy heard the bird the night before. We found a good tree to sit under. My sister was to the right of my Dad and me. She let me sit facing the decoy because she got a turkey at last year’s youth hunt.
“About 10 minutes after we got settled we heard a turkey to the right of us. A few more minutes passed, we hit the call and a turkey gobbled while roosted about 70 yards in front of us.
“Instantly my heart rate went from 80 to 180! My Dad said, ‘Calm down, son, we have a long way
“For the next 15 minutes we continued to call lightly until finally it was bright enough outside for the turkey to fly down from his
roosting spot. When he hit the ground, he hit the ground running right for us!
“He stopped about 50 yards out and gobbled a few more times. We couldn’t see him yet but we sure could hear him. We knew he was getting closer because the gobbles were getting louder and louder every step he took.
“Finally he breaks through all of the brush and we could see his beautiful feathers fluff up. Once we saw him I felt my heart was going to beat out of my chest and I could hear my sister start breathing really hard on the other side of the tree.
“He came right for us and every 10 feet he would spread his tail feathers. Just as he was entering gun range he stopped and gobbled right at us. Then he turned slightly heading away from us.
“Just as we thought he was leaving we called
lightly 2 more times and then the turkey saw the decoy. Once he saw it he strutted right for us and stopped about 20 yards away, stopped and
stretched his head up to look around.
“My Dad said, ‘Shoot him!’
“It was like slow motion when I pulled the trigger. The turkey fell straight to the ground. We all started high fiving!
“That is the story of my first turkey!”
Jameson is the grandson of Tim and Angie Clay of South Shore.
Like deer and elk, the restoration of wild turkeys in Kentucky, which began 40 years ago, is a remarkable success story. The statewide flock now numbers around 220,000.
Telecheck harvest records show spring turkey hunters have taken an average of 31,719 birds over the past five years. The statewide harvest was up slightly last year over the previous spring as hunters topped 30,000 birds for the fifth time in the past six years.
This year, the general spring turkey season opens statewide on April 16 and runs through May 8. The statewide bag limit is two bearded birds per season, but no more than one bird may be taken per day.
Ohio’s follows, opening April 18 and running through May 15.
It falls to the hunter to visit the area before the season because not scouting ahead of time leaves too much to chance.
“Start looking for some of the things you would look for during the season,” said Nathan Gregory, coordinator of the department’s Northeast Wildlife Region. What’s the food source? Look for areas off of points, off of ridges that you may think birds will use for strutting. Look for things the birds are using now.”
John Morgan, Kentucky Fish and Wildlife’s Small Game Program Coordinator, studied wild turkeys on public lands as a master’s student at the University of Georgia. Identifying strut zones is one of the best things a hunter can do early in the season, he said.
Clearings in the understory, open ridges, old logging roads and small field openings are all potential stages for strutting toms. Also, look for tracks and wing drags left in the loose or muddy soil along trails, fields and creek bottoms. Fresh droppings and feathers concentrated below a large tree can indicate a potential roosting site. Dust bowls formed when a turkey grooms itself are another important sign, as are scratches. A turkey will scratch at the ground while foraging for food and leave behind clearings in the leaf litter.
“You’ll see where turkeys have scratched. It’s pretty identifiable,” Gregory said. “If birds haven’t been spooked or knocked off a routine, they’re going to come back to that spot….If they’ve really been picking and scraping the foliage back, I’d sit there and wait a while during the season.”
Turkeys are one of the most difficult game species to harvest consistently. Whether it’s early in the season, the middle of the season or late in the season, first thing in the morning or in the afternoon, a hunter doesn’t stand a chance if they’re not out there trying.
“If you want to harvest a turkey you need to hunt any time you can,” Morgan said.
Reach G. SAM PIATT at (606) 932-3619 or [email protected]