Wild turkey numbers have been in decline, but avid hunters working the right gear in productive places have put tags on some impressive birds this spring.
Sardinia youth Keegan Kempf turned 12 on May 6; he had taken and passed his hunter certification course earlier but could not legally go afield with a mentoring hunter until he reached 12.
Dad Dave Kempf set up an early-morning hunt near home the morning after Keegan’s birthday and the two headed out for a hunt before the sixth-grader headed to school at Pioneer Central.
Later that morning, Dave was able to tell fellow students how dad used an H.S. Strut box call to bring in a 21-pound tom that Keegan took at 6:15 a.m., in time to make classes at school. The gobbler sported a 10-inch beard and one-inch spurs. “This one was so good that we’re not just making a fan mount; we’re having it done up as a full mount,” dad said with pride.
A father-son hunting team in East Concord went out that same morning and scored on a bird at 6:15 a.m. on a hunt near home.
Chris “Hoot” Gerling hunts with his dad, Joe Gerling, 75, regularly in the area and on distant hunts.
“Dad has used a box call on turkeys since 1959 as well as a Quaker Boy mouth call,” Chris said of his father’s calling system. The two had birds moving around on the ground after coming off the roost that morning, but it took more than 20 minutes to bring in a bearded bird worthy of harvesting.
Dad did the calling and Chris finally got a shot at a bird that weighed in at 22 pounds with a 10.25-inch beard and 1≤-inch spurs.
After the hunt, Chris wrote, “This makes 28 springs in a row I’ve harvested a spring bird in New York thanks to teachings from my dad.”
On Tuesday, Chris headed to Pennsylvania with grandson David “Smokey” Black of Collins Center to hunt the Youth Mentor program in that state. His calling that afternoon brought in a 14-pound jake, which David took with a 25-yard shot. Pennsylvania provides for competent youths to hunt with a mentor, and the second half of the season allows for turkey hunts daily until sunset.
The generations of Gerlings offer reads on turkey dynamics similar to other area experts: Bird numbers are down, there are still some good, healthy birds out there, and increased numbers of coyotes, raccoons and other wild predators have made turkeys wary about calling to other birds, even during the mating season.
Emerging foliage will have birds moving around with restricted visibility to hunters and with more access to forage over less ground covered.
For the remainder of this spring season, lower the call volume, move if no birds are seen or heard and watch for birds that suddenly come into range without making a gobble, cluck or purr.
Spring turkey season continues in New York State daily from a half hour before sunrise to noon until the closing day of May 31.