Share this article

print logo

Will Elliott’s Outdoors: Talking turkey − and walleye

Young hunters are afield this morning for the second day of the Youth Hunt Weekend prior to the May 1 start of the spring wild turkey season across New York State.

Walleye anglers have to wait the longest for a May start of the ‘eye season. This year the first Saturday in May (May 7) is the latest the state sets the annual season start.

Challenges face both turkey hunters and walleye seekers. Turkey taking will be a bit more taxing than walleye catching this spring. Turkey numbers have gradually but steadily declined in the past decade. Walleye prospects, especially for Lake Erie, are promising in places.

Talking turkey

Youths ages 12 to 15 hunting with a mentor Sunday morning can hunt until noon and have until 5 p.m. to enter the Youth Hunt Contest at the Cabela’s store in Cheektowaga. Top prize of a $250 Cabela’s gift card goes to the heaviest entry. Heavier than all that is the aura of being outdoors each day before sunrise to see, feel and enjoy the warming spring weather, the majesty of morning’s first light and the sounds of birds staking territories as they come off the roost in nearby trees.

Turkey hunters have vexed over the reduced amount of calls heard afield well before the numbers decline first seen about a decade ago. Increased numbers of both coyotes and foxes in many areas of the state were a complaint of serious turkey hunters two decades ago. The current decline of wild turkey numbers might be attributed to wild canine consumption, but the abundance of “woods dogs” out there occurred well before the Department of Environmental Conservation 5-year study of turkey dynamics began.

For a plus, nearby states have seen some upturns in turkey takes. Maryland is off to a good start. Ohio opened its season Monday and requires hunters to report kills the day of the hunt. Ohio’s opener saw 2,511 birds reported, up from the 2,335 check-in during opening day of 2015.

Pennsylvania’s Game Commission projects a fair start to turkey season, especially at the western end.

Calling during scouting sessions this year can be misleading. Ernie Calandrelli, expert at Quaker Boy Game Calls in Orchard Park, noted that during the February thaw turkey scouts and wildlife watchers saw mature toms in full strut at different times of the day, whenever the warm sun got them stirred on open, snowless forage fields.

Scouting sources this past week ends with a grass-is-always-greener string of reports. For Western New York, the most active calling areas were along the Southern Tier. Chautauqua County hunters seem to have heard a bird or two more than scouts in other counties.

Curiously, the bird abundance seen east of Central New York and the lower Adirondacks during fall seasons in years past seems to be unfolding this spring. While seasoned spotters traveling the six Western New York counties often go without hearing a morning gobble, bird watchers from the shores of Lake Champlain to Chenango and Broome Counties have seen and heard more birds that area turkey seekers.

New York State retains a morning-only hunt opener each day during the May 1 to 31 spring turkey season. Ohio and Pennsylvania allow hunting all day during the second half of their spring turkey season. But pulling a tom, or even a jake, from a feeding or breeding flock of birds can be a task with poor odds of success.

Setting up well before sunrise along an edge close but not interfering with birds coming off roost trees has the highest rate for spring turkey taking. Calls come just as the sun begins to shine, but some birds begin stirring at false dawn, sometimes an hour before sunrise.

Shooting hours begin a half hour before sunrise and the spring bag limit remains at two bearded birds, but hunters are allowed a daily bag limit of one bird.

Hunt safely. Know that target is a legal, mature bird that can be hit and killed humanely where it stands in range.

Walleye works

Previous and current data points to a gangbuster year for walleye fishing in Western New York, with Lake Erie the premier destination for 'eye catching (see the Notebook “Harvest Levels” report).

Chautauqua Lake saw a slight increase in walleye action last spring, but the fall shoreline take was slow. Predictions have it a so-so start with shoreline nighttime activity promising at the start of the season.

Silver Lake pike have spiked, but the walleye bite slight, akin to Conesus Lake. Conditions at Honeoye Lake prompted DEC officials to raise the legal length limit from 15 to 18 inches. Yet anglers on first ice saw nice numbers at Honeoye. Night casters and trollers are doing better than daytime on all western Finger Lakes.

Oneida Lake could be a waking sleeper for anglers willing to make the drive. The fall bite was better than good and walleye cooperated the few days hardwater harriers could get out on the ice.