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Ken Perrotte’s Outdoors Column: Turkey harvest surprisingly low

Many die-hard turkey hunters likely would’ve bet that this year’s spring gobbler season would have easily ended with more birds in the bag than 2011.

They would have lost that bet.

Statewide, hunters reported killing 15,326 birds, down 2 percent from 2011, according to the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. Counties east of the Blue Ridge Mountains saw minimal difference (fewer than 100 birds total) from 2011 to 2012, but counties west of the mountains saw a 9 percent decline, falling from 5,265 birds to 4,799 in 2012.

Many hunters were anticipating a banner season. Birds appeared abundant last fall and the winter was mild. Virginia seemed to have had two consecutive years of average to good hatches. Mild winter and spring conditions should have resulted in good turkey survival with birds entering the breeding season in fine form.

Spring sprung early this year with an incredibly mild March, which really greened up the countryside and may have accelerated wild turkey breeding behavior. Some seasoned hunters wondered aloud if the majority of wild turkey gobbling activity may have been largely over by the time the season was just beginning in mid-April.

The VDGIF’s Wild Turkey Project leader, Gary Norman, noted in a release outlining the spring harvest numbers that some hunters believe the reproductive season was two weeks ahead of normal.

Young guns, as we reported several weeks ago, had excellent success on the special Youth Turkey Hunting Day April 7. They claimed 530 birds, compared with 347 in 2011.

The full season opened April 14, relatively late, and 15 percent of the total gobbler kill occurred that day. The second week saw 36 percent of the total harvest come in, the biggest week of the month-long season.

Turkey gobbling seemed to slow down greatly after that, based on personal experience and talking with other hunters. As typical, occasional encounters with utterly motivated, kamikaze, late-season gobblers determined to get a little hen loving or die trying helped assuage many frustrated hunters’ egos.

Hunters using shotguns took 86 percent of the birds, while rifle shooters accounted for 7 percent. The rest were taken with bows, pistols and muzzleloaders.

Analyzing the situation over the last decade, Norman believes Virginia’s turkey population has declined 1.2 percent annually, but is now considered stable. He said the state’s highest turkey populations seem to be in the tidewater and south piedmont regions.

TRGS FUNDRAISER

The Rappahannock Chapter of the Ruffed Grouse Society is hosting its third annual Conservation and Sportsmen’s Shoot and Dinner at the Fredericksburg Rod and Gun Club June 15.

Events begin with a round of trap and skeet from 2:30–5 p.m. Dinner is served at 5:30. Live and silent auctions, drawings and door prizes round out the activities.

Individual membership and dinner tickets are $95. An optional family membership package costs $125 and includes two dinners. Sponsorship packages are available at prices ranging from $275 to $2,500.

Youngsters under age 16 who recently passed a hunter education course or women who can verify recent participation in a recent Outdoors Women program receive a complimentary dinner ticket when accompanied by a paying adult. For information or tickets, contact Herndon at 540/898-1987 or email gherndon_ii@hotmail.com.

CATFISH COOKING TIPS

Outdoors writer John E. Phillips has a new book, “Catfish Like a Pro,” in which he interviews noted catfish anglers to learn techniques for catching big catfish or large numbers of eating-size catfish. Go to amazon.com/kindle-ebooks and type-in the name of the book to find it.

Phillips shares one tip for sweet and tasty catfish preparation that really piqued my interest.

He points out that catfish in some areas may have an off-flavor or a fishy taste to them. The small (under 3-pound) Rappahannock River cats I prefer don’t usually have any issues, but I may still try his suggestion to see the results.

Simply, put the catfish fillets in an ice chest or a large container, cover them with ice and then pour in 7Up until it covers the ice. Keep the fish in the ice and 7UP for 2–3 hours; then remove them and cook them any way you like.

KIDS FISHING DERBY

Linda Bailey with Fredericksburg Parks and Recreation reports that Cassin Brooks is the grand champion of Saturday’s Kids Fishing Derby at Motts Run Reservoir. Brooks caught 44 catfish weighing a total of 28.65 pounds to easily best runner-up Jonathan Zinecker, who brought 11.03 pounds of fish to the scales. Makayla Williams finished in third place overall.

There were 184 kids fishing, plus some 230 adults and volunteers. Fifty-three kids caught fish.

Other first place, total weight winners included:

Age 4–under: Alex Swingle

5–6: Carter Thompson

7–8: Cassin Brooks

9–10: Aaron Johnson

11–12: Joshua Childers

13–16: Jonathon Zinecker

Ken Perrotte can be reached at The Free Lance–Star, 616 Amelia Street, Fredericksburg, Va. 22401, by fax at 373-8455 or e-mail at outdoors@freelancestar.com.

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