Youths get their gobblers

Albany — Connor Wright had, in recent years, watched his three older brothers return home from New York’s youth turkey hunt toting gobblers.

Last year, it was his turn, and he took a jake.

This year, however, he kicked it up a notch.

The 13-year-old Brunswick (Rensselaer County) youth, hunting with his father Rich, downed a 24.5-pound longbeard in a lightning-quick hunt on Saturday (April 20), the first day of the two-day youth offering for 12- to 15-year-olds.

“Even my dad hasn’t shot one as big as mine,” Connor said. “We were set up on the corner of a field and he was gobbling on the roost. We saw him pitch down and he came strutting in.”

Connor dropped the bird with a 37-yard shot from his Remington 870 20 gauge. The gobbler sported a 9.5-inch beard and one-inch spurs.

“My dad was telling me, ‘Shoot him when he gets closer,’ but I didn’t let him finish his sentence,” Connor said. “When I heard, ‘shoot him’ I shot.”

“It didn’t take long for the text messages to start flying,” Rich Wright said. “He let his brothers know right away.”

His success was one of many across the state this year, the 10th in which DEC has offered the weekend youth turkey hunt. DEC wildlife biologist Mike Schiavone said preliminary harvest reports show the statewide kill was about 15 percent above last year, when about 7,800 participating youths killed an estimated 1,900 birds, a mix of adult gobblers and juvenile birds (jakes).

“It was cold and windy pretty much across the state on Saturday,” Schiavone said. “Sunday seemed to be a little more conducive to turkey hunting, but it was clear both days.”

The youth hunt has seen several years of rainy weather that limited both participation and harvest. But this year’s hunt, despite snow flurries in some spots of New York, was a solid success, DEC officials said.

“Things are looking up a bit as far as bird numbers,” Schiavone said, “so there were more opportunities for kids to bag a bird.”

Last year’s nesting and brood-rearing conditions were generally good, and Schiavone said the winter was “kind of average; not terrible.” That set the stage for plenty of birds in many areas of the state – certainly more than last year.

“There were more juvenile birds available this year, for sure,” he said. “We had better production last year and overwinter survival was probably decent as well.”

Statistics showed youth hunters took birds in 55 different counties in the state, including Suffolk County on Long Island.

“So it’s not just a few counties where people are participating,” Schiavone said. “I’m always impressed that birds are harvested across the state.”

Schiavone said statistics have shown that youth hunters kill a higher percentage of jakes than are taken during the regular season.

“Junior hunters are more opportunistic and willing to shoot a jake,” he said. “They have two days, in a lot of cases it’s their first time out and they’re going to take what they can get. Whether it’s a 15-pound jake or a 25-pound tom, it’s a trophy either way.”

The youth hunt in recent years has spawned special events across the state, some organized by sportsmen’s clubs but others also involving DEC conservation officers.

The two-day youth hunt can, if weather is decent, be used as a barometer heading into the May 1-31 regular season. Schiavone said he was “optimistic” that gobbler pursuers would take a higher number of birds than last season.

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