Youth get first crack at turkeys this weekend

By Dick Mason, The Observer April 08, 2011 02:49 pm

Tanner Owen, a sixth-grader at Union Elementary School, took this tom during last year’s youth turkey hunt. JIM WARD photo
Tanner Owen, a sixth-grader at Union Elementary School, took this tom during last year’s youth turkey hunt. JIM WARD photo

Seeds of passion will be sown this weekend.

Young people throughout Northeast Oregon will take a step toward developing a lifelong love of hunting during the annual spring youth turkey hunt Saturday and Sunday.

The statewide hunt is open to those age 17 and under. All youths must be accompanied by an adult at least 21 years of age who may not hunt. The hunt provides a great opportunity for adults to focus on helping their son or daughter bag a bird, said Phil Gillette, a La Grande sportsman who has taken his daughter, Bailey, and and son, Dakota, on many youth hunts.

“(The hunt) takes a lot of the stress away from the adult,’’ Gillette said.

He explained that parents are free of the worry of taking a turkey themselves during youth hunts since they aren’t allowed to take one.

“It is not about them. It is about spending one-on-one time with their child,’’ said Gillette, the owner of Phil’s Outdoor Surplus.

Gillette said the youth hunt also makes it easier for parents to focus on making sure their son or daughter is holding their gun comfortably and correctly.

Youths will able to take one male turkey or one with a beard during the hunt that runs Saturday and Sunday. Odds will be in the youths’ favor since Rio Grande turkey population levels are strong in Union and Wallowa counties, according to Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife biologists. Youths will also be aided by the element of surprise because the turkeys will be less wary since they have not been hunted yet this year.

“It is a real bonus. They will have the first crack at the birds,’’ said La Grande ODFW biologist Jim Cadwell.

All hunters will have a crack at the turkeys beginning April 15 when the general turkey season opens statewide. Hunters in Union and Wallowa counties will find plenty of turkeys but can expect to have trouble reaching them since intermediate and high elevation areas still have snow cover.

In Wallowa County access is particularly poor in the Sled Springs Unit where many roads are not drivable because of snow, said Enterprise ODFW biologist Vic Coggins.

If there is not snow cover hunters will likely find deep mud in Wallowa and Union counties because of the wet weather the region has been experiencing. Hunters will be wise to carry tire chains and equipment for getting their vehicles pulled out of the snow and mud, Cadwell said.

The biologist is encouraging people to be careful when driving, not only to avoid getting stuck but also to prevent damage from occurring to the landscape. Hunters, for example, are urged not to drive over open grassy areas because of the damage they can do to it when it is wet.

The youth hunt is only two days but the general  season is about six weeks running from April 15 through May 31. The length of the season means hunters should not get discouraged if they are not successful opening weekend, said Jim Ward of the local Oregon Hunters Association chapter. He said often male turkeys are easier to call in later in the season because most of the females are then nesting. Males may be more responsive to the calls of hunters late in the season as a result.

Individuals are urged to check the ODFW’s “2010-11 Oregon Game Bird Regulations’’ for details about the upcoming youth and general season turkey hunts.