Turkey Hunters Anxiously Await Opening Day of 2003 Season

Published 3:40 am Sunday, March 9, 2003

By By Fred Bonner, Outdoor Columnist
For years North Carolina's turkey hunters felt that we Tar Heels had been somewhat slighted when it came to restoring our wild turkey populations across the state. Other states seemed to hold virtually unlimited opportunities for turkey hunting and we, somehow, just didn't seem to be able to compete with their restoration efforts.
All that began to change a few years ago and today North Carolina is up there with the best of them when it comes to hunting opportinities for the wild turkey. Not only is our spring season (April 12-May 10) considered to be one of the best around, we're finally going to open a winter turkey season in 2004.
Culminating thirty years of a successful wild turkey restoration program in North Carolina, the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission (NCWRC) has voted to add a six-day winter turkey season segment to the hunting calendar and expand the turkey hunting opportunity across the state.
The first winter turkey season will be Jan. 12-17, 2004, and apply only to private lands in counties with the highest densities of turkeys, as well as the highest spring harvest levels per square mile of habitat: Alleghany, Ashe, Caswell, Granville, Person, Rockingham, Stokes, Surry and Watauga. The only hunting allowed on public lands will be at the Caswell Game Land (in Caswell County) through a permit draw.
The bag limit for the winter season and spring season combined will be two birds, only one of which can be taken during the winter season. The winter season will be an either-sex hunt and the regulations allow the use of dogs. There is no baiting for turkeys during either season.
One of North Carolina's great turkey hunters is the noted "Rambling Ranger of the Roanoke", retired forest ranger, Bill Johnson, Sr. He's been watching and advising our state for many years about restoring the wild turkeys statewide and has been one of the most ardent supporters of the National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF) since year-one. Johnson has attended 21 of 22 of the NWTF's National Conferences and still finds them to be "inspirational."
Years ago Johnson was elected to the North Carolina Wild Turkey Federation's Hall of Fame and has consistently supported the goals of this organization. He's one of the very best sources of information about the hunting and management of wild turkeys that I can think of.
Johnson grew up in the Scotland Neck area along the Roanoke River and, largely through his timber cruising as a state forest ranger, became intimately familiar with the swamps and hills of the Roanoke River delta. This was perhaps the last stronghold of a native population of wild turkeys in North Carolina and very well may have held the key to the restoration of the populations throughout the entire state.
Johnson fought for and helped to establish a trapping program of some of the wild turkeys along the Roanoke so that this brood stock could be transplanted to other areas of the state. The program has been hugely successful and today we're seeing the results of all this restoration effort.
Another great factor in the restoration of the wild turkeys in North has been the National Wild Turkey Federation. Working with the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission the NWTF and its dedicated group of volunteers this group has done much in restoring the wild turkeys to our state.
Johnson's states: "I'm all for this winter wild turkey season in 2004. We certainly have enough of the birds established in the listed areas now and, by having this season after the deer hunting season is over, the hunters should have a pretty good chance at hunting, unmolested, in the woods. If the season had been opened in the fall or at the same time that the deer season was open, I'd have been in opposition to it. As it is, it's going to be a good thing and I think that, as the turkey populations grow, we'll see this late season expanded to be state-wide."
Johnson further states: "I've seen firsthand what happened when the NCWRC opened the season for wild turkeys during the fall deer season. The deer hunters shot both hen and gobbler turkeys pretty much without any regard to the law. I think that the same thing would happen again if the season on turkeys should run concurrently with the deer season."
When asked what hunting methods he'd use for turkey hunting duiring our new winter season Bill Johnson states that he'd use "the same methods that you'd use in the spring. I've heard turkeys gobbling all during the fall deer season and I think that these same calling methods will work during the Janurary season."
The spring 2004 season dates will be Apr. 10-May 8. As in past years, the spring season will continue to be bearded turkeys only and no dogs may be used. This year, the spring season will be open in all counties, with the exception of Wilson.
Another turkey hunting proposal, a youth-only turkey hunting day, did not receive Commission approval. Extensive public comments indicated a Saturday before the regular start of the spring season would be a popular date for youth hunting, not the Saturday after the season ends as proposed for the 2003-2004 season. The Commission agreed to consider an alternate day for youth-only turkey hunting during the 2004-2005 season's regulations review.
The shad are running! Word from the Pitch Kettle just off the Neuse River above New Bern is that "the shad are here, the water's moderately high and fishermen are taking good numbers of hickorys."
Bobby Colston from his information center along the Roanoke river at Gaston reports that "the water's very high (up to the service road at the Weldon ramp) but that this is good. The shad are just starting to show up and fishermen are catching them. I think that the high water is going to hold up and that this is going to be one of our best years for shad and rock for a long time.
The word from Harker's Island and the Cape Lookout area is that its still a little early for the fosh to be running much. They should be showing up any day now though.
Fred Bonner is a native of Aurora and is an Eagle Scout, veteran of the U.S. Air Force and a graduate of N.C. State University with a degree in Wildlife Management. He is also a graduate of the National Fish Disease School. He is a former research biologist at the Pamlico Marine Laboratory and is the former editor of Carolina Adventure magazine. He welcomes comments and suggestions and may be reached at 7220 Cleveland School Road, Garner, N.C. 27529 or by e-mail at fbonner@mindspring.com.