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David Rainer: Be sure of turkey season dates, WMA regulations

The spring turkey season in Alabama is fast approaching, and some confusion exists on the dates of the Special Youth Hunt that precedes opening day of the regular season.

Marianne Gauldin of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources’ (ADCNR) Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF) Division said this year’s opening day of the regular season falls on a Monday. That means the Special Youth Hunt will be on the Saturday and Sunday immediately preceding the opening day.

For Zones 1 and 3, where the regular turkey season is set for March 25 through May 8, the Special Youth Hunt will be March 23-24. The Special Disabled Hunt is scheduled for March 24. In Zone 2, the spring turkey season is April 1 through May 8, which means the Special Youth Hunt will be March 30-31, and the Special Disabled Hunt will be March 31.

Gauldin reminds hunters who pursue the Eastern wild turkey on Alabama’s wildlife management areas (WMAs) to become familiar with all the regulations regarding the WMAs.

“It’s important for WMA users to understand there is a WMA regulation in addition to the rules listed on the maps of the individual WMAs,” she said. “The regulation extends to all WMAs, and all WMA users should read the regs on the map and also be familiar with the WMA regulation (www.outdooralabama.com/WMARules).”

Gauldin said WMA users need to adhere to one older regulation and two new ones that apply to turkey season. Those regs deal with the use of turkey calls during preseason scouting, the use of certain game cameras and the use of drones.

The existing regulation states it is unlawful to possess or use any wild turkey calls to mimic sounds made by wild turkeys from March 1 until the opening day of youth turkey seasons and from the close of youth turkey season to the opening day of physically disabled turkey season or regular turkey season opening day on WMAs with turkey seasons.

One of the new regs states that it is unlawful for any unauthorized person to possess or use any game camera/device capable of monitoring remotely and/or capable of automatically transmitting photos and/or videos from March 1 through May 31 on any WMA without first obtaining written permission from WFF.

Also new is the reg that makes it unlawful for any unauthorized person to launch, land or possess or use any unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV)/drone on a WMA without first obtaining written permission from WFF.

WFF Director Chuck Sykes said these regulations are used to ensure that everyone who takes advantage of hunting on public land this spring will have equal opportunities.

“We manage 750,000 acres across the state for public hunting opportunities,” said Director Sykes. “You’ve got everything from national forests, where you can hunt every day of the season to WMAs with specific dates and times to SOAs (Special Opportunity Areas), where you get drawn for your own spot for three days and don’t have to worry about anybody else being there. So, there are multiple opportunities for residents and non-residents to hunt public land in Alabama.

“It’s public land. It does get pressured. But there are birds there, so the people who do their homework, study the maps, do their scouting and have patience take birds every year.”

However, when you head out preseason scouting for turkeys on WMAs, leave those turkey calls behind.

“We don’t want people out there before the season blowing turkey calls,” Director Sykes said. “I don’t do that on my own place, so why would I want that to take place on public lands. Why would you educate a bird before the season comes in? It’s not good common sense, whether you’re talking about public land or private land.

“Why would you want to go out in the woods with a turkey call before the season, call to a turkey and take a chance on him coming up and seeing you. You have that negative experience with a turkey call, and you go back in a couple of weeks and try to hunt him, using the same call in the same spot. That’s just not smart. I don’t want to give the turkeys too much credit, but I think they’re a lot smarter than that. We want to provide as much opportunity as we can, and spooking turkeys before the season is not good for anybody.”

Director Sykes said many states have already banned the use of certain game cameras during hunting seasons.

“Cellular-activated trail cameras have been outlawed in several states, especially in the West, where they used these cameras around watering holes where it’s dry and arid,” he said. “The use of these cameras gives them an unfair advantage over wildlife.”

Director Sykes said WFF is not advocating a complete ban on the use of cellular-activated cameras, but wild turkeys are particularly susceptible to being patterned because they usually stay in the same general area once they fly up to roost.

“Deer can travel at night,” he said. “It’s not the same as a turkey. If a turkey walks up and down a road during the daytime, and you have a trail camera that is sending you pictures automatically, it gives you an unfair advantage over that bird.”

The other popular method of surveillance is the use of the UAV/drone, which also provides an unfair advantage, said Director Sykes.

“Drones provide yet another way to remotely locate game and also have the potential to disturb and harass wildlife,” he said. “Once again, these prohibitions are in place to provide genuine turkey hunting experience opportunities and hopefully ensure that the last hunter in the area didn’t already educate the turkey or harvest them with these technologies.”

Director Sykes, who has hunted turkeys in Alabama most of his life, said making predictions about the upcoming spring turkey season is a difficult task.

“It’s going to be hit or miss, like it always is,” he said. “Some places are going to have a great spring. Some are not. I heard turkeys gobbling their brains out on Tuesday morning. Today (last Thursday), I didn’t hear a peep. That’s the way it’s going to be. That’s the way it’s always been.

“As long as we have some pretty days, especially on the weekends, we’re going to have birds killed.”

Director Sykes reiterated the advice about making sure you know the season dates and the regulations for the property you’re hunting, especially if it’s public land.

“Since regular season starts on a Monday, we have provided clarity as to when youth and physically disabled hunts will occur,” he said. “For most of the state (Zones 1 and 3), the 23rd and 24th is youth weekend. If you’re out there on the 16th and 17th, you’re going to get an award (citation).”

Visit www.outdooralabama.com/seasons-and-bag-limits/turkey-season for more information.

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