Dansville, N.Y. — Chris Walker couldn’t have timed it better.
A birthday on Thursday, April 23.
His first hunting license on Friday.
And a 23-pound gobbler in the opening hour of New York’s youth turkey hunt the next morning.
Hunting with his grandfather, Dave Walker, Chris downed the longbeard in the opening hour of the state’s popular hunting weekend for 12- to 15-year-olds.
Hunting in the Dansville area of Livingston County, Chris, of Andover, downed the bird at about 6:40 a.m. after some tense moments.
“I saw him coming up the hill and I was thinking, ‘I hope I hit him,’” he said after tagging the hefty gobbler with a 9.5-inch beard and inch-and-a-quarter spurs. “My grandpa called him away from four hens. He gobbled good early but then came in silent; he didn’t gobble at all. He came in to our decoys – two hens and a jake.”
The sixth grade student plans on doing a tailfan and beard mount of his first gobbler, one that may be his best ever for years to come.
There were similar success stories across the state on a weekend that was marked by chilly but generally good weather, although windy conditions were seen in some parts of the state.
DEC wildlife biologist Mike Schiavone said early harvest reports were running about 5 percent above last season, but cautioned that those numbers were very preliminary.
“There are a few possible reasons for (the higher reported harvest), including increased participation from last year, good weather, an improved reporting system, and better reproductive success last summer than the preceding year,” Schiavone said.
DEC adjusts the figures after the close of the season based on a turkey hunter survey to get a total estimated kill, which last year was just under 1,000 birds (979).
Last year about 6,900 junior hunters participated in the youth weekend offering, which was held for the 13th year last month.
In recent years the youth weekend has spawned several special events in which sportsmen’s organizations and environmental conservation officers took youths afield.
In Yates County, the sixth annual youth turkey hunt and conservation dinner featured TV hunting personality Phillip Vanderpool of Arkansas, who guided Hunter Crofoot on his first ever turkey hunt.
In all, 10 turkeys were taken by youths taking part in the hunt, and there were 16 shot opportunities among the 26 kids.
This year’s event began with a dinner presentation at the Seneca Lake Duck Hunter’s Club, where ECO Kevin Thomas discussed hunting ethics and Steve Wheeler and ECO Josh Crain reviewed firearms safety.
All 26 kids received a youth turkey vest, hat, gloves, facemask and calls, and three names were drawn to win guns – two 12 gauge Remington Model 870 shotguns and a .22 caliber Mossberg rifle. After dinner Vanderpool and Duel Game Calls pro staffer Jason Pollack offered a turkey calling seminar to teach the kids how to use the donated Duel calls.
Other prizes included a lifetime hunting license donated by Dale Lane and Mitch Lehman of Eagle Eye Outfitters.
The Northern Catskills Longbeards chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation also held a special youth hunt event in which several youngsters connected on gobblers.
Patrick Gallagher, hunting with ECOs Vern Bauer and Anthony Glorioso, bagged a 19.5-pound bird with an 8.75-inch beard and three-quarter-inch spurs.
Jake DeWitte hunted with James Novack and shot a 22-pound, 12-ounce gobbler with an 8.25-inch beard and one-inch spurs.
Sean Aloisi hunted with Jonathan Snowden and killed a 21-pound gobbler with a 9-inch beard and one-inch spurs.
Russ Burton, president of the NWTF chapter organized the event at the Norton Hill Wildlife Club, which offered the use of their facilities.
The state’s regular spring gobbler season opened May 1 and runs through May 31.