At certain times of the year drivers need to be extra vigilant for wild animal movements. In February it is skunks; early autumn is white-tailed deer. In May and June it is turtles. This is their season for breeding and nesting. In Tennessee box turtles and snapping turtles are most common.

The eastern box turtle is the most likely transient encountered crossing roads. This species is EPA-listed as threatened, due mostly to loss of habitat but also due to capture by people for pets — a practice both unwise and illegal. Box turtles can carry diseases (salmonella for one) and parasites for people; and, when wild turtles are kept in captivity for a while, then released, they can carry other diseases back to the wild population.

For a turtle on the road, do intervene. Check for traffic, then help it on its way; do not return to the side from whence it came. Do not move it far from that area. Turtles have specific territories and moving them too far away can cause more harm than good. Some species, such as snapping turtles, lay their eggs on land, so moving a pregnant female to water can impact her ability to lay eggs.

Handling turtles should be done with caution, especially snapping turtles, which can inflict a serious bite. The animal should only be picked up gently using two hands, with your thumbs on the top of the turtle’s shell and other fingers supporting the underside of the shell. Handle the turtle only as long as needed to get it to safety. Wash your hands afterwards.

DERBY: Tennessee’s Free Fishing Day is Saturday, June 8, and Free Fishing Week is June 8-14, all sponsored by the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency. All residents and nonresidents of all ages can fish without a license that Saturday on any public waters; and youths through age 15 can fish for free the following week. The TWRA annually stocks several thousand pounds of fish for these events.

There are many special events planned statewide for that Saturday, the following Saturday and on into the summer. A frequently updated list can be found at www.tnwildlife.org; select For Anglers then 2019 Kids Fishing Events. Check it for specific times, details and directions, or go directly to www.tn.gov/twra/article/

kids-fishing-events.

TURKEY: The 2019 spring turkey harvest has rebounded from last year’s sub-30,000 performance, a mark that was surpassed for the previous 15 years. The season opened with cool weather, which appeared to suppress the early activity of gobblers. The 2019 total (including the youth hunt) is 31,212, comprised of 30,966 males (3,655 were jakes), 246 female, and 255 unknown.

As usual, Middle Tennessee was the most productive region for turkey (and deer for that matter). The county with the highest harvest this year was again Maury (1,034), followed by Dickson (837), Greene (810), Giles (672), and Montgomery (637).

This year’s spring turkey kill was 2,926 more than 2018’s total of 28,286. Superlative harvests rank thus: 37,110 (2010); 35,885 (2006); 34,538 (2017); 34,027 (2011); and 33,700 (2012).

Mating season has ended for wild turkeys and hens are preparing their nests by mid-May. In most areas nests are located in a shallow dirt depression surrounded by moderately woody vegetation for concealment. Hens look for locations close to food and water and with ample cover to safely conceal themselves and their poults once hatched. Hens have to avoid many predators such as coyotes, foxes, raccoons, snakes, opossums, and skunks; but they must leave the nest unattended for brief periods to feed and drink.

Hens will lay a clutch of a dozen eggs or more during a two-week period, usually laying one egg per day. She will incubate her eggs for up to 28 days, occasionally turning and rearranging them, until they are ready to hatch.

A newly-hatched youngster must be ready to leave the nest to feed within 12 to 24 hours. For the first two weeks the poults are unable to fly. They will eat insects, berries and seeds; the adults will eat the same plus acorns and small reptiles. Turkeys usually feed in early morning and in the afternoon. The mother turkey will roost on the ground with her brood until they can fly, and they flock together all year, even through the winter.

SMALL GAME: There is more opportunity to hunt crows beginning this year. There will be a split season, opening June 1 to Aug. 18 on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays only; then hunting will be daily from Oct. 5 to Jan. 1, 2020. The idea is to give crow hunters more cool weather shooting. Crows are regulated through the Migratory Bird Treaty because some of them in our southwestern states cross our border with Mexico.

Spring squirrel season closes on June 9. After that, squirrels will breed a second time and wean their broods before the regular season opens on the fourth Saturday of August.

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Tom Wiest is a long time columnist on all matters outdoors. He welcomes news, questions and comments from readers.

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