FORT RUCKER, Ala. (Mar. 8, 2012) -- Turkey hunters can rejoice as the Outdoor Recreation Gobbler Classic Turkey Hunt returns to Fort Rucker this year to run through the entire turkey season from March 15 to April 30 with cash prizes awarded to the winners.

The contest has been held every year for at least the past 10 years, according to John Clancy, outdoor recreation center program manager, but has always been a one-day event and the winners used to be awarded trophies.

"We changed [the length of the contest] because we would host the contest on a Friday and a lot of Soldiers weren't available to participate," said Clancy. "We want to be able to accommodate Soldiers that aren't available to hunt on a single day. Stretching the competition over the entire season will bring more participants and more competition."

The hunt will take place on Fort Rucker in the training areas that are designated for hunting, according to the program manager, and different types of weapons that are regulated by the state are allowed for use during the contest.

"There are certain weapons people can use for a turkey hunt and participants must abide by the state regulations," he said. "People can use shotguns with regulation shots, and bows and arrows and crossbows are allowed as long as the crossbow doesn't have a magnified scope on it."

The turkeys that are killed during the contest will be certified by the National Wildlife Turkey Federation scales, according to Clancy, and turkeys killed up until the very last day are eligible in the contest.

"We will take the weight of the bird, measure the beard and the spurs the same way that the NWTF does so that [the turkeys] will be scored properly," he said. "Somebody could win by a 10th of a point [according to the grading scale]."

The hunt is great for people to get out and enjoy the wildlife and nature that Fort Rucker has to offer, said Clancy. The experience of the hunt itself is something to be enjoyed, but more than that, it's the new friendships that can be forged during the competition.

"The camaraderie [of the hunt] brings [people] together and creates friendships that they thought might never have existed," said the program manager. "[Soldiers] will meet new people from, retirees to civilians, and they will be able to bond beyond just hunting. It just brings people together."

The Gobbler Classic isn't just for experienced hunters, said Clancy. New hunters are encouraged to participate in the season-long hunt. The turkey hunt is a great opportunity for newcomers that want to get into the sport and outdoor recreation will even provide help to those that are new to the game.

"We have people [available] to help newcomers," he said, "Whether it's to just sit and guide them or do the turkey calls for them. We can meet them on whichever day they would like and help them bag their first turkey."

The turkey hunt is open to the general public, according to the program manager. As long as people have a valid driver's license and proof of insurance, they should be allowed onto the installation to participate. Participants can also range from 7 years of age up to senior citizens, he added, saying, "If you can get around, you're more than welcome to participate."

Participants wishing to hunt in the 7-15 year age group must have a guide, sponsor or parent that has a valid Alabama state hunting license with a Fort Rucker hunting permit, and has completed the hunters education course. Those that are 16 years old and up must also have a valid Alabama hunting license and have completed the course prior to the contest as well, said Clancy.

The hunters education course is available on Fort Rucker with no cost to people that wish to attend, said the program manager, but prospective hunters must complete an online course prior to attending the education course. After the online exam, a date will be scheduled for a four-hour, in-classroom course held either on or off the installation.

Registration for the turkey hunt is being held until Mar. 14 and the cost of entry is $25 per participant, he said. All turkeys must be harvested on Fort Rucker in order to qualify for the contest.

For more information, call the outdoor recreation center at 255-4305.