Saturday, April 18, 2009

Getting Ready For The Turkey Opener

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Thinking about hunting spring gobblers will usually do one of two things to most sportsmen. It will either make them feel all warm and fuzzy with great expectations or their upcoming hunt or it will give them a roaring headache as they will hunt a big gobbler.

I have a second-season permit so there still is more time to prepare for the hunt. Those who plan to greet the dawn on opening day are busily trying to get all their gear together, and do some last-minute scouting.

Turkey hunters, by and large, carry too much crap around with them. Two or three box calls, two or three friction calls, be they made of aluminum, crystal, glass or slate. Add three or four pegs for the calls. And then there may be a half-dozen diaphragm calls, and perhaps even a gobbler call that you shake to make a realistic gobble. But that’s not all you might find in a turkey hunter’s equipment.

Obviously some hunting boots. And then there is the face mask for those who don’t care to cover their face with grease paint. Obviously, a shotgun or bow is necessary. Then we have either brown or green camouflage cloth plus a hat. Is that it? No, because most turkey hunters now carry anywhere from one to four or five turkey decoys. Many decoys require stakes as well to hold the fake birds in place.

Anything else? Well yes, there is something rather important to the hunt. In fact two things come to mind.

The first is common sense. Try to hunt where no one else is hunting, and this can mean getting farther back in than other hunters. Most sportsmen will be found within a quarter- to a half-mile from the road. I have a friend who hunts Osceola turkeys in Florida, and he commonly doesn’t start hunting until he is at least three or four miles from his truck.

“I leave ‘em (other turkey hunters) in my dust,” he said. “I out-walk them, go into areas they wouldn’t dream of hunting, and I seldom see another hunter. I get one or more turkeys every year by hunting this way.”

Common sense also means hunting safely. Never get into a calling competition with another hunter. Use a flashlight (I like a green beam), and hunters can see it. The last thing you want to do is to set up on a bird on opening day, sit and wait for the first gobbles from roosted birds, and then hear another hunter calling to the birds. Get up and move out of the area rather that compete. Someone could get shot in such calling competitions.

Can you out-think a turkey? I would certainly hope so. Human have the capability of thought while turkeys simply react to sounds and what they hear or see. Blend in with the available cover, learn to sit still without moving, and learn the basics of calling, and you are most of the way to success.

However, it’s important to choose an area where turkey like to travel. They dislike moving through extremely thick cover. Instead they prefer semi-open woods where visibility allows them to see another bird (or a decoy) and where escape from possible danger allows them to run or to easily launch themselves into flight.

Pick a spot near an adjacent open fields. Gobblers will poke around a bit in the woods at dawn but soon after fly-down they will head out to their strut zones. It’s here where they do their little mating dance as they try to impress nearby hens just how handsome and virile they are. They often breed hens early in the morning although breeding can take place anytime a gobbler and hen meet. Choose a location, often within 200 yards of their roost trees, where the birds can see for long distances.

Once the gobblers posture, and chase the hens, they often split up and move off to feed. A hunter who calls in the morning, and the gobbler is obsessed with an obliging hen, may seem to remember hearing a hen call. After the hens leave the gobbler or circle back after eating, the gobbler may go looking for that hen, Some calling may work. I’ve found, although this conclusion is not cast in stone, that fairly soft turkey sounds will inspire confidence in the bearded bird. Hard, excited calling can work but I begin in mid-morning with medium tones.

Hens can be a problem sometimes in the spring, and will try to lead a gobbler off into another direction away from a calling hen. If the bird shows an interest in coming to the call, and a hen tries to call him back, duplicate the sounds of the wild hen but put a bit more urgency and pleading into your call. If the real hen sasses you, sass her back by making the same sound as she makes but do it louder. This trick has worked for me so many times in the past that I’ve lost count of how many gobblers have fallen to this tactic.

Last year, while trying to call a big gobbler in to Kay, the hen tried to interfere. I simply out-called her, and dragged the Boss Gobbler, several jakes a nd several hens within gun range. Kay killed the big gobbler at about 20 yards.

One thing to remember: dare to be a bit different. There are almost as many ways to hunt gobblers as there are hunters. Nothing works every time, and if it isn’t working, change it. Try something else, something different. If possible try moving closer to the bird without being seen. Or, try moving away and muffling the call as if this hen has lost interest in the gobbler and is moving off. Both methods have worked for me.

Just don’t do as a friend of mine did many years ago. He bragged to anyone who would listen that his calling skills were superb (which they were) and that he had called in countless birds to hunter (which also was true) over the years. However, bragging doesn’t work well nor does it impress turkeys.

He finally ran aground of a hunting season where all of his tricks from previous years, and all of his calling techniques, failed to bring even one gobbler to the gun. Nothing he did that year worked, and other hunters who had listened to his brags, blew him off as a braggart who couldn’t produce.

Turkeys, if you haven’t noticed, have a way of humbling most hunters and they seem to take savage delight in doing so.

Posted by Dave Richey on 04/18 at 03:41 PM
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