Gerald Almy: Spring turkey season opens
Waiting in the early morning mist where the green wheat field nudged against the dark gray forest, I watched the trees take shape in the nascent morning light and listened. The tom’s call broke the morning silence like a rock shattering glass.
Gobble! Obble! Obble!
Approaching as close as I dared, I found a broad-girthed white oak and settled back against it. As the light grew brighter, I made a soft tree yelp on my diaphragm call. The turkey’s response thundered through the woods. Waiting until he had called several times more, I clucked twice, and the bird answered immediately.
When the tom flew down, he quickly cut the distance between us in half. Another cluck drew a loud response as the bird stepped into view, half puffed-out in strut. Picking his way through the underbrush, the gobbler looked awesome as his beard swayed long and heavy across his chest.
As he dropped out of strut, the sight covered his neck, and I squeezed. The big tom fell cleanly, and I walked quickly towards him – a heavy bird with an 11-inch beard. The spring gobbler season was less than an hour old.
That hunt a few years back epitomized many of the advantages of early season – basically meaning the last half of April. Toms are gobbling hard and fired up with the urge to breed. Peak numbers of birds are available – turkeys that have not been disturbed by hunting pressure. And gobbles can be heard long distances because the foliage is sparse.
The key to enjoying the best early hunting is to find out what patterns the birds are using. If you haven’t done this already, get out and do so now. Try to get an idea of where birds like to roost, water, strut, feed and loaf.
Do this in several hunting areas. This way if one tom is not gobbling or another hunter is parked in a particular area, you can move quickly to other birds.
Travel back roads on foot, in a truck or even use a bicycle. You want to cover ground and pinpoint as many toms as possible. Sometimes the turkeys will gobble on their own. Other times you may have to prod them into sounding off with owl, crow, woodpecker or hawk calls.
If a gobbler seems fired up and you have time, go for him. Otherwise, just listen as it comes off the roost and see which direction it goes. Does the tom work down a knoll, up a hill, toward a field, to a creek to get water? No, turkeys won’t do the exact same thing every day, but there will be general patterns they follow more often than not. Figure this out and plan your approach for the next opportunity you have to try for him.
Avoid spooking the birds. You may need to note where a gobbler sounded off in the morning, then come in a few hours later when it’s left the area to see exactly where it roosted and note from the sign such as tracks, scratchings, droppings, and wingtip drag marks where it fed and strutted and the direction it went. This will give you crucial information on where the best places are to call from the next time when you’re ready to set upon him.
Study the terrain to see how the natural features of the landscape will dictate where you should and shouldn’t try to call from. Gobblers won’t want to come down into a steep ravine, cross a creek or go through dense cover. Look for spots a bird would prefer to travel – up or down a gradual slope, across a saddle, toward a clearing for strutting or a field to feed, along an old logging road.
The better you can pinpoint your quarry’s location and patterns of movement, the better your chances of scoring quickly when you set upon him. Knowing where a bird is roosting may let you move in under cover of darkness and set up as close as 70 or 80 yards away. A few tree yelps and clucks are often all you need to bring such gobblers into shooting range.
If you don’t have a bird pinpointed precisely and have to move in after daybreak, don’t try to get too close. That’s one of the few negatives of early season hunting – the lack of foliage makes it easy for birds to spot you from a long distance.
In the stark, leafless woods it’s often necessary to stay 150, even 200 yards away. Don’t worry. A tom can easily hear you and come that far before you know it.
Gobblers are usually so fired up in the early season you don’t have to get real close to entice them in to your calls. If they like what you’re saying, they’ll cover a couple of hundred yards in no time flat.
Award-winning outdoors writer Gerald Almy is a Maurertown resident.