This summer past, the excitement of watching the Pirates play even into the post-season eased the edge of the interminable waiting for hunting seasons to arrive. Once they do, it seems like they all descend on us at once and on the day or two each week that most hunters can find to go afield they must make choices: small game, archery or turkey?
Archery hunting is heating up right now. The weather has turned, the rut is here and getting more urgent each day. Deer are all about that breeding instinct now, bucks are chasing does with abandon, behaving as carelessly as they will all year. Remember that in our Disease Management Area, the use of any urine based scents for deer are illegal.
This Saturday fall turkey season opens in our Management Area. Consult the hunting digest for the various opening dates for different WMU's statewide.
It should not be hard to find the flocks this year. There are acorns and wild grapes and the birds will be out scratching for them so I, for one, will patrol the woods slowly, stopping to listen, look and waft a few series of calls through the air.
You'll know turkey scratchings when you see them. A large flock of birds literally tears up a ridge where food is abundant. If scratchings look very fresh, most hunters will carefully follow the line of the scratchings, hoping to run into the flock. Then, the determination must be made by the hunter as to whether he can get close enough to a busy flock to get a shot. This is tricky business because in any flock there will always be several heads that are up, not feeding, scanning for danger.
If a hunter cannot get close enough to actually get a shot he will usually be close enough to scatter the flock. Which means you have to startle and panic the birds, generally done by charging toward them, making a lot of noise such as yelling. The frightened birds scatter in all directions.
The birds - usually young birds that are perhaps separated from their mother and flockmates for the first time ever - get panicked at finding themselves alone. The hunting lore here is that they will come on the double to the first calls they hear about 20 minutes or so after the scatter. And those first calls should be made by the hunter who did the scattering.
The most commonly used call will be the kee-kee or whistle of lost young birds, which is a screechy, half-yelp and a call seldom able to be made on anything but a 2 reed diaphragm call. Sometimes they will respond to fast-paced yelps as well. But the hunter sets up right in the area in which he scattered the flock, waits awhile for the birds to calm down, pulls his camouflage mask and gloves on and commences to offer the kee-kees the birds want to hear.
A few years ago, I ran into a flock of birds in Cambria County. They were too far away to scatter them so I backtracked, circled around and went up into the woods hoping I was in front of them. I set up against a big tree and called intermittently for almost an hour when I saw, again quite far off, the entire flock feeding along the ridge. I called more urgently then and they turned my way. They had to cross a small ditch that was between us and after a bit, one of the turkeys ran up out of the ditch and stood, stretched out and looking, on top of the ditch. I aimed my 12 gauge and squeezed the trigger.
When I ran up to retrieve my prize, I realized that hen couldn't have weighed over 6 or 7 pounds. She hadn't looked that small when I aimed at her. So I stuffed her quickly into my vest and hoped I wouldn't see anyone as I walked out of the woods. It didn't take a lot of stuffing to make a meal of her.
Safety while turkey hunting is on everyone's mind but common sense will take care of most of the problem. Every hunter must keep in mind that everything he sees and hears, especially hears, is not a turkey. Every hunter out there is wearing camouflage and calling turkeys. Therefore we must assume that everything we see and hear is a hunter, not a turkey, until we positively know better. Many accidents could be prevented if the shooter just would take another second or two to confirm that what he sees and hears and thinks is a turkey is indeed a turkey.
Having snow for turkey hunting is always a plus. Tracking turkeys in the snow is a particular fun way to find them. One year, on the very last day of season, I ran smack into a bunch of turkey scratching and tracks on a snowy ridge. I simply followed this red-hot sign slowly, watching ahead of me constantly.
Sure enough I found the flock, waited for my opportunity and then scattered them. In a half-hour, I had called a few birds back to me and bagged one. I hiked out with the bird, then drove to where a buddy was staying. He'd had a discouraging week of birdless hunting so was using that Saturday afternoon to pack his truck and go home.
I caught him in the nick of time and persuaded him to go back to that area with me. I knew those turkeys would still be hanging around there. They were. All it took was some loud kee-keeing and they came running and my buddy bagged a bird at almost the last minute.
Tracking a flock of turkeys in the snow makes the scattering technique much easier.