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The turkey hunt different around here

Commentary

I was surprised a few weeks ago to read in Outdoors News magazine that the Game Commission is considering a legislative bill that would prohibit Pennsylvania turkey hunters from calling to turkeys in the month before season opens. Think of that!

Let me say that I am firmly against the idea that preseason scouting for gobblers should include calling the gobblers to your calls, so you can video them or just look at them or anything else. I think that is a very bad idea and it was the topic of discussion in the seminars I participated in at the Jaffa Outdoor Show. I have written in this column many times on this topic.

But I absolutely resist the idea that this practice should be prohibited by law.

In fact, I may be one of the first outdoor writers in the country to recognize what a problem all the preseason hullabaloo hunters create by parading around the woods, calling turkeys in, spooking them and teaching them that their woods are being invaded by the enemy that has also learned their language.

I am seriously resistant to politicians making things into law that they personally do or do not like but that do not impact safety or the resource itself etc. And this does not. Whether or not a hunter calls birds in before season is a cause divided: hunters are about evenly split or whether or not it affects hunting success. But to legislate it into law because some lawmaker does not agree with it or does not like it borders on dangerous.

What will be next? Someone decides he doesn’t like the Royal Coachman as a dry fly so he legislates it out of use? A deer hunter is prohibited from scouting for trophy bucks for a month before season? Or he doesn’t think the use of a deer grunt call is ethical for deer hunting so he tries to legislate it out of existence?

I am against hunters going out and calling to birds before season. I firmly believe it conditions the birds to not respond when season begins because he learns before season that it is futile to run to a hen calling from afar because she is never there. When he gets a few hens of his own rounded up you can bet his will not forsake them to come search for a hen calling 75 yards away. He’s learned she probably will not be there. So he may gobble back at her, but he’s not leaving what he sees right with him. Someone rightly said, and I believe gobblers believe this, “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.”

Further, if a gobbler is called in and is spooked by the hunter he learns quickly that hen calls from afar are a risky business. Again, he stands and gobbles but is too chary by now to actually approach it.

Recently I attended the national convention of the National Wild Turkey Federation and there I went to seminars put on by some of the “elite” turkey hunters of the nation. These are the ones with the TV shows, the articles in the leading outdoor magazines and do seminars at the great conventions. I was surprised to hear several of these famous folks say that they didn’t think calling to a bird before season impacted them in any way.

“They have a brain the size of a walnut and they cannot reason out that this is a hunter and not a real bird making the sounds,” is their usual response.

I know the birds are not thinkers and planners but I do know they, like all wild things, respond to what happens to them repeatedly. Laboratory workers can get mice to choose the right path through a maze by repeatedly discomfiting them when they choose the wrong way.

As I sat there talking to them, I realized that they don’t have to hunt like we in Pennsylvania do. Every couple days they are off to another state, another territory to hunt to make films for their shows etc. and these places are mostly private, with unhasseled birds. I would really like to see how they would persuade birds that are extremely reluctant to cover the distance between them because he had already been spooked several times when he did that.

It is recognized in professional turkey hunting circles that “if you can bag a bird in Pennsylvania, you can bag one anywhere.” That is so true and one reason is that our birds, especially on State Game Lands, are pushed and shoved mercilessly before season begins and are reluctant to go to any hen they cannot see.

But to make that a law? I don’t think so. That scares me silly. We have so many laws already that you need to be in constant touch with your lawyer when you go hunting.

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