Patience can pay off
Game Commission turkey biologist Mary Jo Casalena reports that this year turkeys are plentiful. So all one has to do is walk into the woods and pop one. Of course, it is seldom that easy. This past week flocks were broken up, turkeys chased from spot to spot and plenty of them harvested. Flocks get cranky and suspicious in direct proportion to the amount of hassle they receive in a week.
After opening day, more casual turkey hunters turn to other pursuits so the serious hunter can concentrate. I’ve had quite a tussle with turkeys this past week. I haven’t bagged one yet but I’m still hoping. I run into them every time I’m out but they always seem to be passing through about a hundred yards away and I haven’t been able yet to get them close enough for a shot.
They are no doubt suspicious of any calls they hear coming from any distance away. But I still have a couple days left that I can go and a couple tricks up my sleeve. Still, there are legions of turkey hunters haunting the woods in the couple weeks of season, more than anyone ever thought there would be a generation or so ago. Within a very few days of the season, opener flocks are broken up into smaller groups and have become ultra-suspicious and alert. How to hunt these buggered birds is the big question now.
Here is where the legendary turkey hunter’s patience comes to the forefront. Turkeys are, for the most part, wary of calls from afar and suspicious of everything they see. Still, they must eat and visit water sources.
Should you be lucky enough to run onto a flock that hasn’t been split up numerous times, you can effect a good scatter and the old “sit up against a tree and call them back to you” tactic will work. But the more common thing in the late season is to come upon fresh sign of just one or two turkeys and concentrate on them.
The smart hunter, especially if he hasn’t been able to spend a lot of time scouting, stays on the move, looking for an area that shows the common signs of turkey feeding. Fresh scratchings, with lots of food still available are a fair guarantee that the birds will be back there, sometime. There are acorns, wild grapes or cherries galore this year and scratchings that prove turkeys have found them, the best tactic is to just set up shop in the area, realizing that the waiting could last for hours.
I discovered the one-man chair bind a couple years ago and right here is where they become beneficial. They are so lightweight and comfortable and if you hunt on a farm or public land where you can carry the blind for a short way, it will really help you to do the waiting.
If, however, you must set up on the ground, brush away all sticks and stones from the spot where you sit. Murphy’s law dictates that if you sit on even the smallest root or pebble, it will begin to dig into your posterior just as turkey answer your calls and you cannot move. Sit on the pillow attached to your turkey vest for extra comfort and warmth. Remove from your vest the various calls you will want to use and set them beside you within easy reach. That saves you from having to make big movements that will betray your presence as you search through pockets for a particular call.
Fidgeting while set up will alert a turkey to your position before you ever glimpse the bird. Fall turkeys love to approach the sound of your calls silently. Once scattered and scared a few times they have learned not to trumpet their presence before they have checked to be sure it is safe to approach. I’m positive I have spooked many a turkey because I was eating a sandwich or scrooching around to relieve aching hips and legs and never knew birds were near.
Few hunters are agile enough to simply grab up a shotgun that is lying across their laps and get off a good shot. Most of us have to take the more cautious approach, watching the bird until he steps behind a tree and we can then lift the shotgun.
My ugliest memory of such a time was when I successfully got my shotgun raised and then waited and waited and waited for the bird to step out from the other side of the tree. I waited until it became physically impossible for me to hold it up any long so I eased it down, slowly as I could. I never saw that bird and I realized that bird had pulled an old trick on me. He’d simply gone behind the tree then turned, and using the tree as a shield, moved directly away from me and I never saw him. How foolish you feel when a wild creature pulls such a trick on you.
If you know where a flock is hanging out, get in there and hike around, stopping every few steps to listen for the sounds of their scratching in the leaves. Then rush them to scatter and separate them.