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Let those gobblers ease your troubled mind

Spring gobbler hunting, which opens this Saturday, is the perfect sport for the ugly circumstances in which we find ourselves. Gobbler hunters are the original practitioners of social distancing. No gobbler hunter wants another person within 1,000 feet of him in the woods.

This year’s season will present some challenges, but we will be able to easily make them because, after all, we have been practicing them for months now. We wear headnets in the woods while working a turkey, and they are probably as efficient as a mask at keeping other people’s droplets from reaching us, and certainly will contain any sneezes or coughs the hunters may emit.

The biggest change on our hunting tactics may be in the stopping off at the diner to get brunch after hunting hours are over. Sharing the day’s excitement has always been one of the most important parts of any hunt but will have to be skipped this year, for safety’s sake.

One advantage we may have this spring is that this virus probably discouraged most gobbler hunters to skip the preseason scouting. So most gobblers will not have been disturbed, and may not have learned that every call coming from afar may not really be a lovesick hen.

I am not a fan of overcalling in this situation. Seldom do real hens immediately answer a gobbler’s call. As tempting as it is to waft out your reply to his gobble, it may not be authentic-sounding to him. What you really want is to hear a gobbler cutting your calls, that is, he answers your calls while you are still calling. That is an indication that he is really anxious to find you and he likes how you sound.

The last couple of springs, gobblers have tended to be silent and more wary than ever. I believe much of that is simply a response to the foolishness of spring scouters who think preseason scouting means to call gobblers to themselves.

But gobblers who are either perplexed at the no-show hens he runs to meet, or worse yet, is spooked in some way by the scouter, learn quickly not to respond to calls coming from afar. Perhaps that will ease this year, but I am no expert so I can’t guarantee it.

Another thing I have learned the hard way the last few years is that when gobblers talk — seldom or not at all — doesn’t mean they are not around. This is when the hunter’s patience must come into play. I find a spot where I am comfortable and concealed, and then I push calls out into the wind every once in a while as a real hen will do. Then I wait.

Gobblers often just show up silently, taking us by surprise. Or they will let out one or two gobbles to let the hen know where he is, and then he goes quiet. When this latter thing happens, I also remain quiet. I do not immediately answer him. I want him to become worried as to what has happened. Has the hen left the area?

Has another gobbler sneaked in and lured my hen away? This often hurries a gobbler to find that spot and investigate. He doesn’t want to lose her. If a gobbler is sounding off sparingly, I call back sparingly. Our urge is to immediately fire back. Then a reluctant gobbler will settle in and stay there and gobble. We call that a “hang-up.” He’ll stand pat, waiting for the hen to find him which is the usual way of things in the woods.

Before I leave that area, I will take a little tour around the place. Is there any turkey sign: tracks, scratch patches, droppings, feathers, a dusting area? If there is no fresh sign of turkey use, I will hunt some other spot next time out.

If I find a freshly-used dusting area, I will find a good place to conceal myself and wait. Turkeys generally visit a dusting spot daily. It may require long waits but it as good an ambush spot as any.

I would advise this year that you use plastic or rubber gloves while handling the bird. Also, the fact that we do not have to wear orange this year while gobbler hunting will require every hunter to be extra vigilant. Some hunters, like me, will still display orange while set up. Other hunters will not.

Therefore, if you see a movement, a shape or anything, take a second and third look. Just because you do not see orange does not mean you can just pull the trigger.

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