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Outdoor Journal

It's time to scout woods, sight in guns for turkeys

Thursday, April 11, 2013
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Outdoor Journal


It’s time to talk turkey!

In 20 days, the New York state wild turkey hunting season will begin — will you be ready?

I had the opportunity to pull the trigger on a Florida tom last month, but I’m equally eager to do it here at home on a big old eastern tom. Actually, the toms are beginning to display their fans and are working on their pecking order to see who gets the hens first. I also heard a gobble recently while leaving a friend’s house in Stillwater. Hopefully, on May 1, Mr. Benelli and I will meet up with him. It’s definitely time to get out there and start looking.

I know many hunters are too busy or think it’s too early, and there are those who will rely on what they saw and what happened last year. Turkey hunting is no different than deer hunting. Everyone needs to do their homework — get out and pattern the birds and shotgun, espec­ially if there was a missed oppor­tunity last season. Most of us have not shouldered our turkey guns since last fall, and if nothing else, it’s good to go to the range or wherever you sight guns in and re-familiarize yourself with them.

My routine is simple. I get several 4 x 4-inch pieces of cardboard and tape a turkey head target on the middle of each. Life-sized gobbler head targets are available for free on the Internet. Just Google “free turkey targets,” and there are plenty to choose from.

I recommend the Federal Prem­ium Mag Shok three-inch shot shells to anyone considering a new load for turkeys this year. I tried them last year, and there were two toms that were not happy about it. When I left the range late in April, I was quite impressed. The FliteControl shot cup holds the pellets for up to 10 yards after leaving the barrel before opening. This results in a 30 percent tighter pattern downrange.

My first tom last year locked up at 67 paces from me when he spotted two hens whose yelping got his attention. When he took his first steps toward them, my No. 4 pellets put him right down.

When you leave the range, be sure you have confidence in your shotgun’s pattern out to 30-40 yards and beyond. Remember, it only takes one pellet in the right spot to down a turkey. I prefer to see at least a dozen pellets holes in my turkey target out to 40 yards, and I know I get more than that from the FliteControl ammo (www.federalcartridge.com).

SCOUTING

Never make any attracting turkey calls (yelps, clucks, etc.) when scouting. Save them for opening morning. Owl hoots or crow calls to get a response are OK, but once there’s a response, stop! There’s nothing wrong with scouting the same area you found birds last year, but don’t rely on them without checking before May 1. The bird you saw, chased, shot at or even killed in a specific area in the past doesn’t mean they will be there this year. They may be in the same woodlot or field, but not exactly where they were last spring.

There’s nothing more exciting on opening morning than sneaking into the woods and setting up 100 yards within calling distance of a roosting tom. In the past, when I found an area the birds were moving through but I didn’t know which way they came from, how many toms were there or what time they were there, I would have to spend time really carefully glassing the area. But not this year, because I found a much easier way. I’m becoming an electronic turkey hunter.

When I find any one of these areas, I’ll be attaching one of Bushnell’s new high-definition Nature View Cameras to a tree. These units are quite impressive and really can save you time and double your chances for hunting success. The Nature View HD has a six-tenths of a second trigger speed, and is motion- and head-activated to allow capturing wildlife activity at all times day and night. And the eight-megapixel camera produces high-quality, extremely clear color photos during the day and black and white at night. It’s also waterproof and will work in temperatures from minus-5 up to 140 degrees Fahrenheit.

The Nature View also has a mode called Hybrid Capture, which will take an image followed by a video each time the camera triggers. Settings include low, medium or high flash, based on the distance to the bird/animal, while an adjustable freeze-frame shutter improves the capture of stop-action nighttime images. All of the data (date, time, temperature and moon phase) is saved on the image. There’s a one-year battery life when powered by either AA batteries or an external 6V DC power source.

The Nature View is offered in three models with manufacturer’s suggested retail prices from $200 to $330. Check all the technical details at www.bushnell.com.

After gaining confidence in your shotgun and having found your gobbler, all that’s needed is the ability to get him in range on opening day. Chances are, he won’t just walk in to your decoys. He’ll probably need a little coaxing, and this is where good calling on your part comes in. If you are like I am, you have favorite calls, but if you’re willing to try something new, I’ve two good choices for you.

Ten years ago, I met Jerry Wilson of Wilson Game Calls at an outdoor writer turkey hunt in western New York, and I tried his box call. I’ve been using it ever since. He has two calls, the Warrior 4-in-1 scratch box, and a glass-over-slate friction call that will be echoing in the Saratoga County turkey woods that I hunt.

The Warrior 4-in-1, a design that’s been in the Wilson family for years, produces five individual tones from each of the call’s four sides, giving the hunter 20 different sounds to entice a lovesick gobbler.

The new friction call sounds as sweet as it looks. When that purpleheart wood striker starts scratching over the call’s surface, it’ll produce some very enticing low and high realistic hen calls. Between these two, Tom Turkey doesn’t have a chance. Check them out at, www.wilsongamecalls.com.

COMFORT

Sitting for hours on the ground, working a tom, can be quite uncomfortable and easily lead to movements that’ll get you “busted.” It’s a common problem all turkey hunters face, but there’s a new turkey vest that provides a comfortable seat with plenty of well-thought out storage compartments — the RedHead Bucklick Creek Turkey Lounger Vest by Bass Pro Shops.

This unique vest/chair system features a dropdown self-supporting seat that provides the freedom to sit comfortably on all types of terrain and accommodate any shooting position. It has adjustable shoulder straps and is constructed of tough, waterproof microfleece fabric, and all outside zippered accessory pockets are highly water-resistant.

Other features include easy-access shell loops, dual mesh mouth call pocket, double slate pocket, box call pocket, adjustable decoy/game bag and a hydration compartment to add a bladder. No more filling my pockets with shells, head net, etc. It will be an all-in-one vest to carry everything including a comfortable seat. Check it out yourself at www.basspro.com.

2012 TURKEY HARVEST

It was not a good year. The est­imated total 2012 spring turkey harvest, based on approximately 12,000 turkey permit holders, was about 19,000 birds, 72 percent of which were adult males. This harvest was well below the five-year and 10-year averages of 29,500 and 30,300,

respectively. Also, this is the third year in a row that the spring hunting participation has declined to about 89,000, compared to 102,000 and 103,000 for past five- and 10-year averages. The good news is that 7,800 junior hunters accounted for 1,900 turkeys harvested last year, which is twice the number harvested in 2011.

In January, the Department of Env­ironmental Conservation began a new research project on wild turkey survival to help improve the management of these birds. The project will include capturing wild hens and fitting some of them with leg bands to obtain accurate data on survival and harvest. A small number will also be tagged with satellite radio-transmitters. The project will be on both public and private lands.

The No. 1 county in turkeys harvested last year was Chautauqua with 928 bearded birds. The smallest was Rockland with 17. Here are a few of the nearby county harvest statisatics:

Albany went from 261 birds harvested in 2011 to to 301 in 2012; Col­umbia from 358 to 394; Fulton from 144 to 109; Herkimer from 442 to 379; Montgomery from 263 to 268; Rensselaer from 306 to 286; Sar­atoga from 336 to 258; Schenectady from 62 to 81; Schoharie from 280 to 359; and Washington from 420 to 433.

 
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