Some people tell me spending 22 days in May in the turkey woods is excessive.
Why would anyone want to jump out of bed every morning at 3 a.m. and be sitting in the woods when it’s still dark, awaiting sunup and the gobble of a wild turkey? I’m not sure I can explain it, but for me, spring turkey hunting has been an obsession since I harvested my first tom many years ago.
Now, I’m retired and have the time, although during the month of May, I do neglect of number of household chores and most importantly — I have a very understanding spouse.
I’ve heard from a number of turkey hunters about what seems to be a shortage of birds, perhaps due to the nasty winter weather, but that’s not my experience. Every day I’ve been out, I’ve heard, talked with and seen turkeys. But it wasn’t until my 20th day that I actually clicked off my safety and pulled the trigger. I estimate I had the opportunity to shoot at least a dozen or more jakes, but chose not to. But I also admit that on the 20th day, as I walked into the turkey woods, I was thinking seriously about taking a jake, if I got the opportunity.
The day before I took my first gobbler, I made a last-minute decision that morning to hunt a small patch of woods in southern Saratoga County. I hadn’t hunted this area for two or three years, and I knew it was heavily hunted. I got there early and having not done any scouting, I set up on the edge of a field where I had been successful in the past.
About 5 a.m., I heard gobbles from two different locations, but unfortunately, they were both on the other end of the woods. Rather than trying to get closer to them, I decided to stay put and hope to get them or another gobbler to respond to my calls. I’m not fond of moving on a gobbling turkey in woods where I know there may be other hunters.
I never did get any action that day, but before leaving, I walked just inside the wood line along the field edge and then into the woods where I thought the gobbles had come from. I found and cleared out a spot I planned to be sitting early the next morning.
Well, before daylight the next day, I headed in and was about 40 yards from where I planned to set-up when I heard a nearby gobble that stopped me in my tracks, and it was only 4:45 a.m. Not wanting to take a chance at spooking him off the roost, I set up my ambush point right where I was. Quickly I set out Henrietta and Jake (my two decoys) and settled in with my back against a large oak tree, facing the source of the gobble. For added stealth, I set up my short-walled ground blind, and while I was doing all that, he was gobbling.
It was about 5:15 when I made my first low-volume tree yelp, a softer version of the regular yelp, to let him know there was a lonely hen waiting for him. We talked intermittently for about a half-hour, and then I heard several birds fly down from their roost. I did get one response from him when he was on the ground, but that was it, and I could only assume that the real hens had his undivided attention. I did continue to make a call, now and then, but never got another response.
I had no idea where he was, but I knew from experience that late in the season, toms are very cautious and will often move about quietly. After about a half-hour or so, I saw movement in front of me and watched a jake materialize about 25 yards from me. I had the orange bead of the Stoeger 12-gauge right on his head, but again, I decided not to shoot. Five minutes later, and following the same path, another jake appeared. He also had a four- to five-inch beard, and I let him pass.
For the next 10 minutes, I was really second-guessing my decisions to let them walk, and then out came four hens who immediately stared and clucked at my decoys from about 15 yards away. I remember thinking, “noisy live bait.”
Looking off to my right, I saw what I’d been waiting for 20 days to see, a red headed, big bodied, beard-dragging gobbler. And here I sat, like a beginner, with my gun across my lap. Waiting for him to step behind a tree, I quickly shouldered the Stoeger, clicked off the safety and when he stepped out into an opening, I had my first 2011 tom.
As I walked the 45 steps to where he lay by the tree, I noticed the cleared spot next to the tree. It was the spot I had cleared the day before. Mr. Tom tipped the scales at 19.2 pounds, carried an 11-inch beard and had a pair of 1 1⁄4-inch spurs — well worth the wait. This is the eastern bird I’ll register shortly to complete my sixth National Wild Turkey Federation Grand Slam.
TURKEY NO. 2
Shortly after sending out photos of my big tom to several friends, I received a congratulatory call from my friend, Glenn Garver of Albany, inviting me to join him and Mike Mueller of Schenectady to hunt turkeys in Westerlo the following day, and I quickly agreed. I hadn’t hunted this property in about three years, but I knew it was a good area.
Early that morning at the farm, we split up, and I headed across a field to a large stand of pines where I had taken several nice toms before. Finding the logging road that wound its way through the pines, I slowly and quietly made my way in about 200 yards from the field. I picked out a big oak to sit against and set out Henrietta and Jake about 20 yards from it. To add to my cover, I set up a portable ground blind and settled in to await the first morning gobble.
Normally, I can take a short nap before sunup, but not on that day, because a thundering gobble shattered the silence and echoed through the woods shortly after I sat down. He was definitely out in front of me about 200 yards, and I quickly gave him a couple of soft yelps on my box call to let him know there was a lady here waiting for him. He answered, and we talked on and off for about a half-hour. My calls were then answered by two other gobblers, one behind and one off to my left. This could be a problem because if they all came in, that would be at least three pairs of sharp eyes that I would have to fool. But it was a predicament that any true turkey hunter would love to be in.
It wasn’t long after that I heard the tom in front of me fly down, and he, along with the other two, answered my yelps. It seemed like they were all coming, but the one in front was coming much quicker, and I shouldered and rested my gun on my knee pointed in his direction. I saw his fan first, then his red head and beard coming out of a small ravine, and it was plenty big enough for me. But the unexpected happened. Behind and to my left about 70 yards out were three hens, and the yelping from one of them made my tom change directions, heading away from me.
The resulting shot was a bit farther than I wanted it to be, but it was then or never. When he stepped into a small opening in the brush, I shot, and he folded immediately. Happy is an understatement of how I felt, even more so when I found out the shot was 52 yards. This new gun throws an awesome pattern.
It was one week ago today at 6:35 a.m., and my 2011 spring turkey hunting season had ended. The tom weighed 19 pounds, had half-inch spurs and sported a 9 1⁄2-inch beard. Not a bad season, almost 30 pounds of turkey and 20-plus inches of beard.
Normally, this would be the end of the story, but at a sportsman club meeting the other night, several guys asked me why I don’t list all the equipment I use when hunting, like they do on the outdoor TV shows. Well, here goes.
The shotgun is a 12-gauge Stoeger Model 3500 magnum that can shoot 2 3⁄4-, 3- and 3 1⁄2-inch shotshells. It has a smooth-as-silk inertia-driven bolt assembly with a rotating locking head, recoil reducer, 24-inch raised rib barrel and comes with five choke tubes that include an extra full turkey tube with a very impressive pattern (www.stoegerindustries.com).
My shotshell choice, after trying a number of different brands, is the Federal 3 1⁄2-inch Mag Shok Heavyweight Turkey No. 5 load. When those 319 pellets leave the barrel at 1,300 feet per second, Mr. Tom is in trouble — out to 52 yards, at least.
The camouflage I wear is Grouse Wing Camo (www.grousewingcamo), made and marketed by a friend, Carlos Gonzales of Wyoming, and my portable blind is the 12-foot by 27-inch Hunter Specialties collapsible Super Light (www.hunterspec.com).
The final key to my success in bringing these wary gobblers to the gun is my Wilson Game Call’s Ed Noonan Series walnut box call (www.wilsongamecalls).