Outdoors: Youth spring turkey opens successfully

Jerrod Vila's The Recorder's outdoors column
Arlan Wright shows off the 20-pound, 7-ounce turkey he got last Saturday.
Arlan Wright shows off the 20-pound, 7-ounce turkey he got last Saturday.

Categories: Sports

Last Saturday kicked off the youth season-opener for spring turkey, and what a pristine morning it was. It was rather warm, with pre-dawn temperatures hanging close to 50 degrees and just about no wind to speak of. It was a superb morning to be out in the turkey woods! 

The typical 4:30 a.m. meet-up at Stewart’s was all but traditional, though. Never before have we ever worn a facemask while getting coffee! Driving separately and taking all the necessary COVID-19 precautions, we made it out to the woods.

I had roosted a lone gobbler along with a group of a few hens the evening prior. He was roosted a little lower along a ridge line than typical for this location, which I actually liked a bit better than him roosting high on the top of the ridge. Or so I thought.

Making our way through the woods prior to sunrise, the three of us inched along, taking care to be extra quiet. After having to back out and take another route due to spotting a few random hens silhouetted in the trees on our way down the ridge, I along with coworker Don Phillips and his son Sam got into position approximately 150 yards or so east of where I thought I pinpointed the longbeard’s roosting location the prior evening as he sounded off gobble after gobble right at dark.

This was Sam’s first turkey hunt ever, and I wanted it to work out so badly. We were set up in some open hardwoods, between the base of the ridge and some overly thick brush, just a nice natural funnel for a big Tom to work up and through on his way to the field I have watched them in many a time over the years.

As the darkness began to give way to the first gray light, on cue, the old gobbler cut loose with a long, thundering gobble, which made all of us jump a bit. A bit closer than I had anticipated, but just far enough away not to be able to make him out in the tree. Somewhere around 100 yards or so I would speculate.

Gobble after gobble, things were looking very promising. How’s the old adage go, “The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.” Well, that sure was conducive of what was about to go down.

We had noticed a few hens (the ones we avoided earlier) roosted about 75 yards out and thought, “OK, perfect, they’ll work right on by and he will be in tow.”


Instead of pitching right down onto the side hill, they decided it is in their best interest to fly up above the canopy of the trees and glide 500 yards down the hill and land in the middle of a giant field. Ten seconds after this happened, the big gobbler did the same, leaving us all dumbfounded and looking at each other like, “Did that seriously just happen?”

The fact of the matter was that it did, and there was no possible way to go after these particular birds at the moment so we made an early move to another property.

After a short drive to a bordering property, we found ourselves making our way through a section of hardwoods to scope out a field that is a known strut zone and perhaps take up a post and call there for a bit.

We weren’t 50 yards from that field when a gobble rang out that confirmed the presence of at least one gobbler already out there. This particular field is bordered by quite a steep ravine, which provides excellent cover to get right up to the edge of it undetected.

I was the first to climb up and check out the scenario. Not one, but three mature gobblers were out 250 yards or so strutting their stuff and putting on a show. I motioned for Don and Sam to climb the ravine while I got the camera equipment all set up. There were a few large oaks right on the edge that provided ample outline breaking cover.

When everyone was comfortable and in position, I gave out a fairly aggressive set of yelps which were immediately met by three simultaneously gobbles. The trip instantly turned our way and, at this point, I knew things were about to get good. Sweet talking them with a few more yelps and purrs, they were on their way towards our position. Every single call I made was met by double and triple gobbles, it was one of the most text book turkey hunts I have ever been on. Two hundred gobbles later and now within easy range, they put on a heck of show.

Talking Sam through, he listened perfectly. “Center the cross hairs and a nice slow squeeze.” Boom! The 12-gauge spoke, and Sam had his first big longbeard on the ground. I would have to say he now will be a turkey hunter for life. This was the kind of hunt that was an absolute stand out. Certainly one that will not be forgotten, especially being his very first bird.

Another very notable event which took place last weekend was the 11th Annual Youth Turkey Hunt hosted by Dick Andrews and Mike Auriemma. This hunt has been a mainstay and grows every year.

Unfortunately this year, due to COVID-19 restrictions and social distancing protocols, it could not run in the traditional manner. Albeit the craziness surrounding all of us at the moment 55 teams of a youth hunter and a mentor signed up to take part. Ten of those teams were successful in harvesting a bird which I feel is a pretty good ratio. The weigh in was at the Cranesville Fire Department, and everyone who came to weigh in a bird followed protocol, and it went off perfectly without a hitch.

The following are all the successful youth hunters who brought in a bird last Saturday.

The top spot and biggest bird of the day went to Brayden Ketchum, bringing in a 22-pound 1-ounce gobbler with a 9 3/4-inch beard and 1 1/8-inch spurs called in by mentor Andy Delliveneri.

The other successful youth hunters are:

  • Dan Turnbull: 20 pounds, 13 ounces, 8 1/4-inch beard and 7/8-inch Spurs. Mentor: Ryan Turnbull.
  • Arlan Wright: 20 pounds, 7 ounces, 9 3/4-inch beard and 1 1/8-inch spurs. Mentor: Brian Rush.
  • Jonathan Hollenbeck: 20 pounds, 7 ounces, 9 3/4-inch beard and 1 1/8-inch spurs. Mentor: Beaver Ross.
  • Jayden Johnson: 20 pounds, 7 ounces, 9 3/4-inch beard and 1-inch spurs. Mentor: Brian Mabie.
  • Riley Montayne: 20 pounds, 2 ounces, 9 1/2-inch beard and 7/8-inch spurs. Mentor: Mike Montayne.
  • Luke Phetteplace: 19 pounds, 13 ounces, 9 1/2-inch beard and 7/8-inch spurs. Mentor: Brent Phetteplace.
  • Sam Phillips: 18 pounds, 10 ounces, 9-inch beard and 1-inch spurs. Mentor: Jerrod Vila.
  • Gracelynn Douglass: 15 pounds, 1 ounce, 4 3/4-inch beard and 1/4-inch spurs. Mentor: Chad Douglass.
  • Colton Dowgielewicz: 13 pounds, 10 ounces, 4-inch beard and 1/4-inch spurs. Mentor: John Dowgielewicz.

There are a ton great prizes to be given away to all youth participants, and a little something extra for all that were able to take a bird. Unfortunately, due to the COVID-19 crisis, we are currently unable to host the typical after hunt barbecue.

Fear not, as this is only a temporary delay and once everything gets back to normal, the get-together will be held. Until then, get those kids back out there! Just because it is no longer youth season is no reason to leave them home! Stay safe.


Don’t forget Saturday is not only the second day of the regular turkey season, but also opening day of walleye, northern pike, tiger muskie and Pickerel season, as well. Not everyone is a die-hard turkey hunter, so this date is certainly appealing to all the fishermen and women in the crowd.

That being said, I cannot ever remember a year where the gates on the Mohawk River locks were not yet down. This creates an extremely easy scenario to target walleye from shore. Just remember the daily limit for walleye is five fish 15 inches or greater in most bodies of water statewide.

There are a few exceptions to this rule, so if unsure about a certain body of water be sure to check the syllabus.

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