Two weeks ago, 20 members of the New York State Outdoor Writers Association spent a four-day weekend hosted by Peck’s Lake and the Fulton County Regional Chamber of Commerce, and they really rolled out the red carpet for us.
Each year, NYSOWA chooses a location in the state to hold its annual safari and experience the area’s hunting and fishing resources. The idea for this safari began at Mike Hauser’s Adirondack Outdoorsman Show in Johnstown, when Dan Ladd of Fort Ann, Ron Kolodziej of Fonda, and I met with the Fulton County Chamber and the Peck’s Lake family. By the time the plans were finalized, there were a dozen local merchants who came on board as sponsors and contributed to our visit.
All of us were housed in on-the-water cabins along the shore of Peck’s Lake, and they made sure that each cabin had a boat and motor at the dock for us to use. And if there’s one thing that these scribes can do, it’s fish. You can imagine the fish tales that were spun around the campfire each night. Those who’ve fished Peck’s Lake know most of those tales were probably true. This lake, the second largest of the 44 lakes in the county, is stocked annually, and most of the state’s popular game fish, including pickerel, northern pike, walleyes, large and smallmouth bass, trout, crappies and rock bass, can be found in this 1,370-acre man-made lake.
Last year, when I made my first visit to Peck’s Lake, I quickly found out it can provide some very exciting rod-bending encounters. Mike Miller of Schenectady found out when he hooked and released quite a few large and smallmouth bass his first time on the water. His largest, which came on a wacky worm, was a beautiful five-pound largemouth. I, too, had my share of catching and releasing both species of bass, using the same lure. I also hooked up with a plump pickerel off the dock in front of our cabin that measured 25 inches. And a good example of the trout in Peck’s Lake was the 17-incher caught by Pete Schoonmaker of Gloversville, a field editor for Whitetail Unlimited magazine.
Turkey hunting was also an important part of the Safari, and usually, the writer who bags the biggest bird maintains bragging rights for the remainder of the year. But this year, in addition to bragging rights, Frank’s Gun Shop in Gloversville had donated a $100 gift certificate. Half my fun on these safaris is when each of us tells our turkey tales that evening at dinner. And, boy, can we make up some great excuses for missing or getting busted by a keen-eyed gobbler.
I actually came up to Peck’s the evening before (Wednesday) because I planned to hunt Thursday morning. I arrived there in time to stow my gear in the cabin I would be sharing with old friend Wayne Brewer of Seneca Falls. If that name sounds familiar, Wayne, now retired, was the director of law enforcement for the Department of Environmental Conservation and now is a freelance writer and author of a fish and game cookbook entitled, “Nature’s Bounty.”
After dinner with Alby Peck and his grandson, Clarence Chamberlain, we drove to an isolated woodlined road where I’d hunted turkeys with Clarence before. Last year in those woods, we had several “almosts” on some very good-looking longbeards. We couldn’t get a single response, but Clarence assured me that they had heard and seen several good toms prior to the season’s opening in this area.
The next morning, well before sunup, I was in the woods, sitting about 15 yards from my decoys. Unfortunately, my calling didn’t attract a single response, so about 10 a.m., we called it quits. After a quick but hearty breakfast at the Red Store, we headed for some of the private farms that had graciously agreed to let our group hunt turkeys. That afternoon, we saw enough to get me excited about the next day’s hunt.
The writers began arriving, and all were enthusiastic about the fishing and hunting they would soon be enjoying. At the meet-and-greet sponsored by the Fulton County Chamber at Vrooman’s Hotel in Caroga Lake, we all got to meet our fishing and hunting guides, none of whom were professionals. They were all avid and knowledgeable anglers/hunters who volunteered to help ensure we had a good time. I’m still amazed at how this community willingly volunteered the time to help us in whatever outdoor activity we wished to pursue while we were in Fulton County.
At 3:30 a.m. the next morning, six writers reluctantly left their warm beds and headed for the turkey woods. It was an absolutely perfect day, if you liked 30-degree weather with a 10-mph wind. My guide, Clarence, dropped me off at the top of a very large field where we’d seen several toms the day before, and I made my way to a small, overgrown bushy island in the middle of the field and set out my decoys. At sunup, there were plenty of gobbles and some even responded, but didn’t make any moves toward me. I had an opportunity to shoot a jake that came in later in the morning, but I wanted to wait for a longbeard. And at lunch that afternoon, most of the turkey tales were the same as mine.
That evening, we enjoyed a lakeside barbecue with a main course of Sika deer steaks and all the trimmings, donated by Easton View Outfitters and cooked by Tammy Warner of Peck’s Lake. And believe me when I say that everyone went to bed with a full stomach that evening.
High winds greeted us on Day 2, and I was glad I had an extra jacket with me. When Clarence dropped me off at the top of the field I was going to hunt at 4:15 a.m., I had to walk directly into the wind, and questioned my decision to hunt that day.
Fortunately, when I got to the bottom of the field where I was going to set up, the nearby woodline blocked some of the wind. At sunup, the toms were talking, but not coming. Different day, different attitude, and no turkey sighting. At 9 a.m., a half-hour before I was going to be picked up, a tom materialized about 200 yards in the field above me. I could see his beard and a few calls got him coming, and I slowly set the shotgun on my knee and placed the crosshairs on him. At what I estimate to be 70 yards, he stopped abruptly, looked to his right, whirled around and headed away from me putting. Even though I knew better, I touched off a shot in disgust and never harmed a feather on him.
When Clarence arrived to pick me up, he had Bill Hollister of Valatie, who said he had also missed a tom. Obviously, we were both very disappointed and knew that there would be a little razzing around the campfire that night for both of us.
After dropping Bill off at his vehicle, we headed back to pick up Leon Archer, who was hunting nearby. But on our way, Clarence spotted a strutting tom with three hens in a field.
“We can hunt that field,” he said, “Do you want to try it?”
I had nothing to lose, even though I knew the odds of stalking and avoiding four pair of turkey eyes was very slim. I slowly made my way down a hedgerow, and made it to where the turkeys “had” been.
Clarence motioned and yelled that they had entered a small wooded gully that led to another field. I thought about ending it there, but fortunately, I changed my mind and continued the stalk through the heavy brush, across the creek and up the hill leading to the other field. When I got there, the grass was waist-high. I had taken only two steps when a hen went up, and then a second. But when I turned to watch the second, I saw the bright red head which was also going airborne. His lift-off was only a few feet before my No. 5 Federal Premium loads caught up with him. In the span of no more than one hour, a disappointing day of hunting turned into a great day. The big tom tipped the scales at 23 pounds, carried a 9 3⁄4-inch beard, 1 1⁄8-inch spurs and it earned me the $100 gift certificate to Frank’s Gun Shop.
Wild boar was on the menu that evening, and again, it was another feast. The boar was taken in the Wild West Trophy Hunt preserve just a few weeks earlier. The shooter was 18-year-old Wendy Cosselman of Bleeker, who was accompanied by Chamberlain and Kolodziej on the hunt. She admitted to being a little nervous, but nonetheless she dropped the 250-pound boar at about 25 yards with a 7600 Remington .30-06. Her dad told me that their whole family hunts deer together every year.
Despite the inclement weather, NYSOWA Safari 2010 was a huge success. And on behalf of all the NYSOWA writers, I’d like to thank the Peck family, the Fulton County Regional Chamber of Commerce and all those who helped make this weekend on the lake a success.
If you check my blog, www.noonanpics.blogspot.com, you can see several of the NYSOWA Safari photos, including my gobbler.