One of the reasons I look forward to the fall is because I get to hunt with several different breeds of hunting dogs.
Come Sept. 1, you’ll find me lying in a recently cut corn or crop field for the early goose hunting season and using the talents of my friend’s Labrador retriever.
Then, bright and early on Oct. 1, I’m counting on the nose of a German shorthair to point out one or two pheasants stocked by the Department of Environmental Conservation in Saratoga County.
But when mid- to late October comes around, I’m always sure I save one of my two fall turkey tags, because I thoroughly enjoy hunting with a good friend and his turkey dog.
Five or six years ago, I met Don VanDerwerker of Palatine Bridge in Lock, Stock & Barrel Sporting Supply while looking for another gun I didn’t need. We talked about several of my recent articles, and he asked me if I’d ever hunted with a turkey dog. I hadn’t. I knew New York state allowed turkey hunting in the fall with a dog, but never tried it. So when Don asked if I would like to, my answer was obviously, “Yes,” and I’ve only missed one year since.
Originally, I hunted successfully with Hopper, now retired, but last month, I hunted with his new dog, Skeeter, and she’s quite a lady. This breed, an Appalachian turkey dog, was originally bred by John Byrne from a pointer/setter/Plott-hound line to hunt fall turkeys.
The dogs are trained to locate the flocks, run at them barking, which alerts the hunter to their position, and chase down the singles and lingering turkeys to make them go airborne.
Once done, the hunter(s) set up near the area the flock was busted. The dog is taught to kennel-up in a camouflaged bag or lie behind a blind and stay calm and quiet while the hunter calls to try to bring the flock back into shooting range.
As usual, I was quite eager the morning of the hunt when I met Don and Skeeter in Palatine Bridge, and Skeeter was as eager as I. Our destination for the day’s hunt was a large farm in Montgomery County that was actually the same place Don had taken me on my first turkey dog hunt. When we got there, an SUV was parked in the field and in the back of it was a small dog box, we had company.
As we started to walk out into the field, we saw two hunters in orange and three beagles. They were working a swampy, overgrown area across the field, and we headed that way to introduce ourselves.
They hadn’t seen any rabbits, and were calling it a day. They hadn’t seen any turkeys, either. But I had confidence in the area, and definitely in Skeeter, and we started up the hill through the woods.
It was slow going due to a combination of heavy brush and the remnants of some lumbering that had been done there. Hills are not my favorite, but it didn’t seem to interfere with Skeeter’s work. Don uses a tracking collar system which includes a handheld GPS that pinpoints the dog’s location at all times, as well as plotting his trail. When barking is heard, you can mark the location where you want to set up.
I was impressed with how Skeeter would head off a hundred yards or so, then circle back to us. She really never wandered off, and it was obvious she enjoyed her work.
We were about two-thirds of the way up the hill when we heard her bark, followed by the flapping of turkey wings. She definitely found the flock and she continued barking, which meant she was chasing those that were still on the ground. Several of the turkeys actually flew right over our heads. When she stopped barking and returned to us, we started to head where the flock was first located.
It wasn’t hard to see that’s where the turkeys had been. When we got to the top, there were a number of turkey scratchings in the leaves, and we decided to set up there.
I cleared a spot out under an oak tree and put my gloves and head mask on while Don set up. He used a short fence-like ground blind about 36 inches high to conceal him and Skeeter. We sat quietly for perhaps 45 minutes to an hour before Don made a single call, then about 15 minutes later, another. It was then that we heard a single response and a few minutes later, another. All this time, Skeeter was still and quiet. Don called again and they were definitely coming up the hill out in front of me about 100 yards.
It wasn’t long before I saw movement about 80 yards away as two hens were headed right for Don. I shouldered my gun and rested it on my knee as they continued to slowly approach. There was a lot of brush and saplings between me and the turkeys, but I found a small opening that they hopefully would pass through.
As they neared the opening, I clicked off the safety, and when the lead bird stepped into the opening, I squeezed the trigger and she folded. It was my fourth turkey courtesy of one of Don’s turkey dogs.
Ironically, when I shot, the other bird flew up into a tree right next to me and didn’t fly off until I stood up. If I had another tag, I could have easily had a double.
It was definitely a great day with a great dog and, “yes,” Don, I want to go again next year. Thank you and Skeeter.