2017-05-17 / Columns

Dan’s 2017 Spring Turkey Gobbler Season

by Dan Stiles Wildlife Biologist

Most people realize that older folks feel the cold (and heat) worse than everybody else. And, I suspect older folks traipsing around in the great outdoors hate to get rained upon worse than everybody else. Maybe I should say really old people, especially old turkey hunters, like me, and I’m here to tell you, it’s all true.

To say it in a nutshell, I must report again that I harvested no turkey gobbler this year. Several things other than the weather are to blame, but first, remember all the mornings it rained this spring? Mostly it happened in the morning, and sometimes it rained all day, sometimes like the dickens! Remember too that some turkey season mornings, from April 17 to May 13, the temperature was very close to freezing. On several mornings, I dressed as if I were getting ready to go deer hunting on a snowy day in December! Here is the prime question. Do rational people with wet feet sit on a wet tree stump shivering in the rain a long way from home in the woods in freezing wintry weather in the dark at 5:30 a.m. hoping to hear a turkey gobble? I don’t think so.

There is a wonderful book (around here somewhere), written by Tom Kelley entitled The Tenth Legion. Turkey hunters absolutely love it, because Tom Kelley in a humorous way pointed out that genuine turkey hunters are not concerned with personal comforts, and are oblivious to common logic and reason. He described one occasion when he believed he had discovered the exact formula to harvest any wary gobbler, and despite all his most experienced efforts, it was years before he harvested another bird.

I understand that! It has happened to me. A decade ago I sometimes harvested the legal limit of gobblers (2) during the spring turkey season, and believed I had figured out the exact formula for calling them in close. But that was a long time ago. Obviously, I’ve lost whatever winning strategy I had back then. How I managed to lure a gobbler within 30 yards or closer is now a mystery to me.

Here is what the spring gobbler hunting season is all about. The male turkey is full of aggressive hormones every spring, and so are the females. When the male gobbles, the females come running to him to be bred. Sometimes the male has a harem of females around him, and when he gobbles, any additional females (hens) in the vicinity come running to join him. I’ve heard one gobble a long distance away, and watched hens run by me frantically answering him. The point is, the hen runs to the gobbling male, but the male is usually far less anxious to approach the call of the female. The gobbler is accustomed to breeding hens on his favorite breeding ground, and hunters who try to mimic the calls of hens are asking the gobbler to break that normal sequence of events.

Turkey gobbler hunters camouflage themselves completely from head to toe. They try to look like a pile of leaves wedged up against the base of a large tree. I suspect the hunter’s ability to imitate the call of a hen is an extremely critical factor. The tone, rhythm, volume, and frequency of his calls are enormously important, otherwise the gobbler who has not a bit of curiosity in him walks away and loses interest. Also, the hunter must remain absolutely, positively motionless. Gobblers have the eyesight of eagles and their hearing is beyond belief. A very subtle, quiet scratching in the leaves gets the gobbler’s attention, and some say it is a better attractant than imitating a hen’s call. It has been said that if a turkey had the sense of smell like a bear or deer, they would all likely die of old age.

This year I was able to turkey hunt on just a few sunny days, and each day one or two gobblers answered my hen call imitation, but they never walked within 30 yards, good shotgun range. On several days, a gobbler approached and gobbled three or four hundred times, but nothing I could think of would convince him that it was safe to approach any further. After an hour or two of constant gobbling, he would walk away, probably with a sore throat.

As I’ve said repeatedly many times before, just wait until next year. But, the truth be known, I’m pleased and relieved that the 2017 spring turkey gobbler season is finally over with. It’s really hard work. By the way, at home our two dogs love to hear and are absolutely fascinated by the sounds of my practiced hen calls. My wife is not, however.

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you put us readers out in

you put us readers out in the middle of the forest .can almost feel the icy rain on my cheek as i read about the weather conditions .