March 22, 2014
G. Sam Piatt
With spring 2014 just a day old, I inserted my hearing aids and sneaked up into some turkey woods to determine if there was any gobbling and clucking commencing as yet.
I made sure they were tightly fitted in my ears as I recalled a turkey season one spring several years ago when I lost one of these costly items. I was making some hen calls on my box caller and listening for a response from an old gobbler when I decided to remove one hearing aid and lay it in my lap. I didn’t want to take a chance on busting an eardrum if I had to quickly fire that 12 gauge.
I was down in the hollow climbing into my truck to leave when I remembered the hearing aid. I went back immediately, but couldn’t find it.
I did find it the next day, destroyed. It had several big tooth marks on it. I theorized it had been chomped down on and spit out by some animal. I blamed it on a coyote. I had spotted them in these woods before.
But back to this year’s turkey seasons, which will open next month in Kentucky, Ohio and West Virginia. They ARE a big bird, the wild turkeys of these woods. Before I went into the privately-owned woodlands, the landowner got my attention when he told me of an old tom turkey living on the farm last winter that was so big you could see where his beard dragged through the snow.
As the season approaches, people driving rural roads sometimes see large flocks of wild turkeys along the roadways and come to the conclusion that taking one of them would be as easy as walking into a farmer’s barnyard and shooting a chicken.
Successful turkey hunters usually rise before dawn and make their way into the wild bird’s realm. You might be required to crawl through deep hollows filled with deadfalls or climb steep ridges.
The old longbeards are a little less wary during the mating season, but they possess keen eyesight and hearing and if things don’t appear quiet right to them, they’re not going to present the hunter with a shot.
“Make no mistake, a wild turkey gobbler, especially one that’s three years old or older, is a sharp bird, and a hunter has to be sharp to have any real chance of harvesting him.” That’s Harold Knight talking, quoted in “Ultimate Turkey Hunting’ (1993, Atlantic Publishing Co., Tabor City, NC 28463), a book he and David Hale put together with the aid of outdoor writer Wade. L. Bourne.
Harold and David, from Trigg County, Ky., founded the Knight & Hale Game Call Co. in 1972, and have designed and sold their turkey calls to hunters nationwide.
Good turkey hunters are dedicated to their sport and know they have to pay a price if they hope to leave the woods headed for a check station with a 24-pound gobbler slung over their shoulder.
DON’T SEE ME
I’ve had enough failures and frustrations during my years of hunting gobblers that I’ve learned some things. First and foremost is the importance of camouflage.
We’re not talking about a jacket or a hat, but a good camouflage outfit from head to foot, including a mask that drops from the hat to cover the face, and gloves.
Light glinting off a shotgun barrel can be enough to put him on the run and the next thing you’ll see is him gliding off the hill and away down into a hollow. You can buy camouflage sleeves that fit over a gun, or camouflage tape to wrap it in.
Whether using a mouth, slate or box call, you have to learn to imitate the various calls of a turkey hen, which can be learned from an instruction tape. You have to know cadence and tones and how to employ the subtle persuasions that a hen uses to sweet talk a gobbler. You should know when to call loud or low, and when to not call at all.
It’s exciting when you make a few yelp, yelp, yelps on your call and you hear that ol’ gobbler answer out there in the trees. You call again and the next time he gobbles he’s much closer. You know he’s interested, you’re “working” him, and that’s when your adrenaline starts pumping.
Some days they may refuse to come to the call. That’s when you might wind up crawling up a draw on your belly like an Indian in hopes of an ambush, or digging around in the leaves with your hand to make the sound of turkeys feeding on acorns.
If you’re camouflaged well enough and sit still enough, usually with your back against a tree, you might harvest a tom without a call – simply waiting long enough for one to move within shotgun range (usually 35 yards or less).
THE TURKEY GUN
A 12-gauge shotgun with No. 4 shot will do the job in bringing down your gobbler. For real efficiency, though, you might want something more powerful. The increasing popularity of the sport brought Mossberg to come up with the 835 Ulti-Mag, which shoots 31/2-inch magnum shells. They give you more velocity than the 3-inch shells and fire a denser pattern with more energy, increasing your chance of a clean kill even at 40 to 45 yards.
Whatever gun you have, it should be light to carry and have a shoulder strap.
It goes without saying that, since you’re out there in the deep woods, camouflaged from top to bottom and making sounds like a hen turkey, and there are other hunters in the woods, some of them new to the sport, safety is a main concern for all turkey hunters. It seems a few unlucky turkey hunters wind up getting themselves shot every year.
The National Wild Turkey Federation has developed a code of ethics for turkey hunters and turkey identification materials
“Safety boils down to one main problem, target identification,” said David Hale. “If a hunter holds his fire until he’s absolutely sure he’s shooting at a gobbler – clearly identifies the bird and sees his beard – then he won’t cause an accident.”
G. SAM PIATT can be reached at (606) 932-3619 or Gsamwriter@aol.com.