Turkey tactics vary greatly

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Somebody once said that golf is a metaphor for life.

Turkey hunting isn’t like golf, but it has to be a metaphor for something. Maybe it’s roof repair. A leaky chimney at my house has plagued us for years. Different roofers have disparate theories about how best to fix the leak, but nothing seems to work.

Once, we had two competitive roofers atop our house haggling about the best roof sealant.

I think that turkey hunting is like roof repair: Everybody is an expert with a different theory as how best to get the job done. And I’ve had about as much luck luring gobblers with this expert advice as I have had fixing my leaky roof.

For example, when you get a Tom gobbling back at you and he “hangs up,” do you stay put and try to defeat him with patience or do you go after him?

Opening day of Season A, I got my decoys set up in the corner of a large, secluded field. For a half hour, I and another hunter at the end of the field talked to the same Tom. The stubborn gobbler would not move. I asked myself, “Should I try to close the distance without him seeing me and call again? Or should I practice what I had been taught, stay there and be patient?” I elected to stay put and try to wear him down. The other hunter below me did the opposite. He moved in on the bird, calling all the while. “Blam, blam,” I heard a half-hour later. His aggressive tactics paid off, I suspect.

This same scenario repeated itself on my second morning. Even more perplexing, the apparently successful hunter a few hundred yards west of me broke all the rules having to do with what I call “Cluck Discipline.” Use your calling devices sparingly, is what we have always been taught by the “experts.” My turkey hunting neighbors who got the shot clucked and yelped their heads off. The turkey woods sounded like a calling contest at the annual convention of the National Wild Turkey Federation.

Decoys? To use or not to use? That seems to be the question. In the early days of Maine’s turkey seasons, the seminars were teaching decoys in fields.”Turkeys have keen vision. They will spot your decoys from quite a ways, and they’ll be attracted to the strutting areas afforded by an open field,” they contend. New York state turkey guide Ernie Lantiegne, who has been skulking the turkey woods for years, never bothers with decoys.

“They complicate the equation,” he claims. He relies solely on sound and works the woods, not the fields. “Dad,” my Vermont turkey hunter son counsels,”I’d get out of those fields and into the woods.” He believes that a hard hunted bird is a wary bird, and knows better than to expose himself in a field.

Come to think of it, maybe turkey hunting is a little like golf, as well as roof repair. There are sudden surprises. Opening day, as I staked out my first decoy in the dark, a nearby overhanging Hemlock bough spoke to me.”Hey, guy. We’re all set up in here!”

“Oh,” I said. “Sorry, didn’t you see my blinking flashlight when I came across the field?”

“Naw. We didn’t see no flashlight.”

During Season B, while hunting with my wife and a state game bird biologist, an unwanted visitor spoiled the setup. We had a Tom interested and moving our way at shooting light. As you turkey hunters know, the cluck-cluck-gobble-gobble give and take between the hunter and the hunted at first light can be a beautiful thing. Acoustical symmetry, if you will. The mood goes downhill fast when you add to the mix a barking dog coming at you with his loud-talking, morning- stroll mistress in hot pursuit. You put your head in your hands. You bite your tongue. And the love spell is broken. The gobblers promptly leave.

The biggest turkey woods surprise was reserved for Washington County Regional Wildlife Biologist Tom Schaeffer. Dressed in camo and making sounds like a love-sick hen, Schaeffer’s impersonation apparently was convincing to a hungry coyote. The animal came out of nowhere and clamped onto Schaeffer’s arm.

“I never heard or saw it coming. From nowhere I was blind-sided by something that hit my right side centered on my forearm,” Schaeffer said. ” The blow was enough to knock the shotgun off my lap. In the seconds that followed, I had no idea what was going on, just that there seemed to be this furry commotion near my feet on my right side, as the critter tried to recover from its major mistake.”

Although Schaeffer did receive a slight puncture wound, he said that it could have been much worse if the coyote’s aim had been a little better. In fact, he said that the ensuing rabies booster and other medical red tape were more difficult than his turkey woods encounter.

V. Paul Reynolds is editor of the Northwoods Sporting Journal.He is also a Maine Guide, co-host of a weekly radio program “Maine Outdoors” heard Sundays at 7 p.m. on The Voice of Maine News-Talk Network (WVOM-FM 103.9, WCME-FM 96.7) and former information officer for the Maine Dept. of Fish and Wildlife. His e-mail address is paul@sportingjournal.com.

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