It’s Time to Think About Turkeys

Spring turkey season is already here in parts of the United States, primarily in the south.  And I am jealous of you folks.  Me?  I have until May 1 up here in the northeast.  That said, there are plenty of things to start thinking about.

Where is all my gear?  My camo, turkey calls, face net, the things I flung down on the floor that last day of the season last May?  I couldn’t get the stuff off me quick enough, having absorbed plenty of butt whippings at the hands (spurs?) of our fine feathered friends.

Where am I going to hunt this spring?  Obviously, I need to truck it up the mountains and deep into the timber to get away from the crowd.  But where?  Only a thorough scouting job will give me such answers. 

It’s pointless to scout this far out from the season opener.  Birds are still in their winter areas and will not transition into the spring woods until a couple of weeks before the season.  This means I will have to “power scout” those couple of weeks.

What do I look for when scouting?  Well, for starters, it’s handy to know a piece of woods I’m checking out actually holds turkeys.  So, I search for turkey scratchings, which differs from when a deer digs mainly because of the mess a flock of birds make in the woods.  If I see an area that is massacred by turkeys, I know they routinely visit.

Look for an area that contains solid turkey habitat, such as acorns and butternuts.  In my neck of the woods (pun intended), I find birds devour these nuts in droves.  In my experience, they like to roost in an area around water.  Look for rivers, brooks, creeks, or trickles, areas that turkeys can fly down to in the morning.  Turkey droppings is another good find.  It means birds have frequented the area while feeding, and if they fed there once, they are quite likely to be back.  On a side note, “J” shaped droppings are that of a tom (male) turkey, which is what we are all after in the spring.

Of course, at dusk, we can attempt to elicit a shock gobble to give away tom locations.  Owl and coyote calls are my two favorites to locate birds.  It’s extremely beneficial to do so just before dark, as it gives the hunter a starting point for the next morning.  That said, I rarely attempt to roost a tom until a couple of days before the season.  If I were to locate one, say, a week before, there are too many scenarios that can drive out the finicky bird and render my locating him useless before I can hunt him.  Above all else, do not use turkey calls to find birds before the season starts.  You’ll only educate them and run the risk of making them call shy.

Above all else, have fun.  You are getting exercise and enjoying the peace and serenity of the wilderness.  I have gone on many scouting trips that proved fruitless yet found the turkeys during the season.  There are no two turkeys alike.  Some respond to different calls, on different days, in different weather conditions, or don’t respond at all.  Enjoy the process and eventually a little action will come your way.

Too Fat to Hunt Turkeys?

https://brenhaas.com/wild-turkey-sighting/

Turkeys become call shy.  It’s a known fact, at least from my experiences.  I have had encounters with turkeys where they behaved much more timidly the second go around and are much less willing to dance than at first.  Yes, too much calling and too much hunting pressure in general encourage the birds to hush up, or simply get out of dodge.  I’m hoping a little stair climbing this winter will fix this recurring problem.

I woke up one morning this past weekend simply not feeling well.  I know what it is; I’ve been there before, almost annually.  Deer season ends, the holidays come around, a chocolate cream pie here, Christmas sugar cookies there, and Boom!  The dormancy of winter has a way of seriously affecting my waistline, and not to its benefit.  I also have a fondness for diet soda that, quite frankly, ends up making me feel lousy.  Thankfully, I have been able to quit cold turkey (no pun intended) before, and I am on one of those kicks now.

So, I am back to counting calories.  Monitoring my intake and calculating my calorie deficit.  And walking stairs.  Man, that’s fun.  I work in a 5-story building, so six times a day I quickly jaunt up all five flights and come back down.  I’m huffing and puffing by the time I’m done so I know I am burning calories.  It’s worked before.

Why am I doing this?  Well, for starters, I don’t like feeling like dog vomit.  But more importantly, and this ties into my opening paragraph, I want to chase turkeys where the other hunters don’t.  I don’t want to get up in the woods and not have a gameplan if the birds aren’t answering my calls.  I want to get moving.  Up the ridges and over the mountain, a mile or two deep into the timber.  Nobody else goes there, except the turkeys that have been toyed with.  They go there and will be more apt to play ball if they feel secure in their environment. 

I have been watching the usual YouTube turkey hunting folks and they are doing this.  They are getting up ridiculously early and hauling ass to get to places very few have gone before.  It’s exhausting work, but they are in shape and can do it.  And they see, hear, and harvest more than their share of birds.  I’m sold.  It’s time to go walk another five flights.  Right after I shoo away this Devil Dog. 

Don’t Forget About the Turkeys

https://kimsmithdesigns.com/tag/male-turkeys-bonding/

This past Christmas Eve, Dad and I took a walk in the woods.  I wanted to check a few trail cameras, as well as hang up an additional one.  As the deer in our region begin to slow down in December and head toward their wintering mode, I didn’t expect a whole lot of action on my cameras and in person. 

The woods were eerily still that morning, the only noise the crunchy snow, about four days old, underfoot.  The wind was minimal, and the sky was overcast, making for a gray type of day.  The color was provided by the greenery of the thick softwood trees, which are always pretty with a coat of snow on them.

We crested a ridge in the walking trail, and I caught movement in a bowl out in front of us.  It was a large male turkey, who got a four-step head start, before taking flight across the trail and to our left, crashing tree branches as he flew out of sight.  Behind him were four more toms, who turned and jogged up the hill to our right, their beards dangling across the snow as they departed.

I worry about the turkeys this time of year.  Some of you may have read my post called, “Hop-along,” about an injured female turkey (hen) that we encountered in 2020.  Although the snow to this point is not deep and they can maneuver and find enough supply of food, turkeys will struggle once the snow is deep. 

As I am a spring turkey hunter, of course I would come across a plethora of the birds during the off-season months, including winter.  While it may seem like I have hit the jackpot by finding these five toms in December, the reality is that come spring (turkey season is May 1-31), these guys will be splitting up in search of hens for mating.  Many of these bachelor birds will become mortal enemies and fight each other during this time.  Some will leave the group, never to be heard from again, either because of a hunter’s shotgun shells, a coyote, or they may be tired of being a subordinate bird and wish to become a dominant one.

Regardless, I am on the side of the forest creatures for 11 months of the year.  I spend many winter days making paths in the snow for the deer, who take advantage.  One year, Dad and I were cutting down high handing hemlock branches so the deer could reach and browse on them.  After an hour-long loop, we walked upon a pile of hemlock we had cut down and the deer had already been into them.  Turkeys, whose chief wintertime hindrance is the deep snow, certainly benefit by utilizing our boot prints that puncture through.

Hunting is not all about killing game.  It’s about finding them, and devising strategies that may put them within rifle, shotgun, or bow range.  Sometimes, it’s about the peace and quiet that only the wilderness can provide.  However, don’t forget about the turkeys, and other wildlife come the off-season, for I truly believe that it is our responsibility as sportsmen and sportswomen to care about the their well-being. 

Hunting Big Woods Bucks:  Secrets of Tracking and Stalking Whitetails by Hal Blood

https://www.simonandschuster.com/books/Hunting-Big-Woods-Bucks/Hal-Blood/9781616080433

If you know anything about me, you understand I am an avid deer hunter.  If you’ve read any of my outdoor articles, you’ll know that I’m a stand hunter, meaning I find an area that I think a buck will come through and I sit and wait for him.  What you may not know is that I am having a flirtatious relationship with the art of tracking.  While I haven’t pulled the trigger on that yet (get what I did there?), I have been reading about and gathering information on the method.  Maine’s Hal Blood may be the best in the business, and his book, Hunting Big Woods Bucks:  Secrets of Tracking and Stalking Whitetails, is a must have for anyone interested in tracking.

This book and Hal’s teachings are more than relevant whether you are hunting the mountainous regions of New York’s Adirondacks, the never-ending green bluffs of Northern Maine, or even the remote forests of the Midwest.  Heck, even a food plot hunter in North Carolina will get plenty from the book.  Precisely, there is useful information for anyone who hunts where the big boys roam.  

Anyone can wake up and say they’re going to tracking.  To track a mature whitetail in the snow, however, one needs to find a track.  While Hal and his Big Woods Bucks team nowadays utilizes the OnX Hunt app, his knowledge and understanding of reading maps and topography go a long way towards locating an piece of wilderness that will hold deer, one in which he may find a track he deems worthy to follow.

Once deer sign is located, the hunter must understand what the sign is telling him.  For instance, the track must be fresh enough to potentially catch up to the deer.  Big bucks during the rut can cruise miles and miles searching for and checking on does.  It is imperative not to get on a track that is two days old.  Hal explains to the reader how to age tracks, as well as how to understand the behavior of the deer that is laying down the tracks.  Is he cruising endlessly?  Is he tired, something that happens in the late season?  Is he meandering and feeding?  If so, he may be able to catch up to.  We also learn what buck rubs and scrapes are telling us.

While tracking on bare ground is possible, it is much more challenging than with snow on the ground.  Since we cannot control the weather, Hal provides us with options in the event we cannot track.  There is always my method of stand hunting.  While this requires incredible patience and mental toughness, there are tricks to the trade that are important to understand so the hunter doesn’t blindly sit in a stand he has no shot in holy hell of seeing anything.  Not Hal’s preferred method of hunting at all, he is still extremely knowledgeable in what areas hold deer, information that will clue the stand hunter where to sit.  More than once, Hal has successfully guided a hunter into sitting on a stand every day for a week. 

Another way to hunt bare ground is to still hunt, a practice that requires the hunter to take a few steps, scan the entire area, and take another few steps.  It is easy to still hunt at an incorrect pace, one in which the hunter may miss a deer lying down on a bank well within shooting range or blowing every deer on the mountain out of there.  Hal provides the reader his expertise on this mobile method.

One of the features of the book is how Hal breaks down each week of the hunting season in his state of Maine.  While many states are quite different, it gives the reader an understanding of how deer behave from week to week.  For instance, a buck in early November is on the search for does.  He may travel miles and miles, sometimes taking a loop that will last a week or more, attempting to breed as many females as possible.  By the December muzzleloader season, however, that buck is most likely finished with his travels and may be exhausted.  How you hunt that buck in November differs dramatically in December.

Throughout the book, Hal provides stories and antidotes related to his personal hunting experiences or those in which he guided other hunters.  Each scenario is pertinent to the chapter or point he is making.  As someone who enjoys listening to or reading about deer hunting stories, this feature alone is worth obtaining the book.  Of course, we are also treated to stories about some of the legendary whitetail bucks he has taken, including The King.

Tracking may not be for everyone.  Some, like me, may be on the fence for one reason or another.  One thing is for certain.  Hal Blood is the master on the subject.  For anyone looking to gain more knowledge or understanding, it is imperative that they read Hunting Big Woods Bucks:  Secrets of Tracking and Stalking Whitetails.    

The Eve

*Could be my final post for a week or so, depending on how deer season plays out*

It’s the night before opening day of rifle season for deer. Today is much akin to Christmas Eve to a young child. I’ll go to bed tonight, struggle to get anything resembling sleep, and dream about the potential prize the deer gods may put in front of my stand tomorrow.

I have what I think is a solid game plan in the morning. I’ll be sitting in a manmade (by me) ground blind over an active scrape line. Although most of the bucks I captured on my cameras were during the night, I think I might be able to play the weather to my advantage. The forecast is calling for a decent amount of rain until daybreak or so, with another front scheduled to swing by at midday, giving me a six hour window for the deer to potentially come by to freshen up the scrapes or visit the acorn stands over where my dad will be sitting.

Speaking of Dad, he’ll be about 150 yards over my left shoulder. We’ll check in on the radios every couple of hours. It’s nice to break up the monotony of a long sit by finding out if he’s had any luck seeing deer. In fact, since we started using radios, I find the day flies by. The first few days we park it in our spots from daylight to dark. Checking in every so often makes it nice. I’m happy that he can still get up in there at 75 years old.

I haven’t had a full vacation since last deer season, a calendar year. The pandemic and the shortage of workers, combined with the difficulty of receiving supplies has made for a hectic year. I think the solitude of the woods is what I look forward to the most. I enjoy the moment the woods come to life at daybreak, the songbirds beginning their opening number, the squirrels chasing each other. Most importantly, there will be no people in my vicinity.

The ringing in of a new season rejuvenates me. There’s a little extra pep in my step these days. I believe every deer hunter probably feels the same way on the eve of the season. We all believe that this is the year. We just know that the big boy on the mountain will come cruising to us. If we didn’t think this way, why would we keep hunting?

Good luck to all deer hunters out there this season! Stay safe!

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