Turkey Season, May 2014

I had a great time during this year’s turkey season. The woods are a whole different world in May. Leaves are budding, flowers are blooming and the temperature is warming. It was an enjoyable experience for reasons other than the change of weather and I am grateful for having been able to spend some time afield. There is nothing quite like spring turkey hunting and I enjoy every minute of it.
I made it out for the first time on May 3rd, at my in-law’s farm in central New York. My brother and I were set up well before sunrise in a long-established roosting site. Truth be told, we were closer than we would have liked, but since this site borders a broad field the only real option for setting up is to get practically right under the birds. I had built a blind under a large maple, facing into the woods. My brother sat there, and I sat on the opposite side of the tree, covering the field. A favorite trick of this flock is to fly down and head straight for the field to feed. We got into position in silence with no difficulty, but some time around 5 am I saw three dark shapes approaching me. It took a moment to realize that I was looking at a trio of hunters. I was on private land and as far as I knew no one else had permission to be there. After trying to signal them failed, I had to get up and verbally confront them. Luckily they were understanding of the situation and willing to hunt someplace else. Rather than get into an argument about whether or not they were trespassing, I was happy to leave it at that.
The birds starting talking on the roost, well before it was light enough to shoot. We listened to several hens yelping and two or three toms gobbling for some time before they flew down. A few of them landed in range but there was no chance of a shot at a legal bird. They moved off slowly into the field, where I thought they were going to maneuver back into position for a shot opportunity. Sadly, in spite of my calling they elected to head someplace else. We had no luck the rest of the morning, and spent the rest of the day working on cabin projects and other chores. We couldn’t get over what an odd spring it had been, with very little new growth and practically no green. It almost looked like November deer season. But it was a nice change of pace from deer camp, which demands hunting until dark and then getting in and having to get dinner cooked and settling the cabin for the night. This time we could conduct our evening at a more leisurely pace, and we enjoyed several home-brews while basking in the comparatively warmer outdoor temperatures.

One of the best things about hunting camp is keeping everything simple. Venison sausage and homebrew pair nicely with this philosophy. Note how little green there is; very unusual for the first week of May.

Sunday morning was cold and windy. We set up in the same place, and did not have to contend with other hunters intruding on our operation this time. The turkeys surprised us by roosting about 100 yards further away than the night before, so although we could clearly hear them, they were no where near close enough to shoot. After several hours of walking, calling, sitting and listening we were chilled to the bone, and the wind was blowing hard and non-stop. Although we hated to give up, we decided to call it a day. After all, the season was still young.

In the middle of the month I spent a few hours one morning hunting further upstate in the Adirondacks. I walked a power-line cut, calling every 100 yards or so. This was not ideal turkey cover so I was not surprised when my calls went unheeded. I had seen turkeys in this area before, but never very many. The closest I came to a turkey was when I noticed two turkey tracks in a bone-dry mud puddle. They must have been at least a week old. Just the same, it was nice to have gotten out in some different territory. Besides, the black flies were nowhere to be found, which for the month of May is nothing short of miraculous.

My final stint of hunting was the 25th and 26th. I was back at my preferred hunting ground in central New York, set up once again by the roosting site well before sunrise. All was silent for an abnormally long time. Typically, around legal shooting light, the hens start yelping. This time it was well after sunrise and I hadn’t heard anything at all. I couldn’t see anything in the trees, certainly nothing that looked like turkeys. I was really starting to think they’d elected to roost somewhere else. Around that time I heard a yelp, but it was a few hundred yards further up the slope than usual. After a few minutes I heard another bird in the same general area as the first. With them in the trees that far off there was little chance they were going to see or hear me move, so I started fidgeting a tiny bit just to get more comfortable. As I was adjusting I grabbed my box call, slid the rubber band off and let off a few gentle yelps. A few seconds later I heard a gobble from the established roosting spot. Maybe 15 minutes passed, with me calling softly, the hens yelping and clucking, and a tom or two sounding off with a few gobbles. Then I heard a loud, clear gobble resonate through the trees less than one hundred yards away, down slope from me. Turns out the turkeys were roosted in their usual place after all, as well as strung all the way up the hill. I watched many of them fly down and before long I had a group of about five birds almost in range, including three toms that seemed to stay in full strut the whole time I could see them. I had my Remington shouldered, bead lined up with the safety off as I called on my mouth call. They milled around, but didn’t want to commit and come closer. I wanted to shoot so bad, but knew better. They might have been 35 yards away which is just a shade further than I know my gun to pattern well. So I waited, and eventually they all moved off in silence. I was disheartened as I checked my watch. It was only 6:45 which meant the day was still young.
I spent the next few hours walking and calling and stopped once to set up the decoys. Around 9:30 I moved to my late-morning spot, at the corner of two fields, one with standing corn from last fall and the other planted with alfalfa. The two fields are separated by a hedgerow which provides excellent cover. I set up two decoys, about 25 yards away, positioned strategically to maximize visibility from all directions. For once I had managed to pick out a comfortable tree and it was no problem to sit still indefinitely, letting my mind wander while calling every 15-20 minutes. Around 11 o’clock I had fairly well accepted that my chances were slim, but with one hour of legal hunting time left it was no problem to stick it through to the end.
It was a really nice day, warm but not hot, breezy without being windy, and sunny. A perfect time to be outside, hunting or otherwise. Days like that make it easy to sit in the shade of a tree and have a nice long think about whatever thoughts happen upon me. This spot was particularly pleasant because it was far enough removed from roads and houses to preclude the sound of internal combustion and the sight of white vinyl siding. There are few experiences akin to forgetting for a time, no matter how brief, that we are in the midst of the 21st century. I will never understand people who text while hunting.
I don’t recall what notion had been on my mind when I saw them, but I abruptly switch gears at the sight of five turkeys in the alfalfa field. They were at the wood line, a few hundred yards away. I wasn’t certain, but it looked like a group of toms. My hand reflexively scrunched up the cuff of my jacket, revealing my watch. It was 11:30. If this was going to work the way I wanted, there wasn’t much wiggle room.
I watched momentarily to see which direction they were going to go. When they looked like they were going to parallel the wood line and move away I let loose with a long, loud yelp on my Sweet Cedar box call. It got their attention immediately. I followed it with a purr to help set the tone. They looked in my direction. One of them fanned his tail. They switched direction and started across the field. I yelped and purred a few more times with the box call and when they were hidden behind a fold in the terrain at the half-way point I switched from turkey call to shotgun. A few tense minutes passed in which I couldn’t be sure if they were still coming toward me or had veered off in another direction. I yelped softly once or twice with a mouth call and waited, gun at my shoulder. I saw a bright red head pop up 30 yards away and an instant later all five were in view. By the time they spread far enough apart to get one singled out they were at twenty yards. Four of them scattered at the shot while one blew over backyards and landed sprawled out. I looked at my watch. The whole affair lasted 10 minutes.

A nice tom was my reward for a long morning of hunting. My Sweet Cedar call and Remington 870 are part of my standard gear.

The next morning was very windy. I set up in my usual place, but a bit further down the slope. The birds always seemed to go that way after fly down. This time things didn’t work out like I thought. For some reason they roosted several hundred yards further down the hill and deeper in the woods. I could hear them talking, but never saw one fly down. I spent the next few hours walking, calling and setting up decoys but didn’t see or even hear anything. The wind was still whipping through the trees and, in my experience, that more than anything else will put the birds off. Around 10 o’clock I spotted the same group of toms from yesterday, minus one of course. I had decoys set up in the open and I called, but they ignored me and continued on to the corn field they were headed to. I stuck with it for about 30 more minutes before calling it quits. I really wanted to hunt until noon, but after two consecutive mornings of sitting on the ground my posterior had taken as much as it could. This was of course aggravated by lack of sleep, and the wind situation had not improved, so I wasn’t too put out to pack it up. Besides, I had one turkey tagged and I was happy enough with that.

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