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Maine's turkey hunting season is in full swing now and reports are that the birds are active, abundant and responding well to calls. During the recent Youth Day hunt, Jon Grant, 16, of Parkman teamed up with Gordon Moore of Willimantic to down Jon's first Maine gobbler and his last as a youth - he'll be too old to participate next year! (Pretty sad to think 17 is too old for something!)
One hunter I know (who wished to remain nameless to protect his “secret” spot) went out the first day and called me at 7 a.m. to report that he'd already located, called and shot his 2006 gobbler. I don't know if that's a record, but it's close! Most turkey hunts take several hours, lasting from the time the bird first gobbles till he takes that last fateful step toward the concealed hunter. Anything can happen, of course, and most hunters of experience will be able to count the number of “easy” gobblers they've taken on the fingers of one hand.
Most of my turkeys have come hard with long periods of jousting with calls and decoys, changing positions, interfering hens and sudden disappearing acts. Wild turkeys are large, alert and flighty creatures, always ready to run or fly from real o perceived danger. Sometimes it's comical to watch a flock of turkeys working its way across a field only to have one quizzical hen suddenly start running away for no obvious reason. Just like that the whole flock takes off running, looking this way and that like bargain shoppers the day after Thanksgiving. You can just imagine them saying things like, “Who's that? Where? What? How far? Did you see it? I didn't see it! Where was it? Who saw it first?” They may settle down again before they pass from sight but the odds are good that they won't be back to that area very soon.
Come to think of it, I've shot only one “easy” turkey in all my years of hunting. I'd roosted this bird the night before and so I knew exactly where he was going to spend the night. I just backed out of the woods and left him to gobble at the moon. I even let my truck roll back down the hill on it's own power rather than risk starting it and perhaps making enough noise to force the gobbler to fly off and roost elsewhere.
The next morning I was back at the site with two decoys and a variety of calls. I wanted to be sure the bird heard at least one thing he liked, so I had diaphragm calls, slates, glass and wood calls, wing-bone calls and box calls, crow and owl calls . . . even a woodpecker “screamer” designed to force the most reluctant tom to cut loose with a lusty gobble.
I got set up, covered with camouflage from head to toe, backed against a comfortable maple just at the edge of the field opposite the bird's roost, and then waited for daylight's glow on the horizon. I actually bumped my box call taking it out of my vest, and the very un-turkey-like squawk that resulted was all I needed. The roosted bird gobbled several times and left its roost across the field with a loud flapping of wings. Almost before I could react, he was sailing down the hill toward me on set wings. Luckily, I had gotten set up and was in position to make a shot (gun up and ready) before the call had misfired - a good thing to remember for future hunts.
Anyway, the bird flew directly to my decoy and landed less than 10 feet away. He instantly puffed up and strutted, pirouetting nicely between the decoy and me as he hissed and drummed like the boss longbeards in those hunting videos you see on TV.
All I had to do was wait for him to “unstrut” himself, stick his neck out and offer me a shot. Ten seconds later the deed was done and my hunt was over. Incredibly, the sun was not quite peeking over the distant horizon. My entire hunt lasted about 10 minutes! It's funny - though I appreciated the gift of an easy hunt, I felt bad that I wouldn't have more time to hunt. With a one-bird season bag limit you have to take advantage of the opportunities that come your way. There have been seasons where I let the first bird walk and . . . you guessed it: no other birds showed up!
If you're having trouble finding birds in the early morning, or if other hunters suddenly show up in your “secret” spot, don't dismay. In fact, plan to go out late at least one morning this season because there is a second wave of turkey activity that occurs between 9 a.m. and noon. Once a gobbler has dealt with the morning's receptive hens, he'll go off in search of females he may have missed. Love-struck toms will continue gobbling throughout the morning, though usually not as enthusiastically. Hunters who walk the ridge lines and field edges, calling with hen yelps or crow calls, can often goad a lonely longbeard into gobbling. When this happens, be prepared to set up quickly and call softly for at least 30 minutes in the same place. Late-morning gobblers may come in silently and slowly, so be prepared to wait.
I have been taught the rule of patience many times by silent incomers. One time I sat there and called for over an hour with no response, and it just felt as if the woods were empty and dead. I stood up to leave and there, right next to me, was a huge gobbler with a beard that dragged on the ground! Of course, I wasn't expecting to see him and was unable to shoot as he leaped into the air and flew off over the hemlocks. I sure won't let that happen again!
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