| It’s always a great feeling to wake up on a Monday morning that’s also an opening day of some sort. Today it’s Maine’s 2011 spring turkey season, which is fast becoming the most anticipated season of the year other than deer season.
I have been hearing wattled toms testing their gobbles since mid-March, which means the spring breeding season is soon to be upon us. Of the 50 or so birds I’ve been observing all winter, only a handful are males and most are “jakes,” or year-old birds that are not quite mature yet and are usually shot only by children or first-timers who need to get that first bird under their belts.
You can’t tell the difference between a jake and a four-year-old tome on the dinner plate, but when it comes to the game of hunting, jakes are the suicidal, foolish birds that simply haven’t learned all the basics of survival. They’ll come running in to a call, strutting and gobbling to beat the band and will keep coming in even after the hunter gets up and leaves them behind. One season I had two jakes follow me around the woods for days! No matter where I went they’d tag along, gobbling like lunatics the entire way. I finally had to go to another spot because there seemed to be no mature toms in the area, just those two confused and befuddled jakes.
I’m sure by now anyone interested in turkey hunting has bought their license, clothes, calls, decoys, guns, ammo and other fun stuff that are requisite for spring hunting. The most important things a turkey hunter needs patience and persistence can’t be bought. More turkeys will be spared this season by violations of these two virtues than any other.
The first thing a hunter needs to remember is that turkeys move very slowly. Just this morning I timed a group of three gobblers and one hen as they meandered about 200 yards across the back field. They were in view for over two hours and moved maybe two or three steps per minute as they made their way across the opening, pausing occasionally to feed on greens and bugs they found while scratching in the grass.
A hunter sitting in the corner of the stone wall at the top of the field might have had to wait close to 90 minutes for the birds to come into range. Most hunters I know can’t sit still for more than 10 minutes, so it’s easy to see which contestant has the higher odds for success.
In addition, two of the three gobblers didn’t utter a sound, so imagine sitting in the woods with your calls and decoys and not hearing a thing. Would you get up and leave? Most hunters do, and that’s a mistake because birds could be moving your way in silence.
To make the most of the short hunting day (which ends at noon), stay put and assume that turkeys are on the way. This is especially true if you heard gobbling at daylight, called to them but received no answer. The gobblers will tend to stay with the live hens most of the morning, but sometime later (usually around 10 a.m.) the gobblers will come back looking for that “lost hen” he’d heard at dawn. Turkeys have remarkable memories and will return to within five yards of where you were sitting at 5 a.m., and they’ll often come in silently. Set up, sit tight and wait sometime before noon that lusty old tom will show up. Don’t let impatience ruin your hunt! Stay put, wait it out and maintain your enthusiasm till high noon forces you to quit.
The other Achilles Heel of turkey hunters is lack of persistence. Keep in mind that you probably will not kill a turkey every time you go out. Some lucky hunters fill their tags on opening day, and some will not see a bird to shoot at till the final hours of the season. There is a lot of room in between and an endless number of scenarios that could factor into the success or failure of your hunts. The most critical factor, however, is hunting hard every day no matter how your luck rolls. Expect rain, wind, reluctant or silent birds every day, but be there every chance you get because one day the dice will roll in your favor. There are ideal days when the birds come off the roost looking for your setup, they come in gobbling hard and ignoring all the rules of turkey survival, and they’ll walk right up to your decoy and stand there like a paper target till you drop the hammer on them.
Over the course of a full spring season there will be days when everything happens in favor of the hunter, and you want to be there before sunrise when it does. Having hunted these challenging birds since 1970, I’ve had every kind of hunting day you can imagine. There have been days when not one bird gobbled all day. I’ve had days when every turkey in the woods was gobbling and none would come in. There have been times when I dropped my call and three gobblers came galloping across the field as fast as they could run. One time I set up quietly in the dark, sat and waited till sunrise and was about to start calling when a flock of turkeys came fluttering out of the tree I was leaning against! They never made a cluck or a yelp, and 90 percent of them were hens, but in the middle of the flock stood a huge, black gobbler with a 10-inch beard. The gun went off before he had a chance to gobble, and my season was over exactly five minutes after legal shooting time!
Anything can happen any day of the week, but nothing will happen if you don’t go. You can be in the woods before sunrise, call your bird in and be on your way to work by 6:30. Bring your patience and persistence with you every time and you will win the game sooner or later. I’ve done it many times and so can you!