Michael A. Sawyers
A year or three ago I remember telling Sandy that the best hunting season for me is one during which I hunt a lot and near the very end get what I’m after.
She gives me the look that says, “Tell me something I don’t already know.”
This spring gobbler season was that kind of a hunt, to the Nth degree.
Actually, most gobbler seasons are a learning experience for me. I am not willing to get up at dark-thirty o’clock to scout for several days before the hunt opens. Thus, my early days afield end up, in a sense, being scouting trips.
That sure was the case this year.
I should have killed a big gobbler on May 4, my 12th day out, but in the dim, early morning light I thought the bird was farther away than it actually was. I didn’t pull the trigger. Then, in better light, I realized my miscalculation. The 40-yard shot would have been cake for the Hevi-13 No. 6s. I know. I’ve patterned them at that distance and they are jellyneckers.
I got gobblers on my 20th and 21st days afield, May 14 and May 15. The first bird was in pouring rain. About 10 a.m. when there was a storm-event lull, I called softly and then watched two gobblers run at me for about 90 yards, reaching the 30 yard mark before giving me a beard-sighting profile and a neck craning target.
The following day, I got a very nice Maryland bird sporting the heaviest 10-inch beard of any I have checked in.
It seems as if spring gobbler hunting is a constant learning experience. It is also a guessing game. What works on one bird or in one season may very well have no positive impact on another bird or during a subsequent year.
However, I have found that during the past three seasons one technique has worked very well for me. In fact, four of my last five gobblers have come running in because of this method.
I usually don’t call first, waiting instead to see if a gobbler sounds off. If that happens, I’ll call softly, very softly, usually with purrs and clucks. Then I shut up a bunch.
However, if there is no roost gobbling, I’ll wait an hour or more before starting the low level calling. Either way, I will eventually toss in one very short gobble tube call. In my mind, this truncated gobble is a jake and he is telling the adult gobbler that he is messing around with the big boy’s girlfriend.
Who knows what gobblers think? The answer to that is “nobody.”
But this system has allowed me to fill out game tags in recent years. I have used it successfully with decoys and without.
Some of my hunting comrades wish often and aloud that gobbler season would open sooner that it does. Not me. My success chart shows clearly that May 4 and later is the time I have scored most often. The biological reason for that is nesting. May 3, according to W.Va. Division of Natural Resources, is the peak of incubation. What that means, of course, is that fertile hens are hatching eggs and romantic gobblers are still on the prowl.
It’s tough to compete with the real thing.
Speaking of West Virginia, I hunted opening day there in two inches of snow. I’m thinking, “This must be buck season.”
In 2011 and again this year, I bagged gobblers on a day when all-day hunting was legal, though my birds came before the standard quitting time of noon in Maryland.
The Pennsylvania Game Commission reports that in 2011, 78 percent of the gobblers bagged on days when hunting was allowed until 30 minutes after sunset were still tagged before the traditional mid-day closing hour.
Of the birds bagged in the afternoon, most were killed between 6 and 8 p.m.
One would think hunters set up in roosting areas and got shots as the birds worked toward those trees.
One final thought: because gobbler hunting is such a solitary affair, I have only a few photos taken of me with birds at the scene of the shooting. This year, though, I stuck the trail camera in the truck and was in such a situation that I could retrieve it, return to the site of the action and attach it to a nearby tree. I grabbed the turkey and walked in front of the camera, triggering an exposure. It worked pretty well.
Contact Outdoor Editor Mike Sawyers at firstname.lastname@example.org.