Years ago, Jimmy Buffet was right when he sang that “nothing remains quite the same.” I had the opportunity to contemplate that philosophy while spending quality time in the woods during West Virginia’s early turkey season in October.
Here on my side of the river we had a fall turkey season that ran from Oct. 13 to Oct. 20 this year.
It came back in on the 29th, in some West Virginia counties, but that opener several weeks ago was the earliest it has been, for awhile.
I only had the chance to turkey hunt one day that week and spent a full eight hours on the front of the Allegheny hunting on the public land.
The fall colors were at eye busting peak, the sky a pale blue and the wind just brisk enough to make me pull the collar up on my jacket, even in the afternoon.
That wind had made the woods a bit crunchy and noisy to walk in, so I really did not see much at all in the way of turkeys, but I did hear something interesting which I will tell you about in a little bit.
I spent the day thinking about what we are now calling an early season and remembering how it was in the old days.
Back at home that evening I dug into my archive of outdoor stuff (read that as a bunch of dusty old boxes in the basement) and was able to find a set of regulations from 1982. Thought I had some older ones but 30 years is as far back as I could reach.
In the fall of 1982 turkey season came in on Oct. 16, not much later than our so-called early season today. In addition, and some of you are old enough to remember, that was the opening day for squirrel, grouse, archery deer and archery bear. Raccoon season opened that evening at 6 p.m.
Those were the days when the opening day of hunting season was truly that and it was an event of major proportions throughout the state.
Hunters would get up early to be on bow stand in the cool morning, then maybe hunt squirrels and try to bust up a flock of turkeys during midday and afternoon, and then be back on that deer stand or near a turkey roost that evening. Most everyone had the chance to pick up a grouse here or there throughout the day.
People hunted from hoot owl to hoot owl on that Saturday in October that was almost like an official government holiday in West Virginia.
It was an event and it was fun.
Now we do not really have one specific day that we can say is a grand opening for the fall traditions. Seasons are staggered and split and moved around from one year to the next. I am not saying that this is a bad thing, just different.
One definite good thing is obvious from reading those old regulations. In 1982 there were a total of 15 counties in West Virginia that were open to fall turkey hunting. Now, if these old eyes are reading the pastel colors on the turkey map right, there are 36 West Virginia counties that are open to fall turkey hunting in one form or another.
That would be progress in my book.
I do miss the excitement of the old time opening days, but maybe having more than two times as much huntable turkey range in the state today is a pretty decent trade-off for the changing times.
At any rate, to finish my story about the Allegheny, I was sitting on a maple flat about noon, several miles from my truck and clucked one time on a slate call.
That cluck was answered by a quiet gobble off to my right, and then again after the next cluck.
I never did see that bird even though I sat there quite a while longer.
Experienced hunters are well aware it is not that unusual to hear turkeys gobble in the fall. Still it was neat to hear a gobbler answer to my calls in October and served to liven up the day a little.
Seasons come and go, seasons change.
The only thing I know to do for sure is to be out there whenever I can. Maybe the next time that old gobbler will come to those clucks, be it during an early season or a late one.
Dave Long is a retired West Virginia natural resources police officer and a frequent contributor to the Outdoors page.