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It's All Good Part II

Saturday, October 18, 2008: Shotgun hunt. York County, Maine. Opening day, frosty and cold, the sky full of stars. Roost pitting around daybreak told me treed turkeys were alerted, but I sat down any way. When some hit the ground, I called, imitating their vocalizations. I had the shotgun safety off as a young gobbler worked my way, but then it veered off, hustling toward the yapping brood hen.

I continued to call, and pull birds closer, but eventually the flock drifted away on assembling. Distant shotgun reports throughout the morning, starting not far off at first legal light as well, told me other hunters were seeing action—either on wild turkeys, or maybe waterfowl. I stuck it out, and eventually heard gobbler yelping, fighting purrs, wings colliding, gobbling, hen assembly yelping, and all manner of calling from young birds regrouping. Good deal right?

Wrong. They were on a nearby property I couldn’t hunt. I called. Some would answer. The racket was so loud I crept closer just for a look-see, and saw (no lie) several full-fan strutters fighting on the property edge, sorting out the pecking order. Don’t tell the desk biologists who might disagree about adult male turkeys running with birds of the year. I saw it, have seen it, and will see it again no doubt. I heard another game-over shot over in that direction (obviously someone with permission), and walked away to my truck, only to see a hunting buddy drive by. We broke for coffee, and returned several hours later.

Not long after we called, and talked a little with the distant birds. They answered, but wouldn’t cross the line to our setup. Then we heard the rumble of a four-wheeler approaching, right through the woods to my seated friend. He held out his camouflaged arms at the last second, and we heard one of the two teenage girls say: “Ohmigod you almost gave me a heart attack!” Likewise.

They moved on toward the once-vocal unhuntable turkeys. My buddy gave me that "what-the-heck" look. In disbelief we heard the renegade ATV rumble back our way, right back on the trail to my bud, the girls laughing and carrying on. The driver stopped, said, giggling: “DID WE SCARE ALL OF YOUR TURKEYS AWAY?” It wasn’t really a question. Her passenger then yelled, as if seeing an alien being: “Ohmigod there’s another one over there!” meaning me. At that, they wheeled off again. We packed up and left.
—Steve Hickoff

Comments

Levi

I still haven't seen a bird during the shotgun season, it's maddening, tons of sign (feathers, tracks, droppings), but no turkeys. 4 days left and I'm missing some great deer hunting times to get a bird...

Dirty

Some beach, some where. That'll fluster the hell out of ya! Good luck Steve, I'm a rootin for ya!

Dirty

Steve Hickoff

Hang in there, Levi. It's gonna be sweet when you tag one of those turkeys . . .

Steve

Steve Hickoff

Hey Dirty,

How are you doin' down in Arkansas?

Steve

Justin

Steve,

Cool stuff. How did you know where the birds were roosting?

Justin

Steve Hickoff

Hey Justin,

I'm a compulsive turkey scouter, and hunted an area that's been familiar to me for almost 20 years. Neat thing is, year in, year out, this same habitat--like others I hunt--holds birds.

The roost is a nice little hardwood stand: oak, maple, beech . . . here in the northern New England, it's been an amazing year for mast. Birds are moving around a lot.

At any rate, by watching the area, and finding scratchings there, I knew the turkeys would be roosted close by. But as they say in turkey camps around the country, "Roosted ain't roasted."

How'd you guys do in Missouri this weekend?

Steve

Levi

I don't know that there have been birds there for 20 years, but we started at a spot that a friend of mine has hunted for a few years he said there's always birds there every year, last year there certainly were. We didn't hear or see anything except sign. Some good sign though, 2 or 3 gobbler wing feathers within 100 yards among other things. I have been out there a few times this year before that and hadn't seen them yet, maybe today, I'm about to leave work.

Steve Hickoff

Hey Levi,

Wild turkeys are like ghosts sometimes, that's for sure.

Is the sign fresh or old? Scratchings just made, or are there leaves in them? Droppings moist or dried? (Seriously!)

You need to be sitting somewhere nearby at fly-up time tonight. Listen for wingbeats as they head to roost. You might even hear some calling on the ground before they hit those branches.

Wouldn't hurt to periodically cold call from your set up, always on the look out for birds coming in . . .

You might just get a turkey in range on the ground in that last legal hour of shooting.

At any rate, keep up posted, and good luck!

Steve

Steve Hickoff

Just a note regarding the mast crop in the northeast . . .

Here in Maine, and over in New Hampshire, it's been a super acorn year.

Down in upstate New York, as my good buddy Gerry Bethge might tell ya, it's been just the opposite: precious little mast.

The result? Our turkeys are spending a lot of time in the woods scratching, and less out in the fields (unless it's stormy). A buddy from NY just checked in and says they're finding flocks out in the open . . .

Snow is also falling there as we speak . . .

Steve

Justin

Steve,

On the private land I hunt the birds have shifted, as neither I nor the owner have seen them regularly for about three weeks. I still see sign, but not nearly as much. On the bright side I've been able to scout out the territory of a four point buck. That made the owner happy.

Alas, my last day to hunt this season was Sunday and there were 30mph winds. No birds around.

The next morning was our first hard freeze, and on my drive back to St. Louis I saw a flock of fifteen birds not 50 yards from the interstate in an open field! Go figure.

I'd be interested to hear your experiences with turkeys on really windy days.

Justin

Steve Hickoff

On really windy NIGHTS, flocks often roost in draws, and concealed areas. In northcentral Pennsylvania, where I first hunted turkeys, turkeys choose hollows where they're protected from storms. At other times, on calm nights, they'll sleep not far from the top of a hardwood ridge.

It holds true in locations around the country . . .

On really windy DAYS, I tend to look for birds in enclosed fields, say inside a woodlot, or big open areas, pastures for instance, where their listening ability (diminished by the wind in the woods) doesn't matter as much since their vision is so superb.

Man, we have those interstate turkeys here too. They get comfortable, and stick with the area. As Bethge can tell you, places like the Taconic Parkway in NY routinely have birds pecking alongside the highway . . . same for I-95 on the east coast, what have you . . .

Steve

Justin

Thanks for the tip Steve,

A friend of mine once saw a Tom strutting next to the runway at the Kansas City airport...

You mentioned birds going into fields when it's stormy. Is that in order to dry out from the wet woods?

Steve Hickoff

Seems to be, especially when you see 'em shaking off water like wet Labs after a retrieve!

As the most paranoid prey species on the planet, I think turkeys must prefer that vantage point when the wind whips up and they can't hear much.

Steve

Dirty

Hard to bust a flock in these thicket's...........just waitin.......

Dirty

Gerry Bethge

Hey Guys---Mind if I join the party?

Birds in the Catskills of New York have been on acorns--hard. Acorns have been spotty. Find the food and you'll find the birds.

Hunted a ridgetop on Saturday morning---nice scratchings and an historically-good roost spot which is why I was there in the first place--and the birds were there. I had nothing but history to go on--didn't get to camp early enough to roost anything.

Despite the horrid conditions---rain and wind---my partner, Matt Hogan, and I headed up the ridge. One cluck, one response--we sat down.

It took about 1/2 hour, but the gobbler yelping behind us finally walked into range. I wish this story had a happy ending, but it doesn't. At the report of Matt's 20-gauge, two adult gobblers flapped off. Sadly Matt missed, but what a hunt!!!

Levi

No turkeys last night, I've been at three likely roost spots on three different evenings so I'm moving on. At least some of the sign seemed fresh, but I haven't noticed any new sign in the last couple of days and I've done some calling, kee-kees, yelps, and gobbles even.