Old gobbler hunter tries new approach
I sat against the base of a large hemlock last Monday. To my front was a wide limb of another hemlock that had broken off and fallen long ago, its desiccated short branches along the main stem providing perfect cover in all directions.
I was spring gobbler hunting in the vastness of Tioga County, but it was different from any springtime turkey hunting I had done in the past because I was in pursuit of a bird at a completely new time of day — late afternoon heading toward nightfall.
First established in 2011, the final two weeks of spring gobbler season currently allows for hunters to hunt the big birds until a half-hour after sunset. But it took until this eighth year of that regulation change for me to be afield as a day ended.
That Monday I sat quietly, hidden by the hemlocks I had described above. I was about 50 yards uphill off a dirt road, watching a large half-bowl landscape to my front that was formed by the significant sweep of a steep side hill that encircled me like a waxing moon phase.
The sizable bottom land along with its sides holds numerous hemlock stands. There are also ample clusters of tall oaks, maples and other scattered hardwoods. Past experiences here have shown me this is an excellent turkey roosting destination.
I was seated by 6:30 p.m., and all that while I never issued a turkey call of any kind. Just sitting comfortably and enjoying the afternoon with song birds chirping and the occasional chipmunks darting along the ground kept me content.
At about 7:30 I saw movement to my left along the ridge of the side hill. It was two young deer making their way down the slope. They passed me on my left and made their way to the road where they paused to look at my truck, which was about 100 yards away. After a short moment they crossed the road and were soon out of sight.
By habit I looked back a mere two minutes later to where the deer had crossed the road, and was both startled and amazed to see two turkeys crossing the road from the direction the deer had gone.
They were across the road quickly and began to skirt the edge of the side hill, walking toward the rim in a parallel path with the road. They were under some thickened underbrush, and along with the darkening woods, it was difficult to determine their sex. I thought them to be hens and let them walk.
When they got two-thirds of the way up the hillside, they turned and started walking parallel with the rim. At this point I retrieved a pair of binoculars from the back of my turkey vest and glassed them at over 100 yards away.
They both had red heads, and the front one a straggly beard of about 5 inches. Damn, two jakes. I chose then not tocall to them since they had already passed me, the woods were getting darker, and I knew they’d be in this area come morning, giving me a good chance at taking one of them.
I sat until almost 8:30 and returned to camp to go directly to bed for a 4 a.m. rise. By 5 a.m. the next morning, I was at the same spot ready for the first light of a new day.
At about 5:45, turkeys started yelping from the trees. There were more than two, and they weren’t really close to where I sat. After about two minutes they stopped calling. There was no gobble and only a couple more yelps from a greater distance than the tree yelping. They were moving away.
Having heard neither a fly-down nor seen one, I quickly began clucking and yelping myself. No answers. I sat for three more hours, occasionally calling. Nothing.
I returned that afternoon hoping the birds I had seen were in some sort of pattern and might return as they did the evening before. Never happened.
With a rainy week still in the forecast I hunted the next morning — without results —and headed home.
I can say this about the “new-or-me” afternoon turkey hunting in the spring – I like it. It’s strange to sit in woods until almost bedtime and watch everything around me darken, rather than waiting for first light and turkeys wake-up as I have done for such a long time.
But with a week of season remaining, this new hunting time has a first-rate benefit, too. I can be lazy and sleep past sunrise and still hunt on a warm and quiet afternoon for these wonderful birds.