Turkey tips from a novice
Every year I try to write up some beneficial turkey hunting tips from local experts to help point hunters in the right direction when it comes to chasing spring gobblers. Since I am far from an expert, I can still share my knowledge on what NOT to do during the spring turkey season in New York. Some of these tips and tactics can certainly help.
I have been hunting turkey for most of my adult life. I have hunted alongside some of the best turkey hunters in the state, as well as the country. I have been blessed to be friends with the likes of Ernie Calandrelli, Paul Butski and Arnie Jonathan, well known turkey talkers who have won many contests through the years. They have also managed to tag out on their share of birds.
Another good friend, Dennis Morris, of Youngstown, has been taking me out the last several years to some of his secret spots to try and trick a bird into range. It has not happened yet.
In all cases, something quirky, odd, or inconvenient happened. Life is strange, especially in the outdoors.
One tip involves the portable ThermaCell unit to help keep mosquitos away. Do not leave home without it. It is invaluable, especially when hunting swamp-like conditions. However, be careful where you lay it down on the ground next to you.
Last year, a gobble in the distance forced me and Dennis Morris to set up quickly mid-morning. I laid the ThermaCell unit next to me and prepared for the approaching bird. I was all set up for the bird to show up through a particular opening when old Tommy boy decided to change directions further to my right. I slid into position again and waited for the bird to come into range. I slumped back and put the gun on my knee to steady it.
Suddenly, I felt a burning sensation under my posterior. I was sitting on the ThermaCell! Ouch! Morris was sitting behind me when he noticed me lift my butt with a quick sweeping motion of my hand. Whether the bird saw me or not I will never know, but it continued heading right until it was out of range and out of sight. Any form of calling would not make a difference.
On another hunt with Arnie Jonathan, of Lockport, scouting the night before found several longbeards roosting for the evening in a favorite woods in Arcade. We had a bit of a hike to get there, but it was going to be worth it. At least we thought it would.
It started with crossing a large grassy field. The evening was producing a heavy dew and the waist-high grass was carrying excessive moisture on our light hunting clothes. We were soaked all the way through with no waterproof covering and no spare clothes to change into at the end of the hunt.
When we finally located the woods with the roosted birds, we sat and waited for legal shooting time. As the drab light began to filter through the woods and shapes could be made out, I could hear the faint whisper of AJ nearby.
“Bill, we set up directly beneath the birds! Don’t move!”
Easier said than done. It was not long before the birds realized that something was not right, and they flew off away from us. When you do pick a spot to hunt and you know the birds are roosting in a particular area, make sure you do not set up directly beneath them! Yes, common sense, but you just never know.
Sometimes it happens by accident. I was hunting with a guide from West Virginia out of Turkey Trot Acres in Candor, N.Y. and it was pouring rain with occasional thunder and lightning. We were in the truck driving around, wondering if it was going to be worth it. It was legal shooting time. We would stop along the road and give a call, waiting for a response. It was at about the third or fourth stop that we had the window down and there was a roll of thunder. Gobble! Gobble! And it was close.
The guy looked at me and asked what I wanted to do.
“Let’s go hunting,” I said. “I didn’t come to stay in the truck or the camp!”
We climbed out of the vehicle, grabbed our gear, and walked into the woods, finding what we thought was a perfect spot to set up. As things began to settle down, he put his hand down on the ground to look around the tree he was sitting at. Something caught his eye as he was out of position. As he looked up, there was a big gobbler still sitting in a tree looking down at him. My guide could only stay in that position for so long and when he moved out of necessity, the bird was gone, never to be seen again.
On another turkey pursuit in the Hudson Valley Region, I was hunting with John Yonke, a retired DEC wildlife biologist who lived for shooting and chasing wild game. We hiked into a favorite area of his and set up well before first light. The twinkling lights of Poughkeepsie were glittering in the distance as we settled in, drinking a bit of coffee to keep the chill off. Suddenly, without warning, a big gobbler came walking through our spot and caught us totally off guard. The tip would be to be prepared for anything and any time. You just never know.
Yes, time in the field is the number one learning tool for everyone. So far, I will continue to learn from my mistakes. Stay safe out there!