Welcome to the host site for outdoor writer Steve Sorensen’s “Everyday Hunter” columns. For a complete index of all columns, go to EverydayHunter.com.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Random Thoughts While Turkey Hunting

by Steve Sorensen
(Originally published in the Warren Times Observer, Warren, PA., May 27, 2006.)
An average-sized garter snake
swallows a good-sized female wood frog
in a little more than 15 minutes.
Being in the springtime woods brings experiences and observations that the hunter can get at no other time of the year. Sitting patiently while trying to dupe a gobbler offers time to think. This column is a collection of those observations and thoughts.

A nesting woodcock will flutter up to the face of a predator, swerve off, land nearby, then act as though it is injured. When the predator pursues, it’s drawn away from the nest.

Fawns don’t take long to get on their feet, but I think I could chase one down if it has just begun walking. A fawn just a few hours old will lie curled up and motionless, except for the occasional eye blink and barely perceptible breathing. He probably has a sibling somewhere within 150 yards, and mom is between them listening for any commotion. On approaching a newborn for a photo, I wonder if the little deer’s eyes can focus. Does it know whether it’s in danger or not?

If I can find three newborn fawns during the few hours I spend in the woods late in the month of May, it’s a sure bet that a full-time predator will find many because it must kill to feed its own young.

A gobbler that’s coming to a call is disturbed by the presence of a coyote. A fox can mess up the game just as easily.

If a gobbler shuts up, there’s a good chance he’s coming. Let him look for you. Calling to a gobbler too much makes him think the hen is coming to him. Don’t give him a reason to hang up.

Gobblers are easier to call before the season. During the early season they’ll often confine themselves to the same area -- as long as they think hens are available there or hunting pressure doesn’t push them away. They may not roost in the same tree, but they won’t be far away.

Later in the season a gobbler will begin to wander, looking for new female friends. Sometimes he’s more susceptible to calling. Or not. And just because you can call him to 20 yards doesn’t mean you can shoot him.

It’s called “spring gobbler season” because removing a few males doesn’t hurt the population. But some hens are legal targets, too. And some gobblers are not. What makes a turkey legal game is not its gender, but the presence of a visible beard -- a secondary sexual characteristic most often found on the males.

Hens wear beards more often than most hunters think. This season, I have seen 7 hens. One was spotted along the road and 6 of them were called in. Three of them had beards. The shortest was less than 2 inches long and looked like a bad case of bed head. The longest was 8-9 inches long, and as thin as a pencil. Turkey biologists say about 1 hen in 10 has a beard.

Crows are a major predator on turkey nests. The indicator that a crow has opened an egg is that it will be mostly intact, with a big hole where the crow got the contents, and probably a few other small spots where the crow pecked at the egg.

An average sized garter snake (not over 18” long) swallows a good-sized female wood frog (over 3” long and 2” wide) in a little more than 15 minutes. The one I saw grabbed the frog by a back leg, worked it until the other leg was in its mouth, and centered itself on the back of the frog. Then slowly, almost imperceptibly, it pulled the frog in. An amazing sight. The frog had no chance of escape. The muscles inside the snake must be very strong. The snake had a difficult time moving until the frog got past its neck. I have pictures.

In recent years I haven’t seen many of the wildflowers known as trillium. Around here they come in deep red or white. This spring I’ve seen lots of white ones. Maybe they’re making a comeback.

Just because you can call a gobbler in to about 20 yards a second time, and a third time, it doesn’t mean you can shoot him.

Spring gobbler season is a great time to be in the woods.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

All About Turkey Hunting

by Steve Sorensen
(Originally published in the Warren Times Observer, Warren, PA., May 13, 2006.)
What do I know for sure? I know
that turkeys don't get gray beards,
but turkey hunters do.
When I was a kid I remember a series of "all-about" books, All About Astronomy, All About Chemistry, and many others. I'd like someone to write "All About Turkey Hunting," but it's not likely to happen. Just about the time you think you know turkeys, turkeys send you back to kindergarten.

If you're a turkey hunter, consider one rule: Throw out all the truisms you've read. A truism is a statement that is so obvious or self-evident as to be hardly worth mentioning and needs no proof. When it comes to hunting turkeys, there is only one truism: turkeys are unpredictable. Whether that's because they're smart or stupid is up for grabs, but either way spring gobblers live to frustrate hunters. Try working one boss gobbler for four-and-a-half hours, calling him in twice, only to be busted the second time at 30 yards. Like I said, back to kindergarten.

But -- many statements about turkey hunting are made as though they are truisms. Don't believe these things.

Even though some books on turkey hunting say that gobblers have regular roosting areas, that's often false here in the northeast. Gobblers don't always roost in the same tree, or even in the same area from day to day. That may happen in areas with few mature trees or arid areas where the only trees are likely to be near a water source, but here in these parts, they often move from day to day. We have lots of woods. Gobblers have lots of places to go, hens to meet.

Here's another that ain't necessarily so: When a gobbler is sounding off late in the morning, the odds are you can call him in. Hear a gobbler at 10:00 AM or 11:00 AM and he might be anxiously looking for a hen. But about the time you get set up he might shut up. Or, he might have some destination on his mind that you can't turn him from.

Don't bet on this one: The new turkey shotguns and loads are capable of clean kills out to 50 or 60 yards. Even though you aim a turkey shotgun like you aim a rifle, you don't have control over the hundred-plus BBs that are speeding toward the big bird's little head. Yes, it takes only one hit in the vital head/neck area, but those random BBs have lots of spaces between them -- and a gobbler has plenty of time to get away while a middle-aged hunter does the 60-yard dash. I like a turkey at about 30 yards. At that range, I figure on him getting a serious Winchester Double-X headache number 5.

A decoy is a big advantage in calling in a gobbler. Right. Except for the times that it's a disadvantage. Decoys are intended to give the gobbler confidence that your set up is not an ambush. You can tweak things a little by adding a jake decoy to make the gobbler jealous. He might come right in intent on giving the jake a few lumps, then making sweet love to the fake hen.

Decoys do not give the hunter an unfair advantage. They work less than half the time the gobbler sees it -- and he often doesn't. If he does see it, the gobbler will figure that the hen ought to do what's natural and come to him. After all, he rules the roost. A decoy is a slight advantage, and only in some circumstances.

These things are true, except when they're not -- because when it comes to hunting spring gobblers, very little is obvious. Sometimes a group of gobblers will roost in the same area every day. (But about the time you depend on them to be there, they leave.) You can call in a gobbler late in the morning -- late hunting is just as successful as early hunting. (But it's harder to find a gobbling bird late in the morning.) You might kill a turkey at 60 yards, and miss one cleanly at 30 or even 15. (There are lots of reasons to miss besides a sparse pattern.) And finally, decoys can give you an advantage when calling in a turkey. (But like lots of scouting, your favorite box call, or your best calling sequence, a decoy is just one element in the hunter's vest of tricks that may or may not work, and you should know when to use it.)

What do I know for sure? I know that turkeys don't get gray beards, but turkey hunters do.