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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.


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