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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.


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