I thought I might keep this spring’s turkey season in a diary form. The New York turkey season runs May 1st thru the 31st each year. I believe, maybe wrongly, that this is the only one of the lower 48 states that allows turkey hunting on Memorial Day.
May 1st- I went out alone today. I had a hot gobbler straight up-hill from me with no easy way to get even with him before fly-down. I hate to call birds downhill, and try to avoid that scenario at all costs. Dawn was breaking so I sat at the base of the steep hill and gave a few quite yelps. He hammered back at me immediately. He then proceeded to cut off every other call I made. Ten minutes later I heard him flap down to the base of his tree. Several gobbles to announce his landing and here he comes right down the hill. I reeled him in like a yo-yo on a string and a load of heavy shot put a nice 2 year old bird in my oven. Not bad for a season only 15 minutes old.
May 2nd –Guiding Dr. Jimmy from Staten Island this morning. We started at a favorite spot of mine where I had scouted 8 long beards all strutting with-in sight of each other only three days earlier. Six had moved higher on the mountain but two were still down by us. Soft calling and purrs kept them interested until fly down, and then I really cut loose with the love talk. One of the toms answered everything I had, the other gobbler, closer to us, was only semi-interested. I felt the fever start to rise as the second bird closed the distance, thundering gobbles all the way. I heard a few hen putts from over by the first bird, and Dr. Jim whispered that he had seen a cat walking up that way. I thought it odd that a stray cat would cause the turkeys to be so defensive, but it seemed to explain why nobody was coming out of the woods to my calling. The two toms had joined up and were now extremely vocal. At the same time two hens had fed out in front of us from the opposite direction. I don’t use blinds, so with four sharp eyes at 20 yards, the slightest movement would have ended the hunt. Nobody moved despite the bugs and sweat and we remained undetected as the two slowly fed toward the other turkeys we heard but still had not seen. Suddenly loud putts and flying turkeys erupted out of the woods where our gobblers had been. The two feeding hens periscoped their heads straight up and started a mad dash right back to me and the good doctor. In rapid pursuit of the terror stricken birds was a red fox, he came within inches of the two hens when they split in a “V” formation, like football receivers out of the backfield. The frantic canine tried to chase both at once and practically spun in a circle from one to the other, giving the racing hens the time they needed get airborne and away. The temperature was headed to 92, a record breaking day, which effectively shut down the gobbling for the rest of our hunt. Dr. Jim did not take home a gobbler today, but he had a ring- side show to nature at its finest, and certainly did not go home disappointed.
May 4th- Hunting alone this morning, I made every amateur mistake a turkey hunter can make, and wound up wounding a bird. I spent hours searching and really think he made it, but that doubt will haunt me forever. Wounded game is a part of hunting that is too often brushed under the table. Maybe if more outdoor writers would share the heartbreak associated with the loss of game, hunters could learn from their errors and avoid a similar fate. The hot weather continues to plague the East and my morning started with a long hike to the only bird I could hear on the roost. Soaked with sweat and late, I set up in the wrong spot as fly down was eminent, and he sailed down to a favorite strutting zone with 500 yards of open grass between me and him. Mistake number one. My yelps brought him running, gobbling all the way. There was a house sized boulder 20 yards in front of me and I should have moved to the far end of it because my brain told me he would circle around that side. My lazy butt stayed put hoping he would come to my side of the rock. There was only a gap of ten yards between that side and the woods edge; of course he is going to circle wide from potential danger. My side of the rock and a 20 yard chip shot, the far side, where he went and now it was 40 yards at a moving bird. It was a further shot then I like, but that was the best I was going to get. Mistake number two. At the shot, he rocked hard but took off flying, with my second shot a little behind the now airborne gobbler. There was no third shot as he flew right at me because I had only put two shells in the gun. Mistake number three. He sailed over my head and crashed head first into a rock cliff behind me and crumpled to the ground. I had seen this phenomena before and I expected to find him stone dead right where he fell. Mistake number three. I jumped up and ran to pick up my prize, neglecting to reload. Mistake number four. I got to my bird, his head was up but he was not moving. As I reached to grab him by the neck, my hand only inches away from the dazed and confused bird; he leaped up and ran off thru a vine tangle like nothing had ever happened at all. Mistake number five. Learn from my misfortune and always pay attention to all the small details.
May 6th- only heard one gobbling tom at daybreak. He was in the same place as my opening day bird. I set up downhill again, this time extremely confident he would come right on down like is brother did a few days before. How wrong I was! He flew down and held his ground; half heartily answering a call here and there. With no way to close the distance, and him not moving, I backed out and tried to start a different bird. Having no luck with that quest, I circled way around and came back at my dawn bird from his level. He still hadn’t moved in the 45 minutes I had been gone, and still wouldn’t come to me. I backed out again and circled above him, but by then he had moved off and I had to get going. On my way out I spotted 6 strutters, all clustered around one poor hen. So this was where they had moved to!
May 7th- put out the B-mobile with a hen decoy and dug into the base of bush with my Matthews Drenalin at the spot where the 6 long beards had been strutting yesterday. I don’t like to use a blind, which greatly adds to the bow hunting challenge. I always set the full strut decoy facing me. I then hope to draw when the tom faces the decoy, even better if he is in full fan. It goes bad more often than not, but what a great feeling when it all comes together. I also had Viola (bad luck Vi, from my previous stories) and Mike off a few hundred yards. As it turned out, the birds had moved their way and Mike had them coming right to Viola’s lap. They were just out of view but I could hear the whole hunt. The gobbling got closer and a shot was fired. I could only hope that the turkey jinx was over. I rushed down to congratulate or console and there was Viola holding up her first turkey. I can’t say gobbler, because she had shot a bearded hen with about an 8 inch beard. I had seen this hen several times in the spring but was surprised she was with this group of gobblers. Everybody was happy, and the trophy is now at the taxidermist.
May 9th- 20-25 MPH winds with gusts to 50 since 2 PM yesterday. I thought about sleeping in, but I can’t shoot a trophy from bed! I was amazed to hear anything in this gale but a faint gobble reached my ears and I scurried up the hill to get even with him. I got a few reluctant answers before I heard him fly down. The next time he gobbled he was further away and not looking back. I roamed around a little but didn’t hear another bird, so I decided to move and drove to a new spot. I started my run-n-gun technique to try to locate a bird and did so at my second stand. I guess the wind fooled me as he was much closer than I thought. I moved down the ridge to set up and ran right into a hen. Hot on her tail was a strutting, gobbling jake running as fast as his little legs could go as he herded her like a sheep dog. The hen finally saw me and hurried off. The jake never broke strut and followed her right out of sight. I don’t think he ever knew I was there, even though I was standing only 20 yards from him at one point. He was that focused on his goal. With nothing else happening here, I went back to where I started this morning. I peeked over a hill and saw two strutting long beards with two hens. A little quiet talk, mostly purrs, drew the curious hens closer to me, pulling the strutting toms along with them. A load of heavy shot bowled over the largest at 20 yards. He sported an 11″ beard and 1 ½ spurs, a very nice bird indeed. Lesson learned; never let the weather keep you home. Remember, they live there!!
I’ll update the diary here on Huntinglife in about 10 days or so, good hunting all.