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In 1987 at the age of 35, I went on my first spring gobbler hunt. I remember sitting in the Montgomery County woods, hearing a longbeard sound off, and wondering what I should do. Undecided about the strategy, I figured I could at least walk toward the gobbler, perhaps see him, then sort things out from there.
During my stroll, I did hear some sounds, but they were putts and wing flapping. It was sometime later that I learned that the noise that had occurred was typical of what a turkey makes when it first sees then flees from a predator, although certainly in my case, the predator was not a very dangerous one and definitely not life threatening to any living creature.
If you are a beginner to intermediate turkey hunter and perhaps even an advanced one, here is a playbook of tips and useful information so this spring, you can avoid the snafus I committed. For this advice, I went to one of Virginia’s best known turkey hunters: Jim Clay of Winchester’s Perfection Turkey Calls.
· “Don’t watch those TV shows where a celebrity kills a gobbler every 10-minute segment,” laughed Clay. “Seriously, beginning to intermediate hunters should realize that sometimes it takes a week or even a season to kill a gobbler and even expert turkey hunters have years when they strike out.”
· “Don’t think you have to be an expert caller in order to be successful, and you don’t have to necessarily feel that your calling was the reason a gobbler didn’t come in,” Clay continued. “Sometimes a tom just likes the hens is he with better than the calls he hears.”
· “Learn to use simple calls, like the push-pin and box, first, then graduate to slightly more difficult calls like the slate and glass,” he said. “As long as you can learn how to make a cluck and a yelp, you’ll be fine.”
· Clay suggested that beginning hunters start to learn how to use a diaphragm, also known as a mouth call, but understand that it takes many folks many months to do so. The first mouth call that I mastered was the Perfection 3-D Omega, a triple reed, but it took me six months to do so. Generally, said Clay, as strange as it may seem, double and triple reed calls are much easier than single reeds for folks to learn how to utter turkey talk. Interestingly, people who play wind instruments often can quickly grasp the basics of using a diaphragm.
· “Learning woodsmanship is truly important,” said Clay. “By woodsmanship, I mean understanding how turkeys use terrain, what foods they eat in the spring, where turkeys roost and how to age sign like scratching and droppings. “For example, turkeys often travel down logging roads, through funnels, and across saddles. (A funnel can be natural features in the terrain like a steep embankment near a beaver pond or man-made like a fence line that tends to direct the path of animals through an area. A saddle is a dip in a ridge where it may be easier to cross a summit and could provide extra cover for animals.) In the spring, they often feed along streams and in fields where the first green growth appears. Also, birds often roost in pine stands, the sides of hills and mountains in hollows, and along stream banks. And turkey scratching is fresh and the birds are likely nearby if the soil inside the scratching is moist and there are no leaves about.
· Spend time patterning your shotgun. Most turkey hunters prefer a 12-gauge shotgun, but the best shotgun shells for any given gun can vary wildly and may not necessarily be of the same brand. For example, Winchester shells might perform best in a Remington shotgun and the reverse is also true. It’s very important to spend time on the range trying out different loads until you find just the right one.
· “Learn to silently walk through the woods,” continued Clay. “Don’t sound like a human plodding along through the woods at a steady pace. “Practice putting your feet down slowly and carefully and periodically stop to look and listen.”
· “Be a safe hunter,” emphasized Clay. “Always be sure of your target, set up against a broad tree, and when you see a turkey, make sure that you can identify it as a tom.”
· “Ask someone if he or she will mentor you,” said Clay. “Having a mentor always speeds up the learning process.”
Pursuing Virginia’s gobblers is a marvelous way to spend a spring day. Hope you have a chance to do so this April and May.
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