Ted Peck

Outdoors talk with certified Merchant Marine Captain Ted Peck.

Spring turkey hunting begins April 19

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Ted Peck
Outdoors Columnist
Sunday, April 9, 2017

The first of many spring turkey-hunting periods kicks off April 19, with opportunities to harvest what might be the ugliest bird on the planet until many folks' thoughts turn to muskies and morels.

Experience teaches the easiest and one of the most productive seasons is Period 2. If the rain isn't pounding and the wind isn't howling, turkey will be the entrée for several meals at the cabin before month's end.

Looking back at a turkey hunting year that began six states and 43 years ago in Virginia's Shenandoah Valley, details of what were once memorable hunts are fuzzy at best.

Memories of adventures when turkeys either outsmarted me or I outsmarted myself remain crystal head-shaking and laugh-out-loud clear. Eventually you might have the epiphany that the biggest trophy in turkey hunting is learning sometimes-painful truths about yourself.

If you're at a point where spring turkey hunting has evolved from curiosity into a passion, you might be congratulating yourself on calling skills that sound more like a turkey than a real turkey.

Realization that a boss gobbler doesn't give an owl hoot regarding your calling expertise will come with time.

Over-calling is probably the biggest mistake itinerant turkey hunters make in the course of learning their craft. The “yelp” has no place in intimate turkey dialog.

What brings longbeards in is subtle purrs and clucks from other imaginary hens quietly gossiping about their loud-mouthed sister.

Imagine several spinster sisters who have lived together in a small mobile home for years. They don't have much to say to each other. Turkeys exhibit similar behavior.

When your turkey-hunting journey is evolving from passion into full-blown obsession, the importance of remaining still for at least an hour after your butt has fallen asleep is an accepted part of the regimen.

Actually falling asleep for a while can be a productive strategy. When the sensation of a deer tick navigating your nose generates just the hint of a smile and nothing more, it is a Zen experience.

Choose the location for morphing into a breathing stump carefully. Second-guessing yourself into believing that wide oak just 50 yards away would be a better vantage point will likely cost you several birds before the critical importance of remaining motionless settles in.

Using a turkey decoy compounds the fallacy that moving things around just a little bit will surely be more productive. If you're hunting where the turkeys are and announced your presence with just enough turkey-talk to pique a Tom's interest, you can bet the ranch you're being watched.

The only time I use a decoy anymore is when hunting with a bow. Successful hunting with a bow also means hunting from a tent. Movement is necessary to come to full draw. A tent hides movement.

More than four decades of regular humiliation from ugly birds had convinced me the strategy of “roosting” the birds the night prior to hunting then stumbling around in the pre-dawn dark trying to set up close—but not too close—is a waste of time.

More often than not, the birds will fly down in the opposite direction from where you set up because they have heard your sincere efforts to be vewwy, vewwy quiet.

Trying to call a gobbler away from a strutting area in the middle of a 20-acre pasture is another exercise in futility. Until the DNR authorizes using a .270 rifle, birds like this are absolutely safe.

Bowhunting and the accoutrements of decoys and a tent are too much work, although the lesson of setting up with the sun to your back will never be forgotten. The longbeard that stood there strutting just five yards from the tent silhouetted by a blazing April sunrise is probably still out there.

I'll get out to the woods while it's still dark. Old guys get up early, anyway. Twenty-plus years of hunting the family farm provide several solid options for a comfortable mid-morning nap.

The 3½” magnum with a super-tight turkey choke can reach out with a fatal touch of #6 shot a good 50 yards. But with just a purr or two, the gobbler will likely come much closer. Pulling the trigger will be anticlimactic.

There is a good chance a brand new way to screw up will be discovered. This is the stuff from which memories are born.

Ted Peck, a certified Merchant Marine captain, is an outdoors columnist for The Gazette. Email him at tedpeck@acegroup.cc.

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