Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Fall turkey hunting can be vexing but still fun

By the looks of things the hunt for a fall wild turkey pretty much were going to parallel that for a bird in the spring.

Except that now the leaves are growing old and falling off the branches instead of ripening green, full of life. The weather is only going to become cooler, not warmer, too.

And I guess the turkeys themselves can give pause to a few differences. In the spring you can only shoot bearded birds, almost always males that are also called “toms” or “gobblers.”

In the fall you can shoot any turkey; gobbler, hen or one of this year’s offspring which possibly might even still be a not-yet-full-grown poult.

Oh, and the hunting is generally different as well. In the spring you make like a hen turkey as an enticement to call in a lovesick gobbler.

In the fall you do a lot of spot and stalk, walking through the woods, down trails and using optics to scout out soybean fields.

A hunter can also employ a bird dog to root out a fall turkey but that game is illegal in the spring.

Likewise, you have to purchase a separate fall turkey-hunting license as the one you bought in the spring is no longer valid.

Okay, I guess the differences far outweigh the similarities.

Maybe the only thing the two have in common (for me anyway) is that I didn’t kill a bird last spring and I’ve yet to find a fall turkey that’s made out its last will and testament.

It was not for a lack of trying Monday morning, however.

Up at 5 a.m. and out of the house 30 minutes later with a 45-minute drive to a woodlot in central Ashtabula County.

Hardly had I set foot on the tractor path going back to the woods when my left boot snugged on some natural tripwire that caused me to tumble in the oozing mud.

So much for grace, style and panache.

In any event, I sided up another - very much overgrown - logging trail and then settled in. Though it was now legal daylight I didn’t want to barge ahead in the half-gleam of predawn.

No point in spooking a family flock of turkeys from their roost So I say down, relaxed to allow the sweat to evaporate and made some sweet talk with my mouth call.

Though fall turkeys don’t respond to calling with the same gusto they typically do in the spring, you can sometimes get a gobbler to squawk or a hen to yelp. That gives you a clue as to where birds may have stopped for the night.

The sound of silence was deafening, however. I heard a bark from a squirrel, the animal no doubt unhappy at being disturbed before it even had a chance to bite into a beechnut.

I gave the rest about 30 minutes before resuming my trek through the forest, its canopy opened enough to allow shafts of newly born sunshine to hit the wood’s natural flooring.

The old trace through the forest is becoming less and less well defined. When I first began hunting these woods more than 25 years ago the property’s boundary was very much established by a wide tractor/logging path.

Not so much anymore. Were it not for the fact that I had so many years of experience walking these woods I might have missed the north-south turn where it meets the northern section’s east-west trail portion.

At least this second track is still etched fine enough to be followed without stumbling off onto the neighbor’s property. That helped as I inched forward, keeping my eyes combing both ahead and also to my boot tips.

I could see that the trail was being heavily used by deer, the animals’ hoof prints frequenting the soft soil and I knew also that turkeys travel this route. I’ve taken several birds from the path, both in the spring and in the fall.

But not today, with the only excitement coming from a deer that I had disturbed.
The animal gave a hearty cough, which sounds as much like a bark as anything else.

By the time I reached the property’s southern side and the trail turned again west to east I had covered a fair amount of real estate.

Now came the difficult part. This trail - more so than the other three legs - is badly overgrown with greenbriars and saplings along with being the repository for many fallen ash and other varieties of trees.

I was forced to make a number of detours around the blow downs and stickups. Once again I thanked my stars that I was experienced with this woodlot, otherwise I easily could have gone way off track.

As it was the trail was rough going and once more the sweat severely beaded up on my face and soaked my shirt and turkey-hunting vest.

Nearly two hours after hunting I broke out to the soybean field that edges the western side of the woodlot.

I had hoped that maybe a flock of turkeys would be there, taking its tithe in the form of seed pods. It was not to be and I finished the last hundred yards or so without spying any birds.

You might guess that I’m disappointed. Yeah, but only a smidgen. Up until a few days ago I wasn’t even intending on buying a fall turkey tag.

A late change of mind came when I thought about a few days I might opt to hunt turkeys; sandwiched between Ohio’s mixed-up waterfowl season split and before potential evening archery deer hunts.

I’ll be back in these woods in search of a turkey, though. Maybe when the leaves have finished pattering from above and the cold of approaching winter has both the turkeys and me more on edge.

Hunting is always a game of playing the odds. But at least I understand that the house does not always win.

- Jeffrey L. Frischkorn

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