Back in 2013, Angus was enjoying his last deer season as a Yute. I had him positioned with his older brother, Moose in a ground blind at Lazy Boy. He was too big for the buddy stand anymore. I was at Campground, about a quarter-mile away. Angus and I both scored bucks that morning. If I remember correctly, that was our first all-buck double-header. I had to stay home. It is Supercore’s birthday today and there is a big party. It gave me some time to catch up on projects. I finally got a chance to get the antlers mounted.
The Countdown Timer on my webpage will cross the 4-week threshold as I write this– 1 month to go before Spring Gobbler Season opens. Normally, I would be down at camp, scouting. Hopefully I would have the umbrella microphone up and be recording some hens. I’m not. I’m also not fretting too much. SuperCore’s birthday party is tomorrow, and between the inclement weather and the logistics of coming back to town for the party, I decided to stay back in town.
We did make it back down to Turkey Camp. KYHillChick and I went down in February. The place was just as I had left it in December. It had been a mild winter. It was due to hit 70 the next day, but she developed a toothache and I was nursing the onset of a cold. We spent less than 6 hours before pulling out for home, and the weekend weather has been marginal ever since.
For nearly 4 decades, I’ve been stewing every winter about the onset of Season. I just HAD to do something:
- Practice calling
- Listening to call tapes
- Watch Turkey Porn
- Sighting in
- Argue with other turkey hunters online
I’m not doing any of that this year. Sure, I’ve got my calls out. Sure, I’ll try them out here and there. However, I’m not doing all that much pre-season practice. These days, bone memory has taken over. I call about as good in January as I do in May. All the years of listening to my collection of call tapes have also worn thin. For years it was a personal ritual and then it got to be a thing with my sons. Finally, a year or so ago we decided it was time to ride to camp one time without listening to Ben Lee blaring in our years. It was a welcome change.
There is only so much turkey porn a man can watch. YouTube has finally given the turkey hunter more than any a mortal man can handle. Even Mooselette, my 5-year-old granddaughter finally asks, “Grandpa, can we watch something else?”
Everyone in the family has now gone 5 years using the same turkey load. Outside of running 1 round to check function, the Sighting In Weekend is now off the schedule.
That leaves stress shopping and arguing with turkey hunters online. These have been hobbies in and of themselves. However, I find myself surprisingly resistant to both. You have to understand, that for decades I would haunt the aisles of sporting goods stores looking for that winning edge. To some extent, the Internet cured me of that. I could stay home and shop. However, outside of a new bag for my calls this year, I have not been doing all that much shopping.
Two weekends ago, I woke up on Saturday morning with a major jones. I just could not take it anymore. In a blinding snowstorm, I drove the half-hour’s ride up north to Cabelas and wandered their aisles. For an hour’s work, I came back home with nothing more than a box of 9mm ammo. No calls. No camo clothing. I asked KYHillChick to take my temperature. There must be something wrong with me.
I’m also not doing any online arguing with turkey hunters this year. My association with T&TH seems to be ending. Their forum is dying with a whimper. Their magazine died ages ago. I have not found a suitable home to replace it.
Mind you, I don’t have a serious agenda, but I do like jousting with those that do. You can read my various manifestos on this weblog. I generally take a middle road on everything, and my opinions are based on 4 decades in the sport. I am not into a whole lot of gadgets. I try to keep my kit light. I am also not bothered if someone feels the need to crawl into a $200 pop up blind and hunt with a $2K shotgun lobbing $10 shells at the birds. I just have to ask why?
On the other hand, I always felt the Old Schoolers were like the nasty old men shooing the school kids off their lawn. I felt there were now enough turkeys out there for everyone. If you want to go out with one call and sit with your back to a tree, fine. Blinds and Dekes? Cool. What I do find is that sitting with my back to a large tree with a small number of calls and a scratch-n-dent shotgun is sufficient. What is odd is that now folks use that as evidence that I’m now an Old Schooler. For the most part, I’m at peace.
I have never claimed to be an expert Turkey Hunter. I only claim to be an expert Beginning Turkey Hunter. I started hunting turkeys back during Reagan’s first term. I still consider myself a beginner. If I were just starting out turkey hunting this year, here’s what I’d be doing.
First off, I would be concentrating on where I was hunting. If more than 35 seasons at this, I can tell you that turkeys are very much tied to the land. What a gobbler does this morning is intractably linked to what his great-great-granddaddy did. Some things change. Roost trees blow down. Somebody clearcuts the neighboring plot. However, turkeys do what turkeys do, and it is hard to change it. If turkeys came into a pasture from a hole in the fence half a century ago, if that hole is still there, they’ll be coming through now. For you that means studying up on topos, getting on Google Earth, and then going out and listening for the birds. Even in the dead of winter, you can hear birds on the roost. Even if the gobblers are not gobbling yet, you can pinpoint roost trees.
Next, learn the birds. There is nothing and I mean nothing like the lessons the turkeys will teach you themselves. Get out there and listen to the birds. February in the Trans-Bluegrass is cold and miserable, but you’ll be glad you went out if you can hear birds on the roost. The hens give a master class nearly every morning. Once you find patterns in their movement, try to get ahead of the birds and be sitting there waiting for them to show up. Listen to how hens talk to each other when they are moving and feeding. You’ve got my podcasts and CD’s like the Spittin’ Feathers series to guide you, but there is nothing like the real thing. Learn their cadences. Learn their voicings. Learn as much as you can about turkeys in the wild. I get back to turkey camp usually around the first of March. Every morning I can, I’m out scouting the birds. What I learn is invaluable. That is why I record the podcasts– to share them with you. I’d be the first to tell you it does not match the complexity and depth a day in the field buys you.
Gear is a lot easier than you think. My absolute best run-ins with gobblers have nearly all occurred when I was not dressed in my turkey hunting duds. Dressed in a barn coat and brown carhart bibs, I once had ten gobblers clustered around me strutting in nearly arms reach while I drank my coffee out of a stainless steel cup. Camo is a good idea, but do not go overboard. Nearly any camo will do. They say browns on the bottom and greens on top, but that is not a hard and fast rule. I prefer old military patterns like Woodland, Flectarn, and British DPM. Let me describe my kit, and you can go from there:
Fleecy Poly-Pro underwear from SportsmansGuide.com.
Uninsulated Camo Bibs.
Black or Green Wool Commando Sweater
Woodland Camo M65 jacket or Camo shirt
Camo Boonie hat with a camo veil
In colder weather, I add a wool balaclava and wool mittens. In warmer weather I loose the underwear and sweater and jacket and just wear a camo long-sleeve T-shirt.
Footwear was an issue with me for years. I finally settled on a $35 dollar pair of duck boots. However, I’ve tried everything from Vietnam issue jungle boots to rubber bowhunters boots to insulated goretex hunting boots. The trick for me was finding something that would keep my feet warm and dry in the mornings and not be too hot walking out in the afternoon.
I don’t like turkey vests. I think they’re noisy and cumbersome. I carry a messenger bag, and I hang a foam buttpad off of the strap. You need something to sit on. Look around on this weblog. I’ve written about it alot. I also carry a musette bag on the other side for the bulky things like my rain gear, my lunch, and so on. The musette bag is also where I carry all my extra clothing that I take off after the weather warms up.
I carry a box call, a couple of pot calls, a push-pin call and a few mouth calls. I do not carry the kitchen sink. I use the box call for long distances, the pot calls to the lion share of the work. I use the mouth calls for a change-up, and for those hung-up gobblers to come in the last few yards. The push-pin call is another change-up. I find it works best for me for clucking and purring. For some reason I can’t purr with a mouth call. Most beginners make the mistake of concentrating on their calling to the detriment of everything else. Don’t call too much. Don’t call too loudly. You will be ahead of most beginners if you learn that lesson.
Guns and Ammo:
Here is the other aspect of turkey hunting that seems like a bottomless hole. My rig is a 12 GA Mossberg 500 pump with a 28 inch ported barrel, I’m shooting a #4 lead 3-inch Federal shells through a Carlson’s Dead Coyote choke. My son fires #4 2 3/4″lead Remington Nitro Buffered Magnums out of his Remington 870. These are loads that we’ve been shooting since 1996. Don’t feel you have to spend $8/round to hunt turkeys. Don’t feel you need to reach out 60 yards with your gun. The vast majority of my birds have been taken inside 20 yards. This is one time where a cheap pump gun shines. Grand Dad’s trap gun will do just fine. I prefer having a dedicated turkey gun, if for no other reason that this is a gun that will get nicked and scratched more than other shotguns. I spraypainted mine. If you’re going to buy a turkey gun, look for a cheap, used pump with screw-in choke tubes and then buying a tight turkey choke. I’ve helped friends get into the sport and found them an old riot gun, and then ordered a used barrel off Ebay or Gunbroker that was tapped for choke tubes. My one son started off with an old bolt-action 20 GA. As long as you can put a few pellets in a Dixie Cup at 25 yards you’re good to start.
Read the Regs
Get hold of your state’s hunting rules for turkey and read them cover to cover. Don’t break the law. Don’t skirt the law. I’ve screwed up a few times over the years, and I am glad a warden was not there watching. In one case, I brought #2 shot out on a hunt in a state that required no bigger shot than #4. In another, I missed a change in the date of the Opener. I also nearly broke the rules in Kentucky regarding the use of an electronic decoy. These are the stupid mistakes that could have cost me a fine and loss of hunting privileges.
If you still need Hunter Education, get it. I was grandfathered in, and did not take the course until I was 45 and going through with my eldest son. I liked it so much I went through again with my youngest when his time came. I learned something new each time.
Okay, back to the turkeys.
The ace #1 thing to successful turkey hunting is having turkeys to hunt. That sounds stupid, but I went my first 10 years without shooting a bird. It took me 3 years just to see a gobbler. This was at a time when I had to drive 5 counties over just to get into a place where it was legal to hunt them. My point is that once I got onto property with a decent population of birds, I started being successful. In my early years, I was trying to call birds from another property. I was hunting barren public land where I never saw a bit of sign or heard a bird. Make sure you have turkeys to hunt before you try to hunt them.
The second thing to do is to try to latch onto a successful turkey hunter and go with him. There are a lot of guys who are willing to call birds for a guy who still has open tags. If you find a fellow, wine him. Dine him. Let him date your sister. You will learn more in a morning or two with him than you may learn in several seasons alone.
Third: forget what you see on TV. Turkey hunting shows are a farce. They make it look like everything gets done in 30 minutes with time out for commercials. It’s true. I’ve had my Opening Day Tag filled in less than an hour. However, it is more likely you’ll have racked up dozens of hours of hunting before you are successful. Get used to the idea that this is the hardest game on the North American Continent. Turkeys aren’t that hard to kill. We just made it deliberately hard so they wouldn’t go extinct. Early settlers shot them out of their roosts, shot them with rifles, and baited them with corn. Given modern rules it is near impossible to bag a bird.
Four: Everyone gets the idea that calling gobblers off the roost is THE game. It isn’t. When you are starting out, forget about getting close to a roost tree and calling that gobbler so he will pitch down and come to you. Instead, concentrate on finding where the turkeys go after flydown, after the gobbler has had his way with his harem of hens. Go to where the turkeys go to feed mid-morning and wait for them there. It’s usually fairly close to the roost tree. You will be able to hear the ruckus at Flydown just fine, but don’t be disappointed when they don’t hop down and run right to you. Concentrate on what goes on mid-to-late morning. That is when gobblers are more likely to come to a beginning caller’s first attempts.
It’s coming up on 10 weeks to the start of Kentucky’s Spring Gobbler Season. What am I doing to get ready?
About a month ago, right around New Years, I went down and checked my supply of turkey ammo. I shoot Federal 3-inch #4 lead. It is not the rarest ammo out there, but nobody local carries it anymore. About this time of year, it shows up in decent quantities on the websites. The last time I needed some, I ordered from Grafs.com. Hibberd’s, my LGS would also order it for me. I try to do a minimal amount of experimentation with my ammo. I know a lot of folks turn sighting-in into a whole season unto itself, but in the end, I know I’ll be taking most of my birds inside 20 yards anyway. I have not changed loads since 1996.
January is when I also start to get my calls in order. I bring them up out of storage and give them all a good workout. Normally there are no great surprises. I know some of the y’all call all year ’round, but usually I do not start to practice my calling until after the Super Bowl. If I were making calls, I would have placed an order with CustomSawing.com for the materials clear back in December. However, I am well-stocked on everything right now– calls and their fixing’s both.
I mentioned in the previous post that I noticed that my turkey bag was starting to show wear. I have kept the new Rothco Messenger bag close at hand since its purchase. Without getting too far into it, I have been working through how I am going to stock it. It is considerably roomier than my previous bag, but it is not significantly heavier. The trick will be not loading myself down with extra gear. The whole point of switching from a vest to a messenger bag was to lighten the load. Angus bought me a couple of waterproof bags for my birthday back in August. I will use one as a liner for the musette bag I keep on the other side on the days I expect rain.
There are really no surprises with the turkey guns either. Ours are dedicated to turkeys, so once we put them away, they stay there until the next season. I’ve had mine out, shucked it a few times and put it back. It is ready to go. Now is about the last day I’d waste before getting one out to the gunsmith for work.
Every year, I scour the Internet for a good deal on mouth calls. It used to be WingSupply.com had the best deals on their closeouts. Nowadays, I usually find the best on Amazon.com. An $8 call is sort of lost on me. I use boxes and pot calls that I make myself for most of the heavy lifting. Mouth calls are reserved for rainy days and that last minute bit of clucking I do after I’ve taken the safety off. This year, I scored 14 calls for under $20 getting a 3-pack and a 4-pack made by HS Strut and Quaker Boy. I’m splitting them with Angus.
Starting in about 2 weeks, I will start watching the weather. I set the following parameters for a return to turkey camp.
1) The high temperature on Saturday must be 50F or above
2) There can be no rain predicted for all-day Saturday or Sunday morning.
3) I must have a 3 hour window of good weather on Friday night and Sunday for travel
Our earliest return has been the second weekend in February. Our latest has been 4th weekend in March. Coming back after 2-3 months away from turkey camp holds all sorts of unknowns. We’ve shown up with no power– sometimes it can be off for 6 weeks at a time in the Winter. Truth is, I just don’t know what I’m going to find when I get there. Therefore, I leave myself as much leeway as I can. In order to make it an effective trip, we need good weather on Saturday and at least part of Sunday. Even with those limits imposed, the first trip down can be rugged. With the woodstove and all the heaters going it usually takes from 7 PM Friday until 0600 Saturday for the bedrooms to get above 50F. It may be that on the outside, but it may be close to freezing on the inside. This is the dark side of having a well-insulated cabin. The first hour of our stay is usually spent running the attic fan to bring the inside temperature up to the ambient outside temperature.
Right now, I’m collecting things like the water jugs, the long underwear, and the clothes I brought back for mending. We want everything in place for a quick decision to go. On our first trip back, everything from coffee to dog food gets carried down. We keep stuff down there, but we don’t know what’s intact.
It was over 10 years ago that I started noticing that video commercials were getting totally uninteresting to me. It made sense. I’d fallen out of a main demographic group after passing 45 years of age. Nobody wanted to sell me anything anymore, so they weren’t trying.
Here I am, 58 and change, and it has taken until now to finally find a video commercial that plucks at a heartstring. I was just browsing Youtube the other day with nothing better to do, and I found the ads for Steyr Mannlicher. Here’s a sample:
Here’s the channel:
Steyr Mannlicher on Youtube
There are several on there that I liked.
See what you think. Me? I’ll probably never buy a Steyr rifle. I may never get to Europe to hunt, but I found these commercials mesmerizing.