My 2015 spring turkey season exemplified the highs and lows of hunting.
I was committed to public land hunting from the start. My access to private land had been diminished, and the allure and challenge of a public gobbler spoke to my ambition.
I set out on a 4,000 acre tract of state forest, conveniently located 2 miles down the road from my home. Several different entry points, and dozens of miles of still hunting yielded nothing but blisters and back pain.
However, I had the pleasure of introducing a friend to turkey hunting. We went out for a few uneventful hunts, but the first predawn gobble of the season got our blood pumping.
After some intense call and response sequences, and some very well executed tactical maneuvering (if I do say so myself), we had the eager Tom walking a small ridge below the logging road we walked in on. Before we had a chance to properly situate, the bird was on top of us. He knew something was off as he peaked over a bit of defilade at 20 yards, and quickly made a run for it.
I stood up and shot.
Clearly an ill-conceived, heat of the moment, hail marry type of shot. Certainly not one I’m proud of, and not the type of example I wanted to set for a fledgling turkey hunter. To add insult to injury, my aftermarket fiber-optic bead flew off from the recoil of my heavy turkey load. Live and learn.
As the season progressed, I continued to cover ground. A track here, and a feather there teased us with the suggestion of our quarry. Unfortunately, we were given the silent treatment.
I hunted my property a few times throughout the season, lured by the easy access, and the shock gobbles emanating from the ridge as the resident rooster crowed. The time spent on the hill yielded plenty of avian conversation, but I was foiled by spooky birds, and the inability to pursue onto neighboring properties.
With only days left to the season, and the busiest time of year at work, my chance at a tom was quickly fading. I hunted my own property for the last day of the season, and had a very cool encounter with a talkative hen. Unfortunately, no male birds wanted to join the party.
It is always a sad moment leaving the woods for the last time at the end of a season. Turkey hunting holds a special place in my heart that I look forward to all year. As the days get hotter, and summer progresses, I will resign to fishing and preparing for deer season.
One of the main reasons I love turkey hunting on large tracts of public land is the ability to hunt in the Western style. Hunting in the thick woods of the Eastern United States requires a vastly different strategy than the open country of the West. Being able to spot and stalk large areas without worrying about scent and other considerations is a refreshing change from the hundreds of hours stuck in various tree stands and ground blinds.
Here are a few things I learned in the 2015 New York Spring Turkey Season:
-I am a better caller than I give myself credit. I made sure to practice long before the season began, and I feel much more confident in my vocalizations. My favorite time to practice is when driving, and I will continue to keep my favorite diaphragm call in the car.
-Don’t be afraid to call. You can definitely screw yourself over if you are not careful, but turkeys are more vocal than you might think. A lost hen will frequently call on and off for long periods of time. The hen I called in was vocal for at least 10 minutes.
-Turkeys move fast. I learned this the hard way. Both the tom and hen I called in covered a lot of ground in a very short period of time. Had I set up earlier in the stalk, I very well may have left with a bird in tow. If you have a gobbler vocalizing at 100 or so yards and he suddenly goes silent, there is a very good chance that he is moving in fast. Get ready.
-Scouting is key on public land. I will admit, I did not scout as well as I should have. However, my time on Google Earth and Bing Maps helped tremendously. You can cover mile after mile, find promising spots and plenty of sign, but nothing beats hearing a gobble. I plan to do a lot more road scouting next season to save myself some hassle, and to refrain from spooking birds. At sunup and sundown, drive around and use locating calls such as crow, owl, woodpecker, coyote, etc to trigger a shock gobble. If you get a response, you can make a plan to come back during the season.
-Practice how you hunt, and make sure to test all of your gear. Had I shot my cheap (used) Russian Izhevsk 12 gauge more before the season, I might have avoided the embarrassment of losing my bead sight when I needed it most. I also found out mid season that my bow was not tuned properly for my broadheads. It is difficult enough hunting turkeys, let alone from the ground with a bow. Missing a hard won opportunity would have been horribly demoralizing. I also made sure to practice with all of my gear and camouflage on in various shooting positions. This helped to determine if my bowstring would get caught on anything, or if a particular piece of gear/clothing would hamper my mobility.
*On a semi unrelated note, I think that New York should make coyote hunting a year round season. I only seem to see the tricky bastards during turkey season when I cannot shoot them. Expanding the ability to shoot coyotes when more people are out in the woods might help the mortality rates of fawns and turkey nests/polts. Although research on predator management is somewhat inconclusive and region specific, I feel that a year round season in New York would be beneficial, and give people something to do between major hunting seasons.