Apr 25, 2014

Turkey Time - Are You Ready?

For some states Turkey season is already under way, but here in Connecticut we still have a few days left before our season opens on April 30th, 2014 so I know I'm a little late with this post but what better time then now for a turkey hunting refresher. 

No turkey hunting post is complete with mentioning the NWTF - National Wild Turkey Federation and what there efforts have meant to restoring wild turkey populations across North America.  If you hunt turkey then in my opinion giving back to the sport is important and becoming a member of NWTF or attending a NWTF event or fundraiser is an excellent way to do so.  Check out this link for ways you can give back.  http://www.nwtf.org/help_now/

What is the NWTF?

The NWTF — a national nonprofit organization — is the leader in upland wildlife habitat conservation in North America.

Founded in 1973, the NWTF is headquartered in Edgefield, S.C., and has local chapters in every state. The NWTF is dedicated to the conservation of the wild turkey and the preservation of our hunting heritage.

Through vital partnerships with state, federal and provincial wildlife agencies, the NWTF and our members have helped restore wild turkey populations throughout North America — from a mere 30,000 in the entire United States to more than 7 million across the United States, Canada and Mexico.

Who Are They?

We are sportsmen, women and children who care deeply about our natural resources and the wild places we love to hunt.

We cherish the memory of the ridge top gobbler we hunted last spring and fondly remember the cornfield where we saw that big buck at sunset two years ago.

Collectively, we come from all walks of life to engage in conservation and preserve the hunting heritage we all hold dear.

... the champions of conservation.

According to many state and federal agencies, the restoration of the wild turkey is arguably the greatest conservation success story in North America's wildlife history.

We have spent more than $412 million to conserve nearly 17.25 million acres of habitat.
That area is larger than the state of West Virginia.

Wild turkeys and hundreds of other species of upland wildlife, including quail, deer, grouse, pheasant and songbirds, have benefited from this improved habitat.

Our dedicated volunteers bring new hunters and conservationists into the fold — nearly 100,000 every year — through outdoor education events.

Most certainly in the the State of Connecticut I do believe that the restoration of the wild turkey to be the greats conservation success story in our history.   I watched out turkey season go from a lottery only hunt in just one small corner of our state to the entire state being open to turkey hunting and now the ability to purchase and hunt both on state land and private land.  As you can see from this Wild Turkey facts sheet post on the Connecticut DEEP Wildlife website.

Wild turkeys were abundant in Connecticut when the first settlers arrived. However, a combination of forest clearing and a series of severe winters eliminated the turkey from Connecticut by the early 1800s. From the 1950s through the early 1970s, attempts at wild turkey restoration through artificial propagation were largely unsuccessful. The major breakthrough in restoration efforts occurred when free-roaming wild turkeys were live-captured and translocated using a rocket net. This large, lightweight net is fired by rockets from a remote blind and carried over turkeys that have been attracted to the area by bait.

Between 1975 and 1992, 356 wild turkeys were released at 18 sites throughout the state. These releases and subsequent population expansion have resulted in the successful restoration of wild turkeys to all 169 Connecticut towns. Recent land use practices in Connecticut have also favored the expansion of wild turkey populations as the landscape has become more forested. As a result of restoration efforts and the increase in forest habitat, sportsmen have been able to hunt wild turkeys since 1981, and landowners and others have enjoyed observing them in their natural state.
Know and obey all the local hunting laws.  You have to understand things like license requirements, gun and ammo restrictions,  Private land permission, legal birds and bag limits, hunter orange requirements, decoy regulations and sometimes just knowing what other hunting opportunities are available during the spring turkey season can shed light on what you might encounter while out there.  If you plan on hunting other states, make sure to keep your regulations straight.  In Connecticut during the spring season any legal turkey must have a visible beard.  That means it is legal to shoot a bearded hen, but just because it is legal doesn't mean you must.  My clan chooses to let the bearded hens walk on by.  Sometimes we might choose to shoot mature birds only and let the young ones take jakes if they want to.  As long as it is a legal bird and you choose to take it then it's a trophy in my book.

Hopefully many of you planning to hit the woods on opening day to chase turkey have already got your preseason preparations done, but if not you still have time to hit the woods and get your scouting in as well as patterning your shotgun, choke and ammo combination.  These birds are not only smart but they are tough so doing your homework and knowing where they roost, feed, strut, breed is crucial to a successful hunt, but even if you know all these things and have practiced your calling you better make sure you are putting enough pellets on target so spending time on the range to get the best possible choke/ammo combination for your firearm is extremely important.  For those chasing turkey with stick and string, well I have major admiration for you folks.  I have yet to use my archery gear for turkey and plan to some day but they are challenging enough for me with the firearm so I'll stick to that for now.

Making turkey sounds is important, but knowing what sounds to make and when to make them is even more crucial to success.  Some times I ask myself - do I really need to carry all these different calls with me?  Well the answer many times is yes.   There have been hunts where I have used every call in my vest within a 100 yard area, knowing there are turkey's there only to have no response on all but one of those calls.  The tone, pitch and volume sometimes just need to be what they want to hear and it is the only thing that works.  One tip about calling - try to sound natural.  What this means is don't use the same sequence, tone and volume when you call.  Mix it up.  If you are letting out some yelps in a 5 or 6 note string then for the next series maybe only yelp twice then pause and then yelp two or 3 more times and even through in some clucks in between and after.  Listen to the real turkeys and you will quickly notice that don't sound like a broken record repeating the same sounds and notes over and over so you need to do the same.  YouTube has plenty of great videos of live hens calling in the field.  Watch them and practice mimicking their calls.

Think safety and think defensive minded!  There is so much to cover when talking safe turkey hunting but understanding what you are actually doing out there will help put it all in perspective.  You are most likely dressed in full camo and hidden well.  You probably have a realistic turkey decoy out in front of you somewhere and you are making realistic sounds of a turkey.  This could be a recipe for problems but if you pay attention to these 10 Tips for a Safe Spring Turkey Hunt provided by the NWTF then you have the building blocks for a safe hunt.   If you are using decoys spend a little extra time when setting them out to make sure that anyone that might come across your decoys in the field can be seen and that if they take a shot at them you are not in the line of fire.  Remember think defensive minded at all times.  Decoy setup isn't necessarily a science but if you observed enough turkeys during your scouting you've picked up some little tidbits of information on how other hens, young toms and that old mature tom interact with each other.  Use that to your advantage when setting up your decoys.  Make them visible and position them in a way that causes that old tom to concentrate on them and not you.  There are times when the best decoy is none at all.  Don't worry the birds will tell you what they want.

Patience is key when turkey hunting.  If you've spent time in the spring woods chasing turkey then at some point I'm sure you've been in the situation where you've been working a gobbler that was sounding off and all of a sudden everything goes quiet.  Not a peep.  Your brain goes into overdrive trying to figure out what went wrong.  You change up call after call and still nothing.  It's time to move, right?  So you start to stand up and your hear it.  Put, put, put... and off he runs.   Turkey's have incredible hearing and eyesight and they use this to their advantage.  In nature it is the hen that usually goes to the tom so you are asking him to come to you.  Learn to be patient and not to quick to move your setup when a bird goes quiet on you because he just may be circling in nice and quiet for a look.  If he is with other hens, once those hens start to wonder off, he might just come back looking for you.

Once you got that bird on the ground make sure you take care of any tagging requirements before setting up for some nice in the field photos.  If you are allowed multiple birds, maybe even set back up and see if you can't get another bird to commit.  If you are going to mount the whole bird, cape it or even just mount the fan, take time in the field to keep blood off the bird and all the feathers in tact.  If you don't plan to use the turkey feathers maybe you cans wing by the local fly fishing shop or know some folks that tie their own flies and offer those feathers up to them.  I've tied many flies using feathers from turkeys I was luck to harvest.

For most the most regarding part of the hunt comes when that turkey is sitting on the dinner table.  I know for a fact that after harvesting a bird a comment will be made about eating turkey poppers before we even make it half way back to the truck.   You can pluck the bird, skin it or even breast it out.  Most folks I know just breast it our, but don't ignore those legs and thighs as they make great additions for soup.  My two favorite recipes are Southwest Turkey poppers and Turkey, mushroom and Wild Rice soup and you can get those recipes here:  My Favorite Turkey Recipes.

I wish everyone a very safe and successful spring turkey hunt and remember to share the outdoors with someone new if you can.

Additional Turkey Hunting Resources:

Turkey Hunting Success and Safety pamphlet from the NWTF.
Turkey Hunting Tactics  - NWTF Website

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