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Monday, April 15, 2013
It’s turkey time, and the timing is good.
Saturday’s spring turkey opener fell about as late as we’ll ever see it. But you won’t hear too many hunters complaining this year that the mandated second-Saturday-in-April opening is too late.
With the delayed arrival of spring, gobblers have really been cranking it up just the past couple of weeks.
Weather conditions weren’t ideal on Saturday, with heavy winds bothering plenty of hunters.
Still, the wind apparently wasn’t too big of an issue.
According to preliminary figures gathered by the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, hunters electronically registered a total of 2,876 birds on Saturday.
That’s a 27 percent jump over the 2,258 gobblers taken on last spring’s opener.
How good was it?
So good that the guy writing this column even had a close call.
I hunted Saturday morning with triathlon buddy Joe Hoff, who mentioned to me during a lunchtime swim workout a few weeks ago that he was interested in trying turkey hunting.
Being that Joe is a newbie and I hunt like a newbie it might not have been a great combination.
But we were going to try and we were going to have fun doing it.
So well before sunrise we were standing on an open knob on a piece of property in Bedford County that had been heavily logged a few years ago.
The place was mostly thick undergrowth, bisected here and there by grassy logging roads.
As the morning’s light slipped upon us the woods came alive.
We heard at least five gobblers going crazy on the roost. That doesn’t always happen, so at least Joe got to experience that excitement.
We could be certain that only one was on the property, so we set up on the bird.
Nothing came of it, but by then another bird had started sounding off in another direction.
We had no sooner set up on that bird when we heard a gobble coming from nearly exactly where we had been.
“That’s not unusual,” I told Joe.
At least it’s not unusual for turkey hunters who move too soon because they don’t have patience.
The second opportunity petered out so we made our way toward a small field, where we spotted two hens and two strutting gobblers.
“He’s huge,” Joe said as we watched one of the gobblers in full display.
The birds were a couple hundred yards away and moving toward the other end of the field.
One option was to set up there and hope we could turn the birds.
Another was to take a long route to the other side of the field and put ourselves close to where the birds were heading.
We went for the second option, hustling about a quarter mile and setting up just inside the woods on the upper end of the field.
I told Joe our best hope was that the birds would pop out in an opening about 30 yards away.
I pulled out my favorite slate call, a custom zebrawood call Ronnie Crouch of Salem made for me about 10 years ago.
A few yelps got an immediate answer.
That answer came in the form of matching yelps from a hen. After a reply, she answered. Closer.
“I’m going to try to call this hen in,” I told Joe. “Hopefully the gobbler will be with her.
“Get your gun up.”
The plan worked almost perfectly, the operative word being “almost.”
Instead of popping out in the opening, the hen appeared about 20 yards to our right, emerging from behind a patch of thick brush about 15 yards away.
She was looking for the source of the call.
The gobbler was right behind her, strutting and twirling. I could see him, but he was too obscured from Joe to present a shot.
With the hen eyeing us, we couldn’t do anything but hold statue-still and hope they kept moving toward our left.
Naturally that didn’t happen.
Both birds slipped back behind the brush, where the gobbler proceeded to tease us with loud spitting and drumming for about five minutes before slipping away.
Getting back to our trucks I found a turkey feather under my windshield wiper. My buddy Freddy McGuire had seen my rig on his way home from killing one of those 2,876 birds and had left me a little souvenir.
Based on the way things started, I’d say there’s a decent chance I’ll get to repay that kind gesture before the end of the season.
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