Firsthand outdoor adventures from Connecticut and beyond
Friday, April 29, 2011
Connecticut Turkey Hunting Opening Day 2011 – Making Adjustments
I was able to take a nice tom turkey on state land opening day. I’ve written in past posts that hunting state land (or public land) sometimes requires some different techniques than private land. On state land you always have to be concerned and aware of other hunters. This was again the case for me on this opening day.
I heard only one gobble all day. That was about 10 paces from my car in the parking lot after hitting an owl call first thing in the morning. There were gobblers roosted in a tree near the parking lot. Right after hearing the gobble I heard hen yelping. No more gobbles, but more hen yelping. Now, this could have been one of two things. It could have been a legitimate hen yelping to the roosted gobblers, or it could have been another hunter. There were no other cars in the parking lot, but this particular tract of land has a parking lot at each end. There could have been a car parked on the other side that I did not know about. Based on the urgency of the calling, I concluded that most likely it was another hunter. So, against my better judgment, I actually walked AWAY from the gobbles, and went to find a new spot. That’s an example of some of the difficulties associated with state land hunting. Regardless, I might have scared those gobblers anyway because even though the hen yelps continued, there was no more gobbling. Also, the fog was so thick at that point in the morning that the turkeys could have been right in front of me and I would not see them.
Due to the thick layer of fog limiting my visibility, I decided the best strategy would be to set up decoys in an open area, make a few calls, and wait for the fog to burn off. Maybe I would get luck and attract a flock. I set up my decoys on the top of a knoll with good visibility. The decoys could be seen in multiple directions. I think sat in some thicket and made some calls. Very soon after making some calls, I heard hen yelping returning my calls. Again, this could have been a real hen, or another hunter. I called some more. This time the mystery creature responded with about 50 loud and aggressive hen yelps. This was obviously another hunter. Even the most love-struck hen would not scream at the top of her lungs for 2 minutes straight. This was a rookie hunter that must have caught sight of my decoys and decided to get aggressive. Over calling is a common mistake for new turkey hunters, but this guy was over-the-top. He was so loud and obnoxious that he likely scared away everything in the county. I tried whistling to let him know there was another hunter there, but his calls were so strong that he could not hear me. Finally he stopped, and I let out a clear “Yo!”. There would be no way for him to mistake that this was the setup of another hunter. I thought he got the point, so shortly after I gave a few soft calls. He responded again! This guy was not getting the hint, so I totally shut up. Apparently he became frustrated and finally went to a different area. Finally there was just the noise of the natural woods, but this would not be the last I would hear from this guy. Again, another aggravation that cannot be avoided with forced to hunt state land in Connecticut.
After sitting for about 30 minutes waiting for the fog to clear, I happened to see 2 hens bring pursued by a strutting gobbler crossing a field to my right. They were come in my general direction, but not directly at my decoys. I tried to entice them over, but there was no way that tom was going to leave his two hens, and those hens were not interested. They disappeared behind the other side of the knoll. Turkeys move at their own pace. These hens were successfully feeding, so they were in no particular hurry to go in any one direction. Therefore, I waited hoping that their curiosity might get the better of them and they might come back over the knoll to check out my decoys. I waited about 30 minutes, however nothing appeared. I could not see the birds, but it did not seem like they had any interest in my location. It then occurred to me that it might be possible that these birds were still feeding in the opening just on the other side of this knoll. This was the direction they were headed, so it was a possibility. I decided to leave my set up and carefully walk to the other side of the knoll. The knoll had some bushes and pine trees for cover. I slowly made my way over the hill. Sure enough, the 3 birds were about 150 yards into the field on the other side of the slope. The hens were still feeding, and the tom was still strutting. I carefully crawled as close to the field edge as I could. I was afraid I would be detected, but I had to get into a decent position if I had any chance at attracting these birds. I gave a few calls and observed. They definitely heard me. As soon as I called the hens stretched their necks high to look for me. I waited to see if they would come any closer. They did not seem to me moving in my direction. Now I had another decision to make. I could sit and hope they would decide to come in my direction. This was a possibility. They turkeys were in a big field, and they might want to look for me. However, it seemed to me they were a little far away to entice to my position. Even though it meant again risking being spotted, I decided to get up and circle through the woods, and try to come out again on the edge of the field much closer to the group. This move had some risk, but I felt that I did not have much to lose.
I carefully walked through the woods along the edge of the field just out of sight of anything that might be in the field. I could not see the birds, so I had to try to judge where to come out. I made my way to the field edge, but still could not see the birds. Finally I spotted them. They were about 50 yards away, but very close to the edge of the field. In order for me to clearly see them, I would have to stick my head out of the brush, which would surely give away my position. However, I was now significantly closer to the birds. They were just out of gun range. If I could get them to just come a little closer to me I would likely have an opportunity at a shot. Using a large tree to cover my silhouette I got as close to the field edge as I could. I was not able to sit down, so I kneeled across the back side of the tree. This allowed me to be covered by the tree and peer through the bushes to see the birds rather than trying to pop my head out the front of the tree. I then began to imitate a feeding hen. I made mostly soft purrs, clucks, and putts. I made very few yelps, and any yelps I made were soft. I was close so there was no need to scream. Additionally, at this point I was mostly trying to attract the hens, and not the tom. Even though I was closer, the tom was still unlikely to leave his two ladies. By imitating a feeding hen, I thought I might be able to get the two hens to come towards me, and the tom would surely follow. Well, my strategy worked. The 2 hens slowly came looking for their sister. The hens continued to come even though that same hunter that was intruding on my hunt earlier was now trying to call these same birds from the very far end of the field! If he ruined my hunt within the last 50 yards, I may have changed strategies and went looking for him rather than another tom! The turkeys basically paid no attention of these call from the other hunter some 200+ yards away. However, now I had a different problem. I had 2 hens searching the field edge for another turkey. The hens were getting dangerously close to me. I feared they would bust me before the tom came into range. One of the hens got to about 10 feet from me and just started straight at me for 30 seconds or so. I held perfectly still. She did not totally like what she saw, but she was not fully frightened either. She let out some quick putts, and started to casually walk away. When she did that, the other hen and the tom followed. Following the hen, the tom walked right across me, into an opening in the brush. Because of the close proximity of the hens, I was earlier not able to get my gun into shooting position. Now that the tom was in range, I had to get the gun up and shoot all in one motion. I was able to get it done, and I put the tom down with the first shot. He was maybe 15 yards away.
The biggest lesson learned here is that when the turkeys won’t come to you, sometimes you have to go to them. Moving should not be your first option. Patience is more often the key to turkey hunting success. However, there are times when taking that risk can pay off.