TURKEY SEASON

TURKEY SEASON

I am not a serious turkey hunter…but you wouldn’t know it the way I’ve spent the past few days in head to toe camouflage, making a wide variety of strange noises with some odd-looking devices. I thought I was going to pull it off, too. Yesterday morning (not the end of the season, but the last day I could hunt) Mike Hagen and I set up overlooking a perfect little meadow on the edge of my Kansas place. We must have chosen our spot well, because as dawn came we were surrounded by seven or eight different gobblers responding from all points of the compass.

My neighbor Chuck Herbel and my buddy Mike Hagen with a nice turkey from southeast Kansas. These are Eastern turkeys in our area, with the Rio Grande variety occurring farther west.

I didn’t think any of them were quite close enough to fly down right in our faces, but I’d have bet some serious money that at least one of those gobblers would come our way. Kansas has an extremely liberal turkey season, this year from April 11 to May 31 which, if translated into whitetail terms, means we can hunt pre-rut, rut, and post-rut. We were in the latter part of May, it had turned hot, and the birds had gotten really quiet. We were in the post-rut period and we knew it, so I was surprised to hear this much gobbling from the roost. It was pretty exciting for a while…but as dawn turned to daybreak the woods got really quiet, and not a single turkey came to investigate the most seductive hen sounds we could manage.

Mike, a far better turkey hunter than I am (or aspire to be), had called in a nice bird the day before. He needed to get back to the office and I needed to get some work done around the farm. So we gave it our best shot and called it a turkey season. Once the birds go quiet it gets a lot more difficult, but they were still in the woods and we weren’t, so we had conceded the game. One thing we could have done was simply have a lot more patience. My place is fairly heavy woods, a great roosting area but not much open ground. We could have found nice, comfortable trees to lean against, or put up ground blinds, set decoys, and waited. There’s a good chance that, sooner or later, a gobbler would wander by.

Turkey hunting varies quite a bit from place to place. This is an Osceola gobbler from Florida; for me this is most difficult turkey because, in the typical warm weather, these turkeys are often very quiet.

This isn’t a classic turkey hunting technique…in fact, a lot of purists scoff at ambushing rather than calling. But it does work…and sometimes it’s the best option. It took me several tries to take an Osceola gobbler, and one of the things I learned was these semi-tropical birds seemed less vocal than our other turkeys. Sometimes a well-chosen ambush is the best way to do business. Come to think of it, there are a number of states where corn feeders are perfectly legal—and that puts a whole different face on ambushing turkeys. This is something that a real turkey hunting purist would really go nuts over…but, to be perfectly honest, Kansas is one of those states. But my corn feeder is in a food plot 130 yards from my deer stand, and I resisted a passing temptation to set up a ground blind a bit closer!

This wasn’t based purely on ethical grounds—I’m in favor of any and all legal hunting means—I just thought it would be more fun to hunt them in the woods. I figured it would be pretty easy, because our turkeys haven’t been hunted for several years. We lost most of the population to a long and nasty ice storm the winter before I got this place, so since then I’ve been leaving them alone and letting them build up. We have birds and certainly could have hunted them last year and probably the year before…but we didn’t. So I had high expectations…but I should have changed my schedule around and gotten there earlier in the season, when it was cooler and the birds were more active. So even though I’ve studiously protected these turkeys the last five seasons, they still had the final word…we left the woods with them giggling at us rather than gobbling.

That’s perfectly okay; I didn’t really need a bird. We’re having a great nesting season, so if the winter is reasonable there will be more birds next year…and I’ll know more about them. Although I’m not a serious turkey hunter, I’ve done a lot of turkey hunting over the years, and I’ve enjoyed watching the birds increase in number…and the sport continue to grow. When I was a kid we had neither deer nor turkeys in Kansas, but I think I was 12 when Dad and I participated in the first spring season in Missouri’s Ozarks, probably ’65. Using box calls, we got out in the woods and made some strange noises. We called in a couple of other hunters, and I saw one hen turkey.

Turkey hunting has become a major industry, with calls, shotshells, chokes, sights, decoys, camouflage, and so much more.

Things have gotten a lot better since then! Turkey hunting is now a major sport and a major industry, and there are many thousands of turkey hunters who are a lot more serious about it than I am…and probably just as many who are equally casual. Spring turkey season is a great time to be in the woods…and hearing a gobbler is well worth putting up with the ticks, chiggers, and poison ivy that are part of the season. In springs gone by I’ve won and I’ve lost…but this year those turkeys really got to me. I don’t promise that I’ll ever get really serious about turkey hunting—but next year I’m gonna do better!