Why this week of fall turkey hunting was taken from us is something controversial. As someone who corresponded with me by letter put it, "We are the recipients [make that victims) of an ongoing study of the 'Fall Harvest Rates of Female Wild Turkeys in Pennsylvania.'" The letter-writer went on to say that his observations - which are also exactly mine - are that this area has a very healthy turkey population. And so it has been for years.
So we cannot go fall turkey hunting until Saturday. Then the season ends on Friday, Nov. 19, and then we have a hiatus, a split season, which means that we can hunt fall turkeys again from Nov. 25 through Nov. 27. A pretty short season, if you ask me, and for very untenable reasons as far as I have been able to figure out. The only advantage I can think of for this season is that perhaps we could have some snow during the latter part of it, which makes finding and following turkeys much easier.
With the griping out of my system, and the hope that those who inflict these things upon us will come to their senses, let's get down to the bottom line of hunting fall turkeys. It should not be hard to find the flocks this year. There are acorns and wild grapes, and the birds will be out scratching for them, so I, for one, will patrol the woods slowly, stopping to listen, look and waft a few series of calls through the air.
You'll know turkey scratchings when you see them. A large flock of birds literally tears up a ridge where food is abundant. If scratchings look very fresh, most hunters will carefully follow the line of the scratchings, hoping to run into the flock. Then, the determination must be made by the hunter as to whether he can get close enough to a busy flock to get a shot. This is tricky business because in any flock there will always be several heads that are up, not feeding, scanning for danger.
If a hunter cannot get close enough to actually get a shot, he will usually be close enough to scatter the flock. Which means you have to startle and panic the birds, generally done by charging toward them, making a lot of noise such as yelling. The frightened birds scatter in all directions.
The birds - usually young birds that are perhaps separated from their mother and flockmates for the first time ever - get panicked at finding themselves alone. The hunting lore here is that they will come on the double to the first calls they hear about 20 minutes or so after the scatter. And those first calls should be made by the hunter who did the scattering.
The most commonly used call will be the kee-kee or whistle of lost young birds, which is a screechy, half-yelp and a call seldom able to be made on anything but a two-reed diaphragm call. Sometimes they will respond to fast-paced yelps as well. But the hunter set up right in the area in which he scattered the flock, waits awhile for the birds to calm down, pulls his camouflage mask and gloves on and commences to offer the kee-kees the birds want to hear.
A few years ago, I ran into a flock of birds in Cambria County. They were too far away to scatter them so I backtracked, circled around and went up into the woods hoping I was in front of them. I set up against a big tree and called intermittently for almost an hour when I saw, again quite far off, the entire flock feeding along the ridge. I called more urgently then, and they turned my way. They had to cross a small ditch that was between us, and after a bit, one of the turkeys ran up out of the ditch and stood, stretched out and looking, on top of the ditch. I aimed my 12-gauge and squeezed the trigger.
When I ran up to retrieve my prize, I realized that hen couldn't have weighed over 6 or 7 pounds. She hadn't looked that small when I aimed at her. So I stuffed her quickly into my vest and hoped I wouldn't see anyone as I walked out of the woods. It didn't take a lot of stuffing to make a meal of her.
Safety while turkey hunting is on everyone's mind, but common sense will take care of most of the problem. Every hunter must keep in mind that everything he sees and hears, especially hears, is not a turkey. Every hunter out there is wearing camouflage and calling turkeys. Therefore, we must assume that everything we see and hear is a hunter, not a turkey, until we positively know better. Many accidents could be prevented if the shooter just would take another second or two to confirm that what he sees, hears and thinks is a turkey is indeed a turkey.