Most spring gobbler hunters are looking forward to the upcoming season with equal amounts of anticipation and dread.
Because of the unusually warm and snowless winter just past, wild turkeys began the gobbling activity and breaking up of winter flocks into breeding groups much earlier than usual. So hunters instinctively fear that by the time spring season begins breeding has been accomplished and gobblers will be extra-resistant to bothering with any hen calls they hear from distant directions.
I share in that opinion. Gobbler hunting has, for several reasons, become more difficult in just the past three years. The birds seem to be gobbling as much, and coming in to a hunter's calls much slower and silently than what we had all been accustomed to for years. Hunter's response was to complain, of course, and to petition the Game Commission that they wanted the season to open earlier by a couple weeks. Part of the reticence to gobble is believed to be because the bulk of the breeding is over by opening day and gobblers just are not interested in hens by that time.
So I recently had the opportunity to hear the Game Commission turkey biologist, Mary Jo Casalena, speak at the Riggles Gap Sportsmen's Club's annual Landowner Appreciation Banquet. She and her staff have been conducting both gobbler and hen studies for the past several years. I asked her the question: "how responsive is the Game Commission to the suggestion that the season be opened earlier?''
"I don't think you'll see any moves in the season times and length anytime soon,'' Casalena said. "Our studies show that hens are very affected by hunter pressure and interference so we want for hens to be at the end of their breeding cycle before season begins."
There you have it - the basic conflict between the professionals and the hunters. Hunters tend to want what is best for them, what is convenient for their schedules and hunting. Wildlife professionals view the whole question as to what is best for the health and welfare of the resource. Those two outlooks almost always conflict.
Many believe that the change in allowing hunters to hunt all day in the last two weeks of season was done to placate hunters, to soothe them into not resisting the fact they the season was not going to open earlier. Maybe so, maybe not. Being able to hunt all day does allow hunters more hours to pursue the hunt but it hasn't reduced the hue and cry for beginning the season earlier. Most hunters would gladly give up the all-day hours for an opening day scheduled two weeks earlier than it is now. But since the studies they are conducting show that nesting hens will often abandon their nest if chased off by hunters, they are not likely to relent on their opinion.
Of course, hens are subject to "harassment" from foxes, snakes, owl, coyotes, raccoons, hawks and even bears, and will abandon their nest too if set upon by any of these.
Season lengths are decided for the good of the turkey populations, not for the convenience of hunters, Casalena firmly declared so for at least the foreseeable future, we'll have to learn how to cope. Especially this year.
I predict - and I sincerely hope that I will be proved wrong - that the will be the toughest year for hunting spring gobblers that we have experienced recently. A lot of harvest success will be by hunters who have scouted their areas and know how the turkey move and can plant themselves in the feeding routes and wait. The one-man chair blinds I have mentioned before are a terrific aid to helping a hunter stay put when he knows that is what he needs to do. Somehow, it is so much easier to stay put when you are comfortable sitting in a canvas chair with a thermos of coffee keeping you company.
The blinds are lightweight and easy to carry. They pop up in less than a minute, no stakes to have to drive or extra chairs to carry with it. For anyone with a disability that keeps them from doing a lot of hiking and walking or anyone with senior citizen legs - like me - who simply prefers sitting to walking, these blinds are a true advantage.
Gobblers have been taking to responding to hen calls by cautiously edging toward the sound of the calls but doing it without gobbling. Often it takes the tom a long time to arrive at your location looking for a hen and if you can't wait, well, you'll miss that show. I believe the sitting and waiting tactic is the one that will work this season.
Quite a few turkeys have been fitted with leg bands that offer a $100 reward for reporting them. So watch for your gobblers to be sporting an aluminum ankle bracelet this year; there could be a reward for it. A year ago deer season, I found a dead 10 point buck. Even though I found it the first morning of buck season, it was obvious that it had been dead at least a couple days. But it sported a tag in each ear that said $100 reward.
When I called the number I reaped, not only the money, but a lot of interesting information about that buck. It had been tagged a year and a half earlier in another county as a button buck.
You also may see hens sporting satellite transmitter. From them the Game Commission will determine survival rates from spring to fall. Let them alone. The more hens reported or found dead in the spring, the farther down the road it becomes to have the season opens earlier than it will this year.