Outdoors with Forda Birds—By John Andreoni
The spring turkey season opens in a couple of weeks and the serious turkey hunters already have hunting plans in place. They know where birds are located and have a place or places to hunt. The only things that stand in their way of filling a tag are their skill level, the status of the breeding season, and the fickleness of the birds, if there is such a word. Turkey hunters face a steep learning curve to be successful. They have to study, observe, practice, and learn from their mistakes as quickly as possible before they have any hope of bagging a bird. A new hunter has a distinct advantage if he has a mentor to teach him the ropes. A new hunter flying solo needs to live in an area with a lot of turkeys, have easily available hunting territory, possess a desire to succeed, and own a lot of free time. Only then will he or she have any chance of getting a bird.
A turkey hunter, I’m not, but I know and have known some excellent hunters who have explained and taught me enough to know that one doesn’t put on a hunting coat, grab a shotgun, head for the nearest woods, and shoot a turkey. I’ve also come to the conclusion that a new turkey hunter in this neck of the woods better have the drive and determination to learn and even participate in the sport. With time and limited experience, a new hunter can locate birds. Wild turkeys in Auglaize County are spreading, and if there are a series of good nesting years, this trend will continue. That means that new hunting areas continue to develop as the birds establish new territories. How does one locate birds? If you associate with turkey hunters, it doesn’t take long to learn the general vicinity wild turkeys hang out. Most hunters are willing to share information but seldom get specific. For example, there are wild turkeys north of St. Marys, along the St. Marys River heading into Mercer County, near New Knoxville, around Waynesfield, and in other less popular areas. Of course, serious turkey hunters tell me that the best way to locate birds is to get up before dawn, head for an area you suspect holds birds, and listen for them. That’s definitely more time and effort than I want to expend.
The next problem a new turkey hunter faces is finding a place to set up once you locate birds. Public hunting lands don’t exist around here, and finding a place to hunt on private lands is a lesson in futility. Not being able to get permission is especially frustrating once you’ve located birds and have no way to hunt them. Again, drive, determination, and persistence are traits you need to deal with land owners. Being able to take rejection requires a thick skin. If you are fortunate enough to establish a hunting relationship with a property owner, treat it like gold. Take care of the property better than he or she does, and always know your place. Hunting on private land is a privilege, not a right.
Opening day is just around the corner, you’ve located birds, and you have a place to hunt. Hopefully, you’ve been doing a lot of reading, watching a lot of videos, and practicing the skills you’re trying to learn. It’s humbling to realize that as smart as you are, a wild turkey is probably smarter. Turkeys see far better than you, hear far better than you, and seem to have a sixth sense that warns them of trouble. I’ve never had the experience, but turkey hunters tell me about the bird that’s coming to them full bore then suddenly stops just out of gun range. The bird might have heard something, seen something, or just plain stopped because it wanted to. That’s the excitement of the hunt. Sometimes you can make a fool of a turkey. More than likely, the turkey will do the same to you, more often than not.
Have you learned to use a call? There are many instructional videos readily available. Practice makes perfect. That’s the first rule. Thinking like a turkey is the second rule. What call do you use and when do you use it? From my waterfowl hunting experience, I know there’s a time to use a call and a time to put it away. I’m assuming the same applies to turkey hunting. Local hunters tell me it’s easier to call birds around here because there isn’t the hunting pressure. Where turkeys hear a lot of hunters butchering the calling process, they soon become call shy. Evidently, over-calling is a common mistake the inexperienced hunter makes.
Regardless, the turkey season opens with the special youth hunt on April 21-22. The regular season in the south zone opens on April 23 and runs through May 20. The season in the north zone, which includes the five counties in the far northeast corner of the state, begins on April 30 and ends on May 27. Some 65,000 licensed hunters are expected to enjoy the turkey season this year. It would be nice if they also had a safe one. As for me, I’ll enjoy the pet turkey I’ve had for years that eats me out of house and home. I’ll also enjoy the occasional wild birds that wanders through my woods throughout the year. Other than that, I’ll spend what spare time I have trying to catch a fish or two.