Steve Hickoff is the Realtree Turkey Hunting Editor and Blogger. He’s been beaten by more birds than he can remember. Still he kills enough to eat well, and fool with beards, spurs and fans until the next season. Pennsylvania born and raised, Maine is his home base now. A full-time outdoor communicator with a couple university writing degrees, he chases spring gobblers and fall flocks around the country. It's "all turkeys, all the time" on the Realtree Turkey Blog.
May 15, 2013 | By Steve Hickoff
Watch as this wild turkey hen defends her brood from a red-tailed hawk.
Many things want to eat wild turkeys, starting with the egg stage to the adult bird. Crows, opossums, raccoons, feral dogs and cats, foxes and even skunks target nests, among others. Even some snakes eat bird eggs. Poult and young turkey predators include hawks, big owls, foxes, coyotes, bobcats and more. Hunting turkeys in Pennsylvania this week we watched a hen strut (you heard right) as she fought off dive-bombing crows, found several predator kill sites in the woods (wild turkey feathers scattered tightly on the ground) and even a headless hen (an example of an owl kill).
You wonder how wild turkeys stand a chance, but these tough birds find a way to survive.
Steve Hickoff is Realtree's turkey hunting editor and blogger.
May 9, 2013 | By Steve Hickoff
Is all-day spring turkey hunting good or bad? Yes, no and maybe?
Quick personal note: I'm just in from New Hampshire spring turkey camp. Shooting hours close at noon daily, and after a string 3:30 a.m. risings (and midnight bed time), half a day of Granite State turkey hunting was cool with everybody. We killed some birds and had some fun.
In fact, I asked the checking station owner if they'd had many turkeys brought in so far this season (it began May 3, following the two-day youth weekend April 27-28, which averages around 14% of the total spring turkey kill), and he said: "We had a lot during opening weekend, but we won't see many after this. Yours is the first one today." I digress . . .
Here in the Northeast there's always been a long-standing notion breeding and nesting activity might be disrupted with all-day hunts. In other parts of the country, all-day hunting is often standard, with some regional exceptions to this rule. At any rate, things changed a few years ago when my native Pennsylvania opted to expand opportunities. Here are some recent insights on why, how and if it has affected Pennsylvania turkey hunting, and it's straight from the source of management, the PA Game Commission (PGC):
Pennsylvania turkey hunters are permitted to hunt from one-half hour before sunrise to one-half hour after sunset, beginning Monday, May 13. The expanded hunting hours continue through the last day of the season, Friday, May 31.
All-day hunting during the second half of the spring season began in 2011 to provide interested hunters with more time to be afield.
"By the second half of the season, hunter participation decreases significantly and nesting hens are less prone to abandon nests," said Mary Jo Casalena, Game Commission wild turkey biologist. "All-day hunting during this portion of the season has had minimal impact to nesting."
Casalena said the overall spring harvest since 2011 has not increased from previous harvests.
Since 2011, afternoon and evening harvests have comprised 6 percent of the total reported harvests and 22 percent of harvests during the all-day portion of the seasons. In other words, even during the all-day portions of the season, 78 percent of the harvests have occurred before noon.
Casalena said the majority of the afternoon and evening harvests have occurred between 5 p.m. and 8 p.m. Last year's latest reported harvest was 8:50 p.m., about 20 minutes before the close of hunting hours in the western part of the state.
Casalena said the Game Commission will continue to monitor the afternoon harvest in relation to population trends and age class of gobblers to gauge the impact of all-day hunting. Among the 49 states that conduct turkey seasons, Pennsylvania is one of the 34 that conduct all-day hunting for all or part of the season, she said.
Does your state offer all-day turkey hunting? Do you think it affects nesting hens?
Still hunting turkeys as the season winds down? Check out our turkey hunting tips and tactics.
Steve Hickoff is Realtree's turkey hunting editor and blogger.
May 5, 2013 | By Steve Hickoff
Let's revisit one of turkey camp's most heated arguments: trophy longbeard or recipe jake?
Many biologists will tell you there's no reason not to shoot a jake if it's legal in your state. Your buddies might have other ideas.
A lanky jake – one of those come-to-any-call juvenile male turkeys – rushes in the way they sometimes do, as a longbeard struts well out of range. You want the mature gobbler even though the 12-pounder is trying to get onto a hot grill and shape shift into delicious turkey poppers.
You spend so much time thinking about the turkey popper recipe, and the beard, spurs and fan you’d put on your wall, they both walk off.
Later in the week, after hearing a few shots in the area, the same shortbeard runs to your calls. The longbeard is nowhere to be seen. Do you shoot the jake thinking the big boy is dead? Do you hold off on the chance he’s breeding some hens and maybe you’ll kill him later in the season?
What if the jake runs in on the last day of the season without the longbeard?
Do you fill your tag on the adolescent shortbeard, or let the turkey walk into summer and possibly into next spring as a two-year-old – even if he’s miles away by then?
Longbeard or jake? Let us know what you’d do in the comments section below and thanks.
Go here for more Realtree turkey hunting tips.
Steve Hickoff is Realtree's turkey hunting editor and blogger. He's shot both trophy longbeards and legal eater jakes around the country, spring and fall, and will fight for the right to choose.
May 3, 2013 | By Steve Hickoff
To kill a spring turkey, get tight to the roost before fly-down time.
I found vocal gobblers in a white pine Maine roost yesterday, sounding off before the false dawn, without hens and in a position where I could move on them. It felt like a gift after a week of hard hunting. Truth is, I had to earn it the way we all do . . .
As with some of the public access places you no doubt hunt, this first week has seen some pressure locally. I’ve added plenty myself, hunting every morning until noon. I’m writing this today with plans for turkey chili this weekend. That’s the good news and here’s how I got one by the feet.
FIND THE ROOST
The birds made it easy, gobbling at 4:45 a.m. It’s the first time I’d found them there, possibly due to hunting pressure, or maybe that’s just where they finished their day. Knowing the land helped me figure out what to do next.
MAKE YOUR MOVE
Vocal gobblers, put simply, tell you where they are. What you do with this information makes or breaks the hunt. You’ve got to be in there early enough to slip in quietly to an area where you think they’ll fly down. Maybe you’ve seen birds do it there before. Maybe you’re guessing based on the looks of the land. Either way, every second you take thinking about it, the turkeys are getting closer to flying down.
Instead of hustling directly to the roost, I did a wide half-circle using terrain, understory and trees to hide my approach — yes, even though it was still a half-hour or more before fly-down. Truth is, I could have been in there even earlier if I had roosted these turkeys the night before. I was cutting it close but it would all work out. Now, within 150 yards or so, I’d try to get under a football field away. Vocal gobblers helped and I was able to gauge where they were to move closer, and then even closer. I was now maybe just 50 yards from the nearest turkey and maybe twice that from the farthest. Game on.
WHEN TO CALL?
Here’s the tricky part: If you tree call, making the soft waking clucks and yelps of hen, chances are they’ll all look your way to see the turkey you’re imitating. No turkey? Well that might put a little doubt in their hyper-wary heads. I didn’t call, fighting the urge. I would eventually, but only when it seemed right. When one gobbler hit the ground, I softly tree called as others still sat on limbs. The bird with pine needles under his feet hammered. I’d timed it right. The rest gobbled too.
YELP ‘EM UP
Wings flapping, branches breaking, and it was clear they were all flying down. I still hadn’t heard any of the hens that had been in there. That’s a good thing. The birds in front of me gobbled on the ground, but I couldn’t see a single turkey — even though they were close enough their vocalizations thundered through the canopy. I slowly lifted my pot-and-peg, and ran a series of soft clucks and yelps, followed by more on my mouth call, mixing the two to make like several birds in the piney woods. They hammered. They turned and I knew they were coming in.
MAKE THE SHOT
Even after all these years when turkeys appear in the woods, and they’re hunting my calling down, it gives me a thrill like no other. You too, no doubt. My shotgun had been on a raised knee all this time, so I simply eased it in the direction of the gobbling. They appeared: a glowing bronze strutter in the early morning light led by three henchmen jakes. They looked, studied the ground around me, bore holes through my position, and turned. I had a window of shooting as three birds walked through it, then the turkey I wanted. At thirty steps, he never knew what hit him.
Steve Hickoff is Realtree’s turkey hunting editor and blogger.
May 1, 2013 | By Steve Hickoff
Henned-up? Yep, been there. There’s no bigger excuse — or greater redundancy in the turkey hunting world — than the notion of henned-up spring gobblers. Without going into some obvious biology, that’s what they do.
Henned-up turkey hunting tactics in places like Nebraska, where flocks can number over a hundred early in spring, might include simply being between where they roost and where they want to be.
It’s tough to call one longbeard away from a wad of birds like that, unless of course it’s a subordinate gobbler; even then you might hit some snags. A good example is the turkey I struck a quarter-mile away earlier this month. It came that distance, gobbled, strutted, spit-and-drum the way they do, then saw our hyper-realistic gobbler fake and sprinted away as if its life depended on it.
I’ve hunted some henned-up Maine turkeys this week. The season just opened days ago on Monday, April 29. Though this is still early, they’ve already gotten under my skin. I’m up before dawn at the appointed hour writing this, and may even hunt the mid-morning shift, but not fly-down; if only to gain some clarity and keep the bills paid.
Anyhow, the group is thirteen birds strong: 7 hens, two longbeards (one bossy; one a bench warmer) and four rowdy jakes. One of them even struts in the presence of the tom shadowing the hens, and comes back even when the longbeard tries to briefly run him and his running mates off. They're a distraction to both of us.
I almost killed the boss just minutes after fly-down. Brush was in the way and I thought better of it. My setup positioning had been off and you know about second thoughts. An hour later the bench warmer came tentatively and without a sound from another direction as if he didn’t want a fight, half-strutted and muted his gobble right in front of me (just out of range), then drifted away like a wary duck on an outgoing tide.
A guy in a ghillie suit stalked our position later that morning when I got everybody fired up again and that’s how my misery ended. It’s all good, right? Right.
DAY TWO WITH HENS
Yesterday went like this: I found the hens a football field away from the gobblers, so naturally set up between them.
We all got the gobblers fired up when the hens flew down and followed with wild barnyard cutting, adding to mine. This drew the males in. A wing-whacking gobbler fight ensued just to my right side but out of sight. Then I watched them for three hours in the field right in front of me: strutting boss with feeding hens; sub-dominate tom some distance off but also fanned out. The four jakes strode by well within range not long after — the one bad boy strutting with his wedge of upraised middle tail feathers taking the morning light — and I let them pass. They ran right to the bench warmer and tried to beat him up. Turkey nuggets be damned.
I’d had enough. As the flock eased to the field’s far corner, I made like a snake to my hen deke. Belly-crawling half the distance to them while staking the fake ahead of me as I went, and turning it slightly as they looked to impart movement, both adult gobblers wheeled and came. They’d strut and the boss even gobbled hard when I softly mouth called on the approach, even though he had girl turkeys nearby. I almost got it done (50-55 yards?) but the hens didn’t like the deal and went far around me and he followed.
The fall turkey hunter in me stood, hustled to the birds and scattered the group. Boss bird ran off. I followed, made my setup. Within the hour he gobbled behind me as I softly lost yelped, then drifted, never to be heard from again. I saw a turkey enter a far pasture and called him the distance to the woods edge. Then he vanished.
But what was that red blotch and black wedge a yard off the ground in wooded deadfall? We had a 20-minute stare down until I convinced myself it wasn’t a turkey and slowly turned my head right. When I looked back it was gone.
Check out more turkey hunting tactics here.
Steve Hickoff is Realtree’s turkey hunting editor and blogger.
- » Wild Turkey Hen Defends Brood from Red-Tailed Hawk
- » All-Day Pennsylvania Turkey Hunting
- » Trophy Longbeard or Recipe Jake?
- » Turkey Hunting Tip: Get Tight to the Roost
- » Henned-Up Turkey Hunting Tactics
- » Favorite Turkey Hunting Quotes
- » Spring Turkey Hunting with Chipper Jones
- » Turkey Hunting Blind: Browning Phantom Field Test
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