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.
[Editor's note: Brantley jokes that he's got to get his bud Tim, pictured here, into some decent camo.]
Turkeys: Mine was a young hen; Tim's was an adult, no doubt about it.
Hunters: Will Brantley and Tim Daughrity, both of Murray, Kentucky.
Location: Calloway County, Kentucky.
Time: Tim's bird – 7:15 a.m., Oct. 26; mine – Oct. 25 – fly-up time.
Firearm: Me - Benelli Vinci 12 gauge; Tim - Remington 870 Express.
Loads: Me – Winchester Supreme 3-inch No. 5s; Tim – Federal 3 1/2 inch No. 6s.
Terrain: Wood lots interspersing working cattle pastures.
Hunting Tip: Give it time. I shot my turkey yesterday evening and scattered the group (probably three different flocks roosting together, maybe even already converging for the winter). Half of them roosted on one side of the pasture, half on the other. I thought things would be crazy at daylight, and birds would be sailing into the pasture from every direction. We had a decoy ZINK/Avian X in front of us.
But it was windy, and the birds talked very little on the roost. A few clucks, a few tree yelps, and that was it. The first two or three flew down into another pasture behind us, and it became obvious that's where most of them would re-group. They did a fair amount of calling down there, and would answer me, but I knew the flock was growing by the minute, and I wouldn't be pulling them back to me.
But, I also knew there were still some stragglers roosted in front of us, and we were between them and the re-grouping flock. So we sat tight and just kept calling. I'm of the opinion that if nearby turkeys are making a little noise in the fall, I want to be making even more. So Tim and I were both calling pretty hard. Finally we had Tim's hen stroll out into the pasture, clucking and purring fairly aggressively. She was en route to the decoy when he shot her.
Moral of the story? Don't be too quick to move in the fall when the flock is re-grouping. Trust your eyes and ears – if there are stragglers, even just one or two, chances are good you can call them in.
(Will Brantley photo)
Kill one? Send your Realtree Turkey Blog hunt report to hickoff [at] comcast [dot] net
This turkey calling contest was originated by the Mobile County Wildlife and Conservation Association, which was founded in 1934, making it the oldest conservation organization in Alabama.
"The founding and growth of the World Championship Turkey Calling Contest by Mobile County Wildlife and Conservation Association many years ago here in Mobile has allowed the sport of turkey hunting to make tremendous strides, both locally and nationally," Marl Cummings, past president and board member for the conservation association, says. "It is also the spark that started many well know names and brands on the road to fame and fortune, such as Ben Rogers Lee, Eddie Salter, Preston Pittman and many others."
For the Open Contest, the entry fee is $250. In addition to prize money, trophies, gift cards and guns will be awarded to the first three places.
2nd Place: $1,500
3rd Place: $750
4th Place: $500
5th Place: $250
The entry fee for the Owl Hooting Contest is $100.
1st Place: $1000 plus gun
2nd Place: $500
3rd Place: $250
The Friction and Junior Division entry fees will be determined and prizes will be awarded. For more information, contact Melissa Miller at 251-478-7469.
October 23, 2011 | By Steve Hickoff
"Fall turkey hunting can perhaps best be described as lively, and is characterized by noise and motion and lots of excitement. Until turkeys are found and scattered there is a great deal of walking involved.”
– Tom Kelly, “Tenth Legion”
I walked with the dog casting ahead and without the dog and by the end of it I surely hadn’t gained weight and most certainly lost a little.
The 21 days – starting the day before the New York opener and ending the last day of the Maine fall turkey season – went by as fast as your average NFL Sunday game; or so it felt like that.
Let me add to the honorable Mr. Kelly’s remarks: Fall turkey hunting is a steady effort of scouting, actively hunting and planning to do so, punctuated by intense periods of action and slower stuff – driving and walking a lot – that as with spring includes kills, misses and close calls.
Turkeys can only make one mistake; you can make many.
In some ways my three-state October turkey tour was perfectly balanced: an early opportunity in New York State ended with a miss, followed by a buddy’s kill – all this after a lot of walking that day (and 1000-plus road miles on my old pickup truck).
We studied his bird’s craw for evidence of where they’d been with our buddy Pete’s hunts to come.
Then came Maine.
One buddy had “too many heads” off his gun barrel on the opener (a scene that would repeat itself like a TV rerun) while another mutual friend closed the deal on the one available head off his muzzle.
We all heard plenty of fall gobbling but only killed adult hens and birds of the year (legal in the "either-sex" turkey states we hunted; those young jakes also sometimes gobble at the end of their kee-kee-runs).
Toward the end my bird-crazed English setter Luna and I tangled with a broodless Maine hen flock. Obsession found us hunting them again and again. They’re still out there.
I'm fine with that. Really.
So as the first phase of my fall turkey season ends – three states, three weeks, all turkeys – I’ve plans for more travels before the year ends and our thoughts turn toward the spring gobbler seasons to come.
Even now, some spring turkey product release material is filling my inbox. Sorry, but I’m just not quite ready to give up on fall yet. Stay tuned.
(Steve Hickoff text/Cora Hickoff photo)
Season lengths vary in the state's Wildlife Management Units for fall turkey hunting: WMUs 1A, 1B and 2A (Shotgun and bow and arrow only) - Oct. 29-Nov. 12, and Nov. 24-26; WMU 2B (Shotgun and bow and arrow only) - Oct. 29-Nov. 18, and Nov. 24-26; WMUs 2C, 2D, 2E, 4A, 4B and 4D - Oct. 29-Nov. 12, and Nov. 24-26; WMUs 2F, 2G, 3A, 3B, 3C, 3D, 4C and 4E - Oct. 29-Nov. 18, and Nov. 24-26; WMU 5A - Nov. 1-3; and WMUs 5B, 5C and 5D - Closed to Fall Hunting.
Mary Jo Casalena, Game Commission wild turkey biologist, said the fall turkey population is excellent. Even though early spring weather was cool and wet, it moderated quickly enough for most hens to successfully hatch broods. Fall flock sizes are slightly smaller than average, but there are plenty of flocks afield. The challenge hunters face will be to locate the turkey's food source due to the lack of a good acorn crop in many areas. Turkeys will seek out and concentrate in areas where food is available. Hunters who find these food sources also will find the flocks.
The second year of an open season during the Thanksgiving holiday also should improve hunter opportunities. This Thanksgiving holiday season, which will be held Nov. 24-26 in most WMUs, is designed to provide additional hunting opportunities for youth and families when schools and many businesses are closed and, hopefully, to reverse the declining trend in fall turkey hunters.
Also, hunters in WMU 5A again have a three-day (Nov. 1-3) season after seven years of a closed fall season that was implemented to allow the population to increase. The success in managing the WMU 5A turkey population is shown in re-opening the traditional fall turkey hunt. The conservative three-day season is structured to provide recreation without reversing the now expanding population.
"The statewide turkey population this past spring prior to nesting was similar to the 10-year average, about 340,000 birds, and a 25 percent increase from its low, in 2005, of 272,000, so there's a bountiful population of turkeys in Penn's Woods," Casalena said. "This resurgence is due to several years of average to above-average reproduction coupled with generally conservative fall season lengths, which minimizes the overharvest of hens."
Locating a flock is only part of the hunt, Casalena said. Properly setting up and bringing a turkey within range is another challenge, and is what makes turkey hunting simultaneously tricky and enjoyable. This challenge is revealed with a look at hunter success rates, which ranged from 12-16 percent during the last five years.
"Overall, I expect turkey hunters to enjoy higher success rates than last year when only 10 percent of fall turkey hunters harvested turkeys because of abundant mast crops, which dispersed flocks making them difficult to locate. Success this fall is expected to be much higher, at about 15 percent, similar to the previous five-year average," Casalena said. "Hunter success has been as high as 21 percent in 2001, which was a year with excellent recruitment, and as low as four percent in 1979."
Last fall's overall turkey harvest was below-average, 15,884, which is 34 percent less than the previous five-year average of 24,049. Fall harvests have been declining steadily for the last nine years, mainly due to a decrease in the number of fall turkey hunters and shorter fall season lengths. To view maps of turkey harvest by WMU, go to the agency's website (www.pgc.state.pa.us), put your cursor over "Hunt/Trap," then click on "Hunting" in the drop-down menu listing, and select "Harvest Data and Maps" in the "Big Game" section.
The preliminary spring 2011 harvest, calculated from hunter report cards, was about 41,000, which is five percent below last year, but slightly higher than the previous five-year preliminary average of 40,000. Additionally, during the spring season, hunters harvested about 2,045 gobblers using the second tag, or "special turkey license." Even though spring harvests are down from the record 49,200 of 2001, spring harvests have been back above 40,000 bearded turkeys for the last four years, exceeding most other states in the nation.
"Please remember to report any leg-banded and/or radio-transmittered turkeys harvested or found," Casalena said. "Leg bands and transmitters are stamped with a toll-free number to call, and provide important information for the research project being conducted in partnership with the Pennsylvania Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit at Penn State University, with funding from the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Wild Turkey Federation and the Pennsylvania Chapter of NWTF. These turkeys are legal to harvest and the information provided will help determine turkey survival and harvest rates. Rewards for reporting marked turkeys are made possible by donations from the national and state chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation and a portion of the state's share of the federal Pittman-Robertson program."
In both spring and fall turkey seasons, it is unlawful to use drives to hunt turkeys. Hunters may take only one turkey in the fall season.
Shot size is limited to No. 4 lead, bismuth-tin, tungsten-iron or No. 2 steel. Turkey hunters also are required to tag their bird before moving it and to report their harvest within 10 days of taking a turkey.
Legal hunting hours are one-half hour before sunrise to one-half hour after sunset. For more information, please see page 14 of the 2011-12 Digest for the legal hunting hours table. Also, it is lawful to use a dog to pursue, chase, scatter and track wild turkeys during the fall wild turkey season. Hunters are prohibited from using dogs to hunt any other big game animal, including spring gobbler. For minimum orange requirements, please see pages 68-69 of the 2011-12 Digest, as the requirements differ depending on the Wildlife Management Unit.
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