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.
July 29, 2012 | By Steve Hickoff
Calling other turkey hunters to your setup is inevitable if you hunt land open to all hunters. You even stand an occasional chance on posted private land too.
The bird ignored my owling, but I was fairly confident. Far from the road, I’d found the Maine spring gobbler while scouting and considered him mine. In years of hunting there, I'd never run into another hunter. I set up, settled in and waited for the first hint of dawn. Sure enough, that turkey was right where I expected him to be. He gobbled to confirm it. Right before fly-down time, I yelped and he hammered back. Settled in, the morning was off to a good start until . . .
What the —
That’s when I saw a guy alternately crouching and sort of hopping across the uncut field like he was in one of those summer county fair potato sack races they used to have when I was a kid. My heart sunk like an anchor dropped to a muddy pond bottom. I didn’t know whether to be mad or sick to my stomach. He came to a halt, called steadily with a dozen-note yelping sequence on a squeaky box over and over again. I whistled to get his attention. No reaction. Then he stood and moved directly toward me in the near woods. I said, “Hey,” and he kept coming, oblivious to my shout-out. I called and he yelped as if answering me. This was getting less safe by the second.
Right around then on the edge of my hearing I heard another gobble to the south, away from my bird — um, our gobbler. I stood, moved steadily in the direction of the new turkey, away from the current action and hoped the potato-sack racer would settle for the exchange.
My heartbeat raced a bit after the hustle along the ridge. I listened for turkey talk. Sure enough, a bird gobbled. I yelped and he gobbled back. I sat down. It got quiet, I softly yelped again and the birds started to pitch down and — heads up — walk in my direction. The turkey I wanted was to the rear and others would come in a little ahead of it. So I’d have to wait.
I’d about forgotten the first hunt of the morning when the birds suddenly looked east: necks and heads like periscopes, they turned and ran away, alarm putting. Sure enough, here came the guy, calling as he walked. And then he turned and walked toward me while calling incessantly. I didn’t dare move, say “hey,” or make a turkey sound now. The guy cruised to my left, no more than 20 steps away and walked past, calling as he strolled. It was the craziest calling strategy I may have ever witnessed. Nonstop yelping on a squeaky box. Maybe they'd done that at the store where he bought it . . .
I didn't move. He called again at maybe 50 yards behind me. It’s then I got up, quickly packed my gear and walked the steady mile or so out of there to my truck. Later that morning I killed a nice gobbler. It all worked out for the best. I’d answered the “should I stay or should I go?” question by default. Safety insisted on it and we’ve all read safe turkey hunting tips.
One line item in the state’s turkey hunter online survey asked if other hunters had affected my ability to hunt effectively and I answered yes. (Then felt like a first-class whiner.) What would you have done in the same situation? Given the guy an earful? Stayed and hunted the original spot? Do as I did? Leave the area? It is what it is, right?
Ever find yourself calling other turkey hunters to your setup? Share your story below.
July 24, 2012 | By Steve Hickoff
Do you use turkey decoys for fall hunts? Wild turkeys, spring or fall, will hunt down the sound of your calling. Decoys may not be necessary for either season. Then again, realistic fakes offer visual encouragement when that bird steps into view (and even before you see it).
Let's look at the upside and potential challenges of using turkey decoys for fall hunts:
MAYBE SO: Numerous turkey decoys in front of a field blind can function much as a bunch of duck or goose fakes do for waterfowlers. In both cases you're calling to pull birds in, then letting the spread do the rest. If you're bowhunting from the ground with both deer and turkey tags in your pocket it might work. Call me crazy, but deer seem to come to turkey decoys in the spring as much as the gobblers you want. If you're just looking for a freezer deer, you might be able to target both species this way in autumn when seasons run together.
MAYBE NO: Numerous decoys in front of a field blind can attract attention from other hunters as well, especially if visible from access roads. Just sayin'.
MAYBE SO: If you hunted roughly 20 years ago, you know turkey decoys weren't as realistic as today's range of offerings. As a result, using one or two to lure fall birds your way might just add a little extra incentive as scattered flocks regroup or during a morning fly-down calling sequence.
MAYBE NO: Either-sex fall turkey hunts allow you to shoot hens or gobblers, young or adult birds (check your state regulations). As a result, caution is required when you mix fall calling with realistic turkey decoys in front of your setup. Some states also permit rifles for fall turkeys. Then again, full-fan gobbler decoys are often used in the spring with the usual caution and at times, good results.
What are your thoughts on using turkey decoys for fall hunts? Ever do it? Did it work? Let us know in the comments section below and thanks.
(Steve Hickoff photo)
July 19, 2012 | By Steve Hickoff
Kinsley Armstrong has cancer and needs our help. Over the past year, other turkey hunters, callmakers and collectors have pulled together in the fundraising effort called Benefit for Kinsley.
Let’s back up a bit. Word of Kinsley’s situation, like wild turkeys working to the call, came my way from different directions — all paths involved turkey hunters. J.J. Reich had written a feature for North American Hunter magazine and shared the piece. He encouraged us at realtree.com to consider running mention of the fundraising effort. This led me to Bob Fulcher of ShadeTree Callers who I’d met at the NWTF Annual Convention last February. During this time I’d also talked to buddy and callmaker Scott Basehore who like others had donated to the fundraising auction effort. Many others (too many to name in a blog post; my apologies to all) contributed and all of their efforts have mattered.
If you didn't see J.J. Reich's article, Kinsley’s story goes like this. In September 2011 a tumor was discovered during a routine checkup. The five-year-old was diagnosed with Neuroblastoma. Soon she and her parents were traveling long road miles to the hospital (200 miles round-trip), with her mother Bobbie spending nights at her bedside, and her dad Tracy also maintaining his job during this time. Many surgeries, tests and treatments followed. They continue today.
As Bob Fulcher told me this week, “The auctions are still going and people are still willing to donate stuff to help out during the family's tough times (so far $9,000 has been collected).” Donations still matter more than ever. According to Fulcher, “In a couple weeks Kinsley is going to undergo a bone marrow transplant and then start the strongest course of chemo she can have . . .” People from Hawaii to Maine have contacted him to help the Armstrong family.
If you wish to donate money, make a check payable to Tracy Armstrong and mail it to Kenny Crummett, a fellow turkey hunter who initiated the drive to help cut the family’s expenses:
498 Harvest Lane
Sugar Grove, WV 26815
Turkey calls or other item donations can be sent to Fulcher:
6605 Highbury Road
Huber Heights, OH 45424
All the auctions so far have been run on the Osage Roost turkey hunting online forum. A new auction is scheduled to start Friday, July 20 on the Osage Roost site under the section titled Benefit for Kinsley. A number of items will also be auctioned on eBay soon. “We have four hunts including black bear in New Brunswick, swan in North Carolina, pheasant in Wisconsin and even a South African safari,” says Fulcher. “We will continue to run auctions at least once a month as long as we keep getting donations.”
For more information contact Bob Fulcher at fulcherbob [at] msn [dot] com or by phone at 937-270-3299.
(Photo courtesy of J.J. Reich/the Armstrong family)
July 16, 2012 | By Steve Hickoff
This longbeard was still doing his thing on June 26. Have post-season strutting and gobbling turkeys made it hard for you to concentrate on summer fishing and chores around the house? Seeing any late nesting or poults?
And "charlie elk" laid down this report on nest and poult sightings over in Wisconsin. "Found a nest of 13 eggs!" he let us know on July 10. "Poults are ranging in size from softballs to basketballs. Before sunrise the valleys are full of kee-kees and hen yelping."
What are you seeing or hearing out there? Tell us on the Realtree Strut Report or in the comments section below.
July 14, 2012 | By Steve Hickoff
Turkey hunting contests can bring out the best and worst in us.
I once participated in a "turkey hunting contest" with a bunch of NFL players, a couple other TV celebrities and a few other hunting industry guys like me, all aimed at raising money for a local cause. A total of 17 spring turkey chasers hit the woods and fields. The grand prize: a spring gobbler mounted by a taxidermist.
We hunted hard and had some fun. One guy missed a longbeard and we raised a lot of money for the cause at a fundraiser banquet. Catch is: We only killed two turkeys in three days.
My 14.5-pound bull jake was barely edged out by a musician who’d dropped a 15.1 super shortbeard. All of us — way more than what an NFL team puts on the field for a set of downs — scratched out two jakes in three days of hard hunting. (And yes I caught some friendly camp trash talk — something about shooting a milk beak.)
That's what I love about wild turkeys. They could care less about some contest.
Fast forward to now: I’ve a question to share with you put to me by another turkey hunter. He wants to hold a 1-day spring turkey hunting contest next year that brings youth hunters and mentors together. What should he do to have success with the event? Any insights for what he might avoid in staging the celebration of our turkey hunting tradition? Have any of you ever run turkey hunting contests and how did the occasions turn out? Any tips?
Let us know in the comments section below and thanks.
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