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.
Maine Spring Turkey Hunting: Opening Day Action
Maine spring turkey hunting shooting hours closed at noon. Yesterday on opening day, I wondered, with 30 minutes to go: Could these gobblers be called the distance to kill one?
Of course I’d been up since before 4 a.m. As goofy as it seems, I cranked Travis Tritt’s “It’s a Great Day to Be Alive” in my old truck’s CD player, if only as a testament to the blog post buddy Karen Lee did from our Oklahoma camp this season. If you don’t think turkey hunters have a little OCD in their blood you’ve got another thing coming.
Long story short: nothing answered my owling to locate gobblers. At 5 a.m. a roosted gobbler sounded off in the woods. I moved closer, set up. A half hour later, calling to the turkey and imagining its approach, another hunter came running in and set up maybe 100 yards from me. I whistled to get his attention. Called some more. He yelped back on a box call (poorly too). I said, “Hey” – real short and quick – thinking safety over killing that gobbler. He kept calling. I up and left, hustled deeper into the woods (and in the other direction) where I heard fly-down turkey chatter, including gobbles.
Set up, I saw birds fly down at under 100 yards. I called. They started coming. And then I heard alarm putting, turkeys running away, including a deer. The box caller was back, shadowing me. I shut up at that. Now what? I waited and heard footsteps coming my way, then up the hill, then calling, now behind me. I let the guy drift off some, then got up and walked the half mile back to the truck.
Opening day, man.
A great day to be alive indeed. Sunny and cold in the morning (36 degrees to start, mind you) I tried hard to kick it into “It’s all good” mode and did. Over the next several hours I drove to various local spots to cold call and try to pull out a flash hunt to salvage the day’s start. The long walk into the last spot proved favorable but not at first. When a pileated woodpecker sets up shop in a dead tree next to your setup, you know it’s time to roll. And I did, then stopped: turkeys at a distance. I moved closer and looked to see the birds were gone. I set up anyway, cold called. Nothing.
With 30 minutes to go, I nearly screwed up – turkeys! I glassed them again: five birds, all gobblers – one with a prominent beard. A longbeard running with shortbeards and no hens? Not all that uncommon, eh. I hatched a quick plan, studying the terrain. The birds were maybe 200 yards away.
I slinked 20 yards through the weeds and planted a single hyper-realistic Avian-X "lookout" hen decoy on a high spot they could see, moving with the fake ready to stake. I back-crawled into edge cover, then called – aggressively – and saw all the heads periscope up. I called again and they started coming. But would they make it in time?
The watch face on the inside of my wrist said it was now or never. They disappeared (spooked?) and I made the patient wait. And then all five heads crested the rise. The gobbler I wanted saw the deke, moving slightly in the late-morning breeze.
When the bird got inside 40 yards, I dropped it with 10 legal shooting minutes to go.