Sat, 23 Feb 2013 19:12:21 EST
I dearly love all the phases and various timeframes of the spring wild turkey hunting season in Michigan. The ďearly seasonĒ that starts in mid-April can be one of the most unpredictable in regards to weather, but it can also offer the best response from gobblers looking for a date during a time the turkey hens arenít quite interested yet and at best, are playing very hard to get. The gobblers also tend to be more vocal as well.
This certainly doesnít mean the early season is a slam-dunk affair for hunters, because wild turkey gobblers are very wary and suspicious by nature (something that develops naturally from avoiding being eaten by other critters from chickhood on up) and are equipped with some great survival skills such as sharp eyesight (including acute color perception), excellent hearing and the ability to run with near roadrunner speed. Then top that all off with the ability to flush and fly away from danger like an overgrown ruffed grouse. Iíve heard it said that if wild turkeys could smell (which they canít), that they would be next to impossible to hunt with any success, to which I wholly agree.
The early season may also feature frosty mornings and very few mosquitoes and black flies, which to me is a bonus (however I remember one early season just a few years ago that featured a spring blizzard and heavy snows and winds that threw a monkey-wrench into turkey hunting). Hunting at dawn can also pay dividends with gobblers responding in an often very vocal manner to proper calling techniques.
Here in Michigan, the ďlate seasonĒ which begins in early May usually finds hen turkeys in the dating mood and gobblers are quite busy at doing their best in courting, which usually starts right from the time their feet hit the ground after flying down from the roosting tree at the first light of dawn. This is when gobblers are referred to as being ďhenned-upĒ. Gobblers also may be quite vocal right at dawn, but tend to be tight-lipped after that because with one or more available hens near them, they could care less about traveling to a hen that should otherwise be seeking him out instead. Gobblers can be a bit snooty that way.
I can remember when you could only hunt Michigan spring gobblers in the morning, with the afternoon being a forbidden time period according to the rules. I knew afternoon would be a key time period towards success, especially when gobblers were henned-up, and I was elated when turkey hunters could finally spend a full day afield (which came about due to the successful increase in wild turkey numbers) for handling a highly changing atmosphere that requires diversity in hunting techniques in regards to ongoing wild turkey attitudes brought on by the unpredictability of weather and the breeding/nesting period.
When gobblers are henned-up, Iíve had my best results from 10 am until 3 pm, with the gobblers usually never sounding off to announce their approach. However, from about mid-May until the close of the season at the end of the month, a large quantity of the hens are nesting and could care less about a gobblers advances, causing gobblers to be a little more responsive to calling from daybreak on. Sometimes they can be more vocal, but I generally Iíve found them to tend to come in silent and are a bit call-shy due to previous hunting pressure.
A problem Iíve found with the late season is the bugs, primarily mosquitoes and black flies. I wear a full-sized head net not only to conceal my face and eyeglasses, but to also keep mosquitoes at bay. A tool Iíve found to be a real asset at repelling mosquitoes and black flies is the ThermaCell appliance (I have a belt holster that keeps it working, even when Iím on the move) that literally forms an invisible sphere of protection around you. (When I first tried a ThermaCell and discovered how well it worked, I bragged it up to my wife Ginny, who immediately absconded with it to work in her flowerbeds, so I had to go and buy another one for turkey hunting).
Due to the fact that I had to plant trees on my farm last year and that this process takes place during the early turkey season, I had opted to hunt the late season, with my opening day occurring on the first Monday May. I knew that the gobblers were henned-up (it pays to keep tabs with those hunting the early season to give you a clue as to what to expect on opening morning) which meant the gobblers werenít going to be too responsive at daybreak. But with it being an opening morning I had been long waiting for, I was out there anyway enjoying a spectacular sunrise with gobblers sounding off all around me.
To start, I was hunting on a good friendís property, and I had a Luckyís Hunting blind and comfortable chair already waiting for me. Iíve long appreciated a Luckyís (tent) for turkey hunting because it not only protects you from the elements such as rain, but it also allows the hunter inside to move about some during calling procedures, even with birds in view and closing the distance. Using a blind of this nature is also a great way to introduce new and young hunters to this pastime, as you can sit right beside them. (For more information check out www.luckyshuntingblinds.com or call (989) 658-8686).
As expected, the gobblers shut up and off the minute their feet touched the ground after leaving the roost trees and joining the flocks of hens. It was near mid-morning when an agitated hen sounded off directly behind me on my blindside (I keep the all the blindís windows closed except the two facing my decoy, in order to remain completely concealed in a dark interior). The hen wasnít happy with the interloper, meaning my decoy set 15 yards out in front of the blind. (My decoy I call ďNormaĒ, has been beaten up numerous times by jealous and territorial hens. Norma is an old foam rubber Featherflex hen decoy that Iíve had to touch up with shoe polish, but keeps working by continually making real hens jealous and gobblers amorous, despite being disheveled and overall ugly).
The hen finally made an appearance on my left and approached Norma, then snubbed her and moved off to preen herself on a log in the brush. I sensed the gobblers werenít into the mix yet, and I took a two-hour lunch break. When I quietly slipped back into the blind, I discovered the hen had finally had enough of Norma and had thoroughly slapped my decoy around. Norma was leaning a bit, with her right side caved in, but I decided to leave her alone and avoid stepping out into the open with the hen nearby.
The afternoon was the charm. Within ten minutes, I saw the cherry-red head of a gobbler responding to my calling and approaching Norma. Thatís when the hen in the brush started making a jealous, hoochey-coochey fuss that drew that gobbler off before he came in range. Ten minutes later my whining purrs on a pan call brought in a second gobbler that made a straight approach to my decoy. When he got within 15 yards of my decoy, he noticed Norma was leaning a bit and had a caved-in side, and something just wasnít right about the whole picture.
It was when the approaching gobbler had disappeared behind some bushes that I eased the barrels of my Remington Spartan over/under 12 ga out of the blindís window and slipped the safety off, and waited for just the right range, and moment. When the gobbler became suspicious, he stopped, raised his head and was just starting to turn when I aimed at his neck and touched the trigger. The range of 30 yards was as close as it was going to get, and the gobbler dropped in his tracks when the heavy load of copper-plated (lead) number sixes found home.
Of course I was elated, but bagging an opening day gobbler also gave me a little touch of melancholy as well. This was because my local turkey hunting was over all too soon until the next spring season returns.
Wild turkey breast meat is generally very tender and succulent when cooked in a variety of ways. The legs (unlike the domestic version) however have the texture of dry rawhide. A good wild game recipe for those tough wild gobbler legs comes from Bob Walker of Kingston:
Place the wild turkey legs (drumsticks) in a crock-pot and completely cover them with mushroom soup, and slow cook for about 7 hours. When the meat falls off the bone, it is tender and delicious, and not wasted.
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