In my seventh decade of life, I like to think that I know something about both living and about the outdoors.
And just when I think I have something pretty much figured out, I get a cosmic kick in my oh-so-fragile ego.
We were crossing a broad stand of open hardwoods, headed for a long finger of ledge, up high. It was late October and I was hoping to get my companion his first fall wild turkey. We found plenty of sign, mostly large areas of scattered leaves, places where a good-sized flock of birds had passed and scratched the leaves down to bare earth.
Turkeys do this kind of thing throughout the year but it is most noticeable in the fall, with an abundance of new leaves on the ground. There is no mistaking it either; the leaves are scattered about, almost as if our esteemed president had been out there with a rake in the forest himself.
After about three hours of pushing the woods, we stopped and sat to take a break and my guest began to ask me questions about wild turkey behavior. I told him that I have had considerable success, both in the spring and fall hunts, but there were still patterns of behavior that have eluded me over these long years.
He then asked me about how far turkeys travel. Do they stay in one general area or do they move about at will? Oh, of course I knew the answer to that one.
“You could have a flock here in Pawlet today and, two days from now, they could be in Rupert,” I told him. “They don’t stick around in one place very long.”
The fact is, I still have much to learn about wild turkey behavior, as I discovered during a period from mid-October to mid-November. Just as with deer, wild turkeys are unpredictable.
Mr. Know-it-all (that’s me) learned that at least one flock of 13 birds stayed in one particular area for at least four weeks. How do I know that? Because I observed them on more than a dozen occasions, and each time, it was a flock of birds, all hens, which numbered 13.
The first time I spotted the birds, they came down a gentle rise off to my right. I was seated against a large hemlock, with a ground blind in front, bow hunting, and they crossed about 50 yards away.
Two days later, in the same place, they came up from my left, and this time, I had a great opportunity for a shot, with the birds passing about 25 yards away. But the bow was across my lap, the terrain where they crossed was open and I knew there was no way I could pull up and take a shot without scattering the flock. I saw the same flock two more times during the bow season.
Fast-forward to the rifle season. On the very first day, hunting this time from a nearby tree stand, here they come again, just across the swamp. I had a turkey call with me that day and sounded off with a few soft yelps. Two minutes later, while I called out, three of the birds came running across the swamp to the calls.
They stopped right beneath my tree stand and looked around, all 13 of them.
This is not the first time that has happened to me. I have found that a flock of birds, hearing my calls from near or far, will sometimes literally run to the calls. I suspect the flock, hearing the sounds of what they believe is another flock, come running in to see what the other birds are feeding on.
The last time I saw the flock was about midway through the rifle season. They have apparently left the area.
But back to that hunt with a new turkey hunting companion. Just after noon, we made a difficult climb up a very steep ridge through thick cover. I wanted to maneuver up to the top of that ridge, where the terrain drops off on both sides. I knew there was a good stand of beech trees up there and also knew that, during this fall, the beech trees were dropping much of their mast.
Keeping the thick woods to my left for cover, we moved about 40 yards at a time, calling, then stopped and studied the surrounding forest. Then, I saw movement. Right under a massive beech tree, a small flock of birds, about nine or 10, came up out of a slight drop in the terrain, about 30 yards away. “Take the shot,” I told my companion. The lead bird in the flock dropped at the sound of his shotgun and the rest of the flock took to wing.
Later, as I instructed the younger guy on how to field dress a turkey, we found some 24 beech nuts in its crop. He beamed as I took a photo with his first wild turkey and left later that day for home.
It was a great day, really. I was happy to have taken a new turkey hunter out on a successful hunt and learned how much I really don’t know about out there.
Contact Dennis Jensen at firstname.lastname@example.org