In my state, May is spring turkey season. I took a few days off to try to get a jump on the season. Like a lot of other places, in the spring only hunting of bearded birds is allowed, and it can only be done from half an hour before sunrise until noon each day. This makes things somewhat difficult for me. One problem is that I don’t live close to the woods, so I have to drive for several hours to get to the forest. This precludes me of taking the usual approach of getting up at 4am and going out on the local field to hunt in the morning. I typically have to already be in the woods the night before, spend the night there, and then start hunting in the morning. This is even more so because I like to hunt deeper into the woods, which means I need to take time to get to my location.
So, hunting on the first day of my trip would not be possible. I would have to spend the morning getting to the forest, and then the rest of the day backpacking into the woods to reach a location where I would want to start hunting. The location for this trip was about twelve miles into the woods located at the southern section of the Catskills. I picked the area because it is far away from any fields where turkey is usually hunted. In this part of the state people like their turkey hunting, but it is usually done on fields and private property close to roads, where you can see large groups of hens and toms strutting around. It’s not my preferred way to hunt, so I wanted to do it deeper into the woods, where there wasn’t any human traffic. Now, I did not chose a random spot. I was in this are last year, and spotted some turkeys roosting in the trees there. The problem was, I never noticed any scat or other sign on the ground, so I assume the turkey roost in the area, and then fly off to farms and fields in the area for the day. My strategy was to try to call them in as they were coming down from the roost, before they had flown away.
After saying all that, I jumped in the car and drove up to the forest. We have had some serious rain here over the past week, and unfortunately, the rain had washed away several of the smaller bridges in the area. That made it very difficult to get to the forest. I had to take some serious detours to try to get there.
With all of the delays, by the time I got to the part of the forest where I intended to start, it was already mid afternoon. I quickly got my things and got going.
It wasn’t long before I started running low on daylight. I wasn’t anywhere near the location I was aiming for. I figured I would have to camp for the night, and then continue into the woods the next day. Unfortunately, that meant I wouldn’t be ready for the hunt the following day. I would keep the shotgun at the ready just in case, but I would be relaying mostly on luck.
I wasn’t in the mood to set up all of my gear. I just pulled out my sleeping pad and sleeping bag and got to eating dinner. I figured if it rained, I could just use the tent as a bivy bag.
In the morning I packed up and got going again. Other than stopping for lunch, I just kept moving for most of the day. I didn’t flush out any birds, but then again, I didn’t actually expect them to stick around for long after coming down from the roost.
There was plenty of deer sign in the area, but no turkey signs.
By early afternoon I had reached the location where I was planning to hunt during the trip. I couldn’t do any hunting in the afternoon, so I just set up camp, cooked some food, and went to sleep early.
The night was a little cold. It was about 32F (0C). When my alarm rang at 4:30am, I was not looking forward to getting out of the sleeping bag. So, being lazy, I turned off the alarm and went back to sleep. Hunting time wasn’t until 5:30, so I figured I had time. Unfortunately, I slept longer than expected, and was woken up by the flapping of wings as the turkeys were coming down from the roost. I was about 5:15am. I got up, put on the headlamp and walked over to the area that I had cleared out for hunting the day before. I put up a decoy, leaned against a tree, and started calling. It was just about 5:30am. By the way, I feel like I am the only one who still used a box call these days, but I just like it.
I was using an inflatable hen decoy from Cherokee Sports. Normal decoys are unrealistic to carry any distance into the woods, but these inflatable decoys pack up very well, and look halfway realistic from 20 yards away.
The morning was cold. Sitting around and calling for hours, or “armed napping” as my friend Rich calls it, wasn’t helping. I was right at the verge of shivering the whole time. I would be okay for a few minutes, then shiver for a few, and that’s how it kept going the whole morning.
I wasn’t able to call anything in. I had made several mistakes. One was that I had gotten up to late. By that time birds were already coming down from the roost. The second was that I was too close to the roosting area. The two factors combined almost guaranteed that I had been spotted, and no turkey was interested in landing in the area.
I spent the afternoon taking pictures and filtered some water. The rain had created some small puddles that i could use.
I was pretty chilled from the day, so I spent the evening in my sleeping bag. I cooked dinner, and again went to sleep early.
As you can see, I was using the Mountain Hardwear Direkt 2 tent on this trip. It is not my ideal tent for these conditions, but I’m doing a long term test of it, so I’ve been trying to take it out in different conditions. The tent actually performed very well. I’ve still had no condensation issues with it, even though it is a bivy tent.
I was woken up in the middle of the night by the noises of a bear in my camp. The sound was unmistakable. It was clearly trying to get to my food, which I had placed up in a tree not too far away from me. I put on the headlamp and quickly jumped out of the tent. After some shouting, I managed to chase it away. I continued to listen for it during the rest of the night, but it didn’t return.
In the morning I got up early and set up again.
Again, I had no luck calling any birds in down from the roost. After a few hours however, I heard a gobble from my four o’clock. I couldn’t see anything, but tried to call him in. Unfortunately, the gobbles stopped soon after. I suppose my calls weren't sexy enough, or my impression of a rock wasn’t good enough.
After an hour or so however, I heard a rustling in the bushes in the exact same area. I figured the gobbler was back. I slowly looked to my right, only to see a huge black mass moving slowly through the bushes. It was clearly a bear, and very likely the one from the previous night. He was looking right at me and trying to circle around. I stood up to make myself visible, but he didn’t care. He didn’t care about me shouting either. We stood there for a while, looking at each other.
He was about 30 yards away from me. After what seemed like way too long, I fired a shot into the branches above him. Without much of a rush, he turned and walked away in the direction of my camp.
I followed in the same direction. I wanted to make sure my camp was okay. The bear just passed it and kept walking away.
It was now around 10am. After I fired the shot, there wasn’t much of a reason for me to keep hunting. I ate breakfast, and started packing up. I then headed out. I had brought a blaze orange vest and hat just in case I had to move around during shooting hours, and I’m glad I kept them in my bag. I put them on, and got going.
I spent most of the day making my way out. When I was closer to the edge of the forest I managed to flush out a turkey from some fallen trees, but it was after shooting hours and it looked like a hen. A woodpecker was the only other bird I saw.
I lucked out with the weather this trip. Last year it rained the whole time, but this time around I managed to get a few consecutive days without rain. I am still not sure about the area. The entire time I was there, I didn’t hear a single shot, no matter how distant. That leads me to think that people simply do not hunt turkey in this part of the forest. The fact that the birds only seem to roost here and spend their days someplace else, might very well be the reason. I think I’ll give it another try or two, and then move on.
The terrain was pretty easy. There was no difficulty navigating, and the forest was open with relatively little undergrowth. There was no serious climbing or river crossings.
My gear was pretty much what i usually have with me, loosely contained in my Black Diamond Speed 40 pack. The only additions were my hunting tools.
My shotgun was a CZ Upland Ultralight in 12 gauge with 28 inch barrels. I was running a modified choke on the top barrel and a turkey choke on the bottom barrel. From left to right you see my shoulder sling for the shotgun, the folded up turkey decoy from Cherokee Sports, the Primos Wet Box turkey call, a Primos mouth call, and some shells. In addition to the Remington #5 3 inch shells I was using during the hunt, I also had some lighter loads in case I wanted to shoot a squirrel or a porcupine.
So that’s it; a few days out with no luck. Hunting this way is not easy, and since I don’t have anyone to learn from, I have to largely do it by trial and error. I’m sure eventually I’ll get it right. Either way it’s a fun trip outdoors.