G. Sam Piatt
PDT Outdoors Writer
The spring wild turkey season isn’t about who fooled the biggest tom or who got the season limit of two the quickest.
It’s more about what’s said in the title of Otha Barham’s 2013 book, “Spring Beckonings, Gobblers call and we must go.”
It’s nice if you can have a fantail and a beard mounted on a board for bragging purposes and to recall a particular hunt, but the best part of turkey hunting is the images stored in our memory of the look and the feel of the hunt for that giant strutting gobbler – even of those who outsmarted us and will go on to die of old age in a turkey rest home.
I still recall with fondness a hunt I had last year near the end of the three-week season in Kentucky.
I thought the gobbling and mating time was probably over. Nevertheless, you go when you can get time to go.
I set out my two decoys, a tom with a hen, in the edge of a pasture, backed off in my head-to-toe camouflage, leaned back against a walnut tree, and proceeded to make a little noise with my Knight & Hale “Lonesome Hen” caller.
Very shortly I had a big gobbler come out of a wooded hollow down below and start up the slope toward me, to my left, moving cautiously from stump to stump and sticking that long neck up in looking for signs of danger.
He never made a sound, but all of a sudden I had one behind me gobble so loud he nearly knocked my cap off. Then, to add to my sweet troubles, one gobbled off to my right. He seemed to be in a hurry to get up there and take on any competitor he might have for that plastic hen.
The silent one to my left was the one I concentrated on. I was facing more toward him. I let him get within about 35 yards and then made my move.
My move is not what it used to be; his was. As my 12-gauge Winchester pump was swinging into firing position, all of his survival instincts kicked into action. I got off two shots, one running and one flying.
And never ruffled a feather.
TWO WEEKS YET
I’ve been out briefly three times during the present Kentucky season, which will run through May 5. I’ve seen lots of turkeys, mostly hens, and most of those spotted while driving in in the truck to get set up.
On one hunt I was in the woods set up when the first light of morning moved over the ridges and spilled down into the hollows. It was windy and I did not hear one gobble.
In my advancing years, I have become more of a practitioner of the evening hunt.
Hope springs eternal. I may yet get another chance at ol’ Jobe, that 30-pound gobbler I missed in 2012.
OHIO IN THE MORNING
Ohio’s gobbler season opens in the morning and runs through May 5 also.
There were 17,657 gobblers killed during last year’s Ohio spring wild turkey season, a decline of 3 percent over the previous year.
Last year’s season ran four weeks, from April 23 through May 20.
Wildlife biologists say the 2013 outlook is for at least as good a season as last year.
More than 90 percent of Ohio hunters hunted on private land.
The top producing county in the state last year was Ashtabula, where 762 gobblers were checked in.
Seventy-seven percent of the statewide harvest was composed of adult gobblers.
The wild turkey population is estimated at a quarter of a million birds in both Kentucky and Ohio.
Those who go into April’s woods to hunt the wild turkey, especially the beginner – and I hope there are many of these – will find that he is the most difficult of all game birds to hunt.
He’ll run or fly at the first hint of danger. His senses of sight and hearing are unbelievable.
Ortha Barham’s great little 189-page paperback has 38 turkey hunting stories, including “Two Toms I Couldn’t Kill,” along with numerous photos of gobblers and hunters.
Tom Kelly, in his foreword, warns whoever buys it: “Don’t loan this book to anybody. You might not get it back.”
Very early on Barham, who lives in Mississippi and has hunted turkeys for more than 40 years – along the way taking the four sub-species of wild turkeys common to the United States, – gives a great description of the monarch as he swells himself up and struts and parades before the hens.
And its not just the hens who are impressed. “…we smile behind our camouflaged masks and marvel at the site. We are impressed.”
One of the hens clucks softly “and suddenly the strutting tom thrusts his neck forward and screams the lustiest sound in all the woodlands. The shocking call thrills us to the core. The hens quake. Other birds fall momentarily silent, as the king listens for any that do not honor his claim to dominance and prepares to put the unheeding in their places.”
You’ll enjoy the book.
To get your copy, write a check for $20 to Otha Barham and send it to him at 3100 38th St., Meridian, MS 39305.
Include a note as to who you want the book signed to and the address you want it mailed to.
G. Sam Piatt can be reached at 606-932-3619 or firstname.lastname@example.org.