Patience + Persistence = Success When Hunting Turkeys
By Peter L. Cuffaro
Patience + Persistence = Success. No doubt about it! I have been turkey hunting for only three years. My hunting partner, Curt Hamrick , had encouraged me to try turkey hunting, but I had no interest. Curt even placed a Remington National Wild Turkey Federation Anniversary Edition 11-87 gun in my hands while browsing through an outdoor store. “Pete, if you ever are interested in taking up turkey hunting, this is the tool of the trade,” he said. Too bad I didn't purchase it then. It would take me two years to find another one like it.
Then one day my wife Erin and I spotted a gobbler strutting in a field on land where I deer hunt. I was bitten and contracted spring gobbler disease! I did log 12 days of hunting during the last two weeks of that season, but I was a real novice. I missed a gobbler that year. He was too far away for my shot. By the time the BBs from my load reached him, they were probably rolling on the ground!
I had taken the first step towards being a turkey hunter. The next step, which probably should have preceded going afield, was studying to become a turkey hunter. I guess I would liken myself to a rookie in the National Football League that first season. I had gone in with eyes wide open with hopes of success. The veteran starter had been injured and I was being thrown to the wolves. I held my own, but Mr. Long Beard was the seasoned veteran lined up across from me.
Now I was going to learn the tricks of the trade so we could compete on an even field, if there is such a thing as an “even field” with the wild turkey, for I find them one of the brightest and most elusive game animals I have ever pursued. No wonder Ben Franklin wanted to make this majestic bird our national symbol. Being the good rookie that I was, I watched a lot of turkey videos and asked a lot of questions directed to seasoned turkey hunters in preparation for the 1999 spring gobbler season.
I also made the investment in a turkey gun, specifically the Remington 11-87 turkey gun.The 1999 season was upon me before I knew it. To sum up the 1999 season, it was a washout for me. Every day during the season, I did not see turkeys out in the fields until late in the day after hunting hours were over. But, as I say, “Every day afield is a good day!”
I‘m not the best caller in the world; probably would make Rob Keck flee the woods! But you know, when you're in the woods by yourself, who cares? That's my classroom and the place to experiment. That is exactly what I did last spring. Of all of my calls, my Martin Brothers Sassafras and Walnut (GC Model #125) Box Call seemed to command the most response. Instead of pulling the paddle over the edge, I picked up a little trick off of Rob Keck from watching a National Turkey Federation television show. I struck the paddle with the box instead of striking the paddle against the box.
Things came together for me on Friday, May 12, 2000. I only had 1 1/2 hours to hunt. Due to my spinal cord injury, I have health care I must do on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, so I don't get out to hunt until after 11 a.m. on those days. Because those are short days, I don't set up decoys.
So, I was going out with the intentions to just do a little scouting and hunting combined, not expecting to do anything outstanding until maybe the next day. Matter of fact, my wife Erin and I were discussing set up tactics and strategy for Saturday. She was going to drape some Mossy Oak burlap around my van door to help camouflage me a little better. Always looking for an edge!
Well, I was starting to become a little discouraged. Yeah, I do enjoy the outdoor experience, but this was my third year afield with no turkey. There was a lot of shooting going on in the valley around me, but nothing out of my Remington 11-87.
As I mentioned, I am a real student of the outdoors. I am fortunate to have a local outdoors writer by the name of Chip Warren writing columns for The Wheeling News-Register . From Chip's column dated Sunday, May 7, 2000:
The consensus by hunters in the Northern Panhandle on the first two weeks of spring gobbler season would indicate that populations of the birds are high, however the toms have yet to complete enough breeding to make them very responsive to calls.
The males and females are roosting together – or not far apart – making the tom's amorous antics to be focused on those ladies he can see rather than those hunters who may be seductively calling for his attention. This too shall pass. I think hunters who stick with the season will be rewarded with better responses as time passes.
A trick I learned a long time ago, when high hen populations may be affecting gobbler response, is to call the ladies in with kee-kee , cackles and cutting calls. Toms may follow the hens to your calls. In addition, just because a “ longbeard ” doesn't come running in at daylight to your calls, it might not mean you've failed. Many times when a tom immediately joins a hen, he will ignore anything else. But, after the mating is finished he remembers the other “hen.”
Believe me, the second you call, the gobbler knows where the call is coming from. He might just decide to investigate a little later on.
Silent toms have fooled more than one turkey hunter. He knows where you are, and just because he doesn't thunder his response, doesn't mean he isn't moving toward you. Remain still. I can't count the times I've given up only to flush a silent tom as I moved. Remember the old turkey hunting adage: “If you think its time to move, wait 15 more minutes.” It has helped me harvest more than one old tom.
The words from Chip's article were stuck in my head. If I was feeling a little impatient that week, Chip's words of wisdom kept me in the saddle.
It was about 11:15 a.m. by the time I pulled into my hunting spot. I was hunting the intersection of two rights of way. Although they were narrow, the width of a small bulldozer or automobile, I thought it was the perfect set up for me. I was hunting from my van. My shooting lane was about 45 degrees out of the driver's side window. I gave myself a little more room by turning the mirror towards the front of the van so that it was flush with the van. After getting in position, I heard a gobble across the road probably 100 yards from where I was hunting. I hit my box call a couple of times and put it down. As I was scanning the area I spotted a red, white and blue head to my left. This could not have been the gobbler I had heard. It had to be one of those silent gobblers to which Chip had referred! The gobbler I heard could not have covered that amount of ground in such a short period of time.
I made sure it was not a “ jake ,” because I made a pre-season decision to pass on harvesting a jake to allow for another year of growth and maturity. This bird had a nice beard! I readied myself and brought the shotgun up when he had his head down. He was behind a small-branched tree, so this helped to disguise my position. I thought my heart was going to come up out of my throat. I had to calm myself down. If he came to the left or right of the tree branches, I was going to let him have it with a throat shot. I wanted to avoid the head shot in case he would bob and I would miss him. He was no more than 10 yards from me. He came out to the right. I took the safety off and fired. The Remington 11-87 rocked my shoulder and 2 ounces of #4 shot from my 3-inch Winchester Supreme magnum turkey load brought my trophy down!
Immediately I called my wife Erin on my cellular telephone. She met me and I directed her to the location of the downed bird. Erin retrieved the big ole boy – 20 pounds, 10 1/2” beard, 1 1/8” spurs.
Now maybe everyone can get off my butt about finding a turkey with a red button in it at the Kroger's freezer section!
Before closing and as a reminder, if you are a turkey hunter, remember to practice all safety precautions when afield in the spring and if you can, assist the WV Division of Natural Resources by participating in their spring gobbler survey. You will not only be assisting them, but the sport of turkey hunting as well.
Now is the tough part. In my eyes, I harvested a real trophy. How can I top this off? I do not know how I can. I have to consider if I want to attempt to harvest another bird. Maybe I could call one in for someone else to harvest so that they can experience the joy and ecstasy I felt. Maybe my wife will go afield next season and I can call one in for her. Now I know what they referred to as the “sportsman stage” in the hunters' safety course I took! That stage in a hunter's life where he or she enjoys being with friends in the outdoors more than taking game . . . that stage in a hunter's life where he or she enjoys the total hunting experience.
Peter Cuffaro is a member of the DNR Physically Challenged Advisory Board.