Turkeys getting easier to shoot


April 21, 1991|By PETER BAKER

FLINTSTONE — In Sunday's editions of The Sun, a photograph of Bill Cihla was incorrectly captioned. Mr. Cihlar was demonstrating proper

camouflage and shooting position and not actively hunting wild turkey.

* The Sun regrets the error.

FLINTSTONE -- Near the top of a shallow rise along a ridgtop in Green Ridge State Forest, the hunter held his position for a little more than an hour as daylight worked down from the

treetops to spread finally across the forest floor.

His back is protected by an old oak large enough to leave only the outer extremities of his shoulders exposed. He is dressed in camouflage -- from underclothes out -- with only his fingertips exposed. A camo net over his face covers all but his eyes, which are shadowed by the bill of his cap.


Below him is an arc of hillside sparsely treed by young oak and scrub pine. The trees have yet to fully leaf, and the hunter's field of vision is good, extending from east-southeast to southwest.

His shotgun rests on his left knee, its sling carefully placed outside the knee, so it will not snag when it comes time to fire.

In his mouth is a diaphragm call, with which he judiciously calls to the gobbler nearing the clearing some 50 yards below his left shoulder.

The gobbler, full of the season, has been coming for some time, its powder blue head, still unseen, certainly bobbing in an odd, almost comical cadence.

A hen call from the hunter, a response from the gobbler. Soon there will be time enough for movement, but for minutes more the hunter is still -- until the gobbler comes into view.

The range is still long, perhaps 45 yards rather than 30, and as the gobbler works southeast to northwest along the hillside, the hunter moves only to resight when the turkey's vision is blocked by pine bush or a tree, tracking the gobbler's neck.

Then the shot.

The turkey is down, and the hunter is up, camo cap reflexively replaced by one of hunter orange, and running toward the bird, which he covers with his body until it is still.

During the first three days of spring turkey season in 1989, the last year for which there are official daily records, 388 gobblers were taken in Maryland by hunters who played out similar scenarios. In the remaining 22 days of the season, a total of 574 gobblers were harvested, a drop in daily average to 26 from 129.

Part of that drop certainly is attributable to the abatement of opening-day fever -- 217 were taken the first day in 1989 -- and the better hunters getting their limit early in the season.

But for the less experienced hunters, says Bill Cihlar, manager of Rocky Gap State Park and an expert turkey hunter, the latter stages of the season offer an improved situation.

Essentially, the reason is that to a gobbler the hens all get prettier toward closing time.

Early in the season, Cihlar says, each gobbler has established its own breeding territory of a few hundred acres and will pretty much stay in that area, either at this end or that end of the same ridge.

But by the middle of the season, Cihlar says, the majority of hens have finished breeding, the gobblers are running out of prospective mates and the territories begin to break down.

"That gobbler that has walked this particular ridge top every day for a month, and had hens with him every day, suddenly finds himself alone," Cihlar says. "So he walks to this end and gobbles and walks to that end and gobbles. . .

"You picture him wondering what happened to all his company, spending his day sort of getting irritated with life, and then going to sleep on that ridge. The next morning, he wakes up gobbling furiously and no hens. All of a sudden he has been alone for three days, so he is going to walk to the next ridge, and another bird is going to walk to his ridge."

Once the male turkeys begin to roam in search of mates, Cihlar says, they become especially vulnerable and more and more susceptible to a hunter calling as a hen.

"Outside of opening day, when there are the most hunters and the most turkeys in the woods," Cihlar said, "there is usually a secondary peak of harvesting -- around the first week of May, depending on the weather -- not because the hunters are better, but because the gobblers find themselves more and more alone.

"But don't think it is easy. The toughest thing to do is to try to compete with a real hen. It is just about impossible."

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