Hunters ready first call in quest for spring turkey


April 13, 1993|By PETER BAKER

Rehearsals started perhaps as early as last deer season, when notes were scratched quickly on topographic survey maps and carried on through the winter and early spring during walks along logging roads or south slopes, hollows and seeps.

The stage seems set, and Saturday, 30 minutes before dawn, the play begins. Spring turkey season opens in Maryland.

But on a recent scouting trip, the stage directions no longer led to the position of the star of the show, the bearded turkey.

The gobbler, who through the winter and early spring could be found close to the same location week after week, has moved on.

A closer look at the notes on the topo map probably will give a number of clues to the male turkey's movements, from fall and winter range to its springtime haunts.

In spring, once the trees begin to bud, plants begin to show shoots and insects again are active in deadfalls and brush piles, the hen turkeys move toward nesting sites in areas that will provide easy meals for their young.

The males, intent on breeding, follow.

Wood lots that border pastures, farm fields, smaller clear cuts and other edge areas where the woods provide cover and the new growth becomes food are prime areas for spring turkeys.

Topo maps will show some of these areas, especially where farmland or pasture abuts forest. Topo maps also can help you pick out a low ridge to use as a listening post or observation tower for one or more edge lines.

Usually by the time turkey season opens, the breeding season is almost over, and the hens, which earlier in the year had sought out the males, are intent on incubating their eggs.

The gobbler, however, continues its attempts to assemble its harem, and here is where the hunter comes in. Instead of the gobbler calling in the hens, the hunter makes like a hen to call in the gobbler.

A method that that has been successful is to be the first hunter to call to a gobbler, and that means being in the woods in position first as well.

Legal shooting begins 30 minutes before sunrise, so an hour before sunrise should allow plenty of time to settle into position while the birds are still roosting in the trees.

Stuart Sommers, an avid Western Maryland turkey hunter who also manufactures game calls, said during a seminar a couple of years ago, "I like to be the first hen to call to the turkey.

"I want him to know that I am here first, ready and available."

Sommers' procedure is to start out with tree clucks to let the gobbler know your position, follow up with a fly-down cackle once the gobbler is on the ground, and then work the bird toward his position with a "demanding sequence, a hot sound."

AThe basics sound straightforward, but only one in 10 hunters will take a spring gobbler.

But even if five in 10 hunters took a gobbler out of the population, state biologists say that the impact would be minimal because Maryland's season is timed to occur after the large majority of hens have completed laying their eggs.

This year, however, heavy rains and a cool, late spring may have a greater impact on the population than hunters. Heavy rains can flood out nests, and cool temperatures can make incubation difficult.


What: Spring season for bearded turkeys only.

When: Saturday through May 15, excluding Sundays. Hunting hours are 30 minutes before sunrise to noon

Bag limits: One bearded turkey per season, unless no turkey was taken during the fall season. Then, the limit is one bearded turkey per day and two per season.

Where: Allegany, Calvert, Caroline*, Dorchester* (south of Route Frederick, Garrett, Howard*, Kent* (east of Route 301), Montgomery, Somerset*, Queen Anne's*, Washington, Wicomico* (east of Route 13) and Worcester counties. In counties marked with an asterisk (*), no more than one turkey may be taken per county.

Legal shot: No larger than No. 4 and no smaller than No. 6.

Hunter safety: Hunter orange is not required for spring turkey season, but it is advisable to wear it on the way and from your position. Never wear turkey colors, blue, white, red or black. Never signal another hunter with a turkey call of any kind; speak loudly and remain motionless. Protect your back by sitting against a thick tree trunk. Never take a shot until you are sure of your target.

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