Looking for turkeys in the mist Fall season off to a slow start

OUTDOORS

November 07, 1993|By PETER BAKER

NEW ORLEANS — LITTLE ORLEANS -- The river was smooth, except where its course was broken by short riffles over the rocky bottom in the shallows, slick enough to reflect the muted tones of oaks, hickories, pines and sycamores that stepped through the mist up Town Hill from the Potomac.

Here and there, well out from the Maryland shore, fish dimpled the surface, feeding. But the river was skinny on the Maryland side and the fishing was poor.

A canoe would have been nice, a jet-drive outboard even better. Surely there was still decent fishing to be had somewhere in the stretch of river that curves around the base of Town Hill at Bond's Landing and ambles on to Little Orleans.

But fishing was an afterthought, a way to while away the last hour or so of daylight on the evening before the fall turkey season opened.

Earlier in the afternoon, the clerks at the Green Ridge State Forest headquarters had been busily shuffling papers, answering phones, preparing for the influx of hunters to one of the best fall turkey grounds in the state.

Rain was forecast for the Friday opener, they said, and perhaps that would hold down the number of campers, as it had the previous three Novembers. But the hunters would come, they said. They always come for their shot at opening day.

Green Ridge is a hunter's place in the fall, some 40,000 acres of heavily treed ridges and hollows cut by creeks large and small and studded with seeps that rise from the shale beneath the thin soil of Allegany County.

Ruffed grouse, rabbit, quail, woodcock and red and gray fox all can be hunted here, but the forest is best known for its numbers of whitetail deer, squirrel and turkey.

Earlier Thursday, after checking in and getting a campsite, a few hours were spent roaming the ridge tops above Carroll Road, looking for prospective hunting sites for the morning -- south ridges thick with oak, layered with acorns and close to secluded clearings, where one might find the last green edges of the fall.

If there were a stand of pine at the base of the ridge, so much the better. But with so much ground to cover and so little time, it was largely a wasted enterprise. Here and there a track or two in the soft soil loosened by the scratching of a gobbler or hen.

Now and then a faint gobble or a yelp, its source obscured and wary. But no evidence of flocking turkeys was found.

One should remember, I thought at the time, to scout the ground when there is more time, when the wind is not rising slightly in the ridge tops and a wet cold front about to move through.

In the last hour before dark, while wading the edge of the Potomac and casting idly to water largely without features, a fallen tree along the shore caught my attention, its tangle of dead roots jutting into the river, a few feet of its trunk forcing the current to bore into a bluffed bank before swirling back into the main stream.

A place of promise in a stretch of river that was low on opportunity.

As the tiny torpedo hit the water, the evening exploded into sound and motion -- not the thrashing of a fish but the commotion of turkeys breaking from a thicket of young sycamores; one by one, in quick succession to seven, lifting noisily and beating wings to the Virginia shore.

Above the low bluff of riverbank -- where in the spring surely the rains send the current fast and strong -- the soft, silty soil was marred by tracks and scratches. At the base of the tall, older sycamores, here and there a turkey feather and new and old droppings.

That evening, as the rains came lightly and freight trains thundered down a nearby right-of-way almost hourly, I wondered how many other hunters had walked the bottom land among the sycamores, how many would be there at dawn and whether the birds would return to their roost.

On opening day, the bottom land was thick with hunters, including a group of five who said they had set up a drive through the thickets of young sycamores and come up empty.

I thought of telling them about the flock that had roosted yards away until the night before, but it didn't seem the time to tell what might have been.

So I passed on and went to search futilely again atop south ridges, the clearing edges and the seeps, thinking, if only today had been yesterday.

*

Calls to a handful of check-in stations seemed to indicate that Friday was a little slow for opening day.

"Maybe it was the weather a little," said Roscoe Jay of the Belle Grove Grocery, where eight birds had been checked in by 4 p.m.. "Maybe it was just that today is a weekday that made it slow, but it seems to be running just a little behind last year."

The season runs through Wednesday (no Sunday hunting), with a limit of one turkey per person in areas of the state west of Interstate 81.

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