Spring hunters say turkey is rewarding game


April 26, 1999|By Sally Voris | Sally Voris,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

WHEN ELLICOTT CITY resident Tracy Ford walks into the woods, he thinks wild turkey.

An avid hunter and conservationist, Ford spends his early mornings counting turkeys in the Patuxent Wildlife Refuge and going turkey hunting at other locations.

The spring turkey season started April 17 and lasts for four weeks. Every day during the season, hunters can use shotguns or bows in selected areas from a half-hour before sunrise to noon.

Ford grew up in New Hampshire, where he hunted deer. Twenty years ago, a friend introduced him to turkey hunting and promised him that one day he would love hunting turkeys more than hunting deer.

Indeed, he admits that he does.

He says he loves to sit in the woods on a spring morning and watch everything grow, "coming alive and getting active. It's not like in the fall during deer hunting when everything is dying."

Turkeys roost in trees, their heads tucked underneath their wings as they sleep, Ford said. They wake up just after the geese begin stirring.

Ford says turkeys have excellent vision and hearing, and quickly notice movement. Hunters cover themselves with camouflage garments, go into the woods before dawn and find a place to sit.

And there they sit, "calling" -- making sounds like a hen would -- to "call in" or attract a gobbler.

A gobbler, which can have one to 30 hens, will not be enticed to come to a call if he has a "live girlfriend," Ford said.

Ford uses a variety of calls -- a crow call, an owl hooter, a wood box call, a slate call and a diaphragm call.

The first two are "locater" calls -- turkeys respond to them by gobbling.

The wood box and slate calls use friction -- wood on wood or slate on slate -- to attract the birds. The diaphragm call is held in the mouth while air is blown through it.

The cadence of the call is important, Ford says. He uses a variety of sounds -- clucks interspersed with longer calls.

"Hens always call in an odd number," he said.

At a turkey-calling seminar held last winter in Columbia, many hunters described the beauty of being in the woods at first light.

Hunter and County Councilman Chris Merdon said he enjoyed getting into the woods to "watch nature come alive around you."

Ellicott City resident Bill Thies said he learned to bow hunt with friends when he was 16 and has hunted for years on farms in western Howard County.

"It's not just the shooting," he said, "but the sounds you don't hear unless you sit in the woods quietly listening."

Thies described the sense of anticipation, like buying a lottery ticket, of going into the woods and not knowing what he would see or hear.

Ford has passed on his love of turkey hunting to his employer, Pete Mortensen.

Last week, Mortensen had two gobblers blindside him, running past him from behind, when he was calling for turkeys.

Once, when Ellicott City resident Frank Turney, president of the Howard County Chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation, called for a turkey, a red fox with black-tinged fur and black paws appeared before him.

In the past 10 years, wild turkeys have been released into the area from western Maryland. Ford and others have been counting turkeys officially since 1996 in the Patuxent Wildlife Refuge.

Wild turkey populations are growing in western Howard, especially in the Patuxent and Patapsco River valleys, Ford said.

He is past president of the Maryland state chapter of the federation.

It is legal to kill any turkey that has a beard, as do all full-grown male gobblers.

Some juvenile males -- called "jakes" -- have beards, and 1 percent to 2 percent of hens do, too, Ford said.

Turney describes himself as a "fanatical" turkey hunter. He says turkey hunting is challenging. It takes a hunter, on average, seven years to shoot his first turkey, and each year only 20 percent of hunters bag a turkey, Turney said.

Turney will no longer shoot young male turkeys. He calls his 3-year-old son Jacob "Jake" and looks forward to taking him hunting.

When Turney hears turkeys gobbling, he says, his adrenalin starts rushing, even if he doesn't shoot anything.

The National Wild Turkey Federation has helped restore wild turkey habitats and educates the public about turkey hunting.

The Howard County chapter will hold its first fund-raiser July 24.

For information, call Turney at 410-788-8830.

Harmonious sounds

Sixteen residents will sing in the Columbia Pro Cantare's "Evening of Opera" at 8 p.m. Friday at the Jim Rouse Theatre for the Performing Arts.

They are: Allen Alsop, Kathleen Bowen, Stanley Brown, Shari Buckner, Daryl Burns, Tim Carr, Mary Jane Daniels, Linda Kuberek, Robert and Martha Markush, Janet Medina, Al and Sally Morse, Michele O'Connor, Carolyn Pasquino and Frank Rittermann.

Information: 410-465-5744.

Concerts at Centennial

The music department at Centennial High School will hold three concerts. A Wind Ensemble and Orchestra concert will be held Thursday. A Choral and Symphonic Band Concert will be May 4 and a Jazz Ensemble concert May 6.

The concerts start at 7: 30 p.m.

A donation of $3 is suggested for adults.

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