By Joe Winski
The hillsides are red with maple buds. The robins are present in the yard almost every morning now and frost has begun to be replaced with heavy dew.
Spring is upon us. The sights, sounds, smells and feelings of spring play upon the senses. This is one of my most favorite times of year. The overbearing winter is giving birth to warmth and new life. The excitement of renewal is unbearable.
At first light every morning the woods and farm fields erupt with birds of all kinds singing their sweet love songs.
One bird in particular is music to my ears. It may not be the most beautiful tune, but it is certainly the most exciting. That song comes from the Eastern Turkey.
There is nothing like the sound of a hen with pleading yelps, clucks and purrs working through an overgrown pasture or scratching through an old growth oak stand. The thunderous response she receives from her counterpart, in the form of a gobble, bounces off the valley walls or comes echoing down from nearby hilltops. Experiencing one of these overwhelming, close range gobbles is enough to make the hair on the back of your neck stand on end and your heart want to beat right out of your chest.
Turkey season is right around the corner. Dusting off those calls and patterning the shotguns are on the to-do list before this coming Sunday’s opener.
I will be trying to take down a turkey this season with archery tackle. I have been on hunts where a bow and arrow have been used to take a wily old tom and it is an experience.
Bringing a tom in close is no easy feat. Talking sweet enough to bring that ol’ boy into 40 yards and take him with a shotgun is a great accomplishment by any means. Bringing him into 14 yards and taking him stick and string is a totally epic undertaking. The sounding off a mature bird less than 20 yards from your location can be felt throughout your whole body. Whether it is the shock of that sound or the sheer volume, it shakes me up from the inside out every time.
I started my turkey hunting career with nothing more than camouflage pants, an old camo jacket, a camo bucket hat, jersey gloves and a tattered face mask all of which were grossly oversized. I started tagging along with my father in the May woods as long ago as I could remember.
For the first couple of years, I wasn’t much more than a shadow. I walked in the muddy footprints my father left and listened intently for a distant gobble. I sure did have some great days in the field following my Dad around and listening to his advice and watching his technique.
I couldn’t wait to start to call myself. I practiced scratching on a slate call and went through many sticks of blue chalk pushing the plunger on my push button Quaker Boy. I finally got the go ahead from my father to try and call one day. Getting that first gobbler to respond to the squawks I made I’m sure made me grin from ear to ear.
I carry my own 12-gauge or bow now and use a plethora of box, slate and mouth calls. I personally prefer the mouth call because of its versatility, but it takes practice. The first few times I used a mouth call I even got a headache. I practice on my way to work in the morning or on my long trips to my master’s classes.
Practicing is important and this practice makes me feel comfortable in the woods and comfortable with individual calls. In order to make the bird respond back with one of those earth-shaking gobbles, you have to listen.
Listen to hens and mimic their calls. You will hear from the real McCoy that even they aren’t perfect. Hens don’t all sound the same and they mess up a calling sequence just like you might.
Don’t get discouraged with your calling get out there and listen to what a real turkey sounds like. Imitate that hen to the best of your ability and I’m sure you will have good luck this coming turkey season.
In the meantime, get out there and enjoy your backyard.
Joe Winski grew up hunting and fishing here in Sullivan County and received a Bachelor of Technology in Wildlife Management from SUNY Cobleskill in 2008. Look for his Backyard Outdoors column in the Democrat every other Tuesday.