A Second Round of "Turkey 101"

Last week I started this thread about turkey hunting basics and lets pick up where we left off. I talked about Gobblers, Jakes and some of the differences so you don’t shoot a jake, unless you intend to shoot one. Now many folks in the early part of the season and also those in the early part of their turkey hunting career will take a jake or any gobbler that comes to them strutting, drumming and trying to gobble.

But, what about locating a gobbler from “scratch” (pun intended). This is where pre season scouting comes in and locating tactics are employed. Nothing will beat good scouting information to help you find where birds are, and even more importantly, where they are not. Look for fresh tracks, (a large three toed bird track) hen tracks are smaller of course and when you find the larger tracks of a gobbler, they are sometimes 4 inches from the heel to the end of the middle toe and over 3 inches in spread from side to side. Look for dusting beds around green fields or beside sandy road beds that literally look like a bowl wallowed out in the dirt.

Turkeys like to take dust baths to help rid themselves of mites and fleas so they will find sandy areas and lay down on their belly and throw dirt over their body by kicking the dirt up and flapping around in the sandy dirt. These dust bowls are used by various turkeys, both hens and gobblers, and are a good indicator of numerous turkeys frequenting an area. Look for feathers that have come loose during the dusting, the ones with a black tip indicate a gobbler has been using the bed.

In logging roads, log landing areas and other locations cleared down to the soil, look for “strut marks”. These look like lines dug in the dirt and can be in a straight line, a circle, or even have the appearance of “Tic Tac Toe” marks, depending on which direction the gobbler struts. I had a gobbler last year that strutted in circles at the same place on a dirt road on and off several different days and I was so determined to kill it that I devoted two days of daylight to dark monitoring and he never showed. Determined to try it again the next weekend, I drove to the location only to find a log truck sitting right over where he had been strutting! The land owner next door had a timber company clear-cutting his place and the trucker had parked on my spot and on our lease! Well, his property line was about 100 yards away and with all the racket from the mechanized harvester, I wound up hunting over 2 miles away and could still hear that equipment!

Back to the plan for locating birds (sorry about my rant about the log truck). If you have found “turkey sign” and you get out to the woods for that opening morning but, you are not greeted with the gobbles of several mature toms right after daylight, an effective locator call is the “hooting” of the Barred Owl . Most of us know how it goes and many imitate it with the “who cooks for you? who cooks for you? who cooks for you alllll?? hooting sounds in that cadence. Like I said previously, many imitate it, but, very few master it with out the help of a calling device. I know several guys who are great at making the call with just their throat and a lot more who need to quit trying! I just use a good LOUD owl call that I have had for years and have had great success with it.

The gobblers will often send an angry gobble back in response to the barred owl’s hoots and thereby give up their location. Then you can slip through the woods closer to the gobbler, about 200 yards or less (if you are sure you can slip that close undetected) while he is still roosted, which is where you want to be when he flys down. He will be in the mood for love and if you are close and can convince him with just one or two soft sexy hen yelps that you are the hen he was dreaming about on that limb last night, you and some #4 shot can be his worst nightmare!

What about owl calling times? I know some guys who swear by the plan of walking through the woods blowing an owl call all day long to get a gobbler to respond with a “shock gobble”. They will then walk toward the gobbler, sneaking in and doing some hen yelps to convince him to “come over”. I am not an advocate of this type hunting, It may work but, just not for me. I have hunted enough club property and public land that I have heard hunters using this method and it has messed me and others up, causing a gobbler who was gobbling sparingly to shut up for good when the “hooty hunter” came through.

Crow calls are great locators to make a gobbler “shock gobble” from daylight on, and are much more natural as the morning goes by. However, crow calling too much, just like over using an owl call, will indicate something is not “quite right” and most gobblers and hens will go silent until the noise leaves the area. Don’t over call!

Using turkey calls like you are a world champion in a calling contest is another good way to come home empty handed. Calling loudly, calling too often, making a call that is 15 strokes long instead of 3 to 5 strokes, is a recipe for a vegetarian. In the language of the wild turkey, “less often says more”. A hen who is ready to breed is listening for the gobbler to gobble, or just drum, and then she walks (or runs) to him, as the process is done in nature. The hen is not going to do a lot of loud yelping unless she is suicidal! There are many predators in the woods looking for a turkey sandwich! The hen will go to the gobbler who is often in the open at his strut zone in a clearing, a logging road or a wide open hard wood ridge or bottom of a hollow. He is gobbling from a safe,open location where he can be heard over a long distance. The hen will yelp when she is trying to locate the gobbler, is excited, and on the way to the gobbler, is busy feeding and is interested somewhat in breeding but, yelps to bring the gobbler to where she is feeding, or she is just being coy or plain disinterested for the most part. After all, they are females! It is your job to find out what call, if any “pushes his buttons” and gets him excited enough to gobble a response and even more important to get him walking to you, instead of the other way around.

Last Thursday night, the Elmore County NWTF banquet was a great success once again and if you have never been to an NWTF Auction/banquet, try it somtime! Just click on this link to find banquet dates in Alabama http://www.nwtf.org/in_your_state/banquet.php

Mark your calendar for some vacation time, I already have! March 15th is the start of spring turkey hunting so be ready! Even better, the turkey hunting youth only weekend” is the Saturday and Sunday before the opening day for us adults so take a child hunting for a great time sharing the great Central Alabama Outdoors!

Next week, more turkey info as we wait on the 15th of March!!!



Spring Turkey Season, My Favorite Season of All!

Spring Turkey Season begins on March 15th and ends on April 30th. The season is a very short one and with the unsettled weather we experience each spring that usually means only a few Saturdays of good weather in which to pursue this most elusive bird of the American outdoors.

I want to take the next few weeks to “Talk Turkey” with those hunters who have not yet had the opportunity to gain a good working knowledge of the terms they are likely to hear when they get in to the sport of turkey hunting that provides many of us with another form of “March Madness. I will start with some basic information and I hope it does not bore those who visit this blog regularly, but I feel the need to share some basics about turkeys who inhabit the woods of Alabama and the dreams of us “turkeyholics” all year long. The male turkey, is the gobbler and is the one that is legal to take during the turkey hunting season. A young gobbler is called a “jake” he is usually a one year old male that may or may not be able to gobble, if he does gobble it is usually distinctive as a garbled highly pitched gobble that is exerted with much effort. However, I have seen a few jakes that could gobble with the gusto of a two year old gobbler so you should know what are other features of a jake. Unless of course, you want to shoot him, which is legal, but is about like shooting a small spike buck as a comparison and most turkey hunters frown on shooting a jake. So, if he is able to gobble, or he comes to your calling silently, look for the visual evidence. The most telling item is the tale, (could not help the pun) a jakes tail is not fully developed and if he is fanned out and strutting, observe the shape of the tail feathers. A jake’s will be in the shape similar to the “book of clubs” icon from a deck of cards. Most people will quickly recognize the “club fan” of a jake and pass or wait for a full fanned gobbler to appear if there are multiple toms coming in to your setup. Jakes are notorious for running to your hen calls with abandon, they are very easy to fool with some simple hen yelps and it costs a lot of them their lives. If I call one in, I just give him the “cold shoulder” and stop calling to him and they will usually go away, for those love sick ones that want to hang out in my location, I will move where they can see me, actually “shoo” them away, or even remove my cap or mask to reveal my human outline and they will get out of the area. This is only after I have fully determined the jake is alone or just running with his brother jakes. Jakes also have short beards of only 3 to 5 inches long but, when they come in quick or in a strut, the beard may not be that visible.

Not shooting a jake is a good thing, because the next year, if you are still hunting that same property and he has avoided other hunters and predators, he will be a nice big, full grown, hard gobbling, long bearded, two year old “tom”, which is another slang term in the turkey world to describe a gobbler. A two year old gobbler is about as much of a “fun turkey” as you can find to interact with. They will rattle the woods over and over with thunderous gobbles and often get so “worked up” with the excitement and anticipation of finding a hen to breed that they will double gobble, triple gobble and even lose their breath at times they gobble so hard. They have had another year of experience in the trials of a turkey’s life and they are much more wary of any predator especially the human kind so, they can be a challenge but, quite often, they will come in to the call with the vigor of a young man looking for his bride. I have had many hunts where two or more of them would come running to my calls, each trying to shove the other aside or trying to outrun each other to claim the prize. It is almost a shame to greet them with that load of number 4 shot, but not too much!

Gobblers in Alabama average about 18lbs in weight at two years of age however, I have killed some really nice long bearded, long spurred toms that weighed 25lbs and some older toms with long needle sharp spurs that only weighed 15lbs. On average, a turkey in the 18 to 21lb size is a very good Eastern sub-species Gobbler. (Meleagris gallopavo silvestris ) For you who like the scientific name. Gobblers are a dark, almost black color with brown feathers and a head that is red, white and blue. The wattles,(dewlap) and carunkles, that is the fleshy skin around his neck, turn a bright read when the tom is aroused and often when he is strutting. The “snood” is the fleshy piece that hangs from the top of his beak and it will often extend when he struts and gobbles. The beard that grows from the center of his chest looks like black coarse hair, some compare it to a horses tail. Gobbler will grow a 6 to 8 inch beard often by two years of age and if they are in good health and live long enough, a 12 inch beard is not uncommon. Their spurs grow on the lower legs throughout their life and are considered the real trophy indicator for a gobbler. A two year old will generally have short stubby 3/8 to 1/2 inch spurs and a three will start to have some sharpness to his spurs that can be from 1/2 to 3/4 on average. Spurs continue to grow sharper with each year a tom survives and by the 4th year he is usually walking around with some “hooks” that could be an inch or and inch and a quarter long with some upturn or “hooking” and they are likely to be very sharp. Spurs are for fighting to determine the “pecking order” in a particular area or with a flock of turkeys. Gobblers, will spur, kick, beak wrestle, bite, wing beat and just plain run over each other as they fight to see which tom is the dominant bird.He is often the one that does most or ALL of the gobbling to attract the hens for breeding. The hens hear the gobbler gobbling and he also “drums” which is a very low frequency sound that can travel for over a 100 yards to the ears of any hens in the area. So when you are sitting in the woods waiting for a gobbler to anwser your calling. Be aware and listen for a gobbler coming to you “drumming” ” instead of gobbling. Listen for that “pfffft.hummmp” sound and be sure you are in position with your gun up! Gobblers will often come to your calls drumming only when it is later in the day such as mid morning, there are a lot of gobblers in the area, or there is a very dominant gobbler who will not allow other gobblers to gobble without him coming to them for a fight!

Let me leave you with this reality about turkey hunting. In the real world of a gobbler, he gobbles, drums and struts, often from a prominent post in a field, on a ridge top, in a logging road or an open hardwoods bottom and the hens hear and see him and THEY come to him. In the turkey hunters world, you have got to turn the rules around and sound like a hen who is so sweet, so sexy, so irresistible, that he leaves his strut zone and HE comes to you! Start practice with those calls NOW if you hope to mimic the sound of the hottest hen in the woods!

Lots more to talk turkey about between now and March 15th. Hope this info helps some of you who are just getting addicted to the March Madness of the turkey woods.

More next week!



February Hunting Trips and Pre-Season Feeding for Turkey

The cold weather and extremely windy conditions last weekend really cut in to the squirrel hunter’s success and not many folks that I know who like to squirrel hunt reported much luck from the woods. My cousins reported they went a little while Saturday morning but, gave up by 9 a.m. due to winds over 20 mph causing the “limb leapers” to lay low or become “ground squirrels”. It is enough of a challenge to take them off a limb in calm conditions, put them on the ground scampering away from where you jump them and a small caliber shotgun becomes the weapon of success over the 22 rifle most of us pride ourselves in using to take a limit of squirrels.

A group that did brave the weather for a charity hunt, The Alabama Wildlife Federation, had their David Nelson Memorial Squirrel Hunt with a number of generous participants contibuting to charity and in the process enjoying great fellowship for a great cause. Even though the conditions were far less than ideal, participants bagged about 40 squirrels, a few rabbits and even a couple of coons. The animals were all properly prepared for consumption thanks to AWF director Tim Gothard and they will be utilized at a charity event in the near future. Tim is a steward of the forest and makes use of what is taken from it, a plan we should all follow.

As I alluded to last week, February is a great hunting month in the small game world, with rabbit, squirrel and quail hunting all providing great hunting opportunities this month, especially for young or novice hunters. Max Adams of Featherhill Hunting Preserve in Livingston Alabama reported the hunting is great and he has a good supply of birds. Last weekend’s wind made for some challenging hunting at his place and he also had one of his finest dogs to somehow get on a nearby highway and be fatally struck by a car. He was distraught as any dog lover since the pointer, old buck, was a long time pet and a great dog from championship stock out of Texas. I hunted behind him a few times and he was a sight to watch! Sure will miss that dog. Max has several other good bird dogs but, he loved buck like a child.. Max said buck had a radio collar but did not seem to be gone long enough to make it over “several hills and hollows” to the highway. He said it just pays to watch and control your dogs, even older, well trained ones. RIP “Buck”

This weekend, I plan to scout some new property in Elmore county where I joined a hunting club but, never went on it to hunt deer. I hope the weather will be accommodating, the forecast says it will but, this is just Tuesday so who knows? I plan to feed the birds during the off season and I have found it really helps them to make it through the winter healthy and to keep them on your property. I would venture a guess that most folks who are serious about having turkeys to call their property home and the hens establish nesting sites are providing some good pre-season feeding. Just a note of caution, know the law about feeding and STOP feeding in time enough for the feed to have been gone for a min of 14 days prior to any hunting activity on the property. Its best to stop feeding in late February so that means you only have a couple of weeks to get to it! Some great grains to consider are cracked corn, millet, winter wheat, sorghum, and milo. All are generally in good supply at a local feed store or co-op store. Many other creatures in the woods enjoy the seeds as well in this late winter season as food is in short supply in the woods of February.

Spring turkey Season is only a few weeks away! It starts on March 15th and concludes on April 30th. It is by far the shortest 6 weeks of the year so start your plans and make time on your calendar now! I have already got several vacation days marked down for chasing gobblers and hope to mark down some more. Fridays and Mondays are great for stretching your weekend hunting time but, stay flexible because wet, bad weather is bound to mess up a couple of the weekends as it does every year. Take time when the gobblers are peaking in gobbling, breeding activity and toward the end of season when the hens are more interested in the nest they are sitting than in responding to the gobbler’ s calls. That’s when you can answer him with your own little sweet hen calls and get him to focus on you!

I am still getting a few good pictures of some late season bucks and other critter photos that should be up for viewing here soon! If you got a photo of a good buck to share, just send it to me… postoakman@gmail.com and provide a note granting permission to post it. I will be glad to get it posted on our outdoor photo section for all to enjoy!

Next Week, more talking turkey!



February Offers a WIDE Variety of Hunting Options, Go Try Some!

Don’t waste time or tears, cause deer hunting is over for another year!

Instead, take a friend, or several, and try some of the other great hunting venues to be had during February in Alabama! I am talking about a squirrel hunting trip! Sneaking up on some “bushy tales” early in the morning or flushing them with some”vine pulling” or the aid of a good squirrel dog any time of day can be great outdoor fun and a wonderful way to introduce kids and novice hunters of any age to the wonders of the woods. The hardwoods are bare of foliage so the squirrels are much easier to spot, and they have fewer places to hide. A 22 rifle or small caliber shot gun can bring down a sackful of squirrels for a great pot of squirrel dumplings, camp stew, or fried and smothered in some broth gravy with a few home-made biscuits will be a pleasant surprise to those who have not tasted a “limb chicken” before! As a child, squirrels were a welcomed food source that was tasty and plentiful! And they taste great with a little county cooking skill. Now, if you like to compete, the Alabama Wildlife Federation is holding a competition squirrel hunt in Selma next Weekend. Check out the info at http://alabamawildlife.org/ or call them in Millbrook and Ask about the David Nelson Memorial Squirrel Hunt.

Rabbit hunting is another great sport but, it does require a little more skill to “jump shoot” a rabbit after he bolts from the cover of a brush top or thicket when you kick him out of his hiding spot. They are really fast! As a boy, we loved to hunt rabbits this way as a challenge but, we preferred to use a nice pack of the 10 inch beagles to chase the rabbit in circles and wait for it to come back around close to where the dogs jumped it. Rabbits will generally run in a circle unless pushed too hard by real fast dogs. The smaller sized beagles are great for a slow chase that gives the rabbit time to hop instead of sprint for his life and he will generally try to return to his bedding area. This leaves the patient hunter with a great prize most of the time and rabbits are some of the best meat you have ever tasted, Wild or domestic! Rabbits dipped in buttermilk, rolled in flour and fried until golden brown simply can’t be beat! They are better than deer meat in my opinion and I love fried deer! Rabbits can also be used for stew, bar-b-qued on the grill or in the oven, and many other recipes for this great February feast! We used to bring home a big sack of swamp rabbits on Saturday and have a family dinner with extended family and neighbors on Sunday after church that were fantastic February memories. My Mother and Grandmother could serve fried rabbit backstraps that would rival anything in the food realm and we were the lucky recipients of many winter rabbit meals.

Quail and other game birds are also fun hunts for February and although most wild quail have disappeared, there are a number of great quail preserves around the state that offer memorable quail and pheasant hunts with flight conditioned birds that mimic wild raised ones pretty dog-gone good. This type of hunting is generally not cheap but it is well worth a try! Alabama Blackbelt adventures is a great resource to find a quail hunt that is sure to please! http://www.alabamablackbeltadventures.org/

Hog hunting is something that we all need to do and February can be a great time for that. Feral hogs are damaging a lot of Alabama woods and crops so anytime is a good time to take some hogs off your hunting land! CHOOTEM!

February is awesome for Predator hunting! with the open woods and fields bare, predators are much easier to spot as you call them in with a manual mouth call or a electronic call that can bring them running in the early morning and late afternoons. Coyotes in particular are a menace to the deer population, as well as to any other birds and animals residing in the woods. Even family pets are falling victim to coyotes and the “Coyote problem” just keeps getting worse! Coyotes, Bobcats, Foxes, are all susceptible to aggressive predator calling techniques mimicking a prey animal in distress, if you follow good scent control, good camouflage and cover, and practice some patience. You can’t eat em! (or at least I would not) But, you can stop them from eating many of the animals we enjoy hunting, or just watching, in the great Alabama Outdoors!

There are a number of great sporting events happening in our area during February that you may be interested in attending, I have links and info for them below;

The Elmore County Chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation is holding their annual Hunting Heritage Banquet on Thursday night February 23rd at the Wetumpka Civic Center with a great live auction of NWTF exclusive items, raffles for guns and outdoor items, a great catfish dinner and the cost also covers your annual membership to the NWTF. It is a super way to spend a Thursday night as we celebrate the upcoming turkey season this spring! If you need tickets, just send me an email to postoakman@gmail.com and I will get them to you!

Outdoor women unlimited event, a great opportunity for the women hunters! http://outdoorwomenunlimited.com/

Coosada Baptist Church is holding a weekend archery competition on Saturday February 25 and an Outdoor sports day on Sunday afternoon, February 26th after church with the conclusion of the archery event and various outdoor venues and demonstrations. The outdoor event on Sunday is FREE! (other than the archery competition shooting), and it will of course have lots of FREE FOOD and PRIZES so just come out and have a good time outdoors! Coosada Baptist is at the corner of Coosada Road and Kennedy Avenue in Coosada/ Check out their website for more details! http://www.coosadabaptist.org/index.cfm/PageID/1373/index.html

And with the warm weather we have had the fishing is good too! I was hunting recently and some guys were fishing in one of the ponds on the farm we hunt and they had some good luck! The Champion Brothers, of Echola, and Andy’s son Austin Champion, caught some real nice bass that they were going to take home and have a fish fry. Talk about great eating from the great outdoors, fresh caught fish is fantastic! If you can’t go hunting, take a kid fishing this month! I will have a picture posted soon with the “Champion fishermen” showing off some of the bass they caught that day.

Next Week, let’s start gearing up for gobblers!! I have got some info on some of the latest turkey shells and some turkey 101, not the drinking kind, the thinking kind! Plus a picture of the wrong way to get a big gobbler.. it is interesting!

Until then, Good Hunting and BE Safe!