Turkey Season 2016 Review

I love turkey hunting more than any other outdoor activity I pursue.  Theres so much about it to love that I cannot pinpoint what it is that makes me an insane person every spring.  From the obvious thrill of making a bird gobble, to the hen encounters where you get a free lesson in subtle turkey talk, I enjoy it all.

This spring season was like most of the rest, comprised of highs and lows, lots of miles traveled, good times with good friends, and a few dead turkeys.  My wife even had our first child before season ended so that was a bonus.  Here are some photos in chronological order of my 2016 season.

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My dad drew first blood in Oklahoma.  He killed these two birds the first morning after working them up out of a wooded bottom.

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My first day was a bit slower, but the second morning my luck changed when a gang of six or seven gobblers worked their way to me out of a rocky, rattlesnake filled canyon.  The survivors were still gobbling when I left.  If only I had more tags.

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After we finished in Oklahoma, we headed north to Kansas.  The action was a bit slower than in years before, but again it was my dad who struck first.  He killed this bird the second evening.

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Shortly after, this bird tried to sneak by and caught a load of 6’s in his face for his efforts.  He’s 4 for 4 so far.

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I’d been hunting my favorite Kansas farm for two whole days and the there were two big longbeards that I came close on a couple times, but it just never worked out.  One time even included a harrowing stalk down a fence line complete with ticks, spiders, and briars.  I got set up and called them across a wheat field, but they gave up looking for me at 90 yards and I never saw them again.  The final day I hunted a new place on an Amish farm and had been there literally 30 minutes before I called up 4 strutters through some timber.  One shot collected these two gobblers.  We had planned to continue on to Missouri but with my wife being as pregnant as she was I didn’t think it was a good idea to be 12 hours away if stuff started to go down.  We packed up and headed east.

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While I had to return to work in Pennsylvania, my dad set his sights on the West Virginia season opener.  It took a couple days but he connected on this Fayette County gobbler.

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Dealing with turkeys that are reluctant to gobble is tough.  Add terrible weather to that equation and it gets downright difficult.  By the second week though, Pops had his second West Virginia bird in the bag.  Up north, however, I was having a rough go of it.  The only West Virginia land I have to hunt where I live is about an hour south near Morgantown and it is as public as it gets.  I killed turkeys here when I was in college but I could hunt every day and generally had a pulse on what was happening.  I came in blind and fighting rainy weather.  I heard birds gobble but they sounded 4 miles away.  No turkey.  Back to work.  Pennsylvania season opened April 30 and unlike West Virginia, I have some good private ground with lots of non boogered turkeys.  I hunted a few days before work and had one morning where I thought it was going to happen but some hens took them away.  I made note of where they went and made my battle plan for the next day.  When I woke up at 4 the next morning, my wife (who never stirs when I leave) was wide awake.  “I’m in labor,” she said.   The turkeys will have to wait.

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On May 4, we welcomed John Steven.  Our first born and a boy, to boot.  Way better than any stinky old turkey.  When my parents brought me home from the hospital my dad put a camo hat on me and took a picture.  I did the same.  Welcome to the world, boy.  I hope you like doing this as much as I do.

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With the new baby at home, I took off work and my parents came to stay for a few days.  While my wife and mother got to spend some time together with the new baby, the newly minted grandpa and I hit the woods.  The rain that had set in weeks before had failed to clear and we spent several mornings getting wet but hearing lots of birds and even had a gobbler almost to gun range before a trespasser scared it off.  Pennsylvanians love trespassing on ground they have no permission on.  It’s their favorite thing to do.  On my first day back to work, we snuck out for one last hurrah before I had to go in at 830.  The bird that gave me the slip on the 2nd of May was roosted by himself when we managed to get within 60 yards of his tree.  Due to the thick fog, he stayed put until almost 7:30 but when he hit the ground, he was 30 yards in front of me.  Game over mister turkey.

While it is technically season here until May 31, I’m finished.  It has been a great season and I made a lot of memories and gained a hunting partner.  Only about 300 days to go until it starts up again.

 

 

Salt and Pepper

Cdy00131This salt and pepper hen was captured on a trail camera in Southern West Virginia.  There has been at least one hen in this area to exhibit these characteristics for at least 8 years.

The Time to Scout is Now

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Winter is one of my least favorite times for a myriad of reasons but mainly because there is nothing to hunt.  That doesn’t, however, mean you shouldn’t be romping around in the woods.  In many places, shed hunting is hitting its stride about now, but where I live, you stand a better chance of getting struck by lightning than finding a shed.  So what’s the draw that keeps me in the timber?  Prime scouting weather.

With turkey season a mere three months away, now is when you should be getting your game plan together.  I know a lot of people go and listen for birds pre season and call that scouting but you’re really shorting yourself if you aren’t out there right now.  There may not be any gobbling going on, but the value of what the woods can tell you right now outweighs that ten fold.

The best thing about being in the woods right now is how much you can see, especially with a little snow on the ground.  Out here in the mountains, using the lay of the land to your advantage is what kills turkeys and there’s no better time to get a read on it than when the leaves are off.  With a little bit of snow for contrast, things like deadfalls, streams, and rock outcroppings that could mess up a willing bird can be mapped and marked.  I cannot stress how important knowing a piece of ground like the back of your hand will increase your odds come spring.  Knowledge like this has saved my ass more than once in the turkey woods.

I know this seems obvious, but it’s pretty easy to track stuff in snow.  But instead of just saying, “oh there’s a turkey track,” follow them.  See where they go.  See how the bird navigates his environment.  While it might not seem this way at first, turkeys don’t just arbitrarily walk through the woods.  There’s a reason they walk where they do and with their tracks telling the tale, you can use this along with your now superior knowledge of the terrain to help predict their movement in the spring.

Finally, one of the most important things about winter time scouting is that you don’t run a risk of messing up a place like you do when season is near.  If you bust a flock of birds, there’s still 90 days for them to calm down and forget about it.  And they will.  You can also cover vast stretches of ground in relative comfort, free of bugs and sweat.

So instead of sitting in the house complaining about cabin fever, get in the woods and look at what it’s showing you.  Time moves fast and turkey season will be on us before you know it so go get a head start and get your spring time plan together.   When you’re walking back to your truck this spring with an extra twenty pounds on your back, you’ll be glad you did.

 

Followup: Burris Speedbead and Fastfire III

speedbead3While I’ve railed against the use of shotgun optics for a long time, I’ve come to realize they do serve a valid purpose in certain situations.  For instance, when patterning different loads, you might find a particular shell patterns very well but the point of impact is not where the bead is being held.  If you’re just using the bead on the barrel, you’re forced to find another load that has a truer point of impact.  The other nice part of having a sight like the FastFire III is your cheek can creep off the stock and you will still hit what you’re holding on.  So ok, I’ll eat my words.  Shotgun optics do have a purpose. [Read more…]

First look: Burris Speedbead With Fastfire III

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After thinking about it for some time, my dad has decided to add an optic to his turkey gun.  I’ve seen just about everything stuck to the top of a shotgun receiver.  I even saw a guy with a Trijicon ACOG mounted on his turkey gun.  This Burris unit is a little more slick than most.

Let’s start with the mount.  A lot of shotguns are drilled and tapped for scope mounts.  I know most of the Benelli turkey guns are.  This allows the traditional mount point on top of the receiver via a standard scope base or picatinny rail.  The Browning Maxus comes with no mounting holes.  You’re also not able to drill and tap it because it is made of an aluminum alloy.  Enter the Speedbead from Burris.  It is sandwiched between the receiver and stock and doesn’t require any permanent modifications.  The mount also lets the sight ride a little lower than if it was mounted on the receiver so in theory, you could sight through it down the barrel if the batteries in the sight died.

At first look, the Burris Speedbead looks to be a solid alternative to a traditional optic mount.  Once we get the gun zeroed, I’ll further review the actual sight and cover any issues that might pop up with the mount.  So far, though, so good.

 

Post Turkey Season Happenings

My turkey season finished on a pretty low note here in Pennsylvania.  Try as I might, I couldn’t get on the right bird and I wound up eating my tags in both Pennyslvania and West Virginia.  Oh well.

Pennsylvania WoodsThis is how I left the Pennsylvania Turkey woods.  No turkeys were harmed.

Nemacolin Fly FishingLuckily, I’ve been staying really busy guiding fly fishing clients here in the Laurel Highlands.  Here’s a happy first time fly fisherman with his first trout.  A lot of our business involves teaching new anglers on the fly (no pun intended) and it is really rewarding to see someone go from never even holding a fly rod to being able to make a drift and catch a fish.

Lots of mayflies like this Light Cahill keep the trout active.  It’s been really fun getting to fish dry flies.

Yough River

Youghiogheny River Trout

I even get to fish too sometimes.  I caught this rainbow in the river one evening during a pretty significant sulphur hatch.  Catching fish on top is fun.  Catching big fish on top is more fun.

Brown troutTwo evenings later, our client Jesse hooked up on a big river brown.  It drug him around for a while before we could finally get him in the net.  This fish reminded me there is more to netting a fish in current than stabbing at it with the basket.  Being patient and waiting for the prime opportunity to scoop it is key to not losing the fish and Mike Steiner (right) displayed some masterful technique.

brown troutThe look on Mike’s face says it all.  Fish like this don’t happen every day and to get one landed for a client is a really good feeling.  It’s nice to get reminded once in a while why we do this.

brown troutOne more of the hog brown’s release on my GoPro.  Such an great fish.  The sad part of this is I walked past this fish two days in a row and didn’t even know it.  Maybe next time I’ll be a little more thorough.

I’ve been a little busy and it’s been a little tough to adjust with the long days on the water with no days off so my posting has dropped off considerably.  I’ve got some new stuff in the works and will be doing some more cool stuff with the Benjamin Marauder.  200 yard pellet gun shots?  It’s looking that way.

Sometimes You Need Checked

I killed my first turkey when I was seven years old.  Twenty-three years have passed since then and during those years I’ve gotten to experience a lot in the turkey woods.  I’ve had the privilege of being raised by a turkey hunting fanatic and to meet and hunt with some truly fantastic turkey hunters.  When these guys talk, I listen.  I’ve picked up things from them that I’ve used with great success and they’ve helped steepen the turkey hunting learning curve.  I’ve also boogered up more turkeys than I care to admit and had more than a few do things that range from out of the ordinary to downright logic defying.  And I’ve gotten lucky, a lot too. [Read more…]

Done in West Virginia

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At least someone (obviously not me) can still get the job done.  Dad punched his second West Virginia turkey tag last week on this dandy Fayette County tom.  I’ve hunted my ass off ever since I’ve got home from out west but I’ve continued to strike out.  I did have a few close calls back home one day I bowhunted (for the record, bowhunting turkeys is stupid), and my buddy Jon Cohen and I came really close on the opening day of Pennsylvania, but that’s about it.  This is my 23rd turkey season and I can confidently say it ranks in the top 3 most difficult years I’ve ever had.  But it isn’t over yet.  I called in reinforcements and Dad arrived here in Pennyslvania.  He came close this morning and I think tomorrow he stands a good chance of knocking one out.  So for those who care, that’s my season at home so far.  We still have more than two weeks to go.  Hopefully we can get a few more killed before quitting time.

West Virginia So Far

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I didn’t get to hunt the opening day because I had to work, but my dad was successful back home in Fayette County.  He had 4 longbeards in front of him and killed a good bird with an 11 inch beard.  I hunted yesterday on some public land close to Morgantown where I have killed birds in the past.  I didn’t hear any gobbling but saw no sign of any other hunters.  This morning I did hear a bird gobble but I also saw 3 people between me and him so I made an early exit and came home to do yard work.  The season is young and hopefully next week I’ll be able to head south and hunt some of my old honey holes.

Three States in Eleven Days

I just got back from my annual springtime turkey hunting trip to the midwest.  My dad and I, along with a few others, hit Oklahoma, Kansas, and Missouri.  The following pictures are the high spots of the trip.  I’ll post more and a few videos as I get them sorted out.

My dad was the first to draw blood in Oklahoma.  He killed this pair of gobblers immediately after fly down when they decided to land in the wrong place…right in front of his gun barrel.

Our good friend from back home, Stephen Young killed these two longbeards the first morning not far from where I was hunting.  The report of his shot made a turkey gobble right behind me.

Around 9:30, during a thunderstorm, I intercepted this gobbler sneaking up a row of cedars.  I had been surrounded by a group of gobbling jakes not long before this guy came out.  He was really being cautious and was on the look out for the band of gobbling marauders.

oklahoma turkeyI killed my second bird the second evening of the hunt.  He came in gobbling hard and got up on a bluff behind me.  I even saw him peeking over the edge of the bluff trying to locate the hen he heard.  Realizing he overshot his target he hopped of the bluff right in front of me where I had to make a quick shot.  I’ve always heard you couldn’t call them downhill, but nobody every said anything about calling them off a cliff.

armadilloI did see a couple armadillos in Oklahoma.  I’m sure people who see them every day don’t think much of it, but they’re quite a novelty to an East Coaster.

rio grande turkeyThey’re all beautiful in their own way, but there is something about the buff color on the base of a Rio’s tail.

 

IMG_7539After we all tagged out in Oklahoma, we set our sights on southeast Kansas where it was my dad again who scored first on the morning of the shotgun opener.  This bird weighed almost 25 pounds.

stevenyoung                                                    Stephen also killed a great bird opening morning.

kansas turkeyAfter not hearing much the opening day, I managed to get this big double bearded bird into shotgun range.  He had a big paintbrush main beard with a 7.5 inch second beard.

longspurI didn’t get a chance to measure them, but this bird definitely had some hooks on him.  They were at least 1.5 inches long.  He’s my best Kansas turkey to date and I was happy to get him.

robstoneMy good friend from back home, Rob Stone with a great Kansas bird.  Rob had been in Kansas doing video work and guiding and found a little time to hunt.  He called three in one evening and filled his second tag.  He killed another great one a week before with his Mathews NoCam.  We had a close call together the day before shotgun season opened when we had an old gobbler come to us.  I watched the footage on my tv and I can say he with about 99% confidence he has a 12 inch beard.  You don’t see many of those.  He was about 1o yards short of Rob sticking an arrow in him before a hen took him away.

IMG_7590While everyone else struggled to hear a gobbling bird, Dad found a willing participant and called him into shotgun range the next morning.  After three days of hard hunting, we parted ways with our buddy Stephen and headed to Missouri but not before we found a bunch of Morels which we thoroughly enjoyed.  Leftovers don’t exist with these things.

morel mushroomsFor Missouri, we hunted Stateline Trophy Hunters in Mulberry Kansas with our longtime friend Rusty Willis who runs the outfit.   Conveniently located 300 yards from the Missouri border, Stateline offers a unique opportunity to hunt two states from one spot.  I hunted the Kansas side hard for a day and half trying to fill my second tag.  Kansas had been pretty slow in terms of gobbling, but I did manage to get on one.  He came in behind me and I rushed the shot and missed him at 10 yards.  He isn’t the first one and won’t be the last but it doesn’t make it any easier to take.  There are few feelings worse than boogering a turkey.

turkeyThe opening morning of Missouri season, we hunted a farm Rusty had just leased a few weeks prior.  It was loaded with strutting toms.  Before daylight of the opening morning, Dad and I positioned ourselves in the corner of a secluded pasture where we had made a nest in the brush the previous evening.  Birds had been strutting in this pasture for days and we figured this was a likely ambush spot for the henned up gobblers.  We had this big rehearsed plan that if two birds came out together we would shoot on the count of 3.  That very thing happened, except my bird was the only one who fell.  I think I shot a little early and made Dad flinch.  For the record, the whole shoot on 3 thing is tougher to pull off in practice than it is in theory.  I wound up with a 24 pound double bearded tom, and Dad got a funny story to tell.

IMG_7883The second day of Missouri season, I sat at a distance and watched birds filter out into the main pasture field after fly down.  Four gobblers and their respective group of hens aimlessly meandered through the field for at least 2 hours before the hens broke off to do whatever it is they do.  Knowing my dad was positioned somewhere in the field edge, I watched intently through my binoculars trying to locate him but to no avail.  I watched a lone tom strut up the left side of the pasture close to where I thought Dad would be hiding.  I heard the familiar sound of his box call and the gobbler responded.  The turkey turned and marched back up the tree line almost 150 yards gobbling the whole way toward the sound of the hen.  Out of nowhere, Dad’s Browning Maxus roared and the gobbler was reduced to a flopping heap.  Dad had crawled through the weeds to get in position and when he called, the gobbler came in like he was on a string.  It was really cool to watch the whole thing play out.

We parted ways on Tuesday evening and I came home to go back to work.  I’ve got a lot of fishing trips to do the next six days but hopefully I’ll get a chance to get back home to West Virginia for their first week coming up.  I went up today and checked one of my Pennsylvania spots where I’m guiding a client on  opening day May 1.  A little breather is definitely needed, although I’m chomping at the bit to get back after it.  This truly is my favorite time of year.