Fall turkey hunting can be a dogged venture.
At least that's how things go at Turkey Trot Acres in Candor southeast of Ithaca.
Area turkey hunters devote most of their gobbler-hunting time in the spring, overlooking wild turkey outings in favor of archery and small game pursuits.
Not Pete Clare and his circle of hunting friends who gather at his hunting preserve each fall turkey season. Since 1982, Pete and his wife, Sherry, have operated this lodge-like hunting and conference-getaway site in the rolling hills on the northeast side of the Appalachian mountains.
One main link in this chain is a breed of dogs a Virginian named John Byrne genetically designed specifically for hunting turkeys. Byrne named his breed Appalachian turkey dogs.
Most experienced hunters know that turkeys will not usually respond to calls during the fall months. So some inventive hunters a half century ago decided to find dogs that would sniff out turkey flocks and break them up, scattering them in all directions.
That's the theory. It works. "But not always," Clare said after a weekend hunt on dry leaves. "Today, with these specialized dogs, everyone expects us to get birds all the time. We don't," he said after a long day of turkey trekking.
A drawing prize during the joint conference of the Association of Great Lakes Outdoor Writers (AGLOW) and New York State Outdoor Writers (NYSOWA) in Niagara Falls earlier this fall had me off to meet Clare and spend an enjoyable weekend at Turkey Trot Acres.
Every day without a harvest comes with bevies of excuses, but our lack of bird-in-hand photos came after two days of turkey-favoring conditions. "The leaves are like corn flakes out there," said guide Pat Brennan, owner of 2-year-old Clyde, the most energetic turkey hunter in the pack.
Brennan had partner Ron Bolyard, of Akron, Ohio, and I walk around some of the most promising turkey acreage in the northeastern United States. We found fresh droppings, scrap areas and even a few plucked feathers, but we couldn't pour enough milk on our trails to quiet the corn flakes crunch sounds.
"The birds are taking off in a bunch long before the dog can get to them and scatter them around," Brennan said in the middle of the afternoon, after we had worked three promising sites.
At the last site, just before roosting time at sunset, we had one bird called to within 40 yards, but well out of sight for a clear, clean shot.
The suspense of waiting for birds to return has a thrill all its own. Watching the dogs work and then go "lay in the bag" adds to the enjoyment. After the dog finds and scatters the birds, the guide places the dog in a camo-colored bag where it remains quiet while the guide simulates whatever call the birds made when they broke up.
We didn't kill a bird. A couple of other guides saw birds off in the distance -- too far for a shot. But this outing presented yet another facet to the crowded fall hunting schedule -- turkey hunting with dogs.
Steve Hickoff, an outdoors writer from Kittery, Maine, made the distinction between the excitement of fall turkey hunting and deer hunting.
"I love venison, but deer hunts are the most boring minutes I spend in the woods," he said.
Hickoff has heralded his love for fall -- and winter -- turkey hunts in a newly published book "Fall and Winter Turkey Hunting Handbook." Many of the regulars at Turkey Trot Acres appear in this Stackpole Books text. See his Web site: hickoff.blogspot.com.
For a look at hunt and outing options at Turkey Trot Acres, visit: www.turkeytrotacres.com.
Hot slug shot
When Geofry Wandersee set up his array of Lightfield shotgun slugs on Shooting Day at the joint AGLOW/NYSOWA fall conference, most shooters thought this would be just another shooting demo. Not so.
Wandersee, friend and disciple of the late Scotty Keller, loves to teach as much as promote his product. His lesson this outing: Lightfield loads conform to whatever slug barrel through which you are shooting.
While the general rule holds that owners of a new gun should try several shot companies to find the best load for that gun, Lightfield has cornered the market on load consistency.
Wandersee invited shooters to bring their own shotguns to try out all versions of Lightfield loads.
What shooters learned was that a patented soft-lead expansion system allowed every gun to fire the lightest 2 3/4 -inch slug to the new Commander IDS Plus 3-inch model with the same point of accuracy. Along with their line of Lightfield saboted slugs, the company has developed a saboted Spitzer Boat Tail line of muzzleloader shot. To check out all these loads, visit: www.lightfieldslugs.com. For specific details, call Wandersee at (585) 672-1360.