Each spring, New York State Outdoors Writers Association members gather at some outdoors-type place in the state for a Spring Safari. These gatherings skip the formalities of formal conferencing and get writers to the outdoors outings.
This spring, the chosen site was Cortland County's scenic, hilly country well south of Syracuse and just rural enough to offer good hunting and fishing jaunts for scribes at all skill and endurance levels.
Anglers had great trout stream treks throughout the extended weekend; hunters got in on productive -- or at least interesting -- outings on both Friday and Saturday morning hunts.
About a dozen writers opt for turkey hunts each Spring Safari, and a distinct pattern prevails. Occasionally, a writer or two will bring back a bearded bird. But two regulars consistently get a good gobbler.
Ed Noonan of Saratoga Springs always seems to fill his two-bird limit. This year, he had already filled one tag prior to the conference. Albany-area scribe Dick Nelson years ago had dubbed Noonan "The Killer" for his uncanny abilities at bringing in whatever he and his hunting party pursues. He did. The first morning his second tag was filled and Noonan could relax and share stories.
Bill Hollister, like Noonan, has a supreme skill level at taking toms. Hollister, a retired Department of Environmental Conservation wildlife biologist and ardent turkey specialist, came back Saturday morning with a nice turkey well before lunch.
All enjoyed conference outings in ideal weather for both fishing and hunting. My planned outing with Dan Ladd, south Adirondacks region writer, was enjoyable without even the sight of one live bird.
Mike Joyner, area resident and co-chairman of the conference, set us up in a woodlot just above a field turkeys often travel. Joyner knew of two big longbeards that were working the area.
Ladd, an expert caller and savvy turkey trekker, got both birds to call at separate times. Neither found their way to the open field. We guessed that they had good hen company down the hill and chose not to check out the subtle calls Ladd made to get them calling our way.
A Saturday morning fishing run with Joel Lucks, outdoor writer/photographer from East Northport on Long Island, was a bountiful canoe trip on Tully Lake. This lake is restricted to motored boats with small engines and paddle boats.
In a slight cold front and north winds, we hit into every kind of panfish but crappie at every site chosen. Lucks, seated aft, got some good shots of yellow perch, bluegill, sunfish, and even an oversized golden shiner (used often as a baitfish).
Trout stream waders and opening-day walleye workers all caught fish, but the crowning attraction of this Spring Safari was a Friday evening roundtable. J. Michael Kelly of Syracuse co-hosted the conference and served as moderator for discussions from three expert turkey-hunting veterans who offered advice for late-season turkey hunters headed afield anywhere in New York State.
Hollister sat with Wayne Masters of The Deer Lick Guide Service and Joyner, past president of the NYS chapter of National Wild Turkey Federation and author of turkey-hunting stories.
Masters began with an assurance that this early warm weather should not affect late-season spring turkey hunting. Earlier brush and tree foliage could allow hunters greater approaches to birds in trees and on the ground.
Joyner noted that turkey populations are down slightly, but nice numbers are still out there and successful hunts depend much on finding good food sources. Hollister stressed getting an early start each morning.
"Try to be out there at least 45 minutes before legal shooting," he said. "Hold off on calls until later."
Both Masters and Joyner like to get off calls early. "I want to be the first hen to call each morning," Masters said. Joyner agreed. But all three concurred that the best call is the soft call.
"Too many turkey hunters call like they're at an outdoors show," Joyner said, a reference to the strident screams constantly heard from demo guys manning booths indoors at these shows. When outdoors, the slightest clucks and purrs often draw bearded birds far better than bellowing. Masters suggested, "Sometimes when you're working a 'hung up' bird, the best thing to do is stop calling and make sounds like a hen flapping its wings."
Hollister uses the same tactic, noting, "Patience and persistence beats good calling."
When Kelly asked all three to summarize the top three recommendations for a successful turkey hunt, the consensus was immediate: 1. Pattern your gun to know how it hits at distances and spreads shot shells. 2. Scout and know where hunt-worthy birds live and move. 3. Call sparingly.
Spring hunt hours
Hunters in New York and Pennsylvania can hunt spring turkeys until May 31 in both states. The season started May 1 and daily hunts begin a half hour before sunrise. That start time prevails in both states; however, Pennsylvania officials have adopted an all-day hunt during the second half of the spring season, ending at sunset. That day-long extension begins for Keystone State hunters Monday.
The Pennsylvania Game Commission has seen no negative effects on hen nesting later in the month. PGC officials point out that of the 49 states that conduct turkey seasons, 34 have all-day hunting for all or part of the season, including Maryland, Ohio and Virginia. Hunters in New York State are mulling proposing a change to open afternoon turkey hunting during all or part of the spring season.
Elma man bags bird
Elma hunter Wally Koperski, 76, did not get out well before sunrise on the May 1 opening morning. "It was raining and I decided to wait until it stopped," Koperski said of his hunt at Whitesville.
Just after 9 a.m. he headed out, made a light call and downed a 20-pound tom 10 minutes after setting up. He looks forward to the rest of turkey season, but his main focus is setting up for Lake Erie perch and walleye outings.