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Will Elliott: Turkey scouting is worthwhile offseason pursuit

Deer, bear and wild turkey hunting seasons are all closed, but outdoors folk can get out and enjoy some search and discovery activities during the off season.

One popular pursuit is a combination of turkey scouting and deer-antler shed searching. Folks in bear country can add a third activity, assisting in a Department of Environmental Conservation effort to locate black bear dens.

The warmer weather has pushed the calendar ahead on some of these activities ahead, but nature’s clock has its own way of ticking, which might mean phases could remain on schedule or be late, despite the springlike weather in Western New York.

For example, this should be a good time to find antlers buck deer have dropped during peak cold periods in mid winter. However, some of those boys are still hauling around their head gear. At least one 9- or 10-point buck showed up on our trail camera with antlers in place this past week. Another stared into the camera light sporting points on just one side.

Hunting for these sheds is great exercise. The most successful shed hunters are not only savvy about where to look, they also devote the most foot time afield in search of dropped antlers. The better sites for possible shed finds are on fence lines and deer trails that take animals along brush and smaller tree growth.

Some land owners leave whole or cracked corn along lanes of mesh fencing to attract feeding bucks in hopes of having them catch tines in the fence configuration and drop antlers along the fence. We have tried this method with a trail camera or two trained on the food plots. It works.

But the big attraction is mainly mature doe showing their accompanying fawns where to find food. Even during dark hours in the most remote of settings, the bucks will tangle horns and fight over food set in the open, but the antlered boys seem to shy away from food placed close to cagelike fencing.

Black bear activity depends much on winter weather, but even in unusually warm conditions, bear sows will not necessarily leave den sites with their cubs. With the expansion of bear habitation across the state, the DEC would like to locate new bear dens. Located bears could be fitted with radio collars to monitor their movements, new-den locations and survival rates in general. Anyone who has located a bear den is asked to contact the local wildlife office. GPS location coordinates would be a great help. For general information about black bears, visit

While out on watch for dropped deer antlers and new bear dens, hunters and wildlife watchers can also check on wild turkey presence and movement. Ernie Calandrelli, turkey expert at Quaker Boy Game Calls, suggests looking over field sites for droppings and scraped areas where turkeys have been searching for food. The mating period may be later in the season and shed hunters might not hear mating calls or see toms strutting, but, Callendrelli notes, “You could see some strutting right now; I’ve seen them go on a strut in November some years.”

He likes the survival of last year’s poults (newborn turkeys) but considers the coming season another challenging year for seekers of trophy-class birds.

Turkey populations remain down and the DEC is completing a 5-year study of turkey dynamics, including possible causes of turkey-number losses. Emilio Rende, DEC wildlife biologist at the Allegany Office, noted that final results of the study will not be made public until well after the study, but bird sightings suggest more birds might be afield this spring.

The very serious turkey hunters head south to hunt in states where the northern strain of Eastern and further south for the Osceola subspecies. While snook fishing on a pier before sunrise in Florida one morning prior to the March 5 Osceola season, we met up with Charley Olson, a guide with Swamp Gobbler Outfitters, a guide in the Fort Pierce area.

Olson shared the same anticipation area turkey hunters enjoy in late April. “The hatch was good and there are some nice birds out there,” Olson said, confirming a statewide survey of the Osceolas in mid and south Florida and an eastern-strain population in north Florida. Swamp Gobbler also sets up wild hog hunts that look interesting. Check out their hunt options at

New York State has banned fair-chase feral hog hunts and its estimated 2014 spring wild turkey harvest numbers were down 26 percent from 2013 harvest. On the plus side, Western New York has three of the top five turkey harvest counties statewide: Chautauqua, Cattaraugus and Steuben.

A brisk walk, with an extra hour of evening daylight starting today, in search of deer-antler sheds, black bear dens and signs of wild turkey presence could make for an enjoyable jaunt, dynamics details, and possibly some trophy tines to grace a shelf or mantle.