Turkey hunting is an addiction, a passion and an affliction that gets into your blood stream. It’s not easy to pass on those feelings to the next generation of sportsmen and women – sometimes you just have to let nature take its course. The important thing is to create that opportunity, to allow our youth to experience the hunt. The enjoyment of being in the woods, calling a bird into range and connecting with nature is what it’s all about – and not necessarily connecting with the bird.
“Make sure the kids are involved,” says Ernie Calandrelli, a long-time turkey hunter and Director of Public Relations for Quaker Boy Game Calls out of Orchard Park. “Get them away from their phones and video games. They need to feel the experience by letting them call while in the woods, starting with using locator calls like owl, crow or whatever call you can use to get them gobbling in the evening or morning. If the junior hunter actually calls a bird in, all the better for the experience. There’s nothing quite like turkey hunting!”
There are plenty of easy calls out there to use, like the Trigger Finger, a push-pull type call. Box calls and slate/glass/aluminum friction calls can also be used relatively easy; it’s just a question of getting the sound down and the cadence right. And, if there’s time, don’t rule out a diaphragm or mouth call. “Kids can adapt quickly if given the chance," Calandrelli said.
Young nimrods between the ages of 12 and 15 will have an opportunity to get a jump on adult turkey chasers when the special spring youth turkey hunt weekend sounds off April 22-23. However, junior hunters must be accompanied by a licensed adult age 21 (if the youngster is 12-13) or age 18 (if the young hunter is 14-15).
The Youth Hunt is a perfect opportunity for an experienced mentor to take out the next generation of hunters to share their knowledge and skill. If you plan on serving as the mentor, you must be licensed with a turkey permit. You may not carry a firearm or bow for the special weekend but you can assist in the hunt by calling. The bag limit is one bearded bird for the Youth Hunt. It would be part of that junior hunter’s two-bird limit for the season. A second bird may be taken starting May 1.
Calandrelli is a believer in the Six P’s when it comes to turkey hunting, a mantra started by the late Dr. Paul Pelham. Those P’s are:
Practice: Everything from turkey calling to woodsmanship. Be the best you can be.
Pattern: Know your gun and how it shoots. You may have to try several different loads before you find the one that works the best. Shoot at 20 yards first to determine point of aim. If your gun is off, you may need different sights,like a red dot or a scope. Then you are ready for the pattern at 40-50 yards.
Perseverance: You need to stick it out and keep trying. What doesn’t work one day doesn’t mean it won’t work the next.
Patience: Don’t rush the hunt – your calling; your shot.
Pre-season Scouting: Locate gobbling turkeys before the hunt. Have some back-ups. And if you need to obtain landowner permission, it gives you some time. You can also spot birds in fields to know generally where they are hanging out.
Position: Where you set up for a bird can make a difference in your success. Your odds are better if you can stay on the same level or above a bird to call it in. However, Calandrelli has called some birds downhill. It’s important to know the terrain – where there are natural or man-made barriers that could cause a bird to hang-up. And if it doesn’t work out one day, move around to a different spot if you want to chase that bird down the following day.
“For me, every morning is opening morning,” says Calandrelli, a licensed Great Lakes charter captain (perfect since you can only hunt until noon). “You never know with turkey hunting. A gobbler could be on the roost first thing in the morning and then hen up right away. That same birod could be gobbling again by 10 a.m. It’s fair to say that success rates are as comparable from daylight to 8 a.m. as they are to 10 a.m. to noon.”
Number One on anyone’s list with turkey hunting – or any hunting for that matter – should be safety. Here are a few tips to become familiar with so that they are ingrained. Be sure to pass them on to the next generation of sportsmen:
- Be sure of your target. Never shoot at color, sound or movement alone. And never try to stalk a turkey.
- When talking turkey, sit with your back against a big tree to help protect you.
- When walking around, wear some Hunter Orange to help identify you to other hunters that may be in the area. And if you’re carrying around a decoy or you are successful and you’re carrying a bird out, wrap it in orange cloth.
- A turkey’s body is tougher than what you might think – aim for the head and neck area. Use smaller shot like 4, 5 or 6 size to allow for a denser shot pattern.
So how is the forecast for this season? According to DEC’s Region 9 Senior Wildlife Biologist Emilio Rende, turkey population levels are seeing a little bit of an uptick thanks to some better production in 2016. Even 2015 was decent. The poult per hen ratio the last four or five years was 3.1 to 3.3 per hen and that is not great but it’s something populations can build off.
It’s not like during the heyday of 10 to 15 years ago. Weather, predation and primary nesting habitat are the key issues that contribute to nesting success.
“The reason that turkey numbers were so high back then was because it coincided with raccoon rabies,” says Rende. “There was so much less predation on the nests. Today there is predation from raccoons, possums, skunks, foxes, coyotes, fishers, bobcats and avian predators.”