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Will Elliott: Strategy aids quest to bag turkeys

Early birders may worm their way into better success at the start of wild turkey season in New York State.

The monthlong turkey season in New York begins a half hour before sunrise each day in May and goes until noon daily. Pennsylvania’s open shooting hours begin like New York but the season opener for Keystone hunters is not until Saturday morning.

Hunters in Western New York and northwestern Pennsylvania should plan to be in a blind or settled under a tree well before sunrise this year. That is a recommendation from Bob Wozniak, turkey-hunt expert at Quaker Boy Game Calls in Orchard Park. Wozniak said, “After that severe winter, the tree and brush foliage hasn’t come out and those birds can see you a half mile away.”

He suggests hunters afoot after sunrise should consider setting up at a field edge and doing some calling to locate and draw birds rather than cross fields and spook birds that can easily spot your movement.

Gobbler numbers have been in a gradual decline since 2007, but hunters scouting in northern counties such as Niagara, Orleans and Monroe have seen a slight uptick in bird presence last winter and in early spring. “Hunters in Niagara County have been seeing more birds but in different places,” observed Bill Hilts Jr.

Senior wildlife biologist Emilio Rende, specializing in turkey studies, credits the prolonged cold winter for varying turkey sightings. “The bad weather has forced birds to find food and shelter in different places,” Rende said. “We lost some turkeys to winter mortality, but bird and flock numbers should be similar to last year’s spring hunt.”

Among the birds trapped and tagged for study, 14 turkeys were fitted with transmitters to monitor their movement. Six were lost, and only one of those transmitters has been found so far.

He added that the breeding season should line up with spring hunting season, so hunters should get responses from birds early this season. As for sites, Chautauqua and Cattaraugus counties continue to lead the state in spring turkey harvest totals.

Youths and accompanying adults may return with more detailed information on bird presence and movement this weekend. The Pennsylvania Youth Hunt was held Saturday, and youths ages 12 to 15 in New York State could hunt Saturday morning and had until noon today to take one bearded bird. That harvest is included in youths’ two-bird limit for the spring season. All hunters during the May season can harvest two bearded birds, one per day.

Local turkey gear makers at Quaker Boy Game Calls introduced a line of Turkey Thugs calls in 2012. This year, the line includes new slate, box and mouth calls that could increase the odds for callers this season.

The Full Tilt Glass call is a tapered slate-type call that delivers a good range of sounds from purrs to yelps.

The Little Big Time box call is a small, pocket-sized model that works well when dry or wet. Savvy hunters know that turkeys spook during high winds but walk around in a drenching rain as though all the world’s a sunny day. This waterproof box call sounds good during those downpour days.

Mouth-call experts will like the new Half Moon Jagged Edge call. Wozniak was especially proud of this call’s range of sound production.

For more expert advice, plan to tune into the new “Outdoor Beat” TV program, a live, call-in show seen this Wednesday from 4 to 4:30 p.m. on the Time Warner Cable network. This week’s segment has Quaker Boy expert turkey caller Ernie Calandrelli offering tips and answering calls on everything from site setups to calling tips that trick turkeys.

Calandrelli travels the country on turkey hunts and keeps a close eye on Western New York turkey populations to help novice and expert hunters harvest trophy-sized turkeys. Whenever and wherever the hunt takes you this season, rely on calling and/or attracting birds to your decoys and to you. Avoid stalking turkey sounds that could be fellow hunters wearing camo gear similar to yours.

Know you are aiming at bearded bird with nothing beyond as your target, and be safe out there.