Dogwoods in turkey country

My New York turkey season got off to a typical slow start in a light drizzle Friday morning. Hunting my in-laws’ place in Steuben County, I set up at the base of a huge black cherry tree along a field edge where I saw two uncooperative toms last year. I put out a Spin-N-Strut decoy, which I had customized with the tail from a jake I shot a couple years ago. I dubbed him Hank, after my granddad, who died back in 1950, long before New York thought of hunting turkeys.

Hank sure looked spiffy, showing off for a bevy of plastic hens. He looked all henned-up and happy, to quote my friend Gary Sefton. I had set him up with his butt into the stiff west breeze, and each gust lifted his tail like a sail. An occasional tug on his cord spun him around 90 degrees, just like in the promotional video. With that tail just a-flappin’ and three silhouette hens turning this way and that, there was plenty of motion in my corner of the field. Problem was, there weren’t nothin’ but one lone hen to see it, and she was not impressed.

At about 10:00 a.m., I trolled counterclockwise around the top of the hill, stopping every hundred yards or so to send some eager box-call yelps down the hardwood slope, where a scattering of dogwoods in bloom punctuated the brown and gray trunks like puffs of white smoke from a signal fire.

An hour of that routine drew no response, so I hiked my butt back to the cherry and sat out the morning, listening to trains chugging and wailing up and down the Canisteo Valley. All morning, I counted only about a dozen distant shots. A few hunters were seeing birds, anyway.

Packing up at noon, I turned for one more look up the tractor road to soak in the beauty of the dogwoods along the woods edge and spotted a red fox high-tailing it up the road. I have no idea how close it had got before it realized I might be trouble.

A hard rain Friday night gave way to a clear, cool dawn on Saturday. This morning, I hunted the same field, but set up on the east side, where Hank was visible from farther away than yesterday, not that it did any good. Several deer blew behind me early then reappeared to the north about an hour later, surprised to find me still sitting there and still yelping.

No gobbles, nor sign of a turkey. At 8:00, I decided it was time to troll one up, so I headed clockwise around the hill, just for the sake of variety. The two fresh hen poops on the trail were probably left by the gal that walked through yesterday. On about my 10th stop, a gobble answered my yelps, so I quickly picked out a tree and sat. This boy gobbled four or five times in all – just enough to let me know where he was and that he was interested. I yelped sparingly on a Primos Freak, the call I often use as a closer because I can strap it to one knee and put the gun on the other.

It didn’t take long and here he came, trundling through the woods in my general direction. I lost sight of him, but he gobbled once more, so I knew he was still there. Then he stepped into view again, and I slowly raised my gun as he passed behind a couple small trees. At 30 yards, he stopped, lifted his head and looked right at me, so I touched ‘er off and he went flopping.

This year, I am shooting economical Remington Nitro Turkey Loads, mainly because the box claims they are every bit as good as the higher-priced, copper-plated, super-wadded express jobs. At about 1200 fps, they are slower, too, but that shouldn’t make any difference to a standing turkey. Slower loads are kinder to the shoulder. I never felt the punch.

When I paced the shot off to where it took him and strafed some downed branches pretty good, I found the wad right where he stood. For all I know, it hit him in the face. My biggest surprise when I grabbed a leg was that he had button spurs – he was just a jake! Maybe that’s why he came in so easily, but – hey, any bird that gives a full gobble and comes to the call is worth taking home, especially when you’ve got another tag you can try to fill with an older, perhaps wiser, tom.

Tomorrow, I’ll be hunting in Erie County with son Jon. I’ll give Hank another chance to dance, but if nothing shows, you can bet I’ll try to troll up another one. Meanwhile, brothers Mike and Pete go trout fishing with brother-in-law Tom Hooker. Then tomorrow night, Mike, Jon and I head over to Chautauqua County to try to fill any remaining turkey tags with guide Craig Robbins.

If you’ve got all that, read it back to me because I’m working on four hours of sleep. Logistics on this trip have been challenging, but so far we’re having fun.

Later…

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