Massachusetts’ spring turkey hunting season began last Monday. This column was written on Wednesday afternoon and at that time this writer and turkey hunter hadn’t pocketed a bird. If that was the only barometer of success, the season has been a failure so far but, to me, there are many other metrics to gauge turkey hunting. Take the Wednesday morning hunt, for example. Shortly after 5 a.m., the Silverado was pulling over to park when a woodcock flew into the headlights. This observation in itself was worth waking up to at this early hour. Knowing that the area where the hunt for the day would again take place had a population of woodcocks, even though I don’t hunt upland birds there, was good news.
Then the turkey hunting gear was assembled and my conversion to a pack mule began. This gear included, in order of load, my LL Bean turkey vest first. The vest is no longer sold, and it was a prize won in a raffle 10 years ago. The vest has multiple pockets, pouches and slots to hold the “stuff” that turkey hunters carry with them. This would include location calls like crow calls, owl calls, goose calls, and my favorite, peacock call. Other essentials are rangefinder (Vortex laser model works in low light conditions), binoculars, camouflage gloves, face mask, slate calls, box calls (Lynch world champion of course !), a turkey holder, camouflage handkerchiefs, goggles, chalk for box calls, ammo and a selection of diaphragm muzzle calls. Like many vests, this one has a seat pad and also has a large removable pouch for lunch and drinks.
Once the vest is on and zipped, the seat of the day is slung over the shoulder. A small folding stool or the larger “turkey lounge chair” hangs over one shoulder. Then come the decoys. Either a single AvianX decoy hen or sometimes a second hen or jake decoy in bags are also slung over one shoulder. Finally, the shotgun is also slung over the shoulder and we then leave in the dark.
Wednesday morning followed a heavy rain and eventually the woods were calm. The dry spell made walking on the dried leaves and twigs very noisy. Turkeys have great hearing and this is taken into account in all movements. Pre-dawn presented the usual noises as this workhorse walked on a forest path in the property. Stopping early, my best owl call, delivered by voice, was answered by a deafening silence. Walking quietly down the old road, songbird calls began and when the destination was reached and the chair was used, the woods began to wake up. A second owl hoot, the barred owl’s “who cooks for you, who cooks for you all” call, got an immediate response from one owl, then two more. Often this chorus triggers cock gobblers but not this time. Passing geese triggered no clucking and my soft mouth calls, including tree yelps, putts, purrs and my most sensual sounds, also went unanswered. After an hour he was ready to move, call and listen before trying again.
Daylight didn’t change things but the things encountered on the walk including moose droppings and a red eft were interesting and the spot where a nice gobbler walked in and was left the last season was visited and the moment remembered. Eventually we were back at the truck and unloaded all the gear in the Decked drawers and headed off to a second spot where tons of acorns and a few scrapes of fresh hen produced the same lack of response.
Obviously, the woodcock and the red eft were the best memories of the late morning. The eastern newt, whose scientific name is Notophthalmusviridescens, is a common species triton from the east North America and the red eft is a stage in the life of the salamander. It frequents small lakes, ponds and streams or nearby moist forests. The eastern newt produces tetrodotoxinwhich makes the species unpalatable to predatory fish and crayfish. It has a lifespan of 12 to 15 years in the wild and can reach 5 inches in length. The red eft, with its striking bright orange color, is the juvenile stage.
Maybe my time would have been better spent trout fishing. Good catches are reported locally, with all local trout waters receiving fish. You can get “real-time” storage information on the MassWildlife webpage. Good luck! Remember that if you are in a canoe or kayak, you must wear a life jacket until May 15.
Tuesday’s hunt was also memorable when my brother Chris joined me on his first turkey hunt. Our first destination had just been taken over by another truck, so we moved to a second location where nothing spoke to us. We moved again and this time we heard gurgling once we entered the property. After installing the hens decoy, we listened to the gobblers staying just out of sight and moving around, obviously following the hens. Every trick in the book was tried but nothing worked and we left with no luck. Unfortunately we saw toms displaying hens at a bird feeder. This theme is very common. Hopefully that will change as the hens start nesting and the toms get lonely. It was good that Chris didn’t get the idea that turkey hunting was easy.