Valuable intel, yet no gobbler

Posted: April 13, 2017 at 2:37 a.m.

Tim Ernst, the photographer, author and speaker nonpareil, once told me that he'd seen a lot of beautiful places, but Arkansas "does spring" better than anywhere.

What's not to like? The weather is fabulous and the scenery everywhere is beautiful.

Sportsman are hard-pressed to name a better place. If you're a child of the water, name your candy. The rack starts at the door and goes all the way to the back. We've got black crappie and white crappie. We've got largemouth, smallmouth and spotted bass. We've got white bass, striped bass and hybrids. We've got bluegill, redears and longears. We've got blue cats, flathead cats and channel cats. We've rainbow, brown and cutthroat trout, and even the odd brook trout on a really good day. We've got walleyes, saugers and saugeyes.

And, we have gar! Get ya some!

Right now we're in the opening week of our very short and intense turkey season, so I'm presently consumed with visions of beards and fans. So far I've seen them only in my dreams, but I have at least heard a bird gobble.

The adventure started Sunday, when I towed my Little Guy teardrop camper out to the Romine Camp at Old Belfast Hunting Club. This is a convivial spot in the fall because we all gather here during deer season. There are only a couple of turkey hunters. We keep out of each others' way, and we like it that way.

After leveling my camper and setting up my kitchen, I sat down at the picnic table to do a little writing until I got drowsy.

Drowsy? Who am I fooling? I can never sleep on the eve of the turkey season opener. I tossed and turned. I checked my watch every 90 minutes. I got up and walked around the camp a few times, which isn't real smart on a warm night in snake country.

Mercifully, my alarm ended my torment at 5:15 a.m. I boiled a big mug of coffee and made the long walk to a spot where I like to spend opening morning. I've seen a lot of birds there, and it's where I killed a great, big gobbler that I nicknamed The Boss in 2014 after a 10-day game of hide and seek.

I had killed my share of gobblers before, but they were all midday and late afternoon birds. The Boss was my first dawn kill, and it was a breakthrough. Completing that puzzle taught me many valuable lessons about how to successfully hunt turkeys in the early morning.

I don't see birds there anymore. The pine thicket on one side has been thinned, and the mature pines that were adjacent to that thicket were clearcut last winter. These changes have dramatically altered the way turkeys use that entire area.

At least it changed in 2016. The understory in the thinned thicket has grown up a bit since last year, and the clearcut is awash in new grass and greenery. Turkeys love to grub around in 2-year old cutovers because they are rich with food, and also because the new vegetation makes them feel secure. I can't tell you how many turkeys have flushed like quail from practically under my feet when I've walked through cutovers during deer season.

I hamstring myself a bit because I don't visit my hunting areas before the season. I stay away because I don't want to chance spooking birds, which are precious in my part of Grant County. I pattern the evolution of the cover through late winter and try to envision how turkeys will respond to it.

I elicited a single gobble from a turkey at dawn, not long after flydown.

What I didn't know is that a logging crew was working nearby, and that gobbler didn't care to socialize that close to them. A turkey made an alarm cluck some distance to the east when I got up to leave an hour or so later, but I don't believe it saw me. I don't know how it could have in that thick, tangled mess.

After lunch at camp, I went to a spot in a streamside management zone where I called up and killed a giant gobbler at about 4 p.m. on opening day in 2013.

I haven't seen another bird there since, but I did get one to gobble three times as it hastened west. It sounded like the same bird that gobbled that morning, and I suspect he was going back to his roosting spot near the logging crew, which had quit for the day.

Those little bits of intel, scant as they were, might prove useful.

Sports on 04/13/2017