Play By Play, Day By Day: Spring Turkey Season 2016
My spring turkey season didn't go as I planned in 2016. I didn't get to fill my tag, and I ended up stopping before the end of the season due to a family vacation and illness. Regardless of the outcome, I learned a great deal about what doesn't work in what turned out to be a funky hunting season. Winter 2015-2016 was a bust in New England. It was warm and we got very little snow, compared to previous years. That's a good thing for the turkey population up here - a milder winter means more food and maybe more surviving turkeys. Unfortunately for hunters, it also means that the turkey mating season started earlier in the spring. Some toms were strutting as early as the end of March. With opening day on May 3, that left a long time for the turkeys to mate before hunters could get into the woods to call birds in.
For posterity, I recorded my day's hunt whenever I went out into the woods. I tried to hunt before work, which wore me out. All of these hunts were in central New Hampshire, on a combination of private and public land. This season I tried bowhunting and using a shotgun, sitting in a pop-up blind and a ground blind, and hunting locally and a good drive away. I ended up seeing only one hen while hunting this year, no other birds and no toms at all. The lack of turkeys could be due to any number of reasons, from me picking poor hunting spots to bad calling to obvious decoys to me being too obvious to fool the turkeys. When I did finally get a hen to walk by me, I felt like a champ! I was camouflaged and silent enough to not be spotted. I'm hoping for better results in future hunting seasons.
Day 0 (May 2, 2016)
I was so stinking excited about turkey season on the night before that I almost didn't sleep. For months I've been seeing gobblers, having friends text me photos, and hearing reports of sightings near my house. Beyond New Hampshire, I also kept up with turkey goings-on in Virginia (thanks Jess!), Kentucky (thanks parents!), Ohio (thanks in-laws!) and lots of other places (thanks Instagram!). Now it was finally time to get my camo ready and get me a gobbler!
Day 1 (May 3, 2016)
I made a few mistakes on day one. But, I got the thrill of hearing two different gobblers talking in the wee hours of the morning. I heard two gobblers, but didn't get either of them to move closer to me. I realized that turkey hunting involves a lot of stuff! Since it rained throughout the day, I just piled it in the back of my car. My hunting schedule involves getting to the property (30 minutes from my house) at 4:30am to set up. Then I wait on a gobbler until I have to go into work (10 minutes from the property) at 7:30am.
Day 2 (May 4, 2016)
I set up in a different place on the same property, this time with my back to the brook so I could see any turkeys that might cross the road. The gobbles came from a single turkey and he was still across the road. I tried hard to be patient and keep the gobble-to-call ratio to 3. Translation: every time the gobbler made noise, I would use my box call to cluck back only after the third time he called to me. Since over-calling is one of the seven deadly sins of turkey hunting, I tried extra hard to be patient and leave the gobbler wanting more. I couldn't get him to move across the street though, unfortunately! And as it turns out, this was the closest I'd get to engaging a gobbler the first week of the season.
Day Three (May 5, 2016)
I got a late start and didn't get into the woods until 5:30am. By this point the gobbler across the street didn't really want to talk to me. I heard him, but he was moving away from me. It was still a beautiful morning in the turkey woods! Each day I set up in a different place on the same property, scooting closer to a place where I could safely shoot my bow and where the hen decoy I borrowed from a friend would be visible to the gobbler. I was hoping to entice him to cross the street, but it didn't work.
Day 4 (May 6, 2016)
Based on advice from a turkey hunting mentor, I decided to switch to a shotgun from my bow. Since I'm still learning how to turkey hunt, a shotgun will up my chances of getting a turkey kill - assuming I can get one to come visit me in the woods! Since I had a shotgun, I rearranged my setup once again to make sure I could shoot in a safe direction. I really liked my setup on the fourth day of hunting! But alas, no turkey. I didn't even hear a gobble. I'm not sure if that meant the gobbler I'd been chasing all week had succumbed to another hunter or if he just relocated. Either way, I'm probably going to move locations next week.
I drove around looking for turkey locations, and spotted a hen who looked like she was setting up to breed, but I didn't have a good spot to park and walk around. I've investigated and have a plan to go back there. This upcoming weekend I will be taking a break from hunting to help set up my gun club's archery field on Saturday and run the sound board at worship practice on Sunday. I'll recover, get some sleep, and be back at it on Monday.
Days 5 and 6 (May 7 - 8, 2016)
Technically these were days off, but I still did some scouting. On Saturday I drove by some public land that my town owns. I didn't see any turkey sign but I plan to go back on Sunday night and see if I can catch any turkeys calling or roosting. The land has a snowmobile trail cutting through it, which should make it easy to access. I know there will be some challenges associated with hunting public land, but I'm going to give it a shot!
On Sunday I also ordered a decoy. Based on a few recommendations, I decided to spend a little more and get a "realistic" type of decoy. I chose the Miss Purr-fect hen decoy from Montana Decoys. I'll still use borrowed decoys for a while this season because my new decoy won't arrive for a week. I'm very grateful for friends who are supportive and let me borrow the gear I need to hunt thunder chickens.
I also got some encouragement from a friend who has "been there, done that" with a tricky turkey season. Barbara Baird, the publisher of Women's Outdoor News, recounted to me that she hunted 19 out of 21 days in the Missouri spring turkey season in 2012. She finally got her bird on the last day. With that story in mind, I'm going to keep trying!
Days 7 and 8 (May 9 - 10, 2016)
I didn't get out to hunt on these days after all, though I did do some more scouting. I seemed to be suffering from combination of eating cheese while being lactose intolerant (sigh) and a lack of sleep from the previous week. I've had stomach/digestive cramps on-and-off the last few days, so I decided to sleep and recover. I scouted the public land in my town and didn't see turkey sign or hear any gobbles, so I'm going to make some other plans for the rest of the week. This spot was beautiful, even if it appeared barren of turkeys!
For the rest of the week instead of hunting local, I'm going to drive about 40 minutes south of my house to hunt where I've seen turkeys. A couple other people confirmed turkey sightings there, so hopefully that will result in some gobbling action. If it doesn't, I've got a plan to hunt all morning Saturday on private land that is a 40 minute drive south and east of my place. The property owners there spotted turkeys about a month ago but haven't seen them since. I'm going to scout there tonight and maybe do some "running and gunning" (or "stalking and walking" since I don't plan to actually run with a gun) on Saturday.
Day 9 (May 11, 2016)
No gobbles again this morning. I made the 40 minute drive and moved into the area that I wanted to be in, where I had seen a hen the Friday before. However, I didn't scout the area that I was in prior to this morning. That turned out to be a mistake, and I ended up going on a nice hike, setting up in the woods, and not seeing or hearing a thing. I waited an hour after the time that I had heard gobbles last week (about 5:15 am) before calling it quits on that setup. I didn't use a blind and I don't think I was well-concealed. I might try again on the same piece of public land tomorrow, or I might move closer to home on a friend's property. They have seen turkeys recently, which is a promising sign! No matter what the outcome of the hunt, mornings like this are so worth it.
Days 10 and 11 (May 12 and 13, 2016)
No hunting. I felt exhausted after hunting on Wednesday - probably more signs pointing to a need to get in shape! I did some scouting on Google Earth and tapped into my network of friends who have offered private land for me to hunt on. Doing this research will be helpful for me as I plan out my weekend. It rained, it is Friday the 13th and there's a full moon, so that might prove to be interesting tomorrow morning as I try to get into the turkey woods stealthily.
Day 12 (May 14, 2016)
This was the first day I got to hunt the whole time allowed, which in New Hampshire is from a half hour before sunrise until noon. I started out at a friend's property in Salisbury. They have over 30 acres and had seen a big flock of turkeys about a month ago. Their property has a network of logging roads cutting through it, which made for relatively easy navigation in the dark when I got set up around 4am. I followed the property owner's directions out to where he'd seen turkeys when deer hunting in the fall.
After setting up on a hill behind some big boulders and next to a tree, I waited for the sun to rise. I decided not to set up a decoy today since it hadn't gotten me anywhere so far this year. It was the first warm-ish day of the season, so I really enjoyed sitting there watching the woods light up with the sun. I heard some very distant gobbles, but couldn't get any turkeys to respond to my calls. So I decided to try to walk toward the gobbles, but I ended up losing them and then getting lost myself. Thank goodness for the Google Maps app, which has an active compass so I could get back to a logging road. In my wanderings I saw a few newts, fell a couple times on slippery granite rocks (thank you, turkey vest seat cushion for breaking my fall!), and got into some really swampy and buggy areas. As the day warmed up I became bug bait (have you heard of New England's black flies? Yuck.). By the time I got back to the logging road, I decided to take a break from the bugs and humidity and get some coffee and food.
Turns out getting lost was a theme of the day, and I ended up driving way out of the way to get Dunkin Donuts. At that point, I decided to check out the second property closer to home that I was planning to hunt. My goal was to scout out where to sit the next day while it was daylight. It ended up being such a nice day that I stayed and really enjoyed sitting in the woods with a breeze and plenty of bug repellant. I had been carrying my friend's shotgun but since loading it was noisy and I was already being pretty obvious by walking into the woods around 7:30am I decided to go with my bow. I set up a decoy in front of me, out of the woods, and another hen decoy behind me in the woods. I called occasionally with my box call but something sounded off so I put it away. Twice while I was in this setup I called using the gobbler locator. I thought I heard a hen at one point but she never came into view. I didn't see any turkeys, but this property looked promising. My friend the homeowner saw a total of 18 turkeys in three different groups the day before I was there. That was definitely promising for future hunts.
Day 13 (May 15, 2016)
I went back to the second property from the day before, and saw my first bird! It was a hen who didn't come with any bearded friends, so I couldn't shoot. This was still exciting for me to see a bird. Though I've heard gobbles about half the time I've hunted this season, I haven't seen any birds while hunting. I opted to avoid decoys and calls today in case I had scared away birds yesterday with my efforts. It was "wicked cold" as we say in New England, and I was happy that my shivering didn't scare away the hen. She walked as close as 20 feet from me without noticing me, which is great. I ended up getting so cold that by the time the hen walked by I had taken my Bass Pro ground blind and wrapped it around my legs. It wasn't particularly effective since it has holes in it... whoops. My experience today made me want to get one of these blinds, where it looks like a sleeping bag. I imagine that's pretty comfortable and much warmer.
Midway through New Hampshire's turkey season, and I just saw my first bird today. It was a hen so no shot opportunity. Even though winter was mild, this season is tougher than spring and fall last year, but that's hunting. I'm still loving it. #newhampshire #turkeyseason #inthewoods #bowhunting #evashockeysignatureseries #cabelas #gwgclothing #girlshunttoo
No turkey! Sadly, I ate tag soup this season. After a mid-May family vacation I didn't feel well enough to hunt the last five days of the New Hampshire season. I will be back in the fall for deer and turkey!