Cumberland Times-News

June 1, 2013

Sit back, be patient, wait for gobblers

Michael A. Sawyers
Cumberland Times-News

— Bob Long says there are only about 11,000 of us. He ought to know.

Long makes his living working for the Maryland Wildlife & Heritage Service by knowing about turkeys and turkey hunters.

Writing in the 2012 Wild Turkey Annual Report, Long said that’s how many of the state’s 5,800,000 or so residents, and some nonresidents, hunt turkeys. The bulk of turkey hunting, of course, takes place in the spring for gobblers during a season lasting five weeks.

OK. That tells me there are a bunch of folks that either don’t like to get up early a lot of days in row or just haven’t found out yet how entrancing it can be to rub the sleep out of your eyes day after day at 3:45 a.m.

I stay in touch with Long. In fact, I am a volunteer turkey counter each summer.

Recently, I emailed him telling the biologist about my spring hunt.

“Mountain birds are tough,” he wrote back.

Couldn’t agree more.

Another turkey hunting acquaintance recently told me, “If a hunter gets a gobbler in these mountains year after year after year, he has really accomplished something.”

That same hunter asked his son if he knew why The Outdoor Channel never showed gobbler hunting trips from these Almost Maryland mountains or the nearby hills of West Virginia and Pennsylvania.

The answer should be easy for everybody. It can take a long time to even find a gobbler in country where the topography is wooded and the view changes with every few footsteps.

Filming and shooting gobblers in the Midwest, where the birds are required to live near large fields and to have low IQs, saves costs and assures proper footage.

I haven’t hunted gobblers in Central Maryland or the Eastern Shore, but it can’t be very difficult to find out where they are roosting. After all, there are only so many woodlots and so many trees and those are surrounded by large fields.

Here in the hinterlands, gobblers can roost any place their little bird brains desire. When you take a Savage River State Forest with 60,000 acres or even a Dan’s Mountain Wildlife Management Area with almost 10,000 acres that’s a lot of places, many of them remote, where the Toms can fly up and fly down and consort with hens.

Old guys just might be better gobbler hunters than young guys. They don’t move as much. For every gobbler you hear and move on and kill, you will spook 10 and every spooking is an education, perhaps causing birds to be less vocal and reticent to move toward future yelps and purrs.

The more I sit, the better a gobbler hunter I become. Of course that sitting needs to be done in good turkey country. You also have to have or create the time it takes to be patient. And when a person’s directional hearing deteriorates, there’s nothing like hunting from a blind where you can twist your head and ears this way and that in an attempt to triangulate the direction of the gobbles.

Sure, the young person can hear more gobbles and know from whence they originate, but then that person wants to get up and go after them. Some of those birds will get killed. Many of them will not.

Blinds, too, allow you to scratch your nose and shift your butt. Whew. That was a dangerous sentence. Glad I didn’t get that in the wrong order.

You can also stretch your legs and otherwise get away with this movement and that, which would be impossible in the open woods.

The second Maryland gobbler I tagged this year (May 9) would have never flopped if I hadn’t been in a blind. The morning had been silent, as had many previous mornings.

Without a sound, about 10:15 a.m., a hen appeared in the small window at 2 o’clock and fewer than 10 yards from the blind. Then in a few minutes, another hen showed in the same spot. The second hen was quickly followed by a jake gobbler that was quickly followed by a strutting longbeard.

I let the big boy get 27 yards away before I disturbed the silence of the spring woods.

Had I not been using a portable blind, but sitting with my back against a tree, no matter how big a tree, I would surely have spooked those turkeys as they silently approached me from behind and to my right, the most vulnerable position for a right-handed shooter.

Spring gobbler hunting can be as rigorous as your physical conditioning allows. Or, you can sit still and fill out tags.

In a little more than 10 months we get to do it again.

Contact Outdoor Editor Mike Sawyers at