I spend a fair amount of time during the fall hunting turkeys on public land. Some guys think that is a crazy thing to do, but for me it is some of the most enjoyable hunting around here.
Public land is often quite large, acreage wise, so there is a vast amount of space to wander for the hunter who is so inclined. Also, public ground tends to be in some rough country, so there is a lot of impressive scenery to enjoy.
The old myth that public hunting areas are overcrowded with hunters is just that, a myth, especially during fall turkey season.
I hunted Dan’s Mountain Public Hunting Area two separate days during the Maryland turkey season, and did not see another hunter, hear any shooting, or see any other pickup trucks parked along the road.
I did enjoy long walks among impressive big oak trees and many hours of solitude on that mountain. Unfortunately I did not see any turkeys, or any turkey sign either.
So I headed east a bit to Green Ridge State Forest, which is one of my favorite places on earth to be with a gun in my hand.
I can hear you asking, Green Ridge? Are you crazy? That is where all the nimrods from Baltimore and Washington come to deer hunt. Well, I was not deer hunting, and I was born in Washington, D.C. anyway so maybe I fit right in.
Green Ridge has a special place in my heart because that is where my family came, from Prince George’s County, to hunt, primarily for turkey, from the mid-1960s on up into the 1970s. Basically I grew up as a hunter along Dug Hill Road in the eastern portion of the forest, which is an area that I have quit hunting in recent times due to road noise from I-68.
In those days if you stepped out of your camper in the evening you could look along the ridge and see a string of lights marking the campfires and lanterns from dozens of other turkey hunters camped in the woods. Fall turkey season was an event. That is not the case today.
When I drove up to the gate that marked the entrance to the Potomac Bends Wildlands in Green Ridge this year there was not another vehicle to be seen. It was my plan to spend the entire day hunting down to the river and back, so I hoisted a heavy day pack and set out.
Sometimes I wonder if I do these all-day trips to eat as much as to hunt. My pack was heavily weighted down with sandwiches, cheese from the deli, a sweet confection cake of dates, raisins and coconut that I only make during turkey season, tea, crackers, roasted pumpkin seeds from our Halloween Jack-O-Lantern and of course some tasty West Virginia apples. It was going to be a good day.
By 11:30 I had hunted down hill a long way, and was on a neck of land along the Potomac River, sitting on a huge old horizontal oak carcass and eating my first lunch (or third breakfast).
The sunny day was extremely warm for November, and the wind was rattling a gale through the fall leaves.
Leaving the lunch tree and walking out the neck I thought I heard turkeys calling ahead of me. Not real sure because of the wind noise, but I sat down, got hunkered in and did some calling with the old Lynch World Champion. Sure enough I was answered, or at least I heard a cadence of sound through the wind that seemed like a turkey.
This went on for a while, and then stopped, so I leaned back in the warm sunshine and decided to take my midday nap.
Less than 10 minutes into that period of reflection I was interrupted by a for-definite turkey yelp, close.
The rest of the adventure went pretty quick. I opened my eyes to see two big black birds moving my way through some deadfalls.
When the one with the bright blue head walked into view below me, inside 20 yards, I shot once and dropped Thanksgiving dinner into the heavy carpet of leaves.
The bird was a young gobbler. In the spring I only shoot long beards. In the fall I hunt for the roaster, not the trophy wall.
It was a long walk up out of the river bottom to my truck. Along the way the only hunters I saw were the ghosts in my mind. I thought of my dad, granddad and the other guys who brought me to these woods when I was but a cranky teenager. I was glad to have shot a turkey this day, glad these woods were still here for me to wander, and thankful to those men who brought me here in the first place.
This one’s for you, gentlemen.
Dave Long is a retired West Virginia natural resources police officer and a frequent contributor to the Outdoors page.