By Don Mallicoat- The regular hunting season ended this on February 28th. Except for coyote and wild hogs we are entering the March doldrums of hunting. Next up? Turkey season is but six weeks away! The special Youth only season will kick it off during the first week, April 7 – 13. Then everyone else joins in on April 14 – May 12. I really don’t know what kind of season we’ll have. If what I suspect about grouse chick mortality carries over to turkey, and they have similar nesting and breeding habits, there may not be a lot of young birds out there. After my first successful hunt last year I learned to start early.
Now is the time to get your gear ready. For a lot of us some of that has been sitting up in the garage since last year. Find your turkey vest hanging on a hook with all the hunting gear and empty the pockets. Might want to throw away the year old candy bar or cheese crackers. How do the calls look? If you have a box call or push button you need to chalk it up and give it a couple of yelps. If you use a slate call use the provided pad or some sandpaper to rough it up a bit. You get better tone that way. Mouth calls are made of latex and they have probably hardened over the winter. Time to buy some new ones.
Once the calls are in shape it’s time to get in some practice. I’ve pretty much given up on mouth diaphragm calls. It’s not them, it’s me. I just can’t use them effectively. I limit my use to a box, slate, and push button. There is one I used last year that really needs some practice. It’s a mouth gobbler. I got it before the season and practiced some and got what I thought was pretty good with it. I was just inconsistent. The way you blow through it is totally different that a duck or goose call. This one I definitely need practice with.
How are you set for turkey loads? Since we don’t shoot many each year you probably have some sitting around from last year. It might not be a bad idea to go out and pattern them just to confirm they still shoot true. All the major ammo manufacturers are coming out with the latest, greatest turkey loads this year. If you change loads I definitely recommend checking the pattern. Not all turkey loads shoot true through different guns. There are a lot of “missed bird” stories out there where hunters found out after the fact their gun was shooting high, right, or left with a new load.
Mid-March is also a good time to get out and start scouting. Get out at first light. Males start gobbling coming off the roost about this time so you can identify their home range and the area where they roost. Look for areas where they typically strut to display dominance. Those are good areas to target. Start thinking about where you will set up depending on those factors. Turkeys, like most animals, are creatures of habit. They have a home range and certain times of days for their usual activities of eating and breeding. Scouting helps you pattern their behavior for a better setup and improve your chances of success.
Now the above is intended for the experienced turkey hunter. You’ve been to the woods before chasing these captivating birds. What if you just now want to get started? There are a couple of seminars coming up in our area hosted by the WRC and the National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF) to help the neophyte hunter start. Both are next week and seats are available. The first is March 20 at the Mountain Horticulture Crops Research Center in Mills River. The other is the next day, March 21at Haywood Community College in Clyde. Both seminars are from 6 – 9 p.m. Topics include turkey biology, habitat, hunting tactics, decoy use, and calling techniques. Pre-registration is required online at www.ncwildlife.org/learning.
The Wildlife Resources Commission approved the regulations for the 2018 – 2019 hunting, fishing, and trapping seasons that go into effect August 1st of this year. They did pay attention to public comments and changed some of those proposals, particularly for deer and bear seasons. If you want a rundown on the final regulations you can see them at www.ncwildlife.org/blog. Look for the February 28, 2018 Commission Meeting Highlights.