Spring is my favorite time of year. The bitter cold of the winter is gone, trees start to green up and it also means it’s time to hit the turkey woods.
Sharing in memories of the hunt is easy thanks to social media. I don’t have to look far to see photos of fellow hunters decked out in their favorite turkey camo, early morning sunrise shots from the field or timber and, probably my favorite, smiling faces behind fanned-out birds.
However, to be reminded that as hunters we can be our own worst enemy by not supporting our fellow hunters in their spring pursuits, all I have to do is read the comments. Here are a few of the hot-button topics that surface amongst turkey hunters each year.
• The harvesting of jakes or bearded hens: There is little evidence that shooting a jake will hurt turkey populations because hens are going to breed with the more dominant birds. If the argument is that it is too easy to call in jakes, I would remind turkey hunters that “call happy” birds are the precise reason why we are thankful for 2-year-old toms. Bearded hens, jakes or mature gobblers all make great table fare, and that is why we hunt them in the first place.
• The need to check your local regulations before going into the field:
• Be aware there are states where harvests must meet sex or beard-length requirements. For example, South Carolina and Louisiana prohibit the taking of a hen, and Mississippi requires that males have a minimum beard length of 6 inches.
• Note that while it is legal to hunt from a ground blind made of natural materials in many states, other states may prohibit it. For example, Pennsylvania law states, “Blinds made by piling rocks, logs, branches, etc. are unlawful. The blind must completely enclose the hunter on all four sides and from above to block the detection of movement within the blind.” • Not all states permit the use of moving turkey decoys. For example, Alabama regulations state, “It shall be unlawful for any person while engaged in hunting turkey in this state to use or have in his possession a decoy which has mechanical or electronic part.”
• The decision to hunt out of a ground blind: I have busted a flock of turkeys out of a field while glassing inside a tree line hundreds of yards away, so I find it hard to believe that a turkey is truly “blind” to movement in a 5-foot by 5-foot walled enclosure. Now I may prefer to setup with my back to a tree wider than my shoulders, but there are many instances where I would feel perfectly fine using a blind. For instance, I consider turkey hunting to be a social endeavor meant to be enjoyed with family and friends. The use of blinds allows hunters to share the experience in areas where large trees are sparse. Blinds also offer refuge during storms.
• The decision to use decoys: Decoys have come a long way in the last decade. They can have tail-fan movement, are ultra-realistic and also can be motorized. I even have seen a rise in taxidermy decoys. But in my opinion, there is no more advantage in using decoys as there is in producing the sweet sounds of a hen produced by a diaphragm, pot or box call. I have seen love-struck gobblers strutting for black trash bags hung up in barbed-wire fences and blowing in the wind. In fact, I would argue the spring pursuit of turkeys is more enjoyable because we get to experience the interaction with turkeys, thanks to decoys.
• The method of take: Similar to deer hunting, some turkey hunters think their harvest is worth more if they use a more primitive weapon than what is used by other hunters. All methods of take have their own uniqueness: a close-range shotgun kill can be tough because of a tight pattern; you are only going to get one shot with a smoke pole; and any archery kill, especially with traditional equipment, is impressive. Take these factors and stack them with the completely unpredictable nature of turkeys, and I think it is safe to say that any punched turkey tag is a source of happiness.
The bottom line is that if a bird is legally taken, turkey hunters should support the hunt and the hunter. If we cannot find common ground built around our shared love of the outdoors and hunting, we surely will fall under the pressure of those who do not support hunting and are out to end all hunting.
We are the primary funders of conservation in this country through the purchase of licenses and excise taxes on firearms, ammunition and archery equipment. We must stand up for each other. So the next time you see a photo or hear of a successful trip to the turkey woods, simply say “congrats” or give a “thumbs up.” Never belittle a fellow hunter’s accomplishment in favor of supporting the collective hunting community in standing together.