Being raised in an Ohio that had not seen wild turkeys since the
1800’s, turkey hunting was something that as a youth, I only dreamed
about. As boys, we cut our teeth on a healthy wild pheasant population.
As our pheasants vanished, I shifted gears and devoted almost all of my
hunting energies toward waterfowl, along with the emerging sport of fox
calling. This gave me 20 years of hunting activity that, for the most
part, involved game calling. I still dreamed of turkey hunting, but
until the late 70’s, we did not have huntable numbers of turkeys in
this part of the state. Like most turkey hunters, I thought
that turkey hunting was a spring sport, and that it had always been so.
Not until I had hunted wild turkeys did I come to realize that the only
vestige of turkey hunting left in the country during the early half of
last century was Fall and Winter hunting. If you study the writings
from this crowd of turkey hunters, you quickly learn that they thought
Spring hunting to be completely immoral. I guess I have never
met as many people who have opinions on what is moral and immoral as we
turkey hunting fanatics. My appreciation for Fall and Winter turkey
hunting came from Pete Clare at Turkey Trot Acres in New York. After
hunting at Turkey Trot, I met J.T. Byrne and his father, John Byrne,
from Lynchburg, VA. John Byrne had grown up in a Virginia that had
great quail hunting. But, after the war, farming practices changed, and
soon John switched his hunting activities to Fall turkey hunting. The
mountains of Virginia never lost their wild turkeys and Fall hunting
with the use of dogs was steep in tradition there. This hunting was
done using a variety of dogs. Anything from hounds to washed out bird
dogs were used, and every hunter had his favorite. Forty years ago,
John Byrne went to work to develop a true turkey dog. Being an
agricultural major, he did this through selective breeding. The end
result being a dog that has all the attributes necessary for the need.
A perfect turkey dog will run the woods in the same style as a coon
dog. After encountering turkeys, this dog will bark and chase until
every bird in the flock has been scattered to the four corners of the
earth. This same dog that just acted like the wildest animal in the
woods is then required to sit quietly in the blind so that hunters can
then try to reassemble the flock through calling. This is a lot to ask
from one animal, but John’s dogs do it quite nicely. After experiencing
this type of turkey hunting, I ask myself why we cannot enjoy the same
in Ohio. Myself and many others went to work on that problem and our
ODNR listened and supported the idea.
Now we are able to hunt turkey in Ohio with dogs. Problem number one: no dog. As any astute hunter would do, I talked to my wife about this problem. She very carefully explained to me that we already had a geriatric ward for retired bird dogs. I guess I had forgotten that five dogs is a lot, but only two of them still have legs while the rest are enjoying a much deserved retirement. This argument did not go far either. Attempt number two: take the big, dumb, young lab, and make him a turkey dog. Remember, he only has to mind, bark, chase, and sit in the blind. Well, he minds and he sits in the blind. You can fill in the rest. Attempt number three: take the young German Shorthair and encourage her to chase instead of point. Since this dog was then going to be asked to act civilized and point afterwards, I had more than a lot of concern, but I also had a lot of faith in this dog. When you really analyze what we do with our hunting dogs, you find that we, as hunters, are acting like the leader of the pack. Dogs came from a wolf lineage. They all had their jobs in the hunt, which is how they made their living. When we take this animal and make him part of our family, he is still fulfilling his part in the hunt. Well, I took Morgan, the Shorthair, and went to work. She easily adapted to chasing turkeys and she even has a whimpering yelp when she gets into them. She minds and, if she is tired, she sits quietly in the blind. She still makes her living pointing pheasants on my hunting preserve, but now she gets to join us on turkey hunts.
Last Fall we had our maiden voyage. As some of you will remember, the first four days of Ohio’s 2001 season were not exactly user friendly. In four days time, it was 75°, still and humid, 45° raining with 40 mph winds, along with everything in between.
The first day we broke a small flock of birds and we had a good bust. The problem was that we did not know what we had busted - hen with poults, adult hens, adult gobbler? The whole thing fizzled out and I spent the first Fall day of turkey hunting without birds. Day number two rained, which is a great day for finding Fall birds, but not a fun day for hunting them. We busted some jake and a halves, but did not get a good bust, and I knew that we would be more successful with a good bust on fresh birds. Within 30 minutes, we had busted 20 hens and poults, but by the time it was time to start calling, it began raining such that no one was enjoying themselves. Day three was perfect! We busted two good groups of birds and should have harvested birds on both breaks, but could have, should have, would have, prevailed. By this time, I had just spent the longest three days of Fall hunting that I have ever spent, all with nothing to show for our efforts. So when I woke up on day four, and saw that it was raining and blowing, I was not a happy hunter. At mid morning, we found some birds and Morgy did her job. We saw birds go in opposite directions and knew we should be in good shape. As we set up and waited for things to settle down, the wind went to 40 mph and the temperature started to drop by the minute. Kee keeing on a mouth call seemed like it vanished before it left your mouth. I used my Turkey Trot Long Box, which we made that winter, and within a few minutes, I had managed to hear a kee kee in response. I suppose because of the weather, these birds were more determined than normal to assemble, but it was not long before two young hens appeared returning every call we gave them. After harvesting one of the birds, we let Morgan go to the bird. I have never seen a happier 35 lb. Shorthair trying to retrieve a 10 lb. turkey in all of my life! I’ve turkey hunted all over the country, and have been in on hundreds of turkey kills, but this little hunt was the culmination of a lot of effort and was as rewarding to me as any.
I know many Spring hunters who will say, “what kind of a sport is it to harvest a hen in the Fall of the year”. Each Spring I hunt from mid March until Memorial Day, and I have harvested more than my share of mature lovesick gobblers. I have come to a point in my life where Fall turkey hunting is as precious to me as Spring hunting. If you boil Spring hunting down to 20 words or less, it is about woodsmanship and calling. If you cannot find a gobbler on his own, or be able to fire up a hen that drags one with her, there is not much left unless you ambush one, and that’s not what it is about. In Fall hunting, you are communicating directly with the turkey. Basically, it is “calling on demand”. If you have an adult gobbler throw a series of course yelps at you on the limb at daybreak, you can hen yelp or kee kee till the cows come home, but he will not much care. Likewise, if you have broken up a flock of hens and poults, and the Jakes start to kee kee and gobble, you better be ready to do the same. I’ve seen times when other birds will come to this before they will go to the hen who is assembly yelping.
Fall turkey hunting is a sport unto its own, and if you love Spring hunting, you owe it to yourself to try Fall turkey hunting. It will add a whole new dimension to the sport. Look at Morgan's page. Look at the Ebay turkey call auctions and lookat Marlin's turkey call hunting brochure below, or view the complete pdf (Right Click - Save As, then Open).
Learn more about how they hunt turkey in the fall with dogs - read Marlin's 2002 Ohio Fall turkey hunting story. © 2004
Marlin Watkins (330) 223-2683 eMail PO Box 100 Summitville OH 43962
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