(Editors note: With turkey season this week, NWTF chapter president of the Middle Island Longbeards, Bob Leasure, offers the following safety advice for seasoned as well as new hunters this season.)
Are you a turkey hunter in the true sense that the label implies; or one who professes to be included in the ranks, but does not live-up to all that it takes to be an ethical sportsman? Sure you say, "I kill turkeys," or, "I get my limit every year." Well, there are a few more things involved in being a "Turkey Hunter" than that. Are you doing all you can to preserve the Hunting Heritage? Are you supporting the sport you claim to love; or do you just take, never putting anything back. Do you take for granted that there are turkeys to hunt in your neck of the woods? This wouldn't be possible without the efforts of the NWTF's trap-n-transfer program. Do you hunt safely? If you are committed to the future of turkey hunting, it should stir you to be pro-active.
If you really are a "Turkey Hunter," it is time show it by your actions! The time has come to be ready for spring gobbler season. The spring gobbler turkey hunting season is almost upon us, opening statewide first with a Youth Season (one-day) on Saturday April 26. Shotgun Only, check state regulations. Also, statewide dates are April 28-May 22.
Two of the key elements to a successful turkey season are anticipation and preparation. During the late winter doldrums of February we turkey hunters pour over magazines, reading countless hunting articles about turkey hunting and all the new calls and tricks and tactics that are supposed to be foolproof. One thing that is foolproof about turkey hunting is that nothing is foolproof. That is what keeps us on our toes; checking out all of the new gadgets, gear, and must-have items that will make our season, well, foolproof. Or so we think. I usually buy one new item for myself before any season starts. For deer season it might be a new pair of gloves, special socks, or a new grunt call that makes me think I'll be better prepared to take that elusive 10-point buck. For turkey season it might be a new call; some great turkey hunter once said, "You can never have too many calls!" At least that's what I tell my wife. Anything you do to get better prepared for the upcoming season, the better the anticipation will be for a great season ahead. This year I'll absolutely just have that one-hand operated fight-n-purr call. Someone once asked me what was the most important piece of equipment I took with me on every hunt? It just has to be webbed folding seat. I once sat up against a big oak tree on some frozen leaves on my foam seat-pad only to learn that under those frozen leaves was a hidden puddle of water, very cold water. The hunt was over as quickly as it started. You need the most convenient, dry, lightweight, comfortable seat you can find. You will be sometimes waiting, or as we turkey hunters call it, "working a bird," for long periods of time. I once worked a bird for three hours before he came in, silent after he had gobbled 30 times during the first two hours and 45 minutes of the hunt. I'd never have killed him without that seat.
Sometimes the best thing we take with us while hunting is patience. We might need to back off from a particular gobbler that is giving us fits and trying our patience and hunt a different area for a day or two, then come back and try again. This is what my son Zac and I did a few seasons ago before he killed the biggest gobbler he has ever taken. It was the second week of the season and the birds had gone silent for a few days, be it hunting pressure or whatever.
After the second Saturday, early Sunday evening while sitting on my porch, a big old gobbler started gobbling from time to time on the hill behind our house. I listened and figured this tom was looking for a hen. Later that evening at sunset I went out on the porch and owl hooted; he gobbled, he had roosted nearby. Well, at first light the next morning we were set up within 100 yards of his morning gobbles. And despite the fact that we were competing with a few hens that had moved in between us and the mouth tom, Zac killed a 25 pound gobbler with one-and-a-quarter-inch spurs and a 14-inch beard; a mature four year old. We had called this bird several times earlier in the season ,only to have him stolen by hens just before he reached shotgun range. We were patient though and applied tips from the book, "Tactics That Take Tough Toms," by the late D.B. Howard, a book dealing with spring gobbler hunting dilemmas. Denver Howard, a charter member of the NWTF, was the former director of the safety for the West Virginia State chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation, and was inducted into the West Virginia Turkey Hunter's Hall of Fame in 1997. This book is a must have read for any serious turkey hunter.
It doesn't matter if you are new to the sport or a veteran turkey hunter, you owe it to yourself and America's grandest game bird to prepared for that old longbeard long before the season begins. Do your part to support. Join the National Wild Turkey Federation, take a hunter safety education course, and be ready when that old gobbler sounds off from the ridgetop, letting you know he's ready.
Remember that if you are successful and kill a turkey, you must field tag your bird and deliver it to the nearest checking station for retagging. This helps the Wet Virginia Division of Natural Resources with data needed to determine if there will be a fall season in your county.
Top Things a New Turkey Hunter Needs
Safety First: Take a hunter safety course; Treat every firearm as if it were loaded; Identify your target and what's in front of and beyond it; Have your eyes checked; you might need glasses; Never wear; red, white, and blue, use total camouflage; Wear blaze orange when moving from and to call positions.
Ethics: Treat others the way you want to be treated; Employ the Turkey Hunters Code of Ethics; If you don't call the turkey, don't kill the turkey. Never stalk a turkey; Have respect for others; non-hunters share the woods also; Respect the landowner, the land, and wildlife resource; Know and obey all the game laws; Never brag about your success, at least until after the season; this will prevent peer pressure on others.
Be the best that you can be: Choose a firearm that fits you; Be proficient with your firearm. Practice, Practice, Practice; Know the limits of your equipment, gun and ammo; Pick a call that is easy for you to master, learn to yelp, cluck, and purr; Only use decoys with extreme caution; Never place a decoy where you can see it from your calling position.
Spend pre-season time wisely: Get permission to hunt from landowners well before season; Get permits where required on WMAs and public land; Get your equipment ready; tuning calls, make a Survival/First-Aid kit, stock up your hunting vest or fanny pack; Scout the areas you will hunt about two weeks before season; notice tracks, roost sites, strutting zones, dusting beds, and mark on area maps.
Be patient: Patience kills more gobblers than any shotgun ever carried afield; Wait for that gobbler to come-in to that clean, one-shot kill zone; Don't give-up; some of the best hunts occur later in the season; The more you have to wait to close the deal on a big gobbler, the more you'll appreciate America's grandest game bird.
So, Are you a "Turkey Hunter?" If so, you've already: Taken and passed that Hunter Safety Education Certification Class; joined the National Wild Turkey Federation, supporting your sport; purchased all of the required hunting licenses and stamps; obtained written permission for private land or permits for WMAs; scouted the areas you will hunt; checked all of your gear, tuned your calls and patterned your shotgun; picked up a copy of the current hunting regulations and know the laws; and made copies of your landowner permission slips, photo ID, hunter safety card and put them with your hunting licenses and area maps; these must be carried on your person.
Also, it is your duty as a responsible hunter to cooperate with the law enforcement. West Virginia's Natural Resource Police should be your best friend because they can offer you a wealth of information for you to be successful. They are whom you will turn to first if you need help or you encounter problems before and while hunting. A "Turkey Hunter" will report violations to protect hunting and the resource.
Some of the most common violations observed during turkey hunting season are: hunting over bait; hunting without license; improper license; making false application for license; exceeding the limits; loaded gun in vehicle; failure to field tag turkey; illegal possession of wildlife; and hunting without permission
You can remain anonymous in reporting violators and still receive rewards for these and other hunting violations by reporting a violation in progress to 911. To report a violation not in progress call your DNR District Law Enforcement Office 1-304-420-4550 during normal operating hours or report violations online at: www.wvdnr. gov/LEnfc
Observe and write down all of the information concerning the violation.
Don't confront the violator. Contact the local Natural Resource Police Officer or county communication center as soon as possible.
The West Virginia state chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation also promotes Turkey Hunting Safety with their new pamphlet "Turkey Hunting" - "Success and Safety." Included are many "Tips" for your success and "Safety."
To join your local chapter of the NWTF contact the Middle Island Longbeards c/o Bob Leasure, 1693 Conaway Run Road, Alma, WV 26320. Phone: 1-304-758-4374 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org. A one year membership is only $35. And you'll receive six issues of "Turkey Country Magazine" membership card and decal and one issue of "The Caller." If you are a young boy or girl, "Turkey Hunter," ages (17 & under ) and would like to do your part and join the NWTF J.A.K.E.S. (Juniors, Acquiring, Knowledge, Ethics and Sportsmanship) or XTREME J.A.K.E.S. Program for just $10. A year, you'll receive a quarterly. "JAKES Country" magazine, membership card and decal. You might just win a "HUNT-OF-A-LIFETIME" as well as scholarship opportunities.
Another way to preserve your sport is to aid wildlife biologists with the Spring Gobbler Survey. You can participate by contacting Division of Natural Resources Operation Center c/o Dr. Randy Tucker, P.O. Box 67, Elkins, WV 2641. (304) 637-0245. or email Randy.L.Tucker@wv.gov also, you can download a copy of the Spring Gobbler Survey by going to the West Virginia State Chapter website: wvstate chaptern wtf.com and click on the appropriate links.
So, don't be a "Slob Hunter," do your part to earn the right to call yourself a "Turkey Hunter." Your future hunts depend upon it. As always, "Take a kid hunting."