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Spring Turkeys Are A Different Animal



Special to the Valley News
Saturday, April 29, 2017

When I was a kid, my father made his own turkey call. He used the small tin from a bug repellant called 6-12. The cylindrical tube was about the same size and thickness as a roll of quarters.

After cutting off the closed end of the tin, making it completely hollow, he’d then cut a half-moon shape in the cap that came with the container. Using a piece of balloon, he’d stretch the rubber over one end of the hollow tube and then affix the cap, making sure there was an open slit so the hole in the cap wasn’t completely covered.

When my father put this device to his lips, he was somehow able to simulate the yelp of a wild hen turkey. Although he used the call for many years, he was only able to draw in one gobbler for harvest. The recipe for this homemade turkey call has lasted until today.

On YouTube, there is a demonstration of how to make the same call from a discarded prescription pill bottle. Some good ideas never go away.

So why all this talk of calling turkeys at a time when Upper Valley outdoor enthusiasts are gearing up for fishing season?

The successful restoration and management of the turkey population has allowed the state of New Hampshire to hold a spring hunting season. From Wednesday through May 31, licensed hunters who also have purchased a special turkey permit may hunt for males only. The permit comes with a tag valid for registering harvested birds.

Young turkey hunters have already been in the woods, taking advantage of the special youth hunt that was held this weekend. Hunters younger than 16 years of age did not need a license for this hunt, although they had to be accompanied by a licensed adult.

The spring turkey season differs slightly from the fall. The hunting day is shorter. It starts a half-hour before sunrise and ends at noon. In autumn, hunters are allowed to stay out until one-half hour after sunset.

Shotguns are the only firearms allowed during the spring turkey season, although bow hunters are welcome.

There are shot-size restrictions, and archers must affix their names and addresses to their arrows. The minimum draw weight for a bow is 30 pounds.

Before setting out, make sure your equipment meets the standards required by New Hampshire Fish & Game. Turkeys may not be baited nor taken with rifles. Live decoys are forbidden. And turkeys cannot be driven by beaters or shot while roosting in a tree.

When a turkey is harvested, it must be tagged immediately and registered at an official game station. Possession of a turkey that has not been tagged and registered is a violation the law.

Perhaps the most telling rule for spring turkey hunting is the banning of electronic calling devices. In the spring, tom turkeys are looking to make little gobblers, so they are susceptible to the love song of the female, the yelping sound turkey calls are meant to produce. Don’t take a recorded turkey call into the woods unless you want to lose your hunting license and pay a hefty fine.

The turkey call industry has grown substantially since the days when my father was making his own device. A quick online investigation reveals a variety of calls ranging from $20 to $400. This is an indication of how popular the sport has become.

Even when a hunter can take advantage of the gobbler’s instinct to breed, spring turkey hunting is not at all easy. Forget those birds you saw hanging around in the middle of Shaker Hill Road this winter. When hunters hit the woods, the turkeys scatter.

All successful hunting expeditions begin with scouting an area. Turkey hunters will build a blind or perch in a tree stand. When they are settled in, the calling begins.

The challenge of the spring hunt is to lure in a bird by repeatedly calling to it and creating a dialogue wherein the male turkey answers back.

Sometimes, a hunter can wait for hours before the tom finally shows himself. Or is it a tom?

Since taking hens is illegal, a hunter must always be sure before taking a shot. Toms and hens can be identified by their varied coloring: red, white and blue for him, blue-gray and rusty brown for her.

Males have a long, bristly beard. Hens are also about half the size of toms.

The best way to tell a tom turkey is by observing his spring mating display. He will strut about, fanning his tail and dropping his wings. He gobbles and drums, while hens yelp and cluck.

Practicing with a call before hitting the field is imperative — playing the wrong note can send Ol’ Tom flying off in a different direction.

Coleman Stokes can be reached at stokescoles@gmail.com.