- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 16, 2006

Within a few days thousands of grown men — increasingly also women — will slip into clothing that resembles the bark and leaves of oak or hickory trees. They will cover their faces with camouflage netting, top it off with camouflage caps and slide their hands into camo-pattern gloves. Heck, even the footwear looks like it was dragged through a sticky pile of leaves. The color of the shotguns they sling over their shoulders mimic the look of the clothing.

It’s turkey gobbling time in the surrounding states, and it’s not about overeating at grandma’s house. It’s the season when hunters enter forests as far away as the Pennsylvania and Virginia mountains or as close as a Southern Maryland wood lot that adjoins a field of juicy winter wheat.

The popularity of spring turkey hunting (only the bearded males, the gobblers, can be shot) has grown immensely in the past decade. Non-hunters (never mind the “antis”) can’t comprehend the allure of sitting glued against a tree trunk, with your elbows on your knees, shotgun at the ready and a tiny diaphragm turkey call nearly stuck in your throat. Mosquitoes and other assorted stinging and biting insects come to visit; sweat begins to form under your chin and across your back. You want to cough so bad, it’s driving you batty, but you can’t. A lot is riding on your ability to blend into forested surroundings, and even stupid barnyard turkeys know trees don’t cough.

Ah, this is the life. But you’re not enduring self-induced misery to wait for dumb domestic birds. No, you’re hoping to fool one of the smartest creatures to inhabit a forest. They impressed dear old Ben Franklin so much he wanted the wild turkey, not the bald eagle, to represent U.S. pride and recognition.

There is, however, one problem with this Einstein of the forest. Male turkeys, as acutely aware of danger as they usually are, when they hear the dulcet tones of a female they sometimes see their brains turn into pablum. Human and turkey males have at least that much in common.

“I think the biggest mistake a novice turkey hunter makes is calling too much,” said Brent Nelson, a tidal river and Deep Creek Lake fishing guide who has shot 40 turkeys in his many years of hunting his beloved Allegany County mountains . “I don’t subscribe to long series of yelps and cackles. I prefer putts and purrs that drive the big boys into a ‘What, I’m not good enough for you?’ mentality.”

In mountain terrain, Nelson also cautions newcomers to be sure to hunt uphill of the gobbler. It’s tough to get them to come down a hill, he said, then parts with a good trick to find turkeys.

“I’ll go up on the mountain the evening before the hunt and owl-hoot just after the gobblers go to roost,” Nelson said. “They always answer back, and [now] you’ve got their position for the next morning’s hunt.”

On the morning of the hunt, Nelson has been known to take off his hat and quickly slap it against his leg 10 times or so. It simulates a hen’s wings as she flies down from her roost, and it can elicit a male’s gobble that means, “Where are you?”

The hat slapping sounds also can enrage a male turkey, Nelson said.

“He’ll double-gobble, but I won’t answer him for about five minutes,” he said. “Then I’ll do some soft putts and purrs.”

Chances are he will come to claim what he believes is his.

“Many times the gobblers are in bachelor groups of three and four. This is when you try and become a girl sitting at the bar, flirting with all of them. Sometimes an exciting ‘cackle’ will get them running to you,” he said.

Wild turkey specialist and Potomac River fishing guide Bob Troup, of Seabrook, Md., agrees with Nelson.

“I take the turkey’s temperature, so to speak,” Troup said. “I call to him as much as he’s calling to me, but one thing for sure, I’ll keep him fired up.”

But Troup agrees with Nelson that sometimes silence can be golden.

“After an initial call, there have been times when I’ve kept quiet for 10 to 15 minutes.”

Troup’s Charles County hunting area is limited in size, so moving around in dense timber and getting up ahead of a turkey is almost impossible. So he tries to get one of the big males to answer his “girlie” sounds and then sits and waits, camouflaged, gun at the ready.

Look for Gene Mueller’s Outdoors column Sunday and Wednesday and his Fishing Report on Thursday, only in The Washington Times. E-mail: gmueller@washingtontimes.com.

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