Miami Herald (Sunday)

As turkey hunting begins in South Florida, here are tips to bag that bird


With the spring turkey season beginning March 2 in South Florida, now is the time to start locating gobblers so you have a good idea of where the birds will be on opening day. But as experience­d turkey hunters know all too well, even if you’re in the right place, there’s no guarantee that a gobbler will cooperate.

Wild turkeys are among the most challengin­g game species pursued by hunters. They have incredible eyesight, precise hearing and can run or fly away from trouble. They’re also extremely wary, and with good reason. As a turkey biologist I knew used to tell me, “Everything in the woods likes to eat a turkey.”

Turkey and turkey egg predators include bobcats, panthers, foxes, raccoons, skunks, bald eagles, hawks and crows. If you have ever tasted wild turkey, you would probably put yourself at the top of the list. The difference between eating wild turkey and domestic turkey is like the difference between eating cotton candy and cotton balls.

The spring season, which runs through April 7 on private lands and on the

Big Cypress National Preserve west of Miami — turkey hunting is allowed on Saturdays, Sundays and Wednesdays from March 2-April 14 on the J.W. Corbett wildlife management area west of West Palm Beach — coincides with the mating season.

Hens yelp to let gobblers know where they are, then males gobble to let hens know where they are, then the hens go to the gobblers.

Turkey hunters reverse nature, imitating a hen’s yelps, clucks and purrs, which is turkey talk for

“I’m over here,” on box, slate and mouth calls while sitting in a blind or in front of a tree. Although the gobbler knows the hen should come to him, sometimes the gobbler’s lust gets the best of him and he goes to her.

Scouting for turkeys can be as simple as driving, bicycling or walking along a road or trail, stopping and calling every now and then and listening for gobbles. Once you locate an area with turkeys, you can go into the woods to find open areas where gobblers are likely to show off how handsome they are.

Male turkeys will try to impress hens by strutting in the middle of a field or pasture. When they strut,

their bodies puff up, their tail feathers fan out and they make a resonating sound from deep within that’s known as drumming.

Hunting turkeys can be exceedingl­y frustratin­g for several reasons. While a gobbler might have come into your calls and is strutting for you, real hens often show up and take the bird away from you. Or a gobbler won’t come within shotgun range, which is about 40 yards, because he’s waiting for the hen he’s hearing — you — to show herself.

“The hen is like a gobbler. She’s going to be pecking and easing along,” a veteran turkey hunter once explained to me. “The gobbler knows that in wideopen woods or a pasture, he ought to be able to see that hen. If, after a while, that hen doesn’t move and he keeps hearing that hen, he’s going to get a little suspicious.”

If you think maybe you should move on a gobbler that won’t come closer, think again. Turkeys have a field of vision of almost

360 degrees, and their eyes can pick up movement about eight times faster than humans. When they see movement that doesn’t make sense, they’re gone.

Patience is a virtue when hunting turkeys. I had an impatient friend who always tried to sneak up on turkeys. He never succeeded, sending them scurrying away long before he got within shooting distance.

Because gobblers have only one thing on their minds during the mating season, you will often see them hanging out with one or more real hens first thing in the morning. But later that morning, there’s a good chance they’ll come back to see if that sweettalki­ng hen — you — is still around and interested.

Decoys can help coax a gobbler into shooting range. Hen decoys are popular, but I have had great results using only a decoy that imitates a jake, which is an immature, 1-year-old male turkey. When a gobbler hears hen calls and sees a jake standing there, it’s like seeing a teenage boy trying to pick up your girlfriend in the mall. It’s not unusual for a gobbler to come charging in to beat up the jake decoy.

The best thing to do before the bird tramples the decoy is to yelp loudly to make the enraged gobbler stop and raise his head, giving you a clear shot. But even then, there’s no guarantee of success. Some hunters get so excited, they shoot the decoy.

 ?? STEVE WATERS Special to the Miami Herald ?? A mature wild turkey gobbler eyes a jake decoy, which imitates an immature 1-year-old male turkey.
STEVE WATERS Special to the Miami Herald A mature wild turkey gobbler eyes a jake decoy, which imitates an immature 1-year-old male turkey.

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