The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

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April 11, 2014

Scouting equals success in spring gobbler season

Point Blank

Spring gobbler season is just around the corner. And there are gobblers aplenty in the woods, according to the DNR wildlife biologists in Beckley.

Successful turkey hunters will attest that the best calling in the world won’t get you a gobbler if there isn’t one within earshot. Thus, scouting before the season starts has everything to do with being successful during the spring gobbler season, which begins on the fourth Monday in April (28) and runs for four weeks until May 24.

Raleigh and surrounding counties experienced a cold winter but with marginal snow. This is good for Southern West Virginia hunters, according to Colin Carpenter, wildlife biologist with the DNR.

“Turkeys will be concentrated in areas with potential food sources, especially near agriculture operations and south-facing hillsides where acorns can be scrounged,” the biologist said. “These locations are a good place to look for gobblers (bearded turkeys), as they head to where they know the hens have been congregating.”

Spring wild turkey season brings out the best in area hunters when the term begins in earnest in late April. The sport, meanwhile, continues to gain in popularity. Little wonder: these wonderful birds are smart, wary, and beautiful to watch, with incredible sharp eyes and ears.

They may only weigh 15 or 20 pounds (some a few pounds more), but they’re considered big game with reason.

To call a gobbler within range of your shotgun is a great achievement, soon to be followed by a fabulous meal. Many hopeful hunters often go home empty handed, season after season.

But this could be the season you’ve been waiting for. What with the coming of warm weather and finally dry conditions, this could shape up as a fine turkey season.

The birds should be gobbling strongly by the time the hunting period arrives. After all, the spring hunting season is all about the gobble, which is the male turkey’s way of letting the female population know where he is so they can rush to avail themselves of his amorous amenities.

Generally, the bigger the gobbler, the more rambunctious he is.

And since hunters may take only males in spring, a gobbler’s rattling cry alerts hunters to the whereabouts of the quarry.

Then the fun begins. But hunters must work fast. The best things usually happen early. Turkey hunting is a half-day affair in the Mountain State, with gunners required to leave the woods by 1 p.m. so the hens can have some peace to sit on their nests.

By mid-morning, most gobblers have found their partners and things have quieted down anyhow. But no other place is as pretty as the West Virginia woods on a fair, spring day. So walk the pine-scented forest and soak it in. You can do that even before the season starts. Your preseason scouting in the woods is likely to pay off in dividends later on.

Many spring gobblers technically are bagged by turkey hunters three or four weeks before opening day. The adage, “You can’t kill ‘em if you ain’t found ‘em” remains true.

And with increasing numbers of gobbler chasers in the turkey woods, preseason scouting is more important than ever. Having a good fix on six or more Toms before the spring gobbler season begins can be the key to some excellent turkey hunting.

Turkeys will stay pretty much in the same place every year, as far as their roosting sites and strut zones are concerned.

The basic strategy for early success, especially when you are having a season that is wet or cold and the birds aren’t gobbling often is to set up around a strut zone, a place where a gobbler goes to strut to attract hens.

“The hens know where the strut zones are too,” Carpenter explained. “If you can set up in one of these zones and call occasionally, you should be able to harvest one of the gobblers that aren’t gobbling much, either at the beginning of the season or at the end of it.

“Many Toms become creatures of habit and go to certain strutting areas daily. Pinpoint these areas, and the odds of bagging a gobbler are good.”

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Top o’ the morning!

— Blankenship is a columnist for The Register-Herald. E-mail: jabbb@suddenlink.net

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