June 2, 2013

Don't get caught cold turkey

BY DAN LADD Adirondack Hunting & Fishing

---- — Memorial Day weekend’s cold and wet weather remains a topic of immense conversation. On a weekend where the Adirondacks usually sees that first major splurge in outdoor activity, from hiking and camping to fishing and boating, what we got was anything but a first taste of summer.

Yet, Saturday morning found me doing what I’ve done every morning that I’ve had free during the month of May: turkey hunting. After watching the weather the evening prior I wasn’t sure I would venture out, even my tags unfilled. But, my buddy emailed me and said he had just roosted five birds, including a pair of jakes. We had the turkeys right where we wanted them.

This particular location has been a good one for us in these conditions. Not only have I killed a couple of nice gobblers here in wet weather, there have also been a few squandered opportunities as well. This includes a hunt earlier this season when I had nine jakes and four hens in front of me. In trying to pull one of those jakes in my direction with my slate call I stirred up a gobbler still on the roost. I was ready for the big boy to fly down in front of me, perhaps giving me a shot, but he had other plans.

This big tom showed up on the edge of the field eyeballing the flock 150 yards out as if to say, “What are you doing with my hens?” Soon he was headed in their direction while I shifted positions in my blind. Unfortunately, what I thought was a doable 40-yard shot turned out to be more than 50 paces. About the only thing I did to that bird was ruin his rendezvous with the flock, at least for the time being.

Hard luck like this has been the story for so many hunters this turkey season. I blew a chance at another nice gobbler after spending nearly two hours calling him in. My turkey talk on this bird was some of my best ever. If only my ability to judge yardage was as good on turkeys as it is on deer. After these two hunts my rangefinder made its way into my turkey vest.

I could go on and on about other missed opportunities this turkey season; from being busted (twice) by other hunters targeting the same bird as me to hens sneaking in and whisking the tom I was working away to have him to herself. On the other hand, I’ve had some great experiences too. I saw black squirrels, lots of deer and played head games with a porcupine that found itself between me and a stream. I also found a spot loaded with bear scat and witnessed some awe-inspiring sunrises; the true reward for getting up so early in the morning.

Some of the turkeys I encountered really took me to school. One morning I called in a pair of hens on two different occasions. While I thought this “live bait” would be to my advantage the toms weren’t around. But I listened intently as these hens yelped, clucked and purred for several minutes just 10 yards away, convincing me that sometimes I even sound like a real turkey.

Now, here I was kicking off the holiday weekend by sitting in a blind that was being pelted with rain and wind while wondering if I should’ve just slept in. That’s what the turkeys did. There was no gobbling on the roost and no pre-sunrise fly down. This hunt was looking so much like the others.

Then around 7 a.m. I noticed a turkey descending out of the trees near my partner’s decoy. I didn’t hear a shot and figured it must’ve been a hen. It turns out my partner was napping in his blind 130 yards away. When he woke up he saw two jakes starting to work their way towards me. 30 minutes after they flew down I saw heads coming my way. A few strokes on the slate helped entice them to feed in my direction and eventually they spotted my decoy and stepped up the pace a little. At 15 yards I finally spotted a push-button beard on one of these young birds and before I knew it my 12-gauge Remington 870 Express Magnum roared and the hunt was over.

My buddy was freezing and we wasted no time getting back to the truck and then off to the local diner. My turkey season was as strange as Memorial Day weekend’s weather, which turned out to be the nastiest I’ve hunted in, yet the most productive. Turkey season wrapped up on Friday and I hope you had as much fun as I did. 

Dan Ladd is the author of “Deer Hunting in the Adirondacks,” outdoors editor for the Glens Falls Chronicle, columnist for Outdoors Magazine and contributor to New York Outdoor News. Contact him at