How to not get shot this Gobbler Season.

 

     No groaning or eye rolling, please. Hunter safety is serious business. Let’s start with the most basic rule in hunter safety; if all hunters observed this rule, all the time, we would have virtually no “hunter mistaken for game” incidents. If you ever had a Hunter Education course you should have this first one memorized.

 

  1. Positively identify your target before you pull the trigger. Plain and simple if all hunters followed this one, we would have no more “I thought I saw a turkey” shootings. None of this “I thought I saw a red head”, no “I thought I saw a beard”, positively identify the target every time.

2. Refrain from stalking spring gobblers. The turkey that hangs up out there and refuses to move but continues to gobble can tempt us to stalk or “slip up on” him. Don’t do it, you don’t know who is in the area, one hunter sitting and watching and another crawling to this turkey is a recipe for a tragedy. I know, I have seen it too many times.

3. Avoid the colors red, white, and blue in your hunting attire. These are the colors on a mature gobblers head. So, no blue or red on your hat and for heavens sake you can’t have that white handkerchief sticking out of a back pocket. Remember the old nemesis of the white socks, when you sit down, your pant leg will reveal the color that could get you shot. I have seen it more than once. On another note, as turkey hunters most of us flee from blaze orange like the plague. When we are walking and calling however, trying to toll up a gobbler, a blaze orange hat or vest could save your life.

4. If you arrive at your area and there are other hunters already present try going to another spot. The more hunters you put in an area the more likely you are to have an incident; it’s the simple law of averages. Put the truck in gear and try that place down the road that you were saving for just this occurrence.

5. If you do encounter another hunter speak to them in a loud, clear voice. Never wave or otherwise move to alert another hunter to your presence, especially if the other hunter is stalking the sound of your calls. Let’s be honest, most of the time we don’t want to speak out because we are afraid of spooking the turkey we are working. No old gobbler is worth getting shot over, call out to the other hunter, try this turkey another day.

6. When you set up on a turkey select a tree, rock, or other object larger than your body to hide and protect you from the rear. Have a clear field of view in front of you. The tree or whatever you lean against while sitting should be wider and taller that you. You need some clear area in front of you to watch for the approaching gobbler, this will also allow you to watch out for those that do not follow rule #2.

  1. Be cautious transporting and setting up decoys. Decoys work, which is why they have become so popular. We need to be careful about carrying them in the woods, don’t let that red head stick out of your vest.  When setting the decoy, think how another hunter may approach so you are not in the line of fire.

8. Calling that you suspect is another hunter may be just that. Leave the area. Again, taking the chance is not worth it. We all know that turkeys make some bad calls sometimes, but if you are just not sure about that hen out there, get up and leave.

 

This is not a complete list of safety tips, most of us would be well served to call our state DNR and take a Hunter Education course. If you do follow these however, you are on your way to a safer, more enjoyable season. Hunt hard, be safe, be true to yourself and the turkeys. 

 

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The trail less taken

                                                                  

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I, I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.–Robert FrostImage

 

Once I had a good friend that would relate many of the things that we deal with in life to the realm of the outdoor world. Hunting, fishing, trapping, and boating all served as a backdrop for his often earthy observations. As I stumble into my advanced years I catch myself doing the same thing.

Sometimes he would compare a buddy’s marital woes to various turkey hunting scenarios (“He got flushed off the roost and he ain’t comin’ back”). If a task was particularly difficult, he would say it was “Like putting a wool sweater on a bobcat”. You get the idea.

Although I am not that well read on Robert Frost poems, I wanted to use the quote from his famous “The Road Not Taken” to illustrate the intended theme of this site. To say that I was apprehensive when I started this project would be putting it lightly. I wanted to do this, but like Frost, I wanted the road less taken.

Like many of you I’m a hunter, fisherman, trapper, and former river guide. I don’t rightly know how many shotguns I have at present, but it’s not enough. I’ve owned beagles, blueticks, cur dogs and pointers. Had one really good dog in my life and have spent more than I will admit looking for another one. Just to put a finer point on the hunting part, I will confess to being somewhat obsessed with turkey hunting, spring and fall. One more thing, I have worked for the Division of Natural Resources for 35 years. I say all this only by way of introduction; I really don’t consider myself an expert on anything.

On this journey I hope that you will join me. We may float the river one day for smallmouths and the next head to some farm land with the 22.250 and see if there are any groundhogs left. Who knows, I may regale you with a dissertation about the grouse population. The point is I want this to be a site you enjoy, but unlike any other!! Taking the trail less traveled, will it make all the difference? I honestly don’t know, but it is the one that I must follow.

Now we embark upon this trail, you and me. I hope that you will enjoy it but might not always find it easy going.  You may encounter some obstacles along the way. “The trail not taken”, I believe, will take us many places. You might not agree with all that you read here, but you have my solemn promise that it will be heartfelt and factual.

    OK, time to go, your boots cinched up tight? Got enough shells? Candy bar and water bottle in your vest? Follow me……

Old Dogs

Image                                     “Blessed is the person that has earned the love of an old dog”.–  Sydney Jeanne Seward

 

The brown pointer trembled as I reached down to release her from the leash. The wind was coming up pretty good and her ears tousled back as she leaned forward and tested the air with that reddish nose. In a leap she was the young dog that I had often looked on in wonder as she plowed through the autumn woods. Once again a brawny, muscular, bulldozer of a dog that hunted with abandon and didn’t worry about obstacles since she could smash through anything. As vividly as the morning sun I saw the hunting light come into her eyes, she was two years old again and a being with a single purpose as she swept the woods.

Then just as quickly as she raced away the years seemed to fall upon her, the years and all the infirmities and pains that follow. She slowed at the top of a little rise, stopped and tested the wind again. The brown dog turned as if slightly embarrassed, but shot me a look that said as plain as day, “Once upon a time I could really tear it up, couldn’t I ol’ buddy?”

Somehow I have an old dog again, I have no idea how this happened, having vowed when I buried the last one that I would never do it again. Where did the years go? Most of us go through a momentary loss of our sanity when we acquire a puppy. We endure all that goes with it and we never once pause to consider what is coming down the road.

Old dogs love to be taken for a hunt, included in the day, thought of as part of the crew. Please remember it was not so long ago that they were the crew! They hate to sit at home and watch you load up the young dogs and drive away. They know exactly where you are going.

As hunters and outdoorsman we all know another kind of old dog. There are Dads, uncles, cousins, neighbors, or just a brother in camo that we know who would love to just get in the truck and go. They may sit there and never say a word as you load up with other young dogs and drive off. Stop and take a close look sometime, you will see the hunting light come up in their eyes.

They were the great hunters one time, they were the ones that told you stories about walking across Cheat Mountain and champion hunting dogs long gone. They were the ones that finally relented to your pleas to be included in the hunt, even when they feared you were not old enough. They saw the hunting light in your eyes and they took you into the fold.

The old dogs may not be able to follow you on every step of the hunt. They don’t care. They just want to go with you. They just want to be included. They may sit in the truck and wait for your stories when you return, or maybe just go to camp with you and be part of the crew. They just want to go!

One day you may remember this as you stop to pick up an old dog and take him to the mountains. You may look over and he will shoot you a look that says as plain as day, “Once upon a time I could really tear it up, couldn’t I ol’ buddy?”

The King of the LBL

 

Sometimes in life we as hunters and fisherman are blessed to meet someone on the trail that is a real gem, someone you know from the start is going to be a friend, one of your crew, a brother in camo. I had the great good fortune to meet such a person recently and I know that there are shining times ahead of us when we hit the woods.

I had been telling myself all winter that I was going to take a little trip somewhere out of state on a squirrel hunt. In the past year I tested the bounds of matrimonial bliss to the limit and acquired another dog. A little Mountain Cur to use as a squirrel dog. I have been mentored locally on this by some very able squirrel dog gurus, more on this at a later date. One of these is Mr. Richard Gentry of Wyoming County, a squirrel dog legend in his own right (ask him how many states he squirrel hunts in every winter). Through Mr. Gentry, I met the squirrel dog aficionado that I had the pleasure of hunting with last month, Kevin Murphy.

Mr. Murphy lives in western Kentucky, near Paducah, in the middle of a sportsman’s wonderland. There are lakes, rivers, marshes and thousands upon thousands of acres of public hunting ground. The Cumberland River runs parallel to the Tennessee River here, and somewhere in the 1940’s the Tennessee River was dammed and Kentucky Lake was formed, Lake Barkley was created when the Cumberland River was dammed in the 1960’s. The lakes themselves are massive and offer sportsman boatloads of opportunities in the hunting and fishing realm. What I want to talk to you about is what lies between these two lakes.

In days of yore, if local hunters were going to this area they would say they were going to hunt “the land between the rivers”. With the formation of the two lakes it became “The Land Between the Lakes”. The Land Between the Lakes consists of 177,000 acres, it is a National Recreation Area controlled and administered by the National Forest Service. The largest and northern portion of this area is in Kentucky and the southern portion is in the state of Tennessee. Sportsman can hunt deer, turkey, rabbits, squirrel, and waterfowl. This is where our buddy comes in, the “King of the LBL”, Kevin Murphy.

Mr. Murphy has hunted, trapped, fished and roamed this area since he was eight years old. He has an intimate knowledge of most of the nooks and crannies of this wonderful area. If he wasn’t chasing bobcats with hounds, rabbit hunting with beagles, or spearing suckers in one the creeks in the spring, he was probably pursuing his great love, squirrel hunting with a canny little fiest dog, or maybe a cur.

I spent three days following Mr. Murphy and some of his canine cohorts around, it was the end of the season, the weather was not the best, the squirrels were not overly active, but we still had a great time. Thanks in no small part to his knowledge of the area (he knew right where to go), and his general demeanor of friendliness and “hey, let’s just go enjoy the day”. He was a pure delight to be in the woods with. I learned much from him, and I know my Cur dog, Dottie, was a better dog after spending a few days in the woods under his tutelage.

I have to share a couple things with you about hunting with Kevin Murphy, he carries a hunting horn with him on every hunt, you know, the kind hunters used to blow on to call their hounds. At the start of each hunt, before you step into the woods, he blows a long note on the horn and he says the same thing every time. “The hunt has begun! They have been given fair warning! If they get kilt, it’s their own fault!” It’s classic. He also seems to have a special talent for naming dogs, and I don’t mean run of the mill dog names. We hunted with “Bobby J”, “Butchie Bad Toe”, and “Skipper Doddle” just to name a few.

In the woods you had better step lively to keep up with him, as me and one of my Georgia turkey hunting buddies, John Akin, found out. When the dogs would tree, I never found one squirrel before he did, he would always, and I mean always, spot them before anyone else. At the end of the day when it was time to skin squirrels, all you had to do was get out of his way. I have seen a few people that were good and fast at skinning the little rodents, but not in the class of Mr. Murphy! The last morning he made a hunters breakfast for us at his house, eggs, fried squirrel, gravy, made from scratch “cat-head” biscuits, and all the perked coffee you wanted. One more thing, he has without a doubt, in his basement the most incredible example of a man cave to be seen in this hemisphere. Remnants and treasures from over forty years of tramping the woods, pictures, deer skulls, steel traps, Indian artifacts, other stuff too numerous to mention, you really had to see it to believe it.

A world class host, good dogs, beautiful country, great food, friendly people at the local diner, good hunting, what’s not to like? I’m gonna get me a hunting horn and go back….

 

If you want to go to the LBL check the website www.lbl.org, or call 1-800-LBL-7077Image

Gettin’ Ready for Gobbler Season

 

Step one: Let’s pattern that shotgun.

 

Alright turkey hunters, listen up. It’s time to start getting ready to chase that big bird that makes all the racket in the spring. The Spring Gobbler season in West Virginia opens on April 28, so we have some time this year to have you better prepared than in the past.

First let’s talk about an important step that all too many hunters leave out, making sure that scatter gun is shooting where it’s supposed to. Far too many of us just grab the shotgun that has not been touched since the year before and hit the woods. The result is often pain and heart aches with misses and wounded turkeys. Here is how to avoid that.

  1. Do this on a day that you have plenty of time and you are not in a hurry! Have all the necessary items, a safe place to shoot, plenty of targets, paper, shotgun shells, and target holder. Don’t forget eye and hearing protection. This is best done from a bench rest.
  2. We all know how much recoil magnum turkey loads have. Do not start with the loads that you intend to hunt with! Take your first few shots with standard low brass field or target loads. Start at 25 yards on clean paper to see where the gun is hitting. Think of this as you would when sighting in a rifle. Just because you hold on the bulls eye does not mean that is where the greatest concentration of pellets will strike. The gun may pattern high right or low left or whatever. If your shotgun is patterning where you want at this range move out to 40 yards and see how it is doing here. Remember that you are not slapping the trigger as you may do when wing shooting, squeeze the trigger as if you were shooting a rifle
  3. If you think you are good at 40 yards with the field load, now try one of your turkey loads. With a new target, sight carefully, pull that stock in tight to the pocket on your shoulder and have your cheek firmly against the receiver of the gun as you sight down the barrel. You will experience more felt recoil if you are not correctly and firmly holding the gun. If you don’t do all this properly you may develop a flinch which any old shot gunner will tell you can be a bear to get out of. At 40 yards now you can use a turkey head target and get an idea of how many pellets your shotgun is putting in the vital area. On a turkey this is the head and neck. The ideal shot for a gobbler is standing still, with his neck craned straight up. Your aiming point is where flesh on the neck meets the feathers; this should center your pattern in the head and neck area.
  4. A shot gun is an imprecise weapon! For reasons known only in heaven any given gun will not shoot different loads and brands of shells the same. Some shotguns just naturally like certain loads better than others. Volumes have been written on this and we have no room to explore it here, just trust me, try some different loads and find the one your shotgun likes best. When it comes to ounces of shot in a load, more is not always better. You may find you get a better pattern with a 1 &1/2 or 1&5/8 ounce load of shot than you do with 2 ounces.If you have never patterned your turkey slayer before I guarantee if you follow these steps you will learn something and will be much better prepared when you venture forth into the spring woods. Now go burn some powder!

     

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The Promise of Spring

 

Spring work is going on with joyful enthusiasm”  John Muir

 

When we first stepped into the woods yesterday morning I knew you could tell it was coming, the past months have been long and hateful, but the promise that we have cannot be denied. Like the cottontail that runs in his circle as the beagles plead with us to be ready, it is not here yet, but it is coming. The line of geese we saw yesterday evening told us the same thing, not yet, but it’s coming. As outdoorsman we stand with our brothers everywhere, steeped in our anticipation of all that is to come, the promises that have been bestowed to us and handed down for generations.

One of the first of these for me has been the admittedly premature scouting and listening for turkeys to gobble. It’s not really necessary to be out there in the middle of March and hear turkeys make that racket when you aren’t going to be hunting until the last week of April. We go anyway; we stand in the cold and the dark and wait for that first gobble. For a moment you may despair and think it might not happen this year. Maybe we are so weary from the winter that we doubt ourselves and what is our promise on God’s green earth. Listen, have faith, watch as the pale glow starts in the east. That big ‘ol bird with the red, white and blue head is going to rattle and lay your fears to rest.

Mike called and told us that he had already been native brook trout fishing, twice. I won’t lie and say I wasn’t envious at first, but then you reminded me that he was only exercising one of the quintessential traditions of spring for an outdoorsman, catching a native brook trout. The brook trout stands as a symbol of wild places in the spring. He is born, lives and dies in sometimes tiny mountain streams and bears little resemblance to his stocked relatives. He is also as tasty as he is beautiful. If we are going to talk about putting fresh brook trout in a skillet (with fried potatoes of course), we can’t do that without what else? Ramps!

In this part of the world most people who tramp the woods don’t have spring without ramps, a plant resembling a green onion that grows wild in the mountains. Going out and digging “a mess of ramps” is as much a part of the ritual as catching the trout. They are as essential to the season as warmer weather, getting the garden ready, and O yeah, turkeys and trout. We are told that they are a member of the leek family and are famous for a fragrance known only to a ramp. Personally, I think ramps are like bluegrass music, you either love them or you hate them. I like both and hope we will always have ramps, fried potatoes, and brook trout. (All cooked stream side where the trout came from of course.)

Most of you woodsman know what’s coming next. After ramps, the spring woods bring us another delicacy, the morel mushroom. Morels occur only in the spring and most look like a small, light brown, somewhat shriveled Christmas tree. Roaming the woods in search of morels is all part of the experience, and good morel locations are often as closely guarded as secret turkey places.

There are certainly worse ways to spend a day than scouting for turkeys, digging ramps, catching a trout or two, and look for morels while you are at. Almost forgot, you just might find an antler shed with those mushrooms.

These are just some of the promises we are given when spring comes to the Appalachian Mountains. They are yours to enjoy and pass on to your children, see that you do that, passing all of this to the next generations ensures the continuation of the outdoor culture we cherish so much.

I know it’s supposed to be bad tomorrow, but we are still gonna go out past the old log barn and listen right? Pick you up at 5:30? You bring the meal worms, I’ll bring the coffee.