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Turkeys avoiding hunters early in season

Through April 10, the spring turkey season in my part of northwest Mississippi had been something of a disappointment. At least that's the case in the circles I travel.

Our annual family hunt has been the poorest we've had in a long time — no one has bagged a bird. Worse, very little contact has been made between hunters and gobblers, which is quite surprising. Driving around the hunting club property last fall and this winter we saw an unusually large number of birds of all kinds, including droves of mixed birds and droves of jakes and old gobblers. I saw one drove of 12 adult gobblers back in November and almost everyone else who hunts on the property was seeing lots of turkeys.

If the “no jake” rule that went into effect two years ago is working as predicted, we should be seeing (or at least hearing) lots of gobbling. We're not where we are hunting.

Not everyone has been unsuccessful. I've seen several nice birds taken by friends. Perhaps most of us simply have not been in the right place at the right time (which is, no doubt, the very best known technique for bagging your turkey).

I am also quite certain that the turkey flocks along the Mississippi River are not nearly as prone to gobble as they were 20 or 30 years ago. Some of the experts don't agree with me on this, but I am convinced that 50 years of hard hunting has resulted in our killing out the strain of turkeys that were programmed to gobble a lot.

It seems reasonable that the noisy birds that make their presence known to hunters are more likely to wind up on the meat pole than are gobblers stingy with their calling. Some very well-known and respected Alaskan salmon fishermen have proven to their own satisfaction that salmon that roll on top of the water a lot get caught. The result is that future generations of rolling salmon get cut off at the pass while the less active fish (much harder to locate and catch) breed true to their nature. I heard once that some snake experts believe rattlesnakes nowadays don't rattle as much as they used to due to the fact that the noisy snakes get killed.

All of this theorizing might be hogwash, but I am convinced that it is true with wild Eastern turkeys.

There were times, especially the 1950s and 1960s, when there were more turkeys than we have now, and we had much more gobbling. Sometimes several of us could walk down a woods road on the Burke Club before dawn and wait for gobbling time to arrive. Usually at the crack of dawn, several birds would begin gobbling from all directions. We would then decide which gobbler each of us would go to.

That is a thing of the past in my woods. If you now hear one or two gobble on the roost, you are very lucky indeed.

The reduction in gobbling is not confined to the lands along the Big River. When I first began hunting in the Missouri Ozarks back in the middle 1970s, it was not uncommon for us to hear 10 or 12 turkeys gobbling after Carl Hall saluted them with the very best “owling” I have ever heard. One morning Sam Barker and I stood beside Carl and heard 11 different turkeys respond to the owling. (As it turned out, none of us bagged one because just locating the gobblers is not enough.) You can consider yourself lucky if you hear two gobblers calling on the roost nowadays in that same piece of wilderness woods.

I hope things will improve. We have until May 1 to keep at it, but frankly I care little for the hunting after about April 20. It usually is too hot and there is too much vegetation. The birds are out there, however, so most of us keep right on trying.

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