Sportsman’s Corner by Mike Roche: Turkey time 

  • This red eft was the high point of a recent turkey hunt. PHOTO BY MIKE ROCHE

Published: 4/28/2022 4:15:35 PM
Modified: 4/28/2022 4:14:08 PM

The Massachusetts spring turkey hunting season began this past Monday. This column was penned Wednesday afternoon and as of that time, this writer and turkey hunter had not bagged a bird. If that were the sole barometer of success, the season has been a failure to date but, for me, there are many other measurements to rate turkey hunting. Take Wednesday morning’s hunt, for example. Shortly after 5 a.m. the Silverado was pulling over to park when a woodcock flew up in the headlights. That sighting in itself was worth getting up at that early hour. Knowing the area where the day’s hunt would take place again had a woodcock population, even though I do not hunt upland birds there, was good news.

Next, the turkey hunting gear was assembled and my conversion to a pack mule began. That gear included, in order of loading, my L.L. Bean turkey vest first. The vest is no longer sold, and it was a prize won at a raffle 10 years ago. The vest has several pockets, pouches and slots to hold the “stuff” that turkey hunters carry with them. That would include locator calls like crow calls, owl calls, goose calls and my personal favorite the peacock call. Other essentials are a rangefinder (the Vortex laser model works in poor light), binoculars, a camouflage gloves, a face mask, slate calls, box calls (Lynch World Champion of course!), a turkey carrier, camo handkerchiefs, glasses, chalk for the box calls, ammunition, and a selection of diaphragm mouth calls. Like many vests, this one has a seat cushion and also has one large detachable pouch for lunch and drinks.

Once the vest is on and zipped, the seat du jour is slung over the shoulder. A small folding stool or the larger “turkey lounger” is slung over a shoulder. Next come the decoys. Either a single hen AvianX decoy or sometimes a second hen or a jake decoy in bags also are slung over a shoulder. Finally, the shotgun is also slung over a shoulder and we then are off into the darkness.

Wednesday morning followed a hard rain and finally the woods were quiet. The dry spell made walking on the dried leaves and twigs underfoot very noisy. Turkeys have great hearing and that factored into all movements. The pre-dawn presented the usual noises as this beast of burden walked a woods road into the property. Pausing early, my best owl call, delivered by voice, was answered by a deafening silence. Quietly walking the old road, some songbird calls began and when the destination was reached, and the chair was utilized, the woods began to wake up. A second owl hoot, the “who cooks for you, who cooks for you-all” call of the barred owl, got an immediate answer from an owl and then two others piped in. Often, that chorus sets off rooster gobblers but not this time. Passing geese did not fire up any gobbles and my soft mouth calls including tree yelps, putts, purrs and my most sensuous sounds were also unanswered. After an hour, it was up and moving, calling and listening before moving ahead to try again.

The daylight did not change things, but the things encountered on the walk, including moose droppings and a red eft, were interesting and the spot where a nice gobbler came in and was dropped last season was visited and the moment recalled. Eventually, we were back at the truck and unloaded all the gear into the Decked drawers and drove off to a second spot where tons of acorns and some fresh hen scratching yielded the same lack of response.

Clearly, the woodcock and the red eft were the highlight memories as the morning ended. The eastern newt, whose scientific name is Notophthalmusviridescens, is a common newt of eastern North America and the red eft is one life stage of the salamander. It frequents small lakes, ponds, and streams or nearby wet forests. The eastern newt produces tetrodotoxin, which makes the species unpalatable to predatory fish and crayfish. It has a lifespan of 12 to 15 years in the wild, and it may grow to 5 inches in length. The red eft, with its striking bright orange color, is the juvenile stage.

Perhaps my time would have better spent trout fishing. Good catches are being reported locally with all local trout waters receiving fish. You can get “real-time” stocking info at the MassWildlife web page. Good luck! Remember that if you are in a canoe or kayak you are required to wear a life jacket until May 15.

Tuesday’s hunt was also memorable as my brother Chris joined me for his first turkey hunt. Our first destination had just been occupied by another truck, so we moved to a second spot where nothing talked to us. We moved again and this time we heard gobbles once we trekked into the property. After setting up the hen decoy, we listened as the gobblers stayed just out of sight and moved, obviously following hens. Every trick in the book was attempted but nothing worked and we left without a chance. Unfortunately, we did see toms displaying for hens at a bird feeder. That theme is very common. Hopefully that will change as hens begin to nest and toms get lonely. It was good that Chris did not get the idea that turkey hunting is easy.

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