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When hunting spring gobblers, it's better late than never

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- To many hunters, West Virginia's spring gobbler season ended two weeks ago.

It didn't, of course. In fact, it won't end until Saturday. But don't tell that to the thousands of hunters who quit trying to bag a turkey after the season's first few days.

One of the state's leading turkey authorities has some advice for them - spend the next few days hunting.

"One of my really good friends has hunted spring gobblers for years, and he's kept a diary of his hunts," said Curtis Taylor, wildlife chief for the state Division of Natural Resources. "He always said the last week of the season is the best. I tend to agree with him."

Taylor favors late-season hunting for one overriding reason: The later in the season, the easier gobblers are to kill.

"Are there the same number of gobblers out there? No. By this time of the season, we've already killed a bunch of them," he explained. "But those that remain are still very interested in mating, and most of the hens are unavailable because they're sitting on eggs."

With so few hens available, gobblers become - well - desperate, and much less cautious than they might have been earlier in the season.

And contrary to what many hunters think, gobblers aren't "gobbled out" by late May.

"Back when I was doing radio [telemetry] work on hens, I watched a gobbler breed a hen on the Fourth of July weekend," Taylor said.

"It was an immature hen, and she didn't nest, but the moral of the story is that the gobbler was still interested in breeding weeks after the season was over. If the mating season was over, nobody told him."

Mature gobblers are seldom easy to kill, but late in the season they seem more prone to throw caution to the wind.

"Late in the season, it might take two or three days before you hear a bird gobble, but if you hear one, nine times out of 10 you're going to kill it unless you do something stupid," Taylor said.

That certainly squares with my experience. The first turkey I ever killed came on the next-to-last day of the season. I didn't know squat about turkey calling at the time, and Frank Addington Sr. volunteered to do the calling for me.

We climbed to the top of a ridge in northern Kanawha County well after sunup. As soon as we caught our breath, Frank yelped a few notes. We listened for a moment, and when we didn't hear any gobbles we walked a couple hundred yards down a gas-well road and Frank called again.

From the nearby bushes, from no more than 40 yards away, a gobbler thundered a response.

Frank and I looked at each other and dove toward the side of the roadway. Seconds after I pulled down my camo face mask and settled into a shooting position, the gobbler came charging out of the weeds.

Not all late-season hunts result in "flash kills," of course, but they certainly can.

Taylor said a more likely scenario would require considerably more patience.

"If you get a [late-season] turkey to answer you, put the call away and don't call any more," he advised. "He knows where you are. It might take him 5 minutes, 50 minutes or 5 hours, but he's going to come over and check you out. He thinks there's a hen where you are, and he's looking to breed her."

Fooling a late-season gobbler, Taylor added, depends more on hunters' stealth and woodsmanship than their calling ability.

"Knowing how to be still and when to stay put really makes a difference. Hunters who do that are the ones who bring home those late-season birds."


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