From the 07 April 2006 New
York Outdoor News
CONNECTING ON FARMLAND BIRDS: WIDE-OPEN EXCITEMENT
By Bob Confer
The wild turkey in New York State is an ever-evolving
When the Department of
Environmental Conservation began reintroducing turkeys throughout the State
in the early 1960’s it was culling from flocks of birds that had crossed the
border into Southwestern New York from Pennsylvania. These were birds of
Appalachia, birds of big woods.
New York’s flocks remained
as such for decades. But, in the 1980’s, things changed. The wild turkey’s
range exploded and the birds moved north and east. The birds had adapted
their behavior to fit the New York landscape. These vagabond birds began to
frequent smaller woodlands and took up residence in farm country where there
existed a great deal of crops and insects that could keep them feed all
summer and through the most difficult of winters.
In the early 1990’s, the
wild turkey went from being an anomaly on the Niagara Frontier and
agricultural Finger Lakes region to becoming a common sight. The sportsmen
who had whet their appetites traveling to the Southern Tier for forest birds
now had birds in their own towns, maybe in their own backyards.
These turkeys have proven
to be a slightly different bird, requiring an alteration in tactics that had
become tradition in turkey hunting circles. It’s time to break tradition and
focus on tactics that will help you bag a trophy turkey in Rural New
Pre-season scouting has
always been touted as a key to success for spring hunts. A late-April jaunt
into the woods allows you to determine where exactly the birds may be as
woodland turkeys tend be slightly nomadic, basing their movements on the
availability of mast crops from the previous growing season. In such
scouting efforts it is necessary to cautiously cover a lot of ground on
foot, while calling in earnest at the same time with hen calls and owl hoots
Farmland turkeys cannot be
scouted in the same manner as their woodland cousins as the aforementioned
tactics could actually prove quite detrimental. The woodlots of farm country
tend to be relatively small, sometimes just five to twenty acres in size.
Walking through such woodlots in search of your quarry can flush them out of
the area and can prove traumatic enough that they may not come back to that
specific woodlot. You must make it a point to keep your spring turkey
woodlots off limits, not only to yourself, but to others if at all possible.
The less the birds are molested the better.
That’s not saying that
scouting should not undertaken. It’s actually a more important tool for farm
turkeys. They are considerably more nomadic than forest turkeys as their
movements are dependent on the availability not just of woodland mast crops,
but agricultural offerings as well. Scouting should be done in a slightly
different manner, actually taking more effort than standard methods.
Farmland turkey becomes more clandestine, utilizing a year-round form of
avian espionage that requires you to interact with people.
Turkeys are perceived by
most people – sportsmen and non-sportsmen alike – as a remarkable sight.
People are fascinated by their size, behaviors, and often-sizable flocks.
So, in farm country where the birds are quite visible to all as they feed in
roadside fields they become a topic of conversation. In small towns word
gets around pretty well, too. Much like a turkey detective, make it a point
to strike up conversations about local sightings in the usual rumor mills,
places like diners, barbershops, and churches. You can assess the
availability of birds through this method, which you should utilize all
winter long. If people can lead you to a large winter flock there is a very
good chance that even a few of those birds will remain in that wooded area
through the spring.
You will also need to log
some miles on your vehicle in the fall prior to your spring hunt. Keep an
eye open for fields of crops which can easily have leftovers strewn about in
the harvesting process. This can supply food to turkeys throughout the harsh
winter months. If you can find fields of corn and green beans adjacent to
sizable woodlots you have a good chance of discovering the home of your next
All of the above is
contingent upon getting permission to hunt the birds. If you play your cards
right you should have nearly a half-dozen woodlots scoped out in the
scouting process. Ask permission well before the season opener. Chances are
these all won’t be managed by the same farmer. Therefore, you will need to
develop a relationship with the farm’s owners. In most cases, farmers will
willingly allow you to hunt turkeys. The birds are nowhere near as popular
as deer to the hunting public at large, so your chances of getting denied
are very small. As a matter of fact, you should prepare yourself for some
good-natured ribbing, as many farmers might inquire, “Why would you want to
hunt those stupid birds?”
SETTING UP FOR THE HUNT
Farmland turkeys tend to be
showier and more visible than woodland turkeys. This is because woodland
birds are more of an auditory creature, relying on the acoustics of
woodlands and forested valleys to propagate their calls for long distances.
Farmland turkeys cannot use such methods as efficiently, because their calls
and gobbles travel smaller distances due to poor acoustics. Their sounds get
muffled by the windy, open air in fields and by the many background noises
associated with agrarian American…farm equipment and the sounds of
civilization like cars, homes, and barking dogs, all of which can travel
considerable distances and really aren’t a part of the equation for big
So, farmland turkeys rely
on their vision to get mates. Hens will stroll forest edges and toms will
put on impressive fanning displays in fields. Some toms will fan for hours
on end in a relatively small area, making themselves very noticeable and
attracting hens from a wide area. It can also attract some hunting pressure
as well, since the birds are so visible on a regular basis.
That being said, it is
necessary for farmland hunters to set up on a forest edge, just a few feet
away from the field. Unless the woodlot is in excess of fifteen acres you
should not dive far into the woodlot as you would were you hunting a forest
bird. Position yourself in a corner so you can watch the woodlot’s interior
and get good coverage of the adjoining fields.
Many forest hunters can get
away with not using a decoy. Such is not the case with farmland birds. Based
upon the importance of visualization to these birds, a decoy is a necessary
tool, and is absolutely required to insure your success. Set the ersatz hen
up in the field, at your furthest effective distance within shotgun range.
This is so it stands out and does not get lost in the forest backdrop were
it to be too close. Improve your chances with a second or even third decoy
between you and that bird.
BRINGING THE BIRD IN FOR THE KILL
Rural turkeys are a
different breed. Were you to call like maniac in a forest setting you’d
probably be accused of overcalling and chances are you wouldn’t bag a tom,
especially an old one in excess of twenty pounds. But, “overcalling” is par
for the course for farmland turkeys.
By design they are less
confused by an overabundance of calls, not because they seem less wary than
their forest brethren, but because of the aforementioned need to visualize
their mates due to poor acoustics. By relying on their eyes and so rarely
being able to hear calls for any sort of distance, when they are given the
chance to hear calls the farmland tom’s testosterone really starts to flow.
Calls are so unusual to their standard means of hooking up, that they just
brim with sexual frustration. Their heads will become deep, nasty blood red.
They will gobble incessantly. They may even display for hours on end, never
moving from their staging area out in the field.
Keep calling. You need to
keep that bird’s attention, you need to keep the pump primed, and you need
to ensure that you have that tom’s attention above all. Thing is, being a
visual creature, once he actually sees a hen he may ditch you, no matter how
worked up you made him. This is why a decoy is so vitally important. It adds
a visual cue to your incessant calling.
As a perfect indication of
the importance of over-calling farm birds, one of the nicest toms I ever
bagged took almost two hours to call in as he was debating between me and a
hen that was walking about just a quarter of a mile away in the same hay
field as he. After nearly two hundred calls to him and an amazing (and
utterly thrilling) 185-gobbled responses, I took down the 21-pound beast and
it’s 10-inch beard.
Farmland turkeys are a
different breed. They require slightly different tactics than those employed
for the turkeys of large forests. Adjust your gameplans accordingly and
chances are you’ll put yourself into position for remarkable experience in
the field, one you won’t soon forget.