The three gobblers were somewhere on the Monroe County mountain. I had heard them sounding off a few days before the 2011 season began. I had observed sign all over the steep parcel from the Greenbrier River tributary at the bottom of the mountain to the clear cut at the top. But the time was now 8:00 a.m., and I still had not heard a turkey-generated sound.
Walking along the logging road that ran across the mountain and adjacent to the clear cut, I decided on a new strategy.
A grove of white and red oaks lies at the end of the logging road and abuts the clear cut. I decided to set up in that grove until 12:30 when it would be time to walk down the mountain. What’s more, I committed to sitting in the same spot that entire time.
Sooner or later I hoped one or more of those gobblers would come into my hen chatter. This was a better gambit than going up and down the mountain and possibly spooking the toms and their hens.
The last part of the strategy was also the first that I would execute. Before setting up for the duration, I eased over to first one lip of the mountain and then the other and cast gobbler yelps into the hollows on the respective sides. Then follow them up with some excited hen yelps.
I ambled to the left side first, emitted some gobbler yelps and immediately I heard animated male yelps right back. I quickly retreated to the oak I had selected as my setup site, mounted my 12-gauge Remington autoloader, and settled in. From past experience, I knew that events were likely to become both tense and exhilarating extremely soon.
And I was right. A few minutes later, all three gobblers crested the mountaintop on the run. I hurriedly uttered some yelps, which were enough to slow the threesome. Then I shouldered the shotgun and fired at the middle gobbler.
Soon the tom and I were on our way down the mountainside to a Gap Mills check station.
The pre-season scouting expedition mentioned earlier was the major reason I tagged that tom this past spring. Indeed, the week leading up to the opening of West Virginia’s turkey season, which this year begins on April 23 and runs through May 19, is crucial to success. With that mind, let’s ask three veteran hunters for their best tips toward having a fruitful early season this year.
JIM CLAY OF PETTUS
Jim Clay was born in Pettus, a small town in Raleigh County near the Boone County line. Clay, who runs Perfection Turkey Calls, took me on my first West Virginia turkey hunt. In fact, that 1986 outing was my initial turkey hunt anywhere. Clay killed his first turkey in the early 1960s.
“One of the challenges of hunting the early season is West Virginia is such a long way across from north to south, he said. “What the gobblers will be doing in the Southern Coalfields is likely to be very different from how they are acting in the north central part of the state.”
“For example, in late April in counties like Boone and Logan in the coalfields and Monroe and Greenbrier in southern West Virginia, the forests and fields should be very green and gobbling at its peak.
“But in the central mountain counties and north central West Virginia, the woods could still look like winter and the birds might not be gobbling at all,” Clay explained.
“And in the Northern Panhandle, along the Ohio River, conditions may be somewhere between those two extremes. That’s why hunters in the northern and central parts of the state shouldn’t be too concerned when their birds aren’t gobbling well early in the season,” he concluded.
Based on that scenario Clay likes to hunt the southern part of the state or the lower lying Eastern Panhandle counties early in the season. If a hunter has the time, inclination, and unfilled tags, then a sound strategy would be to hunt higher and more northward as the season progresses. Additionally, counties like Pocahontas and Webster, which feature high elevations and vast chunks of the Monongahela National Forest, often produce better hunting later than earlier in the season.
Hunters need to adapt different strategies for hunting these disparate regions.
“In the southern part of West Virginia, I would recommend doing more run-and-gun style hunting early in the season, if you’re not hearing birds,” Clay continued. “Try cutting and jake gobbling. In much of the rest of the state, since you likely will not be hearing intense gobbling, I would suggest trying a more stationary strategy, calling for an hour or so in one location before moving on.
“For the stationary calling, try soft yelps, clucks, and purrs. Whichever sound you make, don’t be too aggressive or call too much. Finally, remember these are just general guidelines. All turkey hunting is local and gobblers in the same county can act very differently depending on numerous factors.”
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