In late October in Maryland, the first frost of the year signals the approaching holiday season, brilliant autumn foliage drifts to the ground in the crisp autumn breeze, and the aroma of freshly baked pumpkin pie fills the air. To many Marylanders, this is the essence of fall.
For some, however, this time of the year also means wild turkey hunting, which enjoys a long, rich tradition and a faithful following among western Maryland sportsmen and women. It is a time when families come together and time-tested skills are passed down from one generation to the next. For many, it is the time to make their annual pilgrimage up to mountain hunting camps where they revel in stories of past outings and enjoy the camaraderie of fellow hunters. No matter what motivates hunters to pursue this magnificent game bird, a turkey hunt nearly always results in an experience not soon forgotten.
From the Verge of Extinction
By the turn of the twentieth century, only remnants of Maryland's once abundant turkey populations remained. In fact, in 1919, state Game Warden F. Lee LeCompte concluded, "Wild turkeys, outside a few sections in the western counties of our state, are practically extinct."
Thanks to a 30-year restoration program spearheaded by the Department of Natural Resources and partners such as the National Wild Turkey Federation, the bird can now be found in every Maryland county. Not since precolonial times have wild turkeys been so plentiful and widespread across the state, and with their comeback has arisen a renewed interest in turkey hunting, most of which is a result of the introduction of a spring season.
Turkey hunters and watchers spend a great deal of money on everything from turkey calls and camouflage clothing to binoculars and cameras, resulting in millions of dollars flowing into Maryland's economy. Although it is difficult to assess the exact benefit of turkeys to the economy, reasonable estimates can be obtained from recent surveys.1
1U.S. Department of the Interior, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and U.S. Department of Commerce, U.S. Census Bureau. 2001 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting, and Wildlife-Associated Recreation.
This season allows for hunting at a non-traditional time of year-a time when sportsmen can experience the thrill of thunderous gobbles and dazzling mating displays that occur only during the spring.
Nonetheless, fall hunting is arguably more challenging than spring hunting, for
it takes skill and perseverance to consistently outwit the wily mountain turkeys
As would be expected, DNR's Wildlife and Heritage Service conducts a variety of
surveys to monitor turkey populations, which aid in the management of the
species. Through these efforts, Marylanders will avoid repeating the history of
overexploitation, ensuring that wild turkeys continue to be a treasured part of
our heritage for years to come.
Large expanses of public lands enable everyone to find a great
place to hunt, although the most popular sites are in Green Ridge State Forest
in Allegany County and Savage River State Forest in Garrett County. On nearly
100,000 combined acres, hunters can explore the remote forests with relatively
little competition, but they should not overlook the region's smaller public
tracts. Excellent turkey habitat can be found in most state forests and parks,
and all six wildlife management areas in the region harbor plenty of birds.
Unlike the traditional fall turkey season, spring hunters can venture into the woods anywhere in the state to test their skills against these magnificent birds. Spring hunting allows sportsmen and women to hunt when other popular hunting seasons, such as those for deer and waterfowl, are closed. This type of hunting can be exciting, for the birds readily respond to calling and often send thunderous gobbles echoing through the forest.
Since the spring season was opened in 1970, interest in the sport has risen to an all-time high. Currently, there are more than 15,000 spring turkey hunters in Maryland, and they harvest about 3,000 turkeys annually. The season now lasts five weeks from mid-April to late May, giving hunters ample opportunities to head afield.
Wild turkeys have exceptionally keen eyesight, finely tuned hearing and an uncanny ability to escape danger. The chances of stalking within range of even one turkey are low, let alone a flock of 50. Imagine 100 eyes diligently searching for something out of place!
For this reason the most commonly employed tactic is to break up the flock. This is accomplished by charging the flock while screaming and shouting, causing the birds to scatter in all directions. The skilled hunter will then patiently sit motionless, occasionally imitating their assembly call, aptly termed the "kee-kee run," as it consists of a series of kee-kee notes. It may take several hours, but the call should eventually entice a curious turkey within gun range. Later, that turkey will become a delicious Thanksgiving feast, but the fond memories of outwitting the clever bird will far outlast the meal itself.
More safety tips... Bob Long...
More safety tips...