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Stalking Turkey
Preseason scouting is essential
for successful turkey hunting.

By Matt Williams

The spring eastern gobbler season is still more than a month down the road for the 24 East Texas counties set to participate in the year 2002. But if you're truly serious about bagging a mature Tom during the the April 17-30 shotgun/archery only season, you'd best get in a pro-active mode and start doing your homework right now.

The essence of spring gobbler hunting is based on interacting with the birds at a time of year when the desire to procreate causes them to be vocal and overly curious.

Hunters most often use calls to mimic the sounds of a hen, thereby arousing the gobbler's sex drive. Ideally, a gobbler that's high on testosterone will respond to the sounds of a lovesick hen with a raspy "gobble-gobble-gobble"-a resonant blast which can be heard from a considerable distance on a crisp and still spring morning. The idea at that point is to use one or more manually or mouth-operated calls to lure a mature bird into shooting range-30 yards or less.

While it is entirely possible to go hunting "cold turkey" and stumble across a responsive longbeard on opening morning, the hunter who gets in the woods early and locates one or more birds ahead of time will have a big advantage over the nimrod who doesn't.

This holds especially true when hunting on public land, an abundant resource in several of the East Texas counties where eastern gobblers will be fair game for shotgunners and archers next month.

In all, there will be well over 400,000 acres of public land available to spring turkey hunters this season, most of which comes in the form of national forests, Corps of Engineers, state wildlife management area properties or public hunting program units.

While portions of the public land are lacking in viable turkey habitat, others harbor some of the prettiest upland pine/hardwood bottomland stands of timber found anywhere in the country.

The majestic easterns have responded well in these isolated pockets. So well, in fact, that wild turkey gurus like John Burk of Nacogdoches rate the public hunting opportunities available in eastern Texas as good as or better than those found in Missouri and Arkansas.

In order to hunt wild turkeys successfully in the spring, you need to know what makes them tick."Much of the public land in eastern Texas is literally crawling with wild turkeys - it's as good as I've found anywhere in the country," notes Burk. "And what continues to amaze me is how underutilized the resource is. I spend several days hunting on national forest land each year and rarely come across another hunter.

"That's what makes the public hunting in East Texas so good," he adds. "The birds are just as plentiful here as they are in Missouri and Arkansas, but there's only a small fraction of the hunters competing for them."

Burk was bitten by the by the spring gobbler hunting bug many moons ago. The bite was so infectious, in fact, that he went to school and learned everything he could about the regal North American game birds.

Burk's intensive schooling resulted in multiple college degrees in wildlife biology with a major emphasis on eastern wild turkey management. His background eventually lead to his being named to the eastern wild turkey program of the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department.

Bottom line is Burk knows eastern wild turkeys and he knows how to hunt them in East Texas. Here's are some tips he dished out in relation to preseason scouting:

The gobbling phenomenon

In order to hunt wild turkeys successfully in the spring, you need to know what makes them tick.

According to Burk, there are two peak gobbling periods for wild turkeys. These periods are controlled entirely by "photo periods"-the amount of daylight coming through the birds' eye.

"The first peak gobbling period occurs once the hens reach the necessary protein plateau in their nutritional intake to start producing eggs," explains Burk. "When this occurs, the hens start to show signs of being receptive to breeding. The gobbler's testis enlarge based on hormonal releases from the photo periods, which in turn triggers the first peak in gobbling activity.

"The second gobbling peak occurs when the hens start sitting on nests," adds Burk. "That's when the gobblers are actively looking for more receptive hens. During this period is when the season in East Texas is prime to open."

Based on historic reports, gobbling activity around most of East Texas is usually fairly moderate during the first week or so of March. As the month drags on and days grow longer, however, the birds become increasingly vocal.

"I always get more turkey sighting reports during early March than I do reports of gobbling birds," explains Burk. "But that usually begins to change toward the end of the month. In my opinion, that's the best time to start scouting. Your chances of getting the birds to respond are a lot better and you run less of a risk of burning yourself out or writing a good area off before the season gets here."

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