Monday, February 28, 2011

NWTF Hunting Heritage Banquet in the Barrie Area

The Barrie Boss Gobblers Chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation will be hosting their 5th Annual Hunting Heritage Banquet on Saturday, April 2, 2011 at the Army, Navy, Air Force Club in Barrie, Ontario.  Doors open at 5:00pm & the dinner starts at 6:30pm

This is my hometown banquet and I've been to a few of these in the last few years.  The Army, Navy, Air Force Auxiliary always hosts a great meal, there are some great prizes to be won, and it is a chance to share some stories and time with other hunters.  If you are in the Barrie and are interested in attending, details on pricing and how to get your tickets can be obtained by contacting Jim Terry via email.

The Pines Gobbler

I do not know how old the Pines Gobbler was in 2009, but three or four years might have been a safe guess.  I did not doubt that he has been chased by many hunters, a lot of whom were probably better than me, and for aperiod in 2009 he became my white whale.

I first saw him on the Saturday before the 2009 opener, while I was out scouting.  He crossed a road fifteen yards from my parked car, and I could tell than that he was better than average.  He was tall and his beard was thick and would push double digits; his spurs looked like they already had a good hook.  But most distinctive of all is his gobble.  After crossing the road that early April morning he began to sound off in a stand of hardwoods at every hen turkey, crow and blue jay.  His was a full, throaty holler that is unmistakable to me now.  He roosted in a stand of pines that no one I know had permission to hunt in.  After flying down he'd ramble around an area of a few square miles, but almost nightly he would return to roost in the fobidden pine stand.

I saw him again on the second day of the 2009 season while I was driving home from an afternoon hunt with my cousin.  The old tom was across the road from his roost pines and fifty yards out from a stand of trees in a field that my family owns.  When we slowed down to look he began walking towards the field edge and out of sight.  We devised a quick plan and looped the block to set up an ambush for him.  Things looked good, but when we got to our spot he was gone.  He did not gobble or putt, he had simply vanished.  We called and called but he remained mute.  I momentarily pondered whether or not we had been hallucinating.

Two weeks later I was in the same neck of the woods, this time with my brother.  It had rained throughout the morning and no one had seen a gobbler, which made for an early end to the morning hunt.  When the rain stopped we prepared to head out and our Dad told us that he had seen a big gobbler in the pasture immediately adjacent to that off-limits pine stand.  We double-timed it to a spot parallel but distant from where the gobbler had been seen and slowly walked to set up.  When we were not twenty yards into the woods he gobbled and seconds later he thundered again, closer.  We rushed to set up and as I faced west my brother faced east.  Webegan calling to him; every time he answered, he came closer and closer until only a single ridge stood between him and us.  If he came directly over the ridge or around it to the west, I would have had a thirty yard shot.  If he came around the east side, my brother would have had the same.  The gobbler foiled us both when he grew bored and walked straight away from our set up.  During his escape my brother had glimpsed a couple of hens with him.  A tense, silent hour later we gave up, and circling the block by car we saw no sign of him.  Again he had disappeared.  I was not sure quite what we had done wrong, but it was now abundantly clear that this gobbler was going to be very tough to kill.

That night was spent at a memorial celebration for a hunting companion who had died before turkey season but I heard through others at the event that the gobbler had roosted in the pine stand again.  I set my mind on harvesting him.  Three and a half hours of fitful sleep stood between me and the day that I was determined to make the one when I would get the Pines Gobbler.  The plan was to get in very early, get as close as I could without spooking the bird and then wait for him to fly down.  Despite being so wily, he was laughably predictable and almost every morning he walked out of the pines, crossed the narrowest point of the pasture, and went into the woods I had hunted the day before with my brother.  I made a promise to myself that I would not call once.

The morning began badly.  While getting dressed, the button broke off of the only pair of hunting pants I had brought, forcing me to wear my belt extra tight.  When I parked my car at 4:30am I accidentally set the car alarm off and it blared for twenty seconds while I fished for the keys that I had buried in my turkey vest.  I was now positive that every bird in the township was spooked and that I may as well go back to bed, but when he gobbled on the roost I knew I had to try him.  Ten minutes later, and well ahead of sunrise, I reached a finger of cedars that was directly south from his pine tree roost and I set to making myself invisible by hunkering back into the cedar edge so that only my gun barrel was poking out.  Just over 100 yards away he gobbled constantly until fly down and it took all my energy to not yelp ever so softly on my diaphragm.  I heard him hit the ground just before six and I steadied my shotgun on my knee.

For half an hour after fly down the woods were silent and nothing came into the pasture.  I worried that he had heard me or my car alarm and simply gone the other way.  A deep depression in the pasture stood between my set up and the gobbler’s roost, but it was the hen that I saw first.  Initially I could only see her head bobbing up and down, but within twenty minutes she had fed to within five yards of my set up.  I have never sat as as still as I did in that moment; if she busted me then it would have been game over early.  As she walked past me into the woods the gobbler started sounding off again. Obviously while I was watching her, he had crossed into the pasture.  At first I could only see the white of his head and the top of his tail fan as he came out of the low spot and up the hill in full strut.  He was walking right in the hen’s tracks and it looked as though he would finally make a fatal mistake.  Of course, that was the jinx.

At sixty yards he stopped and looked at me, or at least he looked in my direction.  While he stood stock still for ten minutes I tried not to blink or breathe; my heart hammered in my ears and my stomach was in a knot.  He took six more steps and stopped again, and again he stood as still and as silent as a statue for what seemed like an eternity.  The morning sun shone on him and he was all bronze, gold and green iridescence.  My legs cramped and my shoulders trembled at the strain of holding the gun at the ready; it had been almost two hours since this saga started and I had not moved more than six inches since I had sat down in the pre-dawn.  Suddenly, he hammered a huge triple gobble and began to trot away, cackling, gobbling and leaving me stunned and shaking my head.  I was emotionally gutted and as my two hour adrenaline rush subsided I realized I was physically exhausted.  For forty-five more minutes I could hear him walking away and gobbling, and I wracked my brain for what I had done to spook the bird.  Deep down though, I knew that there was nothing I could have done differently.  It was simply that the Pines Gobbler was better than me that day.  He intimately knew every stone, branch, and leaf in the area and even though I was hidden from the hen, I could not elude his wary stare.  I paced off roughly how far away I thought he had been before he left the scene and estimated him to be 50 yards away.  Should I have shot?  Maybe.  Does it matter now?  Not really.

Defeated, I snuck out of the area and to my car.  As I drove home I saw him one last time, standing on a hill a few lots north from where I had last seen him, and he looked as regal far out in the open as he did in the pasture.  Where he stood there was no way to get to him and although I am a little ashamed to admit it, part of me just did not want to hunt him any more that morning anyhow.  He had just beaten me soundly and my ego needed a rest.

My only hope was that he would make it through the rest of 2009 and the 2010 winter.  I should have been careful what I wished for.

Friday, February 25, 2011

NWTF Hunting Heritage Banquet in the Halton Area

The Halton Hills Longspurs Chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation will be hosting their 1st Annual Hunting Heritage Banquet on Saturday, May 7, 2011 at Granite Ridge Golf Club in Milton, Ontario.  Doors open at 5:00pm & the dinner starts at 6:30pm

For details on getting your tickets, please see the attached images for contact and ordering information.

This is the Halton Chapter's inaugural Hunting Heritage Banquet and I encourage anyone in the Peel-Halton region to go on out and support them.  I've been to a few Hunting Heritage Banquets in my time and they are always a good time and a nice opportunity to have a nice meal with other hunters and their families, enter a few raffles, bid on some auction items, expand your hunting network, and share some stories and experiences.

This is a great chance to support this chapter in their very first banquet!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Important Deadlines and Reminders for Hunters in Ontario

Since the vast majority of my viewing traffic is coming from Ontario, I thought that I’d post these quick reminders of some important upcoming dates for hunters, as listed on the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources website.

April 25, 2011 to May 31, 2011—Spring Wild Turkey Season

May 31, 2011—Moose Draw Deadline

For those of you viewing from outside Ontario, if you’d like to see more coverage of your area in Get Out & Go Hunting, send me an email with the kind of info you’d like to see and some reliable sources to research it from and I’ll do the legwork and post it up here for your one-stop-shopping convenience.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Confessions of a Turkey Hunting Gearhead—Part One

So…it has come to this already.  This blog, still in its infancy, has received its first fan mail, and to boot it is from someone who does not know me personally and someone that is not (I think) being ironic.  Before I go any further, I will say “thank you” to this particular reader who emailed and asked me what gear I would recommend for a first time turkey hunter to pack in their vest.  I can’t say I’m not a little flattered that a newbie would ask me for advice.  It also still leaves me a bit stunned that people read this at all.

Since I’m not a self-professed expert, I’ll try not to screw this up.  If you want to purchase any of the items I wear/use, I will include some links for each item with this, and future, posts on the subject of equipment.  If you don’t want to purchase them, by all means don’t or you might end up like me with a vest full of goodies that you feel obligated to use regardless of how effective they are.

Let me begin by adding this good-natured disclaimer:  I carry a tonne of gear into the woods so in the interest of making this as readable as possible, I’ll break this down into parts.  Today I’ll talk about all the stuff I wear.


I do recommend a vest, although it is far from a mandatory item for any turkey hunter whether a beginner or expert.  My father has never worn a vest and he has killed many a gobbler with nothing more than a fanny pack, a box call, some effort, and a shotgun.  However, based on the question, I can assume the reader that contacted me already has one.  For my money, I’ve tried on many turkey vests and found that the Primos Gobbler Vest was the best for me.  Pros?  It has a pocket for everything, fits well across the back (a must in my opinion), and has the comfiest seat of all the vests I tested out (also vitally important).  Cons?   It is a bit pricey (although not the most expensive on the market) and I found at first that it had too many pockets; so many that I forgot where I had placed certain valuable items, such as my license, left glove, and knife.

Prior to owning my current vest I started out with an entry-level model from Redhead.  While it was more than sufficient; the only two knocks on it were that the seat was prone to getting soaked by dew and leaching into my pants (a quick blast of ScotchGuard took care of that problem) and the wide-mouthed pockets, while handy for digging around in, had a tendency to let certain items escape forever…such as my facemask and two (much needed) shotgun shells which all made a break for it when sun-dappled afternoon and were never subsequently recovered.  Call them archaeological artifacts for future generations to discover.

For the entire spring turkey season I always carry the waterproof shell from my Remington 4-in-1 hunting jacket in a Realtree AP pattern.  It is warm enough for any really unpleasant days, it keeps me dry (which is of paramount importance) and it has extra pockets, which are always helpful.


Weather in the Ontario spring turkey season can run in extremes.  I’ve been on opening weekend (read-late April) hunts that were hovering delicately in the near-freezing area and I’ve likewise been out on late May hunts that threatened to melt me, and vice-versa.  2010 was great for examples this wacky weather.  In the first weekend of May 2010, I was lucky enough to experience five seasons (yes FIVE!) in one truly nightmarish Saturday of turkey hunting in the Barrie area.  That day began in a clammy drizzle, calmed down a to dull-gray but reasonably warm mid-day, became a sunny and balmy double digit early afternoon just before turning into a freezing windstorm accompanied by three kinds of snow.  With this in mind, I have gotten into the habit of wearing more than I need and then being able to strip down if necessary.

For most of the season I put on an Under Armour mid-weight base layer for hunts, and some polyester long underwear that breathes; this usually suits me fine for the morning hunts.  If in the mid-day and into the afternoon I find things are getting too warm, I strip down to just my shirt and pants.

My shirt is a long-sleeved, breathable synthetic t-shirt from Columbia in a basic, splotchy earth tones camouflage pattern.  My pants are Redhead Stalker Lite in a Mossy Oak Breakup Pattern.


My boots are just plain old Redhead Bone Dry rubber boots boots from Bass Pro Shops in Mossy Oak Breakup and they were the last pair they had in stock and therefore a bargain.  But best of all they’ve lasted twice as long as any other pair of more expensive rubber boots I’ve bought.  Some folks I’ve talked to have had durability or blister complaints about Redhead boots, but to date, I’ve had no problem.  I think the key, for blister control at least, is proper socks.  I wear a light wool sock that comes up to my knee.  They are snug enough not to slip, rub, and bunch up, warm enough for a cold morning and light enough so that I don’t sweat.  In fact, they are my all-season, all-species hunting socks.


To round out the look I have a ‘ninja-style’ camouflage face mask and some mesh camouflage gloves.  I like the ninja-style facemask because I wear glasses and they stay in place more consistently than they did when I used to have a ¾ style, elasticized, pull up/pull down kind of mask.  I cut about half of the index finger off each glove so that I can better run my pot calls and pull the trigger, but other wise I don’t make any other modifications.  I also wear a baseball cap in Realtree AP camo that my cousin had custom made for our hunting group of friends.  It is also my lucky hat.

So that’s what I wear.  Next week, I’ll post what I carry in terms of calls and equipment so if you're still interested, then stay tuned.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Jack Miner Calling Classic in Kingsville, ON--April 10, 2011

As the title of this post says, the Jack Miner Calling Classic is taking place this April in Kingsville, Ontario as the kick-off event for National Wildlife Week.

I am strongly considering going down (in the novice category so it is not like my presence would constitue any kind of special attraction) and seeing how I stack up against some far superior goose and duck callers.

Perhaps you've never been to a calling contest and are curious to know what the fuss is about; I can say with some certainty that I've never been to a duck and goose calling contest yet that was anything other than fun.  If you are a vendor thinking of trading your wares, the link above has vendor details as well.

There will also be some retriever demos and other assorted waterfowl-related fun going on.

Huntin’ Songs

I like music, and I think it is safe to say that most other people do as well.  You may like classic rock or new country, and you may not like what I like (in fact, because my musical tastes are absurdly diverse, I’m almost certain that you don’t) but that’s okay because allegiance to certain bands or genres of music is strictly personal.  I’m far from a music expert, and my analysis of an album may be skewed and entirely off-point, but I know what I like to hear.

Some people have a “desert island list” of songs or albums that they absolutely would need to have with them if they were stranded on a desert island; I have a “hunting camp list”, because there are some tunes that just put me in a hunting frame of mind.  Some of the songs may seem ridiculous to you my dear reader, but that is just the reality of the situation.  Likewise, some may be songs that you love as well and that equally remind you of a hunting camp, or your first deer, or other treasured hunting remembrance.  Almost all of them could be considered ‘camp songs’ in the sense that they are best played in a cabin, cottage, or some other out-of-the-way place where you could hypothetically sing, dance, and let loose.

So in the interest of letting you know a bit more about me, and maybe turning you on to a more diverse spectrum of bands and songs, here is a list of my five favourite musicians and their songs/albums (in no particular order) that remind me of, or make me feel like going, hunting.

The Lowest of the Low, Shakespeare My Butt!

This Toronto band, fronted by Ron Hawkins (not the 1960’s Ronnie Hawkins, a different one) released the album Shakespeare My Butt! in 1991 and I had a cassette copy of it for years (when cassettes were still accepted as a medium for music).  I picked up a CD copy about ten years ago and listening to this album while I make the 3 hour trek up to the Bruce Peninsula to hunt deer, waterfowl, or wild turkeys has become a ritual of mine; sometimes I listen to it three times in a single one way trip.  When I slide this album into the CD player in the car, it is a sure sign that I’m ‘gone hunting!’

It is a blend of folk, pop, and rock which at the time fell into that cavernous, early 1990’s abyss of music that was known as ‘alternative’.   I have a different name for the genre: campfire music.  Every song on this album just has a vibe that could be sung by a guy with an acoustic guitar while sitting around a bonfire or a camp stove.  For those who value music critic’s opinions, this album was named one of the Top Ten Greatest Canadian Albums ever released.  My favourite tracks include 4 O’Clock Stop and Subversives, although honestly this album is strong top to bottom without a bad cut to be found on it.

Hank Williams, 40 Greatest Hits

This is classic country, and it just does not get any more ‘down home’ than this.  Although I’m sure this is not the actual album that gets played three or four times a week at the deer hunting camp, many of the songs by the late, great Hank Williams that are vital to a week in our deer camp can be found here.  From classic ‘heartbreak’ ballads like I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry and Your Cheatin’ Heart, to raucous good-time songs like Jambalaya, Hey Good Lookin’, and Honky Tonkin, for my money Hank Williams playing at the deer camp is just plain old right.

Again, you can’t really go wrong with any songs here, but my top Hank Williams song is a toss up between There’s a Tear in My Beer and Kaw-Liga.

I’m not certain if I equate Hank Williams songs with deer hunting because there is some rural, wilderness aesthetic inherent in Hank Williams music or because I’ve grown accustomed to hearing those songs at least every other day for a full week of deer hunting for the last 15 years or so.  Probably a bit of both.

Don Messer & His Islanders

This is another classic deer camp album for me.  Our deer camp patriarchs were all born in the early & mid-1950’s and all grew up in a world where for a period the CBC was primarily the only television station they could watch.  Don Messer was a folk musician on the CBC who played the fiddle (violin to all you aficionados out there) and for a while was the star of the most popular television show in Canada (even outdrawing Hockey Night in Canada!) so the men who passed the deer hunting tradition down to myself, my brother, and my cousins also passed along an appreciation for this little-known (at least outside of Canada and the Eastern US seaboard) musician.  Don Messer’s fiddle sings a lively brand of East Coast-style music; songs like Red Wing and Little Burnt Potato are alive with a spirit of good times.

I defy anyone who listens to this album (or any music by Don Messer period) to not be inclined to start skipping a little jig or to find themselves walking with a bit more of a spring in their step.  One of the sadly deceased members of our deer camp was known for playing the spoons along with the tracks on this album; he also had a small pair of sticks he referred to as ‘bones’ that, when played similarly, would tap out a sprightly rhythm that was downright infectious.

I find that the musical stylings of Don Messer and His Islanders are best enjoyed after the dinner hour, when a hunter has a full belly and an inclination to enjoy their favourite drink and partake in some good conversation.

The Animals, House of the Rising Sun
This song has a lengthy and muddy history, and it has been covered more times than I can count (or research on the Internet).  Bob Dylan’s version is excellent as he growls and throats his way through the story of a wayward young woman in his own inimitable fashion, accompanied only by an acoustic guitar.  Older versions I have heard (where it is entitled The Rising Sun Blues) also have their appeal but for this hunter the unmistakeably grim, rolling notes of the classic guitar riff that kicks off the version performed by Eric Burdon and the Animals is the definitive essence of this tune.  So aside from being a great version of the song with a timeless riff and soaring, soulful vocals, what warrants the inclusion in this list of songs that remind me of hunting?

While slightly embarrassing to admit, I do occasionally get bored sitting in the ditch overlooking a few dozen goose decoys or while on stand during a lull in the action while deer or spring turkey hunting, and it is this song that I sing in my head during those (sometimes lengthy) periods.  Usually something else grabs my attention after a few moments and I’m then engaged doing something else such as calling for game, watching a blue jay chase a chickadee, paying attention to my surroundings for some sign of game approaching, or enjoying a small snack (I find that those mini Coffee Crisp bars are the best for that).  But at least two or three times a hunt, I find myself quietly listening to House of the Rising Sun and that iconic almost menacing lead guitar riff in my mind.  Perhaps if I did less of that and more of the ‘paying attention to my surroundings’ thing I’d be more successful, but then again maybe not.

Stompin’ Tom Connors, Gumboot Cloggeroo
I have a younger brother who kind of likes Stompin’ Tom…except during deer season when that Canadian legend’s album (Stompin’ Tom’s, not my brother’s….he hasn’t even released an album yet) is played almost ad nauseam inside the cabin.  That is when my brother quite quickly grows weary of Stompin’ Tom’s vibrant guitar playing and twangy but mellow singing tones.  I’m actually a big fan of Stompin’ Tom but I will admit that by mid-day on the Friday of deer camp, after three or four days of The Hockey Song and Sudbury Saturday Night playing on a non-stop loop, even my normally tolerant orchestral nerves are beginning to become a bit jangled.  But frankly, even when played constantly and at a volume bordering on the torturously loud, the Gumboot Cloggeroo never gets tiresome.

This song has a beat that makes want to do more than just tap your foot; it makes you want to hunker over, round down your shoulders, stomp your foot like Stompin' Tom himself while simultaneously clapping your hands in time, shouting the lyrics, and generally rattling the cabin walls and windows with a raucous good time.  For some unexplained reason, it feels like this song embodies all the camaraderie, spirit, and unbridled relaxing silliness of a hunting trip.  Even my brother, jaded though he may be by the constant barrage of The Ketchup Song over the week of deer hunting, gets in on the act every time we “do a little gumboot cloggin’”

So there you have it, far from my complete list, which includes Charlie Pride, CCR, Bad Religion, The Mamas and The Papas, Rise Against, The Doors, George Thorogood, and Johnny Cash (see what I said earlier about diverse?), but definitely five songs or albums that make up part of my hunting tradition.

I’m sure you’ve got your own list too, but then again you might even add something from my list to yours…who knows?

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Fun With Labels, or How to Categorize Everybody

Doug Larsen wrote a great little book (that I highly recommend to all hunters, not just the duck-chasing fraternity) called The Duck Gods Must Be Crazy, and at one point in the book he touches on a topic that is universally relevant: stereotyping.

I can agree with the spirit of Mr. Larsen’s story It Takes All Kinds, after all he is correct in asserting that at some point in our lives we will all ‘judge a book by its cover’ and I likewise agree that such a tendency to stereotype is as common in the world of hunting as it is anywhere else.  And of course, like any good piece of writing, Doug Larsen’s story got me thinking, primarily about how to apply his observations about stereotypical duck hunters to some of the turkey hunters I know and have met (for although I love duck hunting, turkey hunting has been and will likely continue to be the only thing that I’m thinking about between now and the end of May).

So here without further ado is my clumsy, tongue-in-cheek homage to Doug Larsen and his categorization of ‘types’ of hunters, with my own turkey-hunting twist.

A Big Easy

This type of turkey hunter seems to kill whatever their mandated limit of birds is every year, and invariably one of those birds is a monster tom, and all are usually within the first week.  They are not always the best callers or strategists, but sometimes they are.  They are usually covert-ops types of hunters and although you may know the general area in which they are hunting, you had no idea that there was such a huge gobbler living there.  Usually they make it look easy, but likewise they usually earn their birds by burning hundreds of dollars in fuel, preparing their guns and gear obsessively, and spending many, many hours scouting.  I know a Big Easy who, in his first year turkey hunting no less, spent a little less than an hour in the field over a two hunt period.  He shot two 20-pound-plus gobblers, with the second being an ancient, monster bird with a paint-brush beard and wicked 1-1/2 inch spurs that just happened to fly down and land next to his decoy after my friend was on set up for less than twenty minutes.  The next year was a blip where he got skunked, but every year since he’s shot at least one trophy boss tom.

Sometimes a Big Easy comes by it through dumb luck, or being in the right place at the right time for the right bird, but not often and not consistently.  It is hard to begrudge a Big Easy their success, but sometimes I still find a way to do so.

The Hemingway

A Hemingway is a turkey hunter that will, with their success or failure in a hunt being completely irrelevant, spin you a hunting story with such detail, description, and passion that you are instantly transported to the moment.  Jim Spencer, of the Bad Birds series of fame, is one such hunter that I would label a Hemingway, and one day I myself hope to have a Hemingway moment of my own.

The worst thing that could ever happen to a Hemingway is that they heard and saw nothing, for then what story could be told?  More often than not though, a Hemingway has an uncanny knack of not only getting close enough to birds (or getting birds close enough to them) to swear that they ‘saw that old gobbler blink’ or ‘could see that tom’s breath when he gobbled’, but they are also escape artists of the first degree when they explain how they managed to fail at killing the bird, even though ‘that hot gobbler must’ve come to my calling from over a mile away….too bad that he back-doored me at the last second and I couldn’t get a shot.”  When they succeed they come up with clever euphemisms for the final shot such as ‘sent a swarm of pellets at him’ or ‘tapped him on the noggin with some lead’.  I love turkey hunting Hemingways for the sheer entertainment value they possess and for their simple self-deprecating yet simultaneously self-aggrandizing style.

While you may question the inherent truth of the tales told by a turkey hunting Hemingway, you can never question their legitimate love of the game when they tell their stories, or their passion for simply telling turkey tales.

The Living Tableau Artist

These turkey hunters scare me.  This type of hunter is gifted with patience, nerves of steel, and a level of muscle control that is almost ultra-human.  I am not one of these, and only I know one person who qualifies.  These turkey hunters literally disappear into the background.  Most will not go into the field or forests without their vests, pants, shirts, and guns all matched in a camouflage pattern that is tailor-made for that geographic location, time of year, and surrounding foliage.  Others are old-school and just rely on a basic green camo pattern matched with a nice brushy sitting spot.  No matter what they wear though they get in quietly, sit down smoothly, and then they sit still…perfectly still.  They carry box calls and pot calls, but almost never use them.  They can run a mouth diaphragm with no movement whatsoever, and I’m convinced that while on stand they neither breathe nor blink.  In the eventuality that a Living Tableau Artist turkey hunter does need to move (say to light up a seldom-used box call, turn their head to look for birds, raise or lower their gun, scratch an itch, etc), that movement is done with a steady, purposeful fluidity that is designed to deceive the sharp eyes of their prey.

This type of turkey hunter is a tom’s worst nightmare; they flat out kill turkeys.

The Caller

I, for better or worse, fit most comfortably in this category.  Callers can run turkey calls, but more than just having a skill at calling they also own a lot of calls, from box-calls, to pots and pegs, to push button, to gobble-shakers, and every gimmick and locator call imaginable (including peacock calls).  More troubling is that they try to use every one of those calls on every hunt.  Sometimes they compete in contests, other times they just like talking to turkeys.  If you double up to go hunting with a Caller, you can count on hearing a lot of turkey noise and it is likely that some of it will be pretty realistic.  Odds are you’ll also hear at least one gobble on the hunt, but this type of hunter has never heard of the term ‘over-calling’ and will call as long as they get a gobble back, and usually will continue calling desperately for some time after they stop getting answers from the local tom.  Hot toms run to these guys, and they see and kill a lot of jakes and two-year old birds.  However, older, more wary gobblers usually lay bad beats on the Caller, primarily because the Caller does not know when to shut up.

Like I said this is me.  I am a Caller in almost every positive and tragic sense of this stereotype.

An important subspecies of the Caller genus is the Master Caller, and they combine all the positives of the Caller (proficiency, variety, and realism) with the notable ability to gauge a turkey’s response and clam up when the moment is needed.  Get in with one of these hunters and you are going to have some fun and most likely have your fair share of success.


A Mapper can usually be found buried under rolls of topo maps and satellite photography.  Their GPS has become an extension of their body and they know every ridge, field, saddle, ditch, fence, gully, pond, and clearing in their hunting territory.  Mappers also go through an unsettling number of pairs of hunting boots, since they not only do the paperwork, but almost 100% of the time they also go out and walk the country (with topo map and/or GPS in hand) so as to memorize every rock hole, blow down, puddle, and stump that could trip them as they walk to their stand in the dim pre-dawn.  A Mapper almost never sets up with an obstacle between themselves and the turkey they are hunting, and they can tell how many ridges away a turkey is just by the sound of his gobble.  A Mapper’s view of the turkey hunting world is a bird’s-eye view, and I’ve never seen a Mapper get lost, trip over their feet in the dark, or crest a ridge and bump a turkey.

They are adept, however, at finding other ways to screw up hunts such as shooting badly, or mis-estimating distance.  My favourite Mapper quote (and this really happened) was this one from a friend of mine who is an admitted Mapper.

“Google Earth says it is 50 yards from ridge top to ridge top there and my top-map seemed to confirm it.  So I assumed if the bird was halfway down the one ridge and I was halfway down the other ridge than he was in range.  He wasn’t.”

Luckily the bird in question here was missed clean, but it was a good lesson for that particular Mapper about how to estimate yardage.

The Professor

Not to be confused with The Mentor, a Professor always has a better story than you do, has shot more and larger turkeys than you have, and always has a theory and a solution for your turkey hunting troubles, and will share these stories and tidbits of knowledge with you often without you even having to ask them to!  Becoming a Professor is a negative side effect from living for too long as a Big Easy.  A symptom of being a Professor is a sharp decline in respect for the game animal.  I can only roll my eyes when I hear a Professor-type refer to turkey hunting as ‘easy’ or ‘simple’.  I actually heard one person say that they had shot so many turkeys that they ‘didn’t even bother going out anymore’.  I’ve always wondered what happened to these people earlier in their life that their sole goal only seems to be to master something as quickly as possible so that their success can be lorded over the less worthy.

This is the only type of turkey hunter that I categorically dislike, primarily because their pedantic attitude and apparent lack of care for the object of their pursuit makes potential turkey hunters intimidated and other, less arrogant, turkey hunters look bad in public.  On the plus side, they usually only need to be dealt with in social circumstances and not in the field, since having a non-Professor tag along hunting with them is a cardinal sin that would only serve to cramp their style.  This same mindset also prevents a Professor from mentoring green, impressionable hunters, which is good.


Bowhunters combine all the stealth of the Living Tableau Artist with the skills of the Master Caller, since their goal is to get a turkey as close as possible.  They are often seen with a makeup compact full of earth tones and every inch of their bodies are covered in realistic, die-cut camouflage.  They are masters of building blinds from twigs and small branches, which they obtain with the surgical use of their obligatory garden pruners.  Their weapon and arrows are likewise fully camouflaged and the fletching on their arrows is usually black or orange, since red, white, and blue are off limits in the turkey woods.

I may catch some flack here, but I just flat out don’t understand those who hunt turkeys with a bow, especially with longbows or compound bows.  Crossbow hunters, maybe, because that interface is primarily gun-like, but how someone can hold a compound bow, or crazier still a longbow, for the extended times that it can take a turkey to get into range is beyond me.  I only know one person who hunts turkeys with a compound bow regularly (so really, these observations serve as his biography), and he won’t hunt with me because I do not own a bow and have no future plans to buy a bow.  This particular individual was a Big Easy that was well on his way to evolving into a Professor.  He, like yours truly, finds the turkey hunting Professor distasteful, so he found a new challenge and is now firmly ensconced as a Bowhunter.  I can imagine this natural progression has headed off many a turkey hunter’s decline into Professor-ism.  I don’t know any Professor-types that are also Bowhunter-types, but I’m sure they exist and I’m sure they are intolerably perfect when compared to us, their shotgun-toting brethren.

A more recent sub-category of the Bowhunter is the tent-blind Bowhunter.  These people usually do not wear heavy camouflage.  Rather these hunters can be distinguished by their all-black clothing, worn so as to blend in with the shaded interiors of their blinds.

Bowhunters of all stripes also rely on decoys to get birds close.  And as far as decoys go, for the Bowhunter there is strength in numbers.  Three of four hen decoys in various positions and a strutting tom decoy usually make up a Bowhunter’s spread.  Realism or ultra-realism for that matter is also a common trait in Bowhunter decoys.  Ever wonder who drops hundreds of dollars on a very effective, very real-looking Hazel Creek decoy?  Bowhunters, that’s who.

The Mentor

Almost everybody has one to thank for getting them into turkey hunting.  Mine happens to be my Dad.

Mentors in turkey hunting, like mentors in any other kind of hunting, are focused on their apprentice’s success and do what they can to put the novice in a good spot.  When the new hunter has success the Mentor is proud and congratulatory.  When the beginner fails (it will happen, so be prepared for it), a good mentor encourages perseverance and subtly offers advice and tips in a way that is neither condescending nor proud.

However, the most important lesson we can all take from our mentors is how to be good mentors ourselves to a future generation of hunters.  Take a kid or someone hunting who has never gone before, show them the life and the beauty of the wilderness in the springtime, and just enjoy opening someone else’s mind to how great turkey hunting is. 

You might even rekindle some of your fire when you see the hunt through their eyes.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Gobblers vs. Humanity: Which Do I Like More?

My wife made an interesting point this weekend, basically asserting that I thought of wild turkeys and wild turkey hunting more than I thought about her and our family.  She may have been being glib or she may have been serious (reading between the lines is not my forte), but she may be on to something.  With today being Valentine’s Day I was only slightly surprised at how much more I was thinking about the upcoming turkey season (a mere ten weeks away!) than I was about my spouse and the blatant and shameless commercialism of Valentine’s Day.  So I thought I’d draft up an impromptu list of ways that the wild turkey and human worlds run somewhat parallel and through simple comparison see which species comes out on top.

Conversation Ability

There are a variety of people I’d never want to hear speak again.  The list includes (but is not limited to) Lady Gaga, politicians and pundits of every banner, Maple Leafs fans, that guy who hosts America’s Funniest Home Videos, and everyone on Jersey Shore.  I would not really want to talk to any of them, and if they were to talk with me, I’m sure my life would not be any richer for it.

The gobblers?  I’m happy to hear from them anytime they want to talk to me and I often find myself trying my best to reach out to them and strike up a conversation.  In fact, when a gobbler refuses to talk to me, or says a few things and then stops talking to me altogether, I get all anxious and paranoid; the feeling goes away when I hear the bird sound off again.

Advantage? Gobblers

Ability to Maintain My Interest

Perhaps in the last few years I could be judged to be guilty of being less diligent in getting out and hunting.  Of course, my involvement has not dropped off completely and I still get out for twenty or more days a year all told.  There is just so much more happening in life what with a job, family, housework, writing, bills to pay, and so much more demands my attention now.  Some of it is great; for example my young son is permanently entertaining.  Some of it is not so great; think laundering a week’s worth of diapers, or shovelling a four foot wall of heavy wet snow out of the driveway.  There are many priorities competing for my attention and keeping them straight can be challenging.

The gobblers?  When one of those big, strutting puffballs is around me, I am 100% focused on the task at hand.  Nothing holds your attention like a big old tom coming to check out your calling.

Advantage? Gobblers

Impressing the Opposite Sex
(As someone with very little skill at impressing the opposite sex this point will be based strictly on observational data)

At a club, bar, beach, or other suitable gathering place, men will begin a display of their physical fitness by accentuating their size and strength and by occasionally demonstrating their strength and dominance over other males by engaging in acts of physical violence. 

The gobblers? They do the same thing, just not at a club, bar, or beach.

Advantage?  Draw (almost a win for the gobblers, since they only do it for a few months in the spring before returning to normal, but I’m thinking holistically here so it’s a tie)

Surviving Unaided in the Wilderness

No contest.

Advantage?  Gobblers


People can make almost anything, from hand-worked stone and wooden tools through to massive buildings and very tiny, very complex electronics.

The gobblers?  They can’t even build a nest.

Advantage?  Humankind

So with a score of 3 to 1 (with 1 draw) the gobblers win.  I’m not really surprised, what with the challenges associated with getting close to wild turkeys and observing their behaviour, and this doesn’t mean that I necessarily want to drop out of society and go live in the woods with the turkeys (in fact that experiment would without a doubt end disastrously) but I can say that I certainly find turkeys much more interesting than people, and the score seems to bear that out.  I guess my wife was right.

If any one out there has any other humanity vs. gobblers scenarios to add, feel free.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Wolf-Coyote Hybrids Study Needs Support

A colleague of a hunting buddy of mine is engaged in an Eastern wolf population study in and around Algonquin Provincial Park.  Check out the study website here and lend your support/pass the link along to other interested parties if you are able.  In this case, and so it seems with most conservation and natural resource-based studies, funding is a question mark.

I feel we all have a duty as outdoor enthusiasts to be educated about and involved in conservation, and the information gathered about wolf-coyote population dynamics in this study could be pertinent to future conservation decisions related to the Eastern wolf subspecies.

If this is something you are interested in I encourage you to take a look.

2011 Turkey Season Challenge--Fundraising for The United Way!

For those of you who know me, you will also know that I took up running in 2010 and that since then I semi-regularly participate in 5km races.  This change was adopted to improve my overall health after I noticed how winded I was one day during the 2009 deer season.  It has also helped in the weight loss department.

So how does this relate to hunting?

My next 5km race is the ENDUR-Race on April 9th, 2011 and I am using this race as a conditioning tool to prepare for the spring wild turkey season.  The race also doubles as a fundraiser for the United Way through the 2011 Waterloo Running Series

This is the part where I (figuratively) kill two birds with one stone.

If you would like to donate to The United Way you can sponsor my run as I prepare for the upcoming 2011 turkey season, .  If I receive $250 in pledges I will run this race in my turkey gear (pants, fully-loaded vest, shirt, facemask, gloves, and hat).  $400 in pledges and I will run this race in my turkey gear with an additional 20 pounds worth of weights on my person to simulate carrying a harvested turkey.

The only exceptions to equipment that I’d be carrying are as follows:
  • For obvious legal and safety reasons I cannot run the race while carrying my firearm or ammunition
  • I’ll be wearing running shoes as opposed to hunting boots.  This is both to prolong the life of my boots and to protect my feet from blisters
Everything else that I would normally carry in the spring turkey season (i.e. all my calls, a decoy, water bottle, etc) will be in my vest and making the race with me….provided I hit the fundraising targets.

The Waterloo Running Series is a key supporter of a number of charities including The Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation and The United Way

Pledges to the United Way of $20.00 (CAD) or more are eligible to receive a tax receipt for the ENDUR-Race.

If you’re interested you can email me here and we can hammer out the logistics of making donations.

Thanks for your support.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Hunt Like a Woman

Thus begins my first post, although very likely not the last, on the sometimes touchy topic of women and hunting.  I must admit that this is a topic that has always intrigued me and, as a man with no female hunters in my social circle, that I have no point of reference on at all.

I suppose I’ll just start off with the following disclaimer: I have a history of in no way being capable of understanding what motivates women.  I assure you that it is more a function of my personal inabilities than some innate character flaw afflicting all of womankind.  If everything I write here turns out to be flawed drivel, this statement is my proactive means of defense.

By extension, I in no way understand the challenges facing women that want to participate in hunting, primarily because the barriers to entry into the sport for a man are low.  What follows is simply myself, in a good-humoured fashion, attempting to shed some light on what I’ve observed in the male/female hunting dynamic.  Sadly my only exposure so far to this is in my parent’s marriage (where Dad hunted basically anytime he chose to), my own marriage (more of a mixed bag approach for geographical and financial reasons), the relationships of my friends who hunt (all male) and what I can glean through web-based research on the subject (since I have not yet mustered the courage to approach random women and politely ask them if they have ever been duck hunting).

What I can observe is the following.

When I go to the hunting section of Bass Pro Shops, the boots, jackets, waders, firearms, and various other items are designed to fit me, and frankly they take up most of the hunting section.  Certainly for the hunting man, there is an embarrassment of riches to be had in terms of selection and sizing.  My wife once brought to my attention that there seems to be a limited amount of women’s hunting apparel, although there appear to be no shortages of casual wear, t-shirts, and the like for women.  Despite this difference in marketed apparel and equipment there strangely is not often a gulf in the number of men versus the number of women I observe in the store.

Hmmmmm.  Are the women there in some sort of ‘support’ role for the men?  Are they just good-natured and tolerant of us fellas while we drool over our camouflage and blaze-orange bounty?  Do they really care about the differences between a short-reed style goose call and a flute-style goose call?  Are they there with a list to buy for a father, brother, uncle, or significant other?  These are all the stereotypical reasons I could think of.  The one scenario that runs counter to the stereotype is that the women are there to buy some gear, maybe try out some new equipment, and then get out in the field.  Since I (as I mentioned above) personally do not know a single woman who hunts I can only assume that they would do the same things I would do at Bass Pro Shops if similarly motivated.

When I go into the field to hunt it is always with men.  When I meet other hunters in diners or at gas stations, they are invariably men.  I can say with certainty, that at this moment in my life I have never been hunting with a woman who was actually participating, and I do not know personally any women that actively hunt (let alone maintain a license to hunt).  I have seen women hunting on television (more on that below), one of my father’s friends is married to woman who once hunted but does not anymore, and I have had my wife tag-along on a couple of trips with me, although she was merely a by-stander (also more below).  So it begs the question, why?  Are women apprehensive or in some way fearful of hunting?  I don’t think so.  Are they too sensitive to be able to take an animal’s life so that the animal can later be eaten?  Again, I think the answer is an emphatic no.

Could it simply be a matter of non-involvement?  Maybe women in hunting has become a growing demographic?

Take for example my younger sister.  While my brother and I were following our dad and uncles into the forest and fields since before were 10 years old, my sister never seemed that keen to come along, in fact I can count on my left hand all the times she has ever come hunting with us (and still not even need all the digits).  There was some peer pressure from her friends I’m sure, and it might not have seemed cool to hang out with your brothers and dad at one time.  There was even a brief period where I think she was ‘off’ meat (but that was a short-lived phase).  Likewise I remember Christmases and birthdays where almost all the gifts my brother and I received were focused on hunting (boots, jackets, compasses, books, magazines, etc).  My sister, not so much, but I think that was less of a focused attempt at gender roles on my parent’s behalf; more accurately it was really just tailoring gifts to what we kids showed the most interest in; between my brother and I the common thread was hunting.

But things have changed and now, and with us all into our twenties and beyond.  My sister sees how much fun we have when we hunt, she hears (sometimes ad nauseam) of the shared experiences gained from the field (even when we get skunked) and, lastly she sees how much we enjoy just being out in the wilderness.  And now that she has seen all the positives objectively, and not refracted through the lens of sibling rivalry and the schism of brothers vs. sisters, there is talk of her getting licensed and coming out to join in on some waterfowl hunts.  She's welcome to join me anytime she wants.

Also a sign, or maybe a symptom, of the dearth of women in hunting comes in the form of mass media.  As far as I can observe, television shows about hunting only occasionally feature women afield; there are of course mainstays such as Vicki Cianciarulo, Brenda Valentine, Tiffany Lakosky, and other influential and successful women hunting on television, but still my ad hoc research has men outnumbering women in hunting shows by more than 2 to 1.  Then again, this segment of the demographic looks to be growing and will likely continue to grow...I'm just not sure.

What is most heartening, though is the progress in the environment where I have seen the most honest dialogue about the topic; on the Internet.  Blogs and sites devoted to women in the outdoors are all over the web; some of the more diverse and interesting I’ve found to date are the Women's Hunting Journal, The WhiteTailed Doe, and Gordon Setter Crossing although my research has been far from exhaustive and I’m certain I’ll come across others as I continue to research the subject.

So where can men who, like me, do not know any female hunters have the greatest impact on developing an inclusive, (since for all the self-styled macho history of hunting, I think it is likely in the best long-term interests of the tradition to be inclusive of women, or anyone else for that matter) welcoming environment?

Primarily, and this is from my own experience, it is in being a good mentor and ambassador for hunting.  My forays at including my own lovely wife (and a very limited numbers of girlfriends before her) into hunting were fruitless, primarily because I was a bit of a jerk.  When I took my wife on a Thanksgiving weekend goose hunt in 2004, I was constantly reminding her to keep her face hidden and to sit still.  That compounded the fact that she did not really like being awake that early in the morning.  When we went snowshoe rabbit hunting for the first time, I spent as much time telling her to be quiet and to stay behind me (both points important for success and safety respectively) that the afternoon turned into a bit of a power struggle and in the end an argument, never mind that she almost openly wept when I did end up shooting a rabbit. 

The moral of these brief, self-deprecating anecdotes is that maybe my wife with her aversion to early mornings, sitting still, being quiet, and the all-important ‘killing’ part of hunting would not be a suitable long-term candidate for the sport; which is fine.  Hunting is not necessarily for everyone.  But perhaps if I had been less didactic, overbearing, and focused on my own success, and just a bit more accommodating and interested in her having a good, safe time (because one can never be too safe) than maybe I would have had a recruit, or at least an even more supportive partner in this integral part of my life.

Instead, my wife is still supportive of the important place that hunting has in my life, but she likewise has really no interest in even trying deer, turkey, or any other kind of hunting with me.  Despite the polite jokes I sometimes make about that, it is a bit of a loss for me.  After all, should she not get the same enjoyment out of hunting that I do?

And I think that is all my wife or any woman really wants when it comes to hunting, and that is not to be treated like a man, and not to receive any special treatment or lectures because she is a woman.

Maybe, and this time I’m pretty sure, they just want to be treated equally and with the same respect you give your buddies.

But I could be wrong, because again…I have a history of missing the point with these sorts of things.