Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Over Before it Started?

2012's Ontario spring turkey season may not be happening for this intrepid soul now; not because my wife is due to have a child in four weeks or less (even though that is one of the scenarios about to play itself out) or because I've suddenly lost the passion for chasing longbeards (because I haven't).

Nope, this silly bugger snapped his fibula and sheared a chunk off the backside of his ankle on Monday night.  While playing rec soccer.  Dammit.

Anyways, this will give me some down time to write...and write...and write.  But for now that's about it.  If I don't need surgery, then the cast could be off by mid-May, but then again it might not be.

I bought my license Monday before all this went down so I guess it isn't a foregone conclusion, and of course I'll just be laying here practicing my calls so maybe in eight weeks I'll be some kind of turkey language savant too.  Have to look at the positives I guess!

So in the end I'll be living vicariously through my friends, readers who like last year took the time to share their stories with me, and some hunting DVDs that I have laying about.

Its not the real thing, but it may be as close as I get this year.  Dang.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

New Turkey Toys for 2012—Mouth Call Reviews

I received an email earlier this week from a turkey hunter who was looking to get some new mouth calls, and they had read an earlier post where I had mentioned that I now owned some Woodhaven mouth calls.  They reminded me (politely) that I had promised a more in-depth review of the product which as of this week was undelivered.

Since there hasn’t been much doing around here for turkey activity (and I’ve been scouting pretty hard…but that’s another post) I thought now would be as good a time as any to post up my thoughts on these calls.  I haven’t had a chance to test these out on any turkeys yet, but I have had three months to practice with them, so consider this a mid-term review.

From L-R: Woodhaven's Copperhead 2, Copperhead, and Red Wasp
As I alluded to earlier this year, I was fortunate enough to receive a Woodhaven Customs Calls TKM (Turkey Killing Machines) three pack this past Christmas.  At first glance, they are as sexy a mouth call (aesthetically) as I’ve seen.  After doing some online research that may be a bit pricey compared to some other brands of mouth calls, but according the Woodhaven’s website, professional hands touch every call so like anything, craftsmanship comes at a price.  The three calls included in the pack are the Red Wasp, the Copperhead, and the Copperhead 2.  Each is different, and each can be purchased individually (as opposed to buying the whole three-pack), so I’ll briefly share what I found each call to be like.

The Red Wasp is billed as “great for raspy cutts and yelps” and a call that is “very raspy and bold like an old hen”.  No arguments from me.  A red latex reed with a V-cut overlays two thinner clear reeds, and the tape is flexible but not too soft, which I like because I find the tape on some other mouth calls I’ve bought from the Big-Four manufacturers (HS, Primos, Knight & Hale, and Quaker Boy…I’ve owned them all) starts off a little too soft and after a couple of hunts betwixt cheek and gum the tape begins to separate from the frame or break down.  No such problems yet with the Red Wasp (or the others for that matter) and I’ve been practicing nightly for the last couple of months.  This call is set up pretty stiff and so far the reeds have retained good snap and tension.  I prefer a stiff call so out of the three, this one is my favourite so far…which was why I started with it.  If the call has a downfall it is that it is too sensitive, which is likely a function of being a bit on the stiff side.  If you have too much pressure on the reeds they tend to squeal a bit.  Too little pressure and the call gets muted or even just goes silent.  It took some getting used to, so for a mouth diaphragm beginner this call might not be suitable.  After some consistent practice though, the call goes from soft tree yelps and purrs right to the loudest, raspiest cutting pretty easily.  If you don’t like stiff calls or are just looking to start out with a mouth call then the Red Wasp might just frustrate you, but if you already have some know-how running a mouth call, this one is probably the most versatile of the three in the pack.

To be blunt, the Copperhead is probably my least favourite call in this pack, but it is still as good, or better, than most mouth calls I’ve had.  The call has an orange latex reed with a silky finish and a snake-tongue cut that is laid over two clear reeds.  Again, I love the tape job, but what I dislike about the call (the only negative really) is that it is a uni-tasker; I find it to be an ultra-loud call with serious rasp and good cutting and this is probably ideal for shocking a distant tom into gobbling, calling to a fired up and aggressive tom, or on windy days.  In fact, I’ll very likely use it in those exact scenarios this season, but I find it tough to change volumes on and I think it is the worst at purring of the three, which is less than ideal for those situations where you need some subtle ‘finishing’ calls.  I’m not a fan of switching out mouth calls when a bird is coming in, and although I’ll do it, I’m also not big on carrying two calls in my mouth at once.  If you’ve mastered subtlety on this call, then good for you.  I haven’t yet.  Also somewhat troubling, but not really a big deal yet, is that the bottom clear reed has started to pucker already.  This is likely a factor of the tongue pressure I find I’m using to ratchet up the raspiness on this call making it an operator problem not a call problem per se, and it has not yet been detrimental to the call’s sound so like I said, no big deal…just worth noting if you’re like me and exert a lot of pressure and wind on a call.  Yes, I sometimes call loud and I almost always call often.  If volume is all you’re looking for than the Copperhead will be great for you.

According to the product specs, The Copperhead 2 “features a special yellow and orange latex combo with a new ‘snake-tongue-combo cut’” in the top reed.  The one that came with my TKM 3-pack has the combo cut and the yellow latex, but my other reeds are clear, not orange.  Don’t ask me why…Production error?  Just ran out of orange reeds?  Who knows?  I’m not too concerned though because the call still runs well.  I’ve found that the Copperhead 2 is a nice medium between the Red Wasp and the Copperhead; with a broad range of volumes and rasp the only thing that the Red Wasp does better than the Copperhead 2 is purr.  It goes from tree yelps to plain yelps to cackles smoothly.  It doesn’t purr badly, if not just a bit inconsistently, and the cutting is nice and crisp.  A good all-around call, just as stiff as the Red Wasp, but like I said, just a bit tough to get consistent purrs; it does however have the best kee-kee of all the calls in the pack so that’s a win.

So there you have it.  To say I have an embarrassment of options at my disposal this year in terms of mouth calls would be an understatement.  It’s always going to be a toss-up between the Red Wasp and Copperhead 2 for the starting job this year, but it is nice to know that on a windy day I can jack up the volume on the Copperhead.

Of course, as with most reviews, this is strictly what I’ve found.  There may be those of you out there with loyalties to other call manufacturers, or those who have had completely opposite experiences to what I’ve had with the above calls.  What will be really telling is how they fare some early morning in April or on a sunny May afternoon when I get to put the call out to a love-sick gobbler.  That will be the true litmus test of the worth of these calls, and I look forward to writing more about them here.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

If Coyote Hunting is for Supermen, Consider me to be Kryptonite

It had been a long time since I had made the run up to the Bruce Peninsula.  At least four months; I don’t usually like to go that long between seeing my friends, having some laughs, and stalking whatever game happens to be in season, but nothing I could do about it in this respect.  The plan was just to leave work on Friday afternoon, get up there, and enjoy it.

Early on the Friday morning I had encountered a lone coyote as I drove past a field in Halton Region on my way to work, but since the Halton Region landowners, at least the ones whose doors I have knocked on, have not been keen on providing coyote hunting permission, I had no option but to drive on past.  That and the fact that all the artillery was locked and safely stowed in the trunk of my car.  My workday was filled with thoughts of that morning encounter and the hopes that it was to be a good omen for the weekend to come.


By 7pm, a blustery headwind from the north had been conspiring to wreck my fuel mileage for pretty much the whole trip, and just north of Wiarton the same wind offered up some sleet as a side dish.  A couple of years ago on a particularly wet turkey trip, a friend of mine had chided me for ‘bringing the bad weather’ and his absent-minded cliché rang in my head as I drove through the increasingly deteriorating precipitation.  I stopped for an oil-change and a haircut at a friend’s on the way up (he provides oil changes, his accommodating and lovely wife handling the mane-taming duties) and had a nice little visit with them.  By the time I again made the road, ankle-deep slush made the going slow.  I pulled into my cousin Luke’s house for about 10:30pm and over a drink we discussed the weather, the coyote hunting to date, the prospects for turkey season (a mere eight weeks away!) as well as the various and sundry other things that men talk about after the spouses go to bed.  By that time big, wet, aggregated snowflakes had begun to fall, and the wind had reached a new level of ferocity.  A morning hunt was not looking promising.

Just on the dark side of 6am, Luke opened the door and said it had stopped snowing.  I could still hear the wind blowing a gale and Luke let me know that it had swung around and was blowing straight from the west.  Still, I was there to hunt and so long as the worst of the precipitation had passed I was fit to get going.  The plan, as always, was to hit the road early and look to cut a fresh track or spot a coyote out foraging in the fields and then put the dogs on the trail.  That exercise usually took the better part of a morning, and then I intended to while away my afternoon raising hell with my rabbit distress calls in the hopes of luring a cagey old coyote into the range of my .243WIN.

No sooner had our derrieres hit the seats in Luke’s truck that the snow and sleet began to fall.  Or more accurately, the snow came at a wind-driven angle that was more or less parallel with the horizon.  Visibility was, ahem, minimal and as such we spotted no coyotes or fresh tracks that morning.  The only beasts foolish enough to be out in that wind storm were us.  Bacon, eggs, sausages, and toast accompanied coffee as we re-thought the day’s plans.  It was a short discussion: if the wind and snow wouldn’t co-operate we’d have no choice but to lay low for the day.  So we did…all day.  But at least we got to have a good meal or two.

Sunday morning broke snowy but slightly less breezy, and I was chomping at the bit to get out and get the dogs running.  Within fifteen minutes we had the hounds on a track, and I was stationed with my pal Rory near a copse of balsams and cedars while the dogs howled away in a block of trees.  The barking got closer and then the hounds broke from the woods…but no coyote was in front of them.  Either they’d lost the track or the coyote had gotten out from them and past Rory and I before we had been in position.  We broke for the road to get ahead of the pack, and hopped out again and hit the woods.  One more time the dogs came near and once they came so close that I could hear them crashing through the underbrush.  Still, the coyote remained elusive.

Just about that time, the wind picked up, but the sun came out.  They coyote eventually headed south and we travelled en masse to get ahead of it once more.  While we waited in position, Rory and I were able to creep to within eight feet of an Eastern Screech Owl that was just lounging on a fencepost next to cedar thicket.  While we watched the little owl and tried to determine its species, the crafty Canis Latrans got by the blockers and snuck across the road into a block we could not hunt.  Defeated but not discouraged, some other hunters of our group gathered the dogs and we set out once more looking for fresh tracks or a coyote out loitering in the open.  Just north of where we’d been last stationed Rory spotted a very crisp and fresh track crossing the road from east to west into a good block of mixed forest and fields.  We put three dogs on the track and we were off again, heading down the road to get ahead of the hounds and deploy blockers on the field edges.  I was set up leaning on a fence post facing north into about as bitter an early March wind as one could come up against.  As my cheeks and nose took on the characteristics of wind-beaten leather, and as my eyes watered in the wind I waited for the trusty hounds to push the coyote out in front of me.  Once more the dogs were duped by North America’s shrewd answer to the jackal and as we approached the breakfast hour we decided to call it a morning.

One Mom’s Restaurant famous Farmer’s Breakfast later, I returned to my cousin Luke’s place and as he blew snow out of the driveway, I packed my gear up.  A call from my wife bearing news of a family emergency precluded an afternoon calling session, and I had to hit the highway south.  As I left I was told that the coyote hunting had “been better last week” and that the weather was going to change up and that I ought to return “next weekend” for more coyote hunting and the annual local hockey tournament…which is always a fun time, or so I’ve been told.

None of this surprised me.  I’ve always had good success with waterfowl and have had plenty of sightings, close encounters, and opportunities when turkey hunting.  Heck, even my recent form in deer hunting seems to be on the upswing, with a deer down in 2009 and two close encounters this past season.  Yet the coyote, in its well-adapted resourcefulness, continues to elude my best efforts to take one in front of hounds or solo with the call.  It seems I'm always a week behind the good hunting, or I depart just before it picks up again.  Like most game animals, I’m absolutely certain that the coyote is better at avoiding being prey than I am at attempting to be a predator, but that only makes sense; coyotes benefit from centuries of adaptations to both environmental and mankind’s pressures…I’ve been only been out hunting for about 20 years, so I’m still learning.

And that challenge is the reason it’s fun, even if I continue to fail.