Thursday, May 31, 2007

Texas Rio Kills Maine Eastern

How's this for a complete twist on taking virtual spring gobblers?

Attached to a Primos B-Mobile decoy, my April Rio's full fan helped a turkey bud pull in a Maine longbeard to its final strut this morning, a little over an hour north of here as I sat at this desk writing about fall turkeys for a magazine . . .

And if that isn't a little different, I don't know what is.

--Steve Hickoff

Speaking of October . . .

Maine currently offers a fall archery-only turkey season . . . this October shotgun turkey hunt would be the first in modern history.



AGENCY: Inland Fisheries & Wildlife

RULE TITLE OR SUBJECT: Chapter 4 - Hunting: (4.06 Wild Turkey Hunting Season)

CONCISE SUMMARY: The Commissioner of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife is proposing to amend the fall wild turkey hunting season by establishing 6 additional hunting days during the fall season in which wild turkey may be hunted with the use of shotguns in a newly established zone.

A copy of the proposal may be obtained from the Agency Contact Person listed below.


PUBLIC HEARING: None scheduled – one may be requested.


AGENCY CONTACT PERSON: Andrea Erskine, Inland Fisheries & Wildlife, 284 State Street, 41 State House Station, Augusta, ME 04333-0041; e-mail to

(NWTF photo)

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Transition . . . Think Fall

This morning a new old mustard-colored truck (oxymoron?)--all stickered up with the usual pro-hunting affiliations we all belong to--was in "my spot" at "my farm." Almost had a hunch someone would be there with it all ending Sat., and rain forecast for tomorrow. The hunter likely saw that I've been living there lately, and seized the opportunity when I slept in! Next time out there I'll be buying some hay bales for my daily 20 minutes of summer bow shooting . . . I like to have stylish form when I miss New England turkeys in range each fall, doncha know.

Anyhow, I'm clearly in transition here . . . planning fall turkey hunts, and I just pounded out 1,500 wds. on the subject for a state mag. My Fall and Winter Turkey Hunter's Handbook will be out in August (Stackpole Books). Signed another turkey book contract for Spring '09 release. My wife is away for the next couple days at a Massachusetts workshop, so early hunts are out (5:07 sunrise today). Also I teach an all-day writing class on Sat., the last day of Maine. NH ends tomorrow at noon, my daughter's ninth b'day. Just mowed the yard that has been a jungle of late. Coming to a close on my terms, I guess.

Spring gravy hunts have indeed been excellent this late-season . . .

Legal birds (in both NH & Maine) I've let walk--the wet gobbler head I came up on in range, and found hunched under a tree in the slanting rain (didn't want to sucker punch him that way, and he ran second later). The gobbler I saw drifting slowly away thru the piney woods after I'd called him and his gobbling buddy in (in split-second iffy range), well after they'd eased away from my setup. The shootable fat jake with the 5-in. beard when I wanted his longbeard pard coming up from the rear (50-iffy range). All this marks me as some sort of purist I s'pose, but in truth I just wanted it all to last, or to get another bird in hand my way or no way.

Buddies have tagged birds, and we've had the usual excited conversations. I've put guys on turkeys I've found locally in pass-it-on mode as well, and with some success there--one involved a new hunter and his vet bud (what's with this generosity?). Heard a shot Monday where they were hunting. The two different Maine toms I wanted BADLY but that found a way to escape will stick with me forever. I haven't seen the one since mid month when a hen took him away, but the other was in birdy cover range and gobbling hard just this Monday.

It's all that late-season has to offer. The vest is still packed and ready to go but I'll empty it soon, I reckon--or just leave it that way until Sept. 15, the NH turkey opener (bow only). In a couple two-three weeks, the first poult sightings ought to be seen where I've recently hunted in Maine . . .

--Steve Hickoff

(Steve Hickoff photo)

Tuesday, May 29, 2007


Up early, I got back on those Maine farm birds this morning . . . problem is, I never heard a gobble. Not one. It was an otherwise pleasant morning, not unlike the NH opener back on May 3 when I also heard nothing. Yep, I revisited the scene of yesterday's one-that-got-away setup, and found a little opening the tom used to move from the grassy field edge through the leafed-out edge cover into those dense birdy woods . . . solves that mystery. Again though, my cold calling got nothing going at all. It was as if the light switch was flipped to OFF.

Did hear that crazy lonesome cockbird ringneck crowing for company though . . .

It's been a good season: I started out many weeks ago hunting the snow and sleet of west Texas (you heard right), and have finished out here in northern New England on the edge of what feels like an approaching summer. I've shouldered several super longbeards, have been part of other memorable hunts (my buddy Jonathan Harling's 24# Wyoming Merriams is a good memory as that goes), passed on countless shortbeards, plus even one Maine jake recently that likely goes 15-16 pounds, and wears all of five inches (early '06 hatcher?).

As usual I remember the ones that have outfoxed me as much as the ones that I've tagged: the gobblers that have been in range and somehow slipped away, the toms that flat out beat me when they have only one mistake to make, and don't.

It's all good.

--Steve Hickoff

(Merriams strutter/NWTF photo)

Monday, May 28, 2007

Hindsight: Catch and Release, the Sequel

Newly edited shoulda-woulda-coulda version of this Memorial Day morning post sees this turkey hunting blogger ironically move deeper into the woods, and away from the gobbling Maine turkeys to open up a less obstructed area in front of him for more available shooting lanes in order to close the deal by finally using his 8th grade geometry lessons in real life.

Longbeard down. Jubilant hunter. Fade to the plowed farmer's field where the surviving fat jake sprints away toward alarmed Canada geese, field mallards, and crows.

--Steve Hickoff

Catch and Release, the Sequel

It's Memorial Day. You have two fired up late-season Maine wild turkeys gobbling hard, and they're coming to your calls--one bird is on a strip of green grass along a field edge, and one is in thick edge cover--the kind you flush grouse from in October. You can't see either turkey. The green leaf-out is thick, but they are definitely coming. Which bird you you train your shotgun's muzzle on to be ready when that red, white and blue head periscopes up?

I picked the former, then flowed toward the latter . . . in the end, it didn't matter.

Let's back up a bit. Last night it rained hard. By morning it was showery, but threatening to clear--it was the same sort of morning as a dozen Memorial Days ago when I went out a little later, and called a three-bearded New Hampshire gobbler out of a plowed field and into the woods at 20 yards, then closed the deal. Today marked the first day of Maine's last week, when everyone still carrying a tag can go afield . . . I got out around 8 a.m. or so this morning (just as I did in May '95), but found no turkeys in this farmer's field, so I eased ahead to where I'd last worked turkeys back during the second week of B Season.

A little over an hour later I had two gobblers fire up to my cold calling (mouth, box and slate!), then begin to work in to my setup: one coming on the grassy field edge; one coming in through edge cover. My setup would have been a tight shot on the field turkey (10 yards?), and through brushy stuff as the edge cover bird went (30 yards or so, but through branches and sticks) . . . my guess is that these were the same duo I'd dueled with back on May 17: the jake and his longbeard buddy.

Sure enough, movement caught my eye, and the longbeard appeared, taking the path of more resistance . . . he was in range, for sure, but skirting the edge cover opening . . . at not seeing a hen (I'd stopped calling well before that as they approached), he picked up his step to make tracks, and was soon gobbling about 70-80 yards away . . . the jake must have moved through unseen behind him, as the two gobblers fired back at me from that position, then moved off gobbling never to return. Mostly silence then accompanied by the buzzing of mosquitos . . .

Catch. Release. Wonder how this Maine tag would taste lightly grilled with some barbeque sauce?

--Steve Hickoff

(Steve Hickoff photo)

Friday, May 25, 2007

Fall and Winter Turkey Hunter's Handbook

Since some of you have been kind enough to ask, my Fall and Winter Turkey Hunter's Handbook will be published by Stackpole Books in August. Feel free to contact me for more information at that time. I've also just signed on for a second turkey title with Stackpole, and a Spring '09 release is planned . . .

--Steve Hickoff

Wither Spring?

I woke two minutes before the 4 o'clock alarm the way we hunters do late in the spring turkey season, and made the New Hampshire farm at about perfect time, only to see a big hen in one of the foggy fields a half hour before legal sunrise, a bird that later answered my yelps from that hilly rise, but only in a sort of courtesy way like, "I'm here, right here." (That's put in for all of you who cringe at anthropomorphic references regarding a gamebird with a brain the size of a hickory nut.)

Anyhow, though I pussyfooted around where I had three gobblers hammering just two days ago (two on this side of the river; one on the other), there was silence. It stayed that way as the day warmed (they're calling for 90+ F. on this edge of Memorial Day weekend). I talked to yet another hen later on in the pine-shadowed woods, and as I drove the road to look at the hayed off fields, saw yet another out bugging. No gobblers, no gobbling, at all . . .

It was the kind of foggy, steamy, warming morning that used to see me flipping rocks in the shallows to catch softshelled crayfish to use as bait for Pennsylvania river smallmouth and trout . . .

--Steve Hickoff

(Steve Hickoff photo)

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Pit Stop

Slept in until 6:30 this morning, which might be early for some, but not you turkey hunters, eh.

Changed my truck's oil, shipped photos to a client, caught up with an editor bud, worked on a turkey book project due for spring '09 release, and had an otherwise recuperative day not messing with the late-season gobblers . . .

Feeling that urge, though. Feeling that urge.

--Steve Hickoff

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Still Carryin' . . .

Q.: So how'd it go this morning in New Hampshire?

A.: Good. I saw a pasture corner turkey far off while driving in, took 90 minutes working my way through the woods to get behind the bird, and tried to call it my way.

Q.: Any luck?

A.: Yeah, I called the turkey in, but it was a hen, and she didn't have a gobbler in tow as they sometimes do.

Q.: Did you work any other birds?

A.: Yep, a gobbler in a different location.

Q.: Get him in range?

A.: Yep, in range, but on the other side of the swollen river, and I only heard but didn't see him behind the leafed-out trees.

Q.: Why didn't you wade to the gobbler?

A.: River's pretty high. Just didn't is all.

Q.: What kind of man are you anyway?

A.: A dry one.

Q.: Work any other turkeys?

A.: Yeah, two more gobblers.

Q.: Get one of THEM in range?

A.: Yep, but they skirted the little swamp between us, gobbling but behind heavy greened-up cover, and never stepped into view. I had the safety off the whole time, and several chittering red squirrels told me where they were likely moving by.

Q.: Bad setup?

A.: Maybe, but they were coming hard, and I was pinned down, so there I sat.

Q.: Anything for the rest of the morning?

A.: Yeah I repositioned on the two, even saw one of them easing ahead, but never got them to work all the way in. Walked out at 11:55.

Q.: How long has it been since you tagged a longbeard?

A.: Fifteen days.

Q.: Well that's not bad, eh.

A.: Fine with me.

Q.: I hear you passed on a Maine gobbler last week?

A.: Yep.

Q.: You crazy?

A.: Maybe, but I like to make it last, and I'll hunt Maine next week.

Q.: What are you having there for lunch?

A.: Curry and wild turkey over rice.

Q.: Got any more turkey in the freezer?

A.: Nope, not now, we've eaten the last couple gobblers.

Q.: Better pull the trigger next time then, eh.

--Steve Hickoff

(NWTF photo)

Friday, May 18, 2007

The Few. The Proud. The Rainy-Day Field Sitters.

Friday brought showers. Wind. Even harder rain. Oh sure, I cold called in the usual spots trying to raise a gobbler . . . in some of the same areas I had 'em fired up in yesterday. Man, I got nowhere doing that.

About mid-morning I decided to sit along a cut cornfield. There, under a pine and behind a blind of sorts made by the edge grasses, I watched the spring mallards and Canada geese feed . . . crows had their little group far off, and numerous gray squirrels made their way to and from the woods. At one point, I watched a honker breed another--a first for me. Further off, a rooster pheasant called--unusual since ringnecks aren't common to this particular farm, nor is it a release site. Then again, the Maine contingent responsible for autumn releases contends there is some breeding and nesting activity among these planted gamebirds. But I digress . . .

I sat. I watched. I began to develop a hypothermic chill unrivaled in even the coldest of waterfowl blinds. Still, no turkeys.

Still, it's always good to get out. Maine's spring turkey hunting closes at noon, and I often start to work my way back to the truck a bit early on such days in the event I get something going at the wire. On the path toward the swollen creek, I stopped when red caught my eye--there on the other side; about forty yards away. It was a male turkey, for sure, hunched under a low-lying tree, toughing out the weather.

I crouched to get a better look--beard?--and at that he boogied across the expanse to the far, wet woods. Jake? At a running glance I'd say so . . .

I sat nearby in the rain to finish out the morning. That fool rooster just kept right on a calling . . .

--Steve Hickoff

Thursday, May 17, 2007

P.S. Catch and Release

I got a good look at Bad Boy the other day, and I'm hooked. Beautiful, big bird. He'll creak the scales--or just pass on his fine genes to that hen and give me a flock to watch this summer (or both). Maine's B Season ends Saturday, May 19, and it's unlikely I'll get after him until May 29, the last week when everyone carrying a tag is out . . . that would be pretty cool. New Hampshire next week . . .

The fat jake was an offering from the turkey gods, and as that goes, I mentally shot him three or four times, then gave him the free pass to adulthood. Had my mind on the longbeard that followed him in, but just not quite far enough . . .

Later that morning that rascal outfoxed me again.

I always remember the tough ones.

--Steve Hickoff

Catch and Release

It rained hard last night, with Hollywood thunder and lightning, then cleared to just clouds by the time I left the house.

That Maine longbeard from Tuesday beat me the same way again this morning, though the hen came to meet him about a half hour earlier today, and off they went. They roost apart, evidently--maybe she's started laying eggs, and hasn't completed the deal (I found a cracked one nearby the other day; likely a predator)--though they seem to spend at least the morning together . . .

I smiled at that, hung in there, and raised some gobbling birds on the other side of the woods. I got them fired up, for sure. In they came, skirting my setup, gobbling as they moved past, counter-clockwise through the woods at about sixty yards or so. I stopped calling, and waited them out (they'd been hammering at everything I threw their way). One gobble sounded like a work-in-progress (a yelp or two slipped out), while the other was the real deal. The latter bird was hanging further off . . .

I glimpsed movement, saw a turkey materialize at the edge of the open but leafed-out woods, noted the red, white, and blue head, saw his shortbeard (though he was good-sized for a juvenile), and realized the jake was working my way. I pinched my Remington 870's safety off, hoping the second bird was (1) not far behind, and (2) a longbeard. As the jake was handed one of my free live-to-gobbler-adulthood passes (I mentally noted three or four times I could have shot him as he weaved and eased through the woods, looking for me). Jakebird shock gobbled to a passing crow, and the other turkey also hammered in barking spasms. That bird was closing in . . . coming, coming . . . on appearing, he stopped--a longbeard, damn straight--then surveyed the woods where he expected to see a hen (me), didn't, and did that little turn that means he's about to look elsewhere (on the edge of my comfortable shooting range) . . .

For the next hour or so (maybe more?) both answered me, and I repositioned several times, always with the same result. They'd never come closer than around fifty yards or so through the woods--unseen; easily heard.

So I started pussyfooting away, clucking and yelping as I went . . . they fired back gobbles at that, gobbles that seemed to be following me. It was pretty clear they were closing in, in pursuit--but never into shotgun range as I set up here; then there.

Tough, pressured Pine Tree State mid-season longbeards on unposted private land open to hunting can only make one mistake that puts them in shotgun range for the final time. It sounded like these two turkeys were drifting toward a little greened-up pasture corner, so I slipped through the nearby bog to that spot . . . busted: they'd beaten me to the field, and spooked, jogging away through the grass to the far woods. My bad . . .

Leave? Hardly. I was in for the long haul until noon (Maine's spring closing time). I went right toward where they got swallowed up by greenery, and set up a deke (I don't often use them, but thought it might work on this deal). I let things settle. I called. They ripped back, now across the plowed cornfield. They were about 100 yards from me, and a football field apart from each other. This went on for some time, until I decided to lift the deke, and reposition closer by skirting the field to get to the far corner.

There, I staked the deke. Set up. Called. One turkey answered, swung in (sticks cracked in the near woods as he passed--the jake, evidenced by the cracked gobble), moved on. Reunited, the gobbling duo answered me, and in the next hour I called them back three times to the edge of the woods (my agitated cutting seemed to unhinge them), but they'd have no part of the field corner deke, which was even wavering a little in the breeze like a live bird. At one point they were just over the New England stone wall to my hard left, but I couldn't turn, even though the spitting and drumming was close, real close. Um, ten yards? Pinned. Down.

At one point they simply left, drifted away. I called several more times, then amazingly came back on my other side . . . one clucked to my right (offered to the mute plastic deke?), and was answered by one of my own, but they eased into the field, ignoring me, then away to the far woods where I first started with them.

Trout. Turkeys. Sometimes you let the smaller ones go, and the bigger ones just won't bite.

--Steve Hickoff

(NWTF photo)

Tuesday, May 15, 2007


Between my turkey travel, and hunts in three other states, it was my first time out in Maine. B Season. Second day of the second week . . .

Up early, I stepped into the farmer's plowed field this morning, and heard a gobble in the far-off piney woods. By 5 a.m., that southern Maine bird was on the ground, and hammering for a hen or hens to come and join him. I softly yelped on a mouth call--set up just 50 yards away or so on a grassy field edge--and he cut me off. I shut up and he gobbled some more. I called, and he barked back.

This was getting nowhere.

So I walked in the other direction as if to make like a hen slipping away. Skirting the green opening, I slipped into the woods, along a muddy ATV trail, now about a football field away from the gobbler. I set up, called, and he came directly, but hung up again strutting behind two wide white pines, some deadfall and brush. I yelped, and he cut me off. I shut up for a long time, and he gobbled repeatedly. Now close enough that I could hear him spitting and drumming, my safety was off, ready for that bright head and black body to step into range. I scratched leaves. He gobbled. I stayed quiet. He barked out at crows, a far-off siren . . . I yelped and he tore back at me. He gobbled 50 times if he did once . . .

No go. The turkey drifted away a little, and I repositioned ten yards closer this time, but in silence, using the two broad pines. He gobbled. I heard footsteps (coming? going?). I softly yelped, and he barked back, drifting in closer, closer . . . then silence. More silence. Then some more of it.

There through the woods I saw a hen leading him away. He'd called her in, or maybe we both did . . . hey, it happens. The pair stopped, well out of range. There he strutted for her, and she nonchalantly pecked at the leaves.

Hey, I wasn't finished just yet . . . I softly called, and she turned directly, and began weaving through the woods to my position. To within 7-8 steps in fact, where she putted off my gun barrel (I cut my eyes left, right; where was he?), and drifted away after the wing flick. I softly called over her alarm call, and he gobbled behind her--obscured by thick cover. I then let her drift out of sight before calling again. She. Came. Back. Now peering at me from around the 11 o'clock position before putting again. Away she went. One more time I called her back as he gobbled (heard; unseen), and she turned and took him away, but not before he gobbled once more to me . . .

I hunted the next couple hours as showers began and the wind picked up. Nothing--gone like drifting woodsmoke.

Man, I can still hear him gobbling.

--Steve Hickoff

(Steve Hickoff photo)

Friday, May 11, 2007

High Meadows. Deep Canyons.

Here's the Wyoming terrain we turkey hunted this past week. Loved it.

--Steve Hickoff

(Steve Hickoff photo)

Want Western Turkeys?

Whitetail Creek Outfitters in Devils Tower, Wyoming just hosted the 2007 National Wild Turkey Federation Spring Turkey Invitational. For hunts, contact co-owners Brad Greba and Keith LeMay by phone at 307.467.5625, or by logging on to For all things wild turkey, check out the NWTF's website at (you'll find a link or two in this blog's sidebar as well). For more WY hunt info., check out my previous blog postings. Stay tuned for my May 20 Foster's Sunday Citizen column for more on this hunt as well (central/southern New Hampshire & southern Maine circulation; plus online versions of both Foster's, and the Citizen), and other future turkey articles . . .

--Steve Hickoff

Jonathan Harling's Monster Merriam's

Check out accounts of our recent Wyoming NWTF hunt in my previous posts . . . more to come.

--Steve Hickoff

(Steve Hickoff photo)

Make Mine a Merriam's

Northeastern WY. Great country to hunt: high meadows and deep canyons.

This longbeard (21 lbs./9-1/4" beard/sub-1" spurs) first came silently to the calls just behind this setup location, then spit, drummed and gobbled on a small grassy flat at the top of a canyon embankment, but just over the edge--couldn't see him at that point. Only heard the bird strutting there--pfft, dum, pfft, dum--after spinning around when he first gobbled at my slate's yelps. After slipping out of my turkey vest, I then made a S-L-O-W three-yard slither to the canyon edge (10-15 minutes?). Rem 870 ever ready in the event his head and neck appeared, I raised up slowly as the spitting and drumming faded. What, no bird?

It strutted slightly lower than I imagined. My buddy, the NWTF's own Jonathan Harling, sat at another tree some 20-25 yards away, and sensing the situation, kept the bird gobbling so that I could fix it in my radar. Creeping closer inch by inch, again I heard the spitting and drumming, and eased maybe another yard closer behind some deadfall. Sweet tension that was. I then saw the full fan there just ten yards away, the gobbler's head facing away as I'd hoped, obscured by his tail feathers.

His skinny jake buddy (had no idea HE was there) looked on like some alarmed butler in a bad PBS drama, and I thought that shortbeard would nail me. I clucked just then, the longbeard's head periscoped up, and I dropped him with the Winchester extended-range load of 5s (not exactly what Win Ammo had in mind with this long-range shell, eh).

Strutter down.

Game over? Not just yet. The greeny strut zone was slightly tilted--fine when the gob was erect and strutting there--and I helplessly watched as the dead bird slowly rolled by gravity, then slide-bounced down the canyon wall. You can bet I made like a Gen-X snowboarder (dirt and rock in this case), vaulting down the embankment to the turkey.

Under two hours later--down in a canyon below that high meadow--Harling pulled in another gobbler with his box calling. As mentioned in the previous post, that one creaked the camp scale at 24 lbs., and won the camp pool.

--Steve Hickoff

(Steve Hickoff photo)

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Western Ways

I'm posting this from the lobby of the Ramkota Hotel in Rapid City, South Dakota--the sunrise to my left; "complimentary" coffee stand to my right: not a bad road office at all.

Anyhow, I've spent this past week over in Wyoming hunting deep canyon and high meadow gobblers with Whitetail Creek Outfitters near Devil's Tower.

A National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF) event, it brought together hardworking Regional Directors from around the country, along with their guests, and some national NWTF staffers, namely my friends Karen Lee (who edits two of their fine magazines), and Jonathan Harling, the NWTF's public-relations man.

All-day hunts provide plenty of opportunity, and we had that. Know that I put a tag on a 21 lb.Merriam's gobbler Tuesday morning, May 8 (high meadow strutter above a canyon), and my buddy Harling put his on a super bird that ate up his box calling under two hours later (canyon bird, far below that high meadow). It later creaked the camp scales at 24 lbs. That's a big bird anywhere, especially out West.

Look for photos posted here in the next few days . . .

--Steve Hickoff

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Opening Day, New Hampshire Spring Gobbler

Sure, NH's spring turkey youth weekend just passed (mentored hunters took 12% of the statewide kill last spring), but that's barely a blip on the hunting radar to this dad whose kid loves to fish. Today was the real deal . . . at least in concept.

It's all pretty much good in the turkey woods, even if the birds are quiet, and the New England blackflies are staging their return (though they seemed a bit dazed by it all at my various setups). For the uninitiated, a setup is where a turkey hunter decides to plant his/her butt on the chance that they (1) have just had a bird answer their calling, or (2) they think the place looks prime for a bird to answer their calling if they sit down, settle in, and make some turkey talk. I did the latter most of the morning.

The spot pictured here is on the same field edge where I tagged NH gobblers in '92, '93, and '94. Primed by nostalgia, I thought it might be interesting to see if I might work a bird there all this time later (no gray hairs back then, friends; no parenthood). Well, a tufted titmouse or two, and several black-capped chickadees checked out my every move, but not a single turkey took interest.

Around mid-morning, I took a long slow walk toward the next field through the woods, found some fairly fresh turkey tracks, and some droppings that indicated, well, that some birds were still around all these years later. Never worked a gobbler, but the antidote is coming in the form of Wyoming . . .

(Steve Hickoff photo/text)