Clayton: Hunting turkey before the opener --- with a camera

Luke Clayton
Special to the Empire-Tribune

I decided to get out in the turkey woods close to my home last week and open the season a bit early and managed to "shoot" a couple of really big gobblers. Before you call Operation Game Theft or the game warden, I probably need to let you know I did my shooting through a long lens with my Nikon rather than a shotgun or bow!

Luke opened turkey season a little early last week….using his camera! These two longbeards will soon change from ‘running buddies’ to arch enemies when the breeding season kicks off.

Wild turkeys were stocked three years ago on a big ranch close to where I live and the birds seem to be doing very well. After what appears to be a couple years with successful hatches, we are seeing flocks of birds disperse from the original stocking sight and establish themselves throughout the area.

Although somewhat new to the experience, I’ve found that "hunting" turkeys with my camera gives me the same adrenaline rush as pulling the trigger on my shotgun or squeezing the release on my bow, less fresh turkey meat in the cooler of course! There is something very exciting to me to about hearing a gobbler respond to my calling way back in the woods and then watch him pop out of the pale spring brush, in all his brilliant glory with sunlight creating colors that even Monet could not have duplicated with his paintings. Don’t get me wrong, I have a couple of turkey hunts out west planned, but I am really excited about learning more about turkeys during their breeding season right here close to home.

Luke Clayton

I’ve hunted turkeys since the 1970s, mostly in Texas, but occasionally in other states. Most of my encounters have lasted only a few minutes, long enough to coax a longbeard out of the brush and within shotgun or bow range. There is no open season in my county so actually shooting one of these birds is out of the question, but I am excited about spending time in the woods close to home and learning more about the birds during their breeding/nesting season.

Wild turkeys spend the winter months in big flocks along creek or river drainages, I’m sure for protection from wind and cold. These areas also provide hard mast such as pecans and acorns, which make up much of the bird’s diet when insects and green vegetation are not available.

I noted the birds in my area have broken into smaller flocks and dispersed from their wintering area to nearby fields and clearings adjacent heavy cover. I photographed a flock of five gobblers and 11 hens a mile from my house on a friend’s property and later that same day, noted the same birds feeding on a field edge a mile or so away. The birds were still in a flock made up of both hens and gobblers.

But soon, the hens will secrete themselves away from the flock and create nests where, after laying their clutch of eggs, they will incubate the eggs about 28 days until they hatch. Contrary to what I used to believe, hen turkeys need to mate only once to fertilize all the eggs they lay but breeding occurs for several weeks each spring. 

I am anxious to follow these close-to-home birds throughout the breeding season. I have a feeling I will learn more the next month or so about turkeys by photographing and filming them than I’ve learned in four decades of hunting them. I fully understand how to use a call, decoys and camouflage to entice a gobbler within shotgun range but now I can observe the birds throughout the spring breeding season, beginning now when they are still in a flock, and then watch the flock disperse as the hens go on nests and finally observe the baby turkeys when they hatch. 

I plan to share with you what I learn during this new adventure. I’m every bit as excited about actually hunting these amazing birds as every and will hopefully relate a couple of hunts to you as the season unfolds and share a couple of my wild turkey recipes as well!

Crappie are moving shallow

The spring crappie spawn is a time when 90% of the fish are truly in 10% of the water. But not all crappie move shallow at the same time in different areas of a lake. It all depends upon water temperature and the shallow water bite often lasts throughout the month of April.

With sonar units such as the Livescope that make locating crappie and other fish easy, some springtime crappie fishermen have all but abandoned "old school" methods of catching crappie when they are shallow. The tried and proven methods many of us have used for years will still produce fish!

As the water continues to warm in April, wade fishing becomes very productive. Long "jig poles" are used and the angler, wearing waders, eases along the shallows, vertically dropping jigs into likely bits of cover. Using this method, it’s possible to catch fish mere feet away if one moves slowly. The trick is to drop the jig vertically into the thickest of cover in order to avoid hang ups.

Another productive method is fan casting jigs or minnows under a floater from the bank. Granted, a few jigs will be lost to brush using this method but it’s a good way to remain dry and still get in on the shallow water fishing. The trick is to set the jig a foot or so under the floater, depending upon water depth and cast past likely bits of cover.

Once the bait reaches the intended target, allow it to pause and jiggle the rod tip. This will often trigger a strike but it’s also common to catch cruising crappie out in more open water. Pause the jig occasionally, the strike often comes the instant the jig stops.

Contact Outdoors writer Luke Clayton via email through his website www.catfishradio.org.