Extended winter making turkeys less active

Published 3:53 am Sunday, April 11, 2010

NATCHEZ — Natchez resident Peter Dale has seen four turkeys killed this season, and only one of them appeared to have been strutting.

“You look at the bottom of the tail feathers and see if there’s any wear and tear,” Dale said. “That means they’re strutting, and they’re active in mating season.”

Dale has killed two turkeys for himself, he said, and called two more to be shot by both his uncle and a friend. Of the four, his second taken for himself was the only one to have wear and tear at the bottom of its tail feathers.

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And Dale also said he’s pretty sure he knows why there is little loving in turkey world these days.

“I think we’ve had the harshest winter here in a long time,” Dale said. “Prime time is when honeysuckles and dogwoods bloom, and you can see that up and down the trace. That usually begins to happen about mid-March, but this year it’s only happened within the last two weeks. I think that’s why they’ve waited to strut.”

And he’s not the only one to notice turkey behavior that’s out of character for this time of the year. Natchez resident Austin Weeks said he hasn’t taken any strutting turkeys so far this year.

“Right now, they’re not really acting right,” Weeks said. “Everyone I talk to says there are plenty of turkeys, but they’re just not gobbling well. They’ll gobble up in the tree, but once they hit the ground they’re pretty much done.

“One of my buddies killed two, another one called one for his girlfriend to shoot and my dad’s killed one. People are killing them, you just have to be able to get the ones acting right on a particular day.”

Like Dale, Weeks believes the longer winter is to blame for the delay in proper behavior for early to mid-April.

“Right now they’re hanging around the hens,” Weeks said. “Once the hens go to the nest, they usually gobble well. The only thing I can think of is the weather stayed cold so long, and that’s why they haven’t gone back to the nest yet.”

Church Hill native John Sullivan, who’s killed two turkeys this season, said it’s harder to hunt when the turkeys’ attention is focused on the hens.

“Later in the season, it just seems like the turkeys are more vocal,” Sullivan said. “They tend to be henned up early in the season, and the hunters are competing with hens, but you can’t compete with the real thing.”

Still, Sullivan also said he understands people tend to be more active in the early part of turkey season, even though he prefers to hunt after they split from the hens.

“When they haven’t been hunted yet, they’re not as call-shy,” Sullivan said. “They’re like ducks. The more they’re hunted, they get call shy.”

Local Taxidermist Tucker Crisp said he hasn’t been able to mount any turkeys this season because he’s been backed up with deer heads. From talking to other hunters, Crisp said there hasn’t been much activity from young turkeys — and he has a theory about why that’s the case.

“From what I’ve heard, they’re not as many jakes (male turkeys) around,” Crisp said. “That doesn’t look good for next year.

“Right about this time last year, young turkeys were hatching, and there were some things flying around called buffalo gnats. I know they were killing grown chickens, and if they can do that, they can kill a young turkey.”