I made two trips to Texas this spring to hunt turkeys. The first was in mid-April, still cool up here but quite mild in the Lone Star State. They’d had a very moist early spring, too, so even the Edwards Plateau was verdant and lush. It was a boom for all sorts of critters, large and small.

Still, hunting conditions were tough. A poor hatch two years prior meant a shortage of naive, 2-year-old long beards. And a bumper crop the previous spring meant an abundance of jakes. What older birds were around tended to be fairly reticent once their feet hit the ground, for fear of being mobbed by gangs of rowdy jakes. After two fun but equally frustrating days I was scoreless, and had only a morning hunt left before returning to the Northeast.

The third morning didn’t go so well, either, and we were headed back to camp when Clay White, marketing manager for Ol’ Tom apparel, suggested we make one more stop.

I got an immediate response to my box call. Based on the previous two days, I didn’t want to get my hopes up, but we figured it was worth a try. We halved the distance and called again – another response, and this time closer.

One more move and one more call and it was time to sit and get ready. Two-and-a-half days of frustration ended when the 3-year-old long beard stepped into my shooting lane, and the eleventh-hour bird was mine.

After a quick photo session, we raced back to camp. I grabbed a quick shower, hastily packed my bags and was off to the airport. It was after 11 that night when the wheels touched down at Portland International Jetport. After the obligatory 30-minute wait for my bags and another 30-minute drive home, it was straight to bed.

It wasn’t until the next morning after getting out of the shower that I noticed them. It started with itching, which I had attributed to the usual cactus spines, mesquite thorns and random bug bites that go along with hunting in Texas. But when I looked closer I noticed each welt had a tiny freckle in its center. And each freckle turned out to be a seed tick, scarcely bigger than the head of a pin. After some careful inspection, my wife and I removed well over a dozen of the little buggers, but the damage was done. I was covered with itchy welts that persisted for several weeks.

In fact, I was still scratching like a flea-bitten dog when I arrived back in Texas eight days later – less than 30 miles from the site of my previous hunt. But I wasn’t about to let the same thing happen again.

On the way to our destination, I asked my host, Chris Ellis, who was there on behalf of Timney Triggers, to make a quick stop at the local Wal-Mart. It was there I found the solution, and over the next three full days of hunting I never found a single tick on me.

Ticks are a legitimate concern to all outdoorsmen, but especially to turkey hunters, who spend their mornings literally sitting motionless in what is probably the most ideal habitat for these tiny, eight-legged nuisances. After a mild, open winter they’re expected to be particularly abundant in the Northeast this spring, and early reports indicate a high proportion of deer ticks carrying Lyme disease.

If you’ve not had it, chances are you know someone who has. Knowing just how debilitating it can be and this spring’s tick conditions are enough to discourage even the stoutest turkey hunter.

And that would be fine by me because it cuts down on the competition. However, it would be wrong not to let you in on my little secret.

The solution I picked up in that Texas Wal-Mart is something called permethrin, and it’s sold typically as an aerosol spray under several trade names. Rather than applying to your body, you spray it on your clothing, then let the clothing dry for several hours. One application will generally last a week or two, sometimes more, depending on how active you are.

And it works. I first used it several years ago during a spring when I hunted in eight states, including Connecticut, South Carolina, Alabama and Texas, and in seven weeks I never found a single tick.

Though more of a nuisance than an actual health risk, mosquitoes still rank high on the turkey hunter’s list of irritations. Their persistence can cause you to move at the wrong time and cost you a turkey – and there is the rare risk of encephalitis or avian flu.

There is also a cure. It’s a little device called a ThermaCELL. Heat generated by the ThermaCELL’s butane cartridge warms a small pad saturated with Allethrin, which is a copy of a naturally occurring insecticide found in chrysanthemum flowers. The repellent then vaporizes, creating a 15-by-15-foot (225 square feet) “Mosquito-Free-Zone.” I, too, was skeptical until I tried one. It’s as effective against mosquitoes as permethrin is against ticks, which gives you one less thing to worry about this spring. 

Bob Humphrey is a freelance writer and Registered Maine Guide who lives in Pownal. He can be contacted at:

[email protected]