Monday, December 9, 2013
By KEN ALLEN
In mid to late spring during my youth, Maine's outdoors folks lived for trout and salmon fishing, because in May action peaked to a feverish pitch. Later, summer sun pushed salmonids into the depths and made them lethargic, so sports folks might then turn their thoughts to fall hunting.
Back then, few folks hunted in spring -- say for bears (legal then), woodchucks and crows. They concentrated on angling, but that changed after the successful turkey introduction in this state during the 1980s.
Now, turkey hunting attracts more than 12,000 participants from April 30 to June 2, and many of them once lived and breathed spring angling. These days, though, they may not wet a line in turkey season until tagging a bird.
William Clunie of Dixfield, an avid angler, guide and writer, still fishes now and then in May, but turkeys dominate his free time. Clunie shot a large tom in mid-May, but in a recent interview, he seemed more excited about a jake encounter earlier in the month. Even though he declined to shoot the young male, that incident excited him as if it were the season's highlight.
Clunie continued the interview with a story about a bobcat he watched in the turkey woods in May, a big deal. Mainers seldom spot this nocturnal species in the wild. The jake and bobcat anecdotes reminded me -- once again -- that hunting offers folks so much more than killing.
Clunie's tale included meticulous details, and his enthusiastic monologue made clear that watching the jake for a long time taught him plenty about turkeys.
It began like this:
Clunie hid an electronic call in a bush about 20 yards from a jake-and-hen decoy set, and then he sat 30 to 40 yards away behind a few bushes to break his outline. Clunie told me that as the jake approached, the bird keyed on the electronic call's location instead of on the decoy set. In the future, Clunie will make sure to put the call within the decoys.
He decided to experiment with the call to see if he could chase the jake away, so he started by turning the volume to maximum. That didn't frighten the bird. Then he played different calls, including "gobble, fly down, wild-turkey call, raspy horn, lost hen" and "kee-kee run." That series didn't spook the jake, but a gobble with a background yelp finally sent it scurrying away.
Before the jake vacated the premises, Clunie experimented with ultra-slow, deliberate movements and found his actions didn't frighten the bird. Once, the bird tolerated him slowly waving a white tissue. Also, when rain started, Clunie slowly put on a raincoat without frightening the bird. He concluded that slow movement was OK -- at least with jakes.
As May progressed, Clunie had ambivalent feelings about passing up the jake. He wondered if he would he get a second shot at a turkey, but that opportunity came one dawn in mid-month.
Clunie had set up on the edge of a power line with the electronic call and decoys, but before he called, a tom gobbled. Clunie called back and quickly received an answer. The tom made a beeline toward Clunie's location, so he stopped calling and barely had time to get his Remington Model 1187 12-gauge in the ready position before the bird appeared -- a 40-yard shot.
He held the bead on where the neck met the body and dropped the tom right on the spot. He was using Remington No. 5 Nitro Turkey shot-shells and full-choke, the right medicine for this tough game bird. Only one pellet from the tight pattern hit the breast, so meat spoilage was minimal.
Clunie enjoys eating wild turkeys. He skinned the breast rather than plucked it, cut it into cubes and browned them in olive oil. Then, like a frontiersman in the old Southwest, Clunie made chili from the wild meat. (Like me, Clunie uses any excuse to make chili.)
Clunie mentioned that turkeys have superb eyesight, so he wears camo to break up solid body colors and a facemask and gloves to hide skin, which eliminates the need to scrub camo off face and hands after a morning outing. (Turkey hunting is illegal after noon) This Dixfield man hunts close to the agricultural land around the Androscoggin River Valley, and he shot the tom on the edge of a power line that went through a farmer's big field.
You can bet that next spring, Clunie will hunt again.
Yes, Mainers and tourists face a huge dilemma each spring -- should they fish or hunt for America's favorite big-game bird? Clunie knows the answer.
Ken Allen of Belgrade Lakes is a writer, editor and photographer. He can be contacted at: