It’s Sunday morning, and I know I should be in church. But it’s the day before the opening of Turkey Season and I’ve hardly done any scouting. I’m in the Richland Furnace State Forest, deeeeeep in Southern Ohio (Vinton/Jackson Counties). I got in the woods long before day light and hiked up the ATV trails until I am more than two miles from the road. This is remote, as about remote as it gets in Ohio. There are a lot of places closer to home where I could hunt turkeys or hogs, but I wanted to go back to where it all started and work a 2 species double-header.
Around 1900 all the wild turkey were gone from Ohio; aside effect of deforestation as we converted our Great State from woodland to farmland.Wildlife management was inits early days, but there was a sense that we had to restore this native great bird to its habitat. Several times the Department of Natural Resources tried to stock birds from the Mark Twain National Forest in Missouri, but they failed to take. Slowly progress was made and by 1966, we had enough birds to open Ohio’s first season. Sadly, I didn’t get to go that year.
Fast forward a few decades and turkey restoration in Ohio is one of the great conservation success stories of America, having been funded by fees and taxes on hunting licenses that sportsmen actually asked to have levied upon themselves. Here in Appalachian Ohio it’s all vertical real estate and you’d better have a good pair of boots and a good pair of legs to hunt it.The ground is literally covered with acorns. There are fewer deer tracks than I would expect, and I only found one set of hog tracks on my hike.
Strolling down a holler after a break for an MRE lunch, I begin to wonder why I’m not seeing more turkey signs. One possibility is a grim reminder of a bad economy; they might have been poached. A careless step breaks a branch under my foot and is immediately answered by a startling scream from just a few hundred yards away; KI-KI-KICAW-CAAAAAW! No, it’s not a bird. It’s the Apache Crow call,the secret alarm of backwoods outlaws. I’m not alone out here, somebody has seen me and warned his confederates. It’s time for me to leave, like right now! It’s probably ginseng poachers or marijuana growers. Either way, I am as eager to avoid meeting them as they are to be met. The two and a half miles I hiked into the woods seems a lot longer when I’m double-timing out.
Monday morning is opening day. I have relocated to Spencer Lake Wildlife Area in Medina County. Many of you may know it for its twin lakes full of Bluegill, Bass and Crappie. As terrific as it is for fishing, it can be for hunting, if you get away from the well traveled area. The dark woods full of trillium and wild grapevine hold hidden pockets of perfect wild turkey habitat. I set up my decoys at the corner of a field where they can be seen by birds in two directions, and conceal myself about 8 yards away in the Osage brush.
Some of you may think it’s madness hunting in a public area; some will say there’s no game and too many people. But I’ve bagged four turkeys in the last six years on public land and until I came out of the woods at noon, I saw not one other soul. Unfortunately,I saw only one turkey that morning too. A jake, probably a year old came in to look over my decoys and then drifted away. I usually try to keep jakes or hens around my set as long as possible in the hopes that they will just add to the attraction for a big tom. But today he had other thing son his mind and apparently my low coos and clucks on the box call aren’t sexy enough and he wanders off across the field and disappears in the trees. See you next year, young man.
The season still has several weeks left, and I’m eager to see the spring time sun rise many times before I pull the trigger on a (hopefully) longbeard. Turkey hunting is often a hit or miss proposition. Although Lorain and Medina Counties are considered lightly populated with turkeys, Ashtabula County has the highest count in the state, so the North Coast is still a good place to seek a table bird. Get outdoors!