avoiding ticks

Ticks seem to be everywhere when I go hunting. I encounter them in the woods, bushes, high grasses and leaf debris. They need heat and moisture to survive and can sense heat and carbon dioxide from a nearby host animal. There are 80 species of ticks in the United States, but only about a dozen are considered a health threat to humans. 

The ticks I encounter the most are the deer tick and the wood tick. The deer tick is the only one of the two that can transmit Lyme disease. The wood tick can transfer Rocky Mountain spotted fever in some areas of North America and is the most commonly found tick in the United States. These ticks hatch from eggs in spring and become nymphs during their first year of life.

Blacklegged ticks (commonly called deer ticks) are the only ticks that carry Lyme disease. And not all of these ticks carry the disease. The tick larva are the most likely to transfer Lyme disease during the late spring and summer, if they become infected with the disease from host animals (commonly mice) once they start consuming blood. The young deer ticks are so small they are hard to detect when they attach themselves to your body. An infected deer tick must bite you for at least 24 hours to pass on Lyme disease. 

Several other tick-borne diseases to be aware of in addition to Lyme disease include: Anaplasmosis, Babesiosis, Borrelia miyamotoi, Colorado Tick Fever, Ehrlichiosis, Heartland virus, Powassan disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever (RMSF), STARI and Tularemia. These diseases are regionally based so are not all present across the entire United States. The types of ticks that spread diseases are: American dog tick, deer tick, brown dog tick, Gulf Coast tick, Lone Star tick, Rocky Mountain wood tick, and Western blacklegged tick.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, the Lone Star tick is primarily found in the southeastern and eastern United States. White-tailed deer are a major host of Lone Star ticks. These ticks are identified by a white spot in the middle of their backs. 

Ticks are spreading across the United States. The CDC has a lot of great information, including maps and printouts to help hunters.
Easy ways to avoid ticks:

  • Wear protective clothing with long sleeves shirts tucked in to your pants.
  • Tuck the ends of your pants into your socks or boots to help keep them from getting underneath your clothing.
  • Use Permethrin spray on your clothing.
  • Keep dirty hunting clothes in your laundry room or stored away.
  • Take a shower when you come indoors.

By: Tracy Schmidt


pine stand
There are many ways in which landowners and gamekeepers can make revenue from their property. One way is making money from their trees, whether it is the actual sale of the timber or taking advantage of a byproduct and harvesting the pinestraw. This owner is flagging a lightning strike on a mature longleaf pine. 

The same gamekeepers who enjoy farming for wildlife might also need help in defraying some of the costs associated with stewardship. Planting trees in order to rake pinestraw is but one of the ways recreational property can yield modest dividends. With hunting leases, it’s a numbers game with the bigger the acreage the better the income, but for most small private landowners anything that pays some money into the pot makes the farm chores just a bit easier to accomplish. 

tree farm
Keeping your timber healthy is
important if you wish top dollar
from your property’s resources.
Whether it’s timber sales or for
a hunting lease, a healthy
stand will fetch the highest
price. Fire is necessary in
some timber stands to scarify
seeds and remove debris.

Timber sales will likely be the most lucrative transaction on any acreage, but timber harvest is only intermittent. Slow-growing pine trees can only be thinned a few times before the final clear cut takes place, and then it’s back to the waiting game. Timber sales are also subject to the demand from the market, with the recent economic recession and downturn in housing creating low prices for a time. And sometimes when it’s time to thin trees, markets are trumped by the health of the stand. 

Any final stage timber cutting is the equivalent of a home run for one’s checkbook. However, most folks don’t live long enough to see many clear cuts. One example is a gentleman I know who is 88 years old who had the family farm passed down to him. He told me that he has seen one portion of the property clearcut and grown back only twice in his life. Consider many landowners don’t get the early start he did to watch the property transform over the years, so most folks might get to be at bat for only one such “home run” in their life. 

Playing small ball might be a better game plan for someone who tends a smaller acreage and who puts an emphasis on aesthetics, rather than clear cuts. These gamekeepers can look for payment programs form the U.S. government, utility companies, communications companies, hunting leases and sustainable harvest of their natural resources. Stringing together some “singles” along the way may help with getting over the hump on lean years in the budget process, where every little bit helps. 

In terms of an annual income, hunting leases have to top the list. 

As the popularity of hunting increases, like in the case of waterfowling due to a popular reality show, it’s a safe bet that the price for leases are trending upward but not skyrocketing. Considering there will be more demand and the same amount of hunting acreage, setting up a portion of your property for a lease provides a yearly income. 

One example is an 1800-acre deer hunting lease on the East Coast that draws interest from Florida, Georgia and South Carolina. The price is $8 an acre and generates $17,000 per year for the gamekeeper-owner. Large leases mean more members, and this hunt club has 14 members, and most of them travel form out of town to hunt. Campers are allowed on the property with rental and electricity fees (from walk-in cooler, etc.) that generate more income for the owner. 

A hunting lease that allows for more than a single species of game can demand a higher price. One example is a 900-acre lease for ducks, doves and deer that collects $15 per acre, translating into about $10,000 annually. Heck, in the right spot a duck blind alone can bring in $10,000 per season, so a lot has to do with demand. Splitting up a lease can be tricky, but selling rights for separate species that have different seasons brings in more money. For instance, turkey rights in spring, deer rights in fall and rabbit or raccoon rights in winter.

creating a plot
Creating food plots can significantly increase
your property’s value when leasing to hunters
and leasing your property can help to pay for
cool tools like this dozer.

The cost-share programs of the National Resources Conservation Service are directly tied to the Farm Bill that passes through Congress every few years. The CRP program, which paid landowners to plant pine trees, was likely their best known and most successful program. My own experience dealt with their WHIP program, and wildlife habitat enhancement vehicle that paid for disking, mowing and burning. Almost all of their contracts are for a limited duration, so they require constant monitoring.

The National Wildlife Federation held a Farm Bill Summit in Georgia that I attended in 2009, and I came away with the feeling that the common landowner could not comprehend this legislation. Not much has changed since then, except that the funding has been slashed during the recession. Seek out your local NRCS Farm Service Agency office, and communicate your desires and let them see if any programs would be a good fit. 

Two niche ideas for income include powerline right of way management fees and cell phone tower lease fees. With two powerlines running across our property, we were once enrolled in a mowing contract with the utility that paid us to maintain the powerline. The program has since been discontinued in my area, but perhaps something similar exists in your area. Having a cell phone tower placed on your land might reduce the aesthetics, but it comes with a steady check in the mail each month. Can you hear me now?! 

Raking pinestraw is an endeavor that is also raising awareness about planting more longleaf pine trees, native to the Southeast. “There are some front ends costs with this type of operation, but there is also a ‘gravy’ period that can last nearly two decades,” said landowner Angus Lawton. Did you know that regular pinestraw from slash or loblolly trees is regarded as secondary to longleaf straw because of its superior length, coloration and durability? 

timber cutting
Any final stage timber cutting is the equivalent of a “home
run” for one’s checkbook. However, most folks don’t live
long enough to see many clear cuts in their lifetime.

Planting longleaf pines for raking requires proper spacing, and upkeep and care for the first eight or nine years. Longleaf survival can be tricky and a 75-percent ratio is considered a success. So the upfront costs begin with using containerized seedlings, which cost more but are heartier. Mowing the stand to reduce competition has to be done during these first years, and herbicides also need to be applied, with no income from raking. 

However, the burden shifts from the landowner to a qualified pinestraw operator about year ten, and a ballpark figure of $20 per acre will be the income for the next few years. The operator assumes all maintenance of the site, and they take care of the sale of the straw as well. A lot depends on the level of care any operator employs, so landowners may have a tricky time finding someone who is the right fit for them.

If all goes well then years thirteen through twenty will produce a bonanza of pine straw as the trees begin to grow more. Prices like $50 to the acre or more for pinestraw can provide quite a boost. While the prime-time of raking does not last forever, the conservationist in me says that planting longleaf provides landowners with intangibles like trees that are more beetle-resistant, hurricane-ready and they can restore the native ecosystem. 

Speaking of timber and conservation, many gamekeepers have likely heard of the Tree Farm System. Membership in Tree Farm has always been free, due to the support of the timber industry, and their attractive metal sign adorns gates across the country. With the changes in the timber market after the housing bust, the financial support for Tree Farm is waning, and the entire system is under a transformation right now to a fee-based system. South Carolina is one of four states in a pilot program to make the changeover on 1/1/2014, so I am now paying to be a Tree Farm member. 

pine straw
Raking pinestraw can be a lucrative endeavor after the
pines reach about 10 years old. So there are some front
end costs initially, but there is also a profitable period that
can last for nearly two decades.

“The key difference is that before the program was one of recognition, you joined for free and were counted in the Tree Farm ranks,” said Eric Smith, Certification Manager with Kapstone. “Now you join Tree Farm and your wood undergoes an inspection that leads to certification.” Certified wood is a new term to some, but it has been percolating for a while, and both Tree Farm and certified wood are recognized globally, so the program’s history still carries some weight. 

Each state will likely be different, so consult your state Tree Farm steering committee about how to proceed. How having certified wood can help a landowner with revenue is still in a guesswork phase, but I see positive signs. Don’t forget, we saw positive signs from the carbon credit programs too, and that market has largely fizzled. However, having certified wood might provide an incentive for timber buyers to work with you over someone who does not produce certified wood. 

If so, then you might have more bidders show up to cruise your timber, and the more bidders the better the chance of scoring a lucrative price. A lot of Southeastern wood is being exported to Europe and if they specify the desire for certified wood, well you get the idea. Certified wood may only provide better access to timber markets for you, but idealists are saying that timber buyers may actually pay a small premium on top of the buying price to pay into and support the certified wood system.  

It seems that the Tree Farm system is simply changing with the times, paying the price for continuing to do business in the timber industry. There can be little doubt that more changes are in store in 2014 and beyond for landowners and gamekeepers, and hopefully more of the ideas in this primer will take root so that future revenue streams will be available to those that rely on their yields.

By Jeff Dennis | Originally published in GameKeepers: Farming for Wildlife Magazine



calling turkeys box call

When it comes to hearing turkey calls in the woods, it can sometimes be tough to tell humans from the real thing. There are some pretty good calls and callers out there nowadays, and some of the worst you hear are often uttered by the birds. But when you hunt a lot of public ground like I do, you quickly develop an ear for it, and once subtle clues become more obvious.

For example, you might hear a series of yelps that is pure in tone and perfect in pitch, leading you to believe it could only be a genuine hen. And it may well be. You hear it again, “Yelp, yelp, yelp, yelp, yelp,” and now you’re almost certain. But the third time you notice something. Each calling bout contains exactly the same number of yelps at precisely the same volume, uttered at evenly spaced intervals. The guy obviously has the notes down cold, but he’s a long way from being able to play a tune.

Learning to talk fluent turkey is not much different than learning a foreign language. You start with the basic vocabulary: Yelp, cluck, putt, etc. Next you begin putting words together to form short sentences: Kee-kee-run. Soon, with a modicum of practice most folks should be able to mimic the basic calls a turkey makes, like the plain yelp, the cluck and purr and so forth. Then they take to the field with great expectations of success, but soon fall on hard times when their message just doesn’t seem to be getting through. That’s because effective communication requires that you first be able to understand what the other person is saying, and then respond in appropriate manner. If you want to be a more effective turkey hunter, you need to go beyond basic vocabulary and learn conversational turkey.

Turkey 300

The prerequisite for this class is that you have mastered the basic calls or vocabulary of the wild turkey, and have at least some familiarity with composing brief sentences. Now we’re going to build those sentences into fluid conversation.

The plain yelp – something along the lines of 5-7 repetitive yelps given at a moderate cadence and volume – is often a good ice breaker. It’s like saying, “hola, bon jour,” or “Hello, anybody home?” Then a turkey gobbles in response. The novice turkey hunter is likely going to reply with those same 5-7 yelps. “Hello!” You can get away with that a time or two; even people do it. But if a person starts asking questions like, “How are you? What have you been up to? How’s the family?” and all you can respond with is “Hello,” they’re going to figure out pretty quickly that something isn’t right. A turkey’s brain is only the size of a walnut, but they are very proficient vocal communicators.


turkey hunting

Communication includes not only what you are trying to say, but what you are trying to express. Again, just repeating the same phrase gets pretty boring. And even a crime thriller novel would seem pretty boring if read aloud in monotone. If you’re getting a positive response to your calls, maybe you can embellish them a little – what competition callers refer to as “dressing” your calls – by adding a few cutts to the beginning or end of your yelping bout. “Cutt-cutt-cutt, yelp…yelp…yelp… yelp.”

Now instead of “Hello,” you’re saying, “Hey, big fella, why don’t you come down and see me some time.” If you get an encouraging reply, you might get really risqué with some loud, aggressive cutting. “Take me, I’m yours!” Conversely, if the reaction is cold, you may want to respond in kind. Soften the volume or even face away. “Fine. Have it your way but I’m outta here.” Some guys just can’t take rejection.

Don’t just talk to the guys either, especially if they are in the company of other women. Imagine you let out a few neutral yelps and get a gobble in response. You: “Hello, anybody out there?” Him: “Yep, I’m right over here.” It sounds like you’re off to a good start, until his old lady chimes in with some louder yelps. She might be saying to you, “Yes, and I’m here too!” or to him, “And don’t you go getting any ideas.” Either way, it now seems like a no-win scenario, unless you’re willing to go catty on her. Give it right back. If she yelps five times, you yelp six, or seven. If she cutts, you cutt louder, and longer. She’ll either pull the tom away from you or lead him right to you, but if you do nothing, neither will happen and you’ll have no chance of him riding home in the back of your truck.

Tone Deaf

Effective verbal communication involves not just the words we say, but how we say them. Without the proper tone and inflection, the meaning can be lost or obscured. That’s why texting and e-mailing often results in misunderstandings, and why turkey hunters sometimes fail to convey the right message.

Most turkey hunters are familiar with the expression “taking a turkey’s temperature.” It involves gauging how interested a gobbler is in your calling by understanding how he reacts. You call, he gobbles back. You call again and he gobbles, twice, cutting you off before you finish. Right here old Mr. 5-7 yelps repeats the same sentence, quite possibly cooling the conversation. A more experienced hunter knows you’ve got to raise your voice, call more loudly and frenetically, giving the inflection that you, the hen, are just as fired up. Conversely, if the gobbler is merely offering a courtesy gobble in response to your pleadings, or goes mum, you’re often best to follow suit. Some guys don’t like aggressive women, others prefer aloof or even hard to get. Remember to let the turkey be your guide. You can argue with a hen but you should agree with a tom.

Paint a Picture

Bob Humphrey turkeyBy knowing some basic conversational phrases and sentences you can travel abroad and at least get directions to the tourist attractions and possibly order a meal. But if you really want to make a good impression on the natives you’ll need to be able to weave those sentences into paragraphs. In turkey hunting terms, that means not just conversing but creating a realistic sound scenario to clarify your meaning.

A lone hen walking along contentedly clucking is kind of boring, and you’ll quickly run out of things to say if Old Tom doesn’t come right over. And if he’s not sure what you’re really implying, he may lose interest. Instead of just a single hen, try to sound like two hens who might be a little angry at one another. “You’ve been sniffing around Tom again, haven’t you?” one begins. “What I do in the back field is none of your business, Henrietta,” replies the other. “You stay away from him, and don’t come up to this corner of the woodlot anymore either.” That excitement could fire up even old Harvey Limbhanger.

A distant yelping bout could easily be misunderstood for several things. Follow it up with a few jake yelps or even a gobble or two and the picture becomes clearer. Playing the jealousy card might goad Old Tom into sharpening his spurs to open up a can on those perceived intruders.

Maybe you sense a sudden loss of confidence. He seemed fired up and started toward you but hung up part way. Convince him it’s not just one, but several hens contentedly feeding along by adding some scratching in the leaves.


The list of possibilities is limitless because every scenario, every interaction you have with a turkey is unique. Having a basic understanding of turkey vocabulary and the ability to recite it can sometimes get the job done. More often, it won’t. If you really want to win friends and influence turkeys, you’ve got to be able to speak their lingo, the more fluently the better. And while you’ll never be perfect, practice at least makes you better.

By Bob Humphrey


During the heat of battle, a successful turkey hunter must analyze a multitude of situations with swiftness and then formulate a strategy to successfully harvest their feathered quarry. The foundation of this article is to unlock your own turkey-hunting analytical software, with all your previous triumphs as the hard drive. When you are on a hot gobbler, instead of merely employing the basic set up and call routine, take the time to factor in as many variables as possible before you begin your engagement with the bird.

The Rookie

Some hunters newer to turkey hunting are obviously not going to have as many success stories to reflect upon when they encounter a tough gobbler. A great tip for new hunters is to acquire pertinent biological and behavioral information, as well exhaust all your possible resources to gain data from a hunting standpoint.  Probe the internet for articles about turkey hunting strategies, as well as search for articles that discuss the stages of the breeding cycle and a turkey’s daily routines in the spring.  It will pay dividends as the different hunting situations unfold.  Having a basic awareness before you start hunting these magnificent birds will aid you in your pursuit.  The hunter needs enough basic information to design a plan and have other alternate strategies if the first is unsuccessful.

Consider your variables:

There are several factors determining how each hunting situation will unfold. Some of them to consider are: Which stage of the breeding cycle are you hunting in? Is the gobbler actively breeding hens? How much pressure have the birds received? What time of the day is it? Are the weather conditions a factor? Is there suitable cover to set up in? Which direction is he most likely to approach from? Does he have hens? How often is he gobbling? Are there any obstructions between you and him that you are aware of? Does he travel a certain route each day after he flies down?

The variables are endless. The principle is to take what you feel directly applies to your situation. You will then be able to deduce which plan of action will work in your favor. In as little time as possible, cycle the data that you’ve accumulated and formulate a feasible strategy. Then initiate the hunt with your bird.

Analyzing the information given:  

Once you’ve identified which type of scenario you’re involved in, you can then make the decision of how to execute your plan. Always remember that old adage there are no absolutes in turkey hunting. Finding a starting point is the key to success. Recollect hunts from prior seasons and recall what tactic led to the majority of your success for that particular situation. This should be your first angle of attack. If what worked before does not work on this particular gobbler, then employ the next of many back up strategies. Use what was second most successful and then third most and continue on until you’ve exhausted you play book. It may require some other than ordinary tactics. Whatever you decide, think it out thoroughly and commit to your strategy.  Whether the hunt was successful or a bust, apply that information to your library of past personal experiences and have that knowledge to recall for future hunts. I would even recommend keeping a daily log of each hunt during turkey season. You would be amazed how much you will have forgotten about a particular turkey or hunt and how it refreshes your memory to tactics you have long since abandoned.

A great turkey hunter relies on his vast, self-contained encyclopedia of knowledge to consistently harvest turkeys. There will always be those kamikaze two-year-old gobblers that have a date with the grim reaper, but to bag toms year in and year out requires more than just luck and hot two-year-olds.

Think Outside the Box:

When matching wits with a tom during the spring, remember one thing, a wild turkey is at best, half as intelligent as we make them out to be. The truth is they appear to be so smart because they have uncanny senses and the fact that they have had attempts on their lives since their inception. Their will to survive is strong. Their level of cautiousness is neverending. Mother Nature has equipped them with bionic-like ability and it definitely aids in their survival. You do not have to be a rocket scientist or a competition level caller to consistently harvest them, but it does require a three-dimensional thought process.

Bear in mind that you may acquire beneficial knowledge as the hunt is transpiring.  Halfway through the hunt you may come to the realization that he has hens or there was an obstacle halting his advancement. You have to be able to adjust your tactics as the hunt is unfolding. It’s almost as if your strategy evolves during the course of the hunt. Examine every possible angle and methods to counter the gobbler’s inadvertent efforts to outsmart you.

The Final Verdict

It may seem that the gobbler’s propensity to outsmart you surpasses the ability to harvest him, but remember that old bird isn’t put here to ridicule you.  He is only doing what Mother Nature intended him to do during the spring. Gobble, strut and breed hens. It is futile to read anymore into it than that. In the end, remember to exhaust all your possibilities. You never know what last ditch effort may seal the deal. Ultimately, we all love hunting this majestic game bird. Whether success to you is actually harvesting a tom or merely a great day in the field, there is no greater sense of accomplishment than when a plan comes together.

By Scott Ellis



Part of being a consistently successful turkey hunter involves knowing how to react to just about anything. Some days it seems like nothing works, and others, they happen too fast. Such was the case for a turkey I dubbed “Drive-by.”

I spotted him while driving from one location to another, pulled quickly to the roadside, grabbed my turkey tack and raced for the corner of a small field I knew lay just ahead through the woods. There, I barely had time to plop down, pop in a diaphragm and throw a few quick yelps, which were answered almost immediately, and from a short distance away by a booming gobble. Up went my trusty Mossberg and one more yelp elicited a triple gobble from just over the rise. Five long seconds later the bird was in view, then in my sights, then on the ground. I pumped my fist in exaltation and looked around. That’s when an eerie feeling came over me. The thrill of the moment faded very quickly with the sudden realization there was no-one to share it with. I was alone.

As a youngster, I mostly hunted alone. There weren’t many others around who hunted turkeys, and it suited my ad-lib, run and gun style. Then I started guiding, and most of my clients were first-timers. At first it seemed a chore, hunting with a “dependent.” But any sacrifices made were soon more than compensated for by witnessing the excitement as someone killed their first turkey. I quickly found that having someone along to share the experience more than doubled the pleasure. In time I even learned there were occasions when it was advantageous to hunt with a partner. Let me give you a few examples.

Tactical Advantages

There are some distinct tactical advantages to pairing up. At the simplest level, it affords an extra set of hands. Most friction calls require two hands to operate. That means the solo hunter must decide when to lay down their call and pick their gun: too soon and the bird loses interest and wanders off, too late and you either get pinned down without a gun or booger the bird trying to pick it up. Pair up and one person can always be ready to shoot.

Teaming up also allows you a classic tactic for stubborn, hung up birds that are waiting for the hen to come to them. Leave the hunter in place, and have the caller slowly, incrementally back off. That gives Old Tom the impression the hen has lost interest and is wandering off. Sometimes they just can’t stand it and will waltz right into the shooter’s lap.

Even when they approach more willingly, turkeys have an incredible knack for coming on the wrong side. You’ll never beat them on the draw, but having two shooters significantly increases your field of fire.

It also allows for the possibility of doubling up. There’s no loyalty among turkeys subordinate birds will often linger to trounce their fallen comrade, a fatal mistake if there are two hunters.

A Second Opinion

Another important trait of consistently successful turkey hunters is confidence. After more than 40 years of making mistakes, I’m finally starting to feel confident about how to approach most situations. But every once in a while, however, I get flat-out stumped and my confidence abandons me.

The solution came to me one day while hunting with another veteran of the turkey woods. We were both used to taking less experienced hunters afield so the first morning was a bit awkward as each of us struggled to be polite but not overbearing, while still trying to make the right moves. We quickly realized that our thought processes and hunting styles were eerily similar. By the second day, communication was scarce as we were practically reading each other’s mind. And when we were both stumped, we stopped and shared thoughts. Having the second opinion of a veteran gave us both more confidence. Even when you think you know the right move, sometimes it’s nice to have someone else to bounce the idea off. They may have a better idea. If they don’t, and the plan fails, you can always blame the other guy for agreeing with you.


I still recall quite vividly my first bird. It’s a memory I cherish to this day, but it pales in comparison to the experience of watching my children take their first turkeys. The future of hunting depends on re-filling the ranks, something that has become increasingly more difficult to do. As previously mentioned, I’ve found immense pleasure in guiding and teaching other hunters.  As a parent, I found it particularly rewarding passing the hunting tradition on to my kids. If you’re an experienced hunter and you’re not mentoring someone, you should be, whether it’s your own kids, grandchildren, nieces, nephews or merely some child who lacks the benefit of a family member to introduce them. It could even be another adult that just never found their way into the great outdoors.

It might seem like an inconvenience, and infringement on your scarce and valuable hunting time. I guarantee the reward will far outweigh the investment, particularly if you’ve been at this game for a while and some of the novelty has worn off. Hearing them hyperventilate, watching their chest heave then seeing the look on their face when they take their first bird helps rejuvenate your own hunting spirit.


I once read a study that found five principle reasons people hunt. They include, in no particular order, a taste for wild game, the challenge, a love for the outdoors, family tradition and camaraderie. Let’s face it, like turkeys, we are social animals. We enjoy the company of others, and being able to share particularly meaningful experiences only serves to make them that much more enjoyable and memorable whether we are successful or not, and sometimes particularly when we are not. Often the true measure of a successful hunt is not what we carry in our game pouch, but what we take home not in our minds and our hearts.

By Bob Humphrey




Turkey season has started. It has been a long summer through winter as we patiently wait to hear that first thundering gobble break the morning silence this spring. I hope that you have been practicing up on your cutting, yelping and purring in the offseason, because it’s time to talk the language of love to big mature longbeards. Hunting turkeys in the first part of the season is quite a bit different than hunting birds at the tail end.

Here are 4 of my favorite early season tips and tricks to talk ole tom into range:

1.Find a Roost.  If it all possible, try and scout the area and have a general idea of where the birds are roosting. I know that the birds may move quite a ways from roost to roost, but these areas will typically hold birds throughout the early part of the season. These areas include: creek bottoms with large standing timber, clear cuts with a few large trees left on the edges, large overhanging trees above water, large pine plantations and trees in high points of elevation. Knowing where the birds sleep puts you that much further ahead of the game.

2.Get Aggressive. For me this is when the birds are full of testosterone and gobbling to beat the band. They have yet to feel much or any hunting pressure, so in my opinion it’s the best time to really hit ‘um hard on the calls. Now, that being said, you still need to read the birds. If they are responding negatively to what you are doing, then dial it back. But in the early season, I will start off

fairly aggressive and be ready to adjust rather than call soft and be ready to get loud.

3.Use Multiple Decoys. At this point the birds haven’t seen a lot of decoys and are drawn to them a bit more naturally. When I first started hunting, all I ever used was a single hen. There were times it got the job done, but not having a Jake or Full Strutter really hurt me at times as well. I prefer to use an Avian-X Breeder Henand the Avian-X Quarter Strut Jake for most applications. This dynamic duo will fit in a small decoy bag and is very easy to run and gun with. However, if I know I am hunting a field bird situation, I will opt for an Avian-X Full Strut and the Breeder Hen. If you have room and can carry it, add the Quarter Strut Jake as well. This is more of a get down and set up type of hunting rather than keeping boots on the ground chasing all day. Early on, I like to use some decoys as visual aids and it keeps their eyes off of me.

4.Get Hid & Get Still. When the birds are ringing out double and triple gobbles, we are not the only ones who take notice. Ole Mr. Fox, Coyote and Bobcat hear them loud and clear.  To them it sounds like fresh crappie being dropped into the grease. When these birds are spitting and drumming up a storm, keep still as possible. It is human nature to want to fidget and move since your leg has been numb from the knee down for 30 minutes now.  When a bird has gobbled a ton and has gone silent and you even remotely THINK he is headed your way, stay as still as a statue if you can. We have all reached up to swat a mosquito and, yep, immediately hear putting then see the tom running away like Usain Bolt! When you are picking your hide, try and get a good back drop and a tree that is larger than yourself. Try not to select a tree that is directly in front of your decoys so the bird won’t be staring directly at you on his approach.  There are no free lunches when it comes to your hide. If he can see you, he won’t come in. It’s really that simple.

I know some of these may sound a bit basic to some experienced long beard killers, but basics kill birds. Everyone wants to hear something new and revolutionary, but day in and out these 4 tactics will help you jelly head that big ole boss tom early this spring.

By Shane Smith


2019 Turkey Hunt Winner – Mossy Oak Properties of Virginia

We would like to congratulate Kurt Gesell for winning the Mossy Oak Properties of Virginia 2019 Turkey Hunt! He registered for a chance to win by entering his name and email and signing up for our Weekly Property Update.

The hunt will take place in Lunenburg, VA with one of our Land Specialist, Johnny Seamster. Johnny is a fantastic turkey hunter and enjoys guiding and introducing others to the outdoors. We wish Kurt the best of luck when he and Johnny soon take to the woods in search of a gobbler.

There are numerous times throughout the year to sign up for a chance to win the annual Mossy Oak Properties of Virginia Turkey Hunt. You can sign up at our booth during the Virginia Outdoor Sportsman Show August 9th-11th at the Richmond Raceway Complex or visit this link – https://mopva.com/virginia-resources/email-newsletter-sign-up/


Shane Smith Tricky Gobblers

I would wager that just about everyone that has pursued turkeys for any length of time can tell you a story or two of a big field turkey getting the best of them. We know, sooner or later, he will be in this field with a full fan out, wings dragging and looking for love. However, he seems to be a much harder bird to kill than others you pursue in the woods. Why is this?

Is it because he can see farther in the field? Feels safer from predators? Can be seen further by hens? Display his dominance?

I really think it is a culmination of all of the above.  But I want to go over a few different tactics you can employ to try and wrap a tag around that bird’s leg this spring.

Find the Bottlenecks. These birds may roost on the field edges alright, but will leave for short periods of time throughout the day. Turkeys are a lot like us and will seek out the path of least resistance. Funnels and bottlenecks are prime areas to put the odds in your favor for catching a field bird entering or exiting the field.

Don’t Be Late! When you have done your homework and put a bird to bed the evening before, don’t talk shop at the local café and risk getting to the field a bit too late and spooking the bird. If I know I am setting up on a bird that is roosted on a field, I will try to get there and set up in the dark. You have got to think from the gobbler’s position high in the tree, he can see and hear a long ways out especially the closer it gets to daylight.

De-Phone. Yes, silence your phone when you get out of the truck and don’t dare get it back out until well after daylight. When it is still fairly dark and daybreak is right around the corner, don’t be checking Facebook, the score from the game last night or anything. I will also throw in there to not use a flashlight either. That light can be seen a long ways out and the last thing we need to do is let that big boy know something is wrong before fly down.

Gobble Back. When I am set up on a field bird situation, this is one of the times I really like to use a gobble tube. When I hear a bird gobble on the limb, I will opt to give them a gobble back. I am not necessarily trying to lure him in at this point, but rather let him know there is some competition around the corner. If your bird flies down and is strutting in the field with a flock of hens, I will hit my gobble tube to peak his interest or even try to drag a few of his girls my way.

Decoys. When I KNOW I am chasing a field bird, I will usually opt for 3-4 Avian-X decoys. My typical field set up will include, a full Strutter, 2 Hens and a ¼ Strut Jake if I can squeeze it in.  Turkey decoys are not heavy, but rather cumbersome. I have found it is far easier to use a mesh material duck decoy bag than to try and stuff them in my turkey vest. Try and place your dekes where they can be seen from a variety of angles and not on the backside of a hill or knoll.

Avian-X decoy setup

Calling. When it comes to calling a bird in a field, it is purely situational in my opinion. Don’t get stuck in a rut and hit the same cadence and same calls day in and day out. I like to use a mixture of higher pitch friction calls and more raspy diaphragm calls to give the illusion of multiple hens on the ground. My favorite calls are a Zink Power Hen Aluminum friction call and a Matt Morrett triple reed diaphragm call. I feel as though these give me a great blend of sounds and give me options as the situation dictates it.

Yes, some of this may sound or seem a bit odd. Turkey hunting is not like a chess game with rules and defined boundaries. Sometimes you have to lose your tunnel vision and think outside the box call to get that set of limb hanger spurs this season. I can tell you these small tricks have helped me to give a dirt nap to quite a few toms that had outsmarted me using traditional tactics.

By Shane Smith


Heath Wood turkey hunterMost turkey hunters have been in a situation where a gobbler is responding well and making his way in, yet just as we assume that it’s a done deal, hens start to make their presence known by sweet talking Mr. Tom, thus pulling him in the opposite direction. It is easy for a hunter to get discouraged when this happens. After all, if a gobbler has 4 or 5 hens with him, he most likely will not want to leave them to pursue one hen that he is hearing from a distance. Getting a tom to leave a group in order to chase a single hen can be difficult, however, it can be done.

As humans, we sometimes have to put a turkey’s way of thinking into terms that we can relate to and understand. For example, a guy (Mr. Tom) is at a party. He is only at this party to check out the ladies (hens). A lady (the hunter) shows up to this party and she has a great interest in getting with the guy. She sees him from a distance surrounded by several other girls all biding for his attention. If she really wants to get with him, she is going to do everything she can to lure him her way. If she plays her cards right, he will fall for her and leave the other girls behind. The same goes when trying to call a mature gobbler who is already with hens. If we play our cards right using these techniques to attract the attention of a mature gobbler, the hunter will never worry about them be “henned up” again.

Card # 1 – Start A Fight With The Other Ladies

hunter calling turkey with slate call

One of my favorite and most successful techniques to calling “henned up” gobblers is to imitate the same sounds that the real hens are making. On many occasions, I have had a hen start increasing the sounds that she is making when I am trying to call a gobbler away from her. Once I begin imitating the same sounds as her, it tends to rile up the dominant hen, which in turn makes her start looking for me. If the hen yelps 3 times, I will yelp 3 times. Eventually the hen will get so worked up that she can’t take it anymore. Which means she is leaving the gobbler behind or even better, leading him along with her. Either way, he most generally will come to see what the fight is all about, hopefully bringing him within gun range. To give the same example with humans. What girl doesn’t get mad when another girl is mocking her, while she is trying to impress a guy? She is not going to ignore the situation, she is going to retaliate.

Card # 2 – Create Urgency and Jealousy

Another great tactic that can be done when trying to break a gobbler away from a group of hens is to create jealousy. When I am calling to a gobbler who has been responding well, only for him to go silent on me, it is most likely because he has other hens with him and doesn’t need or want to gobble at a single hen who is in the distance. This is when I like to use a shaker-style gobble call. It is important to remember safety first when using this type of call, especially if hunting on public land. By using a gobble call, I have caught the attention of the gobbler by thinking another tom has slipped in to steal a hen while he is occupied with the other hens. Especially with a dominant gobbler, this creates urgency to run the other tom away, making him leave the hens to do so. Again to put it in our own experience, a guy doesn’t pay much attention to a girl in the distance, unless another guy slips in and starts talking to her first.

Card # 3- The Immature Teenager Is Trying To Get My Girl? Please!placing turkey hen decoy

The last effective tactic to bringing in toms who are already with hens is by having a great decoy setup that consists of a hen and jake decoy. Let’s go ahead and give our own personal example first. It is bad enough for another guy to slip in and start talking to one of our girls. However, when it is an immature teenager who is doing the flirting, the fight is on. It is easy to paint this same picture by using a hen and a jake decoy.

Some of my favorite setups include placing an upright hen in an open field with a half strut jake a few feet behind her. This simulates the jake chasing her for breeding purposes. By placing the decoys in open areas, other turkeys can see from a longer distance. However, one of my favorite setups is placing a hen on the ground or using a decoy such as the Avian-X LCD Laydown Hen who is already in a breeding position. I take a half strut jake decoy and place it directly over her, which imitates the jake getting ready to attempt to breed the hen. Another tactic is to place the jake a couple of feet away as if he is watching over his shoulder, making sure the dominant gobbler is not coming after him. This type of setup is another way to create jealousy and urgency as well as anger, which makes them come in fast and ready to fight.

I have had a gobbler on the opposite end of a field who had 3 to 4 hens with him, and he had no interest in my calling until he spotted the decoys. The tom lost all of his attention for the other hens and came running all the way in to beat up on the jake decoy. This is a great tactic to do mid-morning, if the hunter knows the terrain and knows where turkeys go to strut mid-day. If the hunter can be there and have the decoys already in place, this tactic will work almost every time.

The wild turkey can be one of the smartest animals that is hunted by man. One never knows what they are going to do next to mess up a perfect plan of attack that has been made by the hunter. However, as with most wildlife, if one will get to know the animals natural instincts, the chances of carrying a mature gobbler over the shoulder on the way out is better than ever. Even when most hunters think there is no way to break them away from the real thing, all one really has to do is think like the real thing.

By Heath Wood


Once I turned 55, I started going to the doctor every year for a physical exam.  I am now in my 70s and fortunately, can still climb a tree to bow hunt, canoe, hike and wade to fish.

When I go to my doctor, usually in the spring, he has certain criteria that he checks. He does this exam in a consistent manner and follows the same protocol each year. If there is something unusual that he has a question about, we address the issue while the problem is small. So far so good.

To summarize the exam, we basically do the following:

He checks my temperature, my pulse, my heartbeat, my urine, my blood chemistry, and my reflexes.  He then walks across the room, opens a drawer, starts stretching on a latex glove and reaches for the Vaseline.  Then those dreaded words, “Bend over.”

Lake owners should also have a standard protocol that they follow each year to maintain the health of their lakes.

The first thing you should do is go to the lake in early spring (March in most areas) and check the water temperature.  You want to do this so you have an idea as to when you should to start fertilizing. Fertilization should begin when the water temperature approaches 60 degrees F. Please note: fertilization is usually not necessary in most northern lakes and ponds.

Next, pull a water sample and check the water chemistry: total alkalinity, total hardness, and ph. The total alkalinity is important because it will tell you if you need to add agricultural lime in order to make your fertilizer react.  Total alkalinity should be 20 ppm or higher. If it is less, add 5-6 tons of agricultural limestone per acre.

When you pull the water sample, look at the clarity of the water.  If it is muddy, it may be cleared by adding 200-300 pounds of cottonseed meal per acre along with some high phosphate fertilizer.

Usually the water will be clear since the cold winter temperatures will knock out plankton blooms.  You need to look for submersed aquatic vegetation, especially filamentous algae or “pond moss.”  If this is present, take a sample and have it identified and get a recommended treatment.  Most herbicides will not work until the water temperature reaches 60 degrees F.  Do NOT fertilize until vegetation is gone. I would also suggest that you go one step further if the water is clear and no vegetation is seen around the edges.  Get your tackle and tie on a jig, spinner bait or sinking lure and pull it slowly across the bottom.  Often there will be vegetation off the shoreline that you can’t see and this will need to be treated.

Many lake owners now have automatic feeders on their piers or on a grassy point. Take the panel off the feeder and make sure the battery is charged, check inside for dirt, wasp nests, old clumps of feed or any other obstructions. Put in some fresh feed and run a test cycle.  Once the water gets to be 55-60 F, start feeding once a day in the afternoon when the temperature will be the warmest. As it gets warmer, you can feed 2 to 4 times a day.

Bass will start becoming aggressive when the water temperature begins to warm in the 50-55 F range. Take your tackle and catch several and examine them carefully. If you are catching a lot in the 10 to 16 inch range, then these should be removed. The bass you catch this time of year should be fat, if they are not you have too many. Don’t worry about over harvest.  Get some friends and ice chests and wear them out.

Approximately 20-30 lbs. of small bass per acre should be your harvest goal. If your bass are not crowded but are nice and fat, you can examine them to determine sex.  The males will flow milt if a little pressure is applied to the abdomen. I suggest you remove all the males you catch.  Females get larger.

Once you have addressed any issues that you have found when following the steps above, you are ready to start fertilizing.  Use a quality pond fertilizer like BioLogic’s Perfect Pond Plus and you can triple your fish production.

Physical completed. No Vaseline required.
For more from GameKeeper, read “Controlling Weeds With 6 Easy Steps.” A weed free food plot tucked into the woods somewhere is a beautiful sight. So how do you keep those pesky weeds out of your favorite spot? BioLogic’s new Weed Reaper Grass Control is designed to knock out all those unwanted annual and perennial grasses that are so common in food plots.

By: Don C. Keller