Ethics and Turkey Hunting

It is ironic that my spring turkey season is beginning to resemble my autumn deer season; already I have logged over 25 hours in the blind with not so much as a jake sighting. I truly hope to bag my first turkey before I hit the 40 hour mark! The greatest irony, however, is that the Saturday morning I spent in the blind two weeks ago armed only with my Nikon camera and box call produced multiple sightings and auditory confirmation of turkeys in the area. Hindsight is always 20-20, but I wish I would have brought my crossbow with me that Saturday and I could have shot a nice jake with a 6-7 inch beard that very day.

It’s rather like all the times I don’t have my .22 rifle with me and I see squirrels and rabbits, but when I do bring it, the critters seem scarce. Perhaps G-d’s creatures know that without a weapon I will look upon them with admiration and appreciation; but when armed I’m out for blood.

The greater issue regarding the absence of turkeys seems to be an ethical one, more than their keen intuitive powers. The military reserve land adjacent to my friend’s property, where I hunt, is archery only, as designated on the post hunting and fishing map. Yet every day I sit in my blind I hear shotgun blasts coming from those woods, much as I heard rifles during the extended deer season. Whether or not the hunters on the military side are aware that the area is archery only doesn’t seem to matter to them. This is one reason it is an ethical issue. It is also an ethical issue because no one should be hunting those woods without first knowing what the area is designated for. The map is available online, and Outdoor Education, as well as the Conservation Branch, have the information readily available. I learned today that prior to hunting on the installation, every hunter must watch a hunting video at the Conservation office. As it is written; ignorance of the law is no excuse.

Because the hunters are hunting with shotguns in an archery only area, they tend to hunt unethically as well; or so my ears tell me. The second day of turkey season I spent 12 hours in my blind. The shotgun blasts on the military reservation side of the woods were unceasing, and it sounded as if people were hunting in close proximity to each other and unloading ammunition on the powerless turkeys. Granted, the point of hunting is to find game, kill game, and dress the game so as to eat the game. But there are ethical ways to hunt, and non-ethical ways. I mentioned something similar in one of my initial essays, during deer season; an ethical hunter sights in on his or her target, breathes, and squeezes the trigger. It is our responsibility as hunters to ensure a humane kill, and not to hit and injure animals needlessly.

Part of the ethical hunting culture is the purchase of game tags, and each season has a specific limit. Spring turkey season allows for a two bird limit with two tags, and only turkeys with a visible beard are allowed to be hunted. With the shotgun blasts I’ve been hearing in the woods, I can only imagine hens and jakes are being injured, and hunters are taking more than their limit. Another ethical, and legal, issue is that Fort Riley has specific regulations regarding hunting on the reservation. No hunter can be within 200 yards of any other hunter who is not in his hunting party. I’ve heard people hunting at the property line, between the military reservation and my friend’s land. My blind is less than 200 yards from the property line, so any hunter hunting near the property line places me at risk and is violating post regulations.

The third major issue I have is that the hunters are careless regarding the boundary between the installation and the privately owned land. As with deer season, when my friend had to run hunters off his property, hunters have crossed over onto the privately owned land near my blind. Not only has the barbed wire fence at the property line been squashed for stepping over, it has also been cut, and I found a 12 gauge shot shell several feet from where I hunt. I am hunting with a 20 gauge, I’ve had zero opportunity to fire a shot, and my friend has been extremely kind in allowing me access to his property, but no one else. Even my friend, John, who owns the land, isn’t hunting because he wants me to have the opportunity to get experience and to feel safe.

It really burns my veteran butt when soldiers violate the very freedom they have sworn to uphold; in this case – property rights. The Third Amendment in the Bill of Rights protects against the quartering of soldiers on private property. Now I get hunting is different than quartering, but it supports my point. And the Fifth Amendment states that it protects against, in part, the deprivation of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation. Ipso facto, trespassing on private land is a violation of the oath of enlistment which states, “I do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States….” And violation of one’s oath is a major ethical issue as far as I’m concerned.

In order to address the issue, I contacted the Director of the Conservation Branch of the Public Works Directorate and explained what is happening in the archery-only woods beside where I hunt. He seemed mildly interested and stated he forwarded my information on to the lead game warden so the game warden could contact me. I’ve heard nothing… but on-going shotguns in the archery-only woods. I did notice some new boundary signs were placed at the border between the reservation and my friend’s land; however the signs face the privately owned land and not the hunters on the military reservation who would normally cross over onto the private property. I’ve seen zero signs posted proclaiming the woods are archery only, which might help dissuade some hunters from using rifles and shotguns in the area, as they’re clearly not reading the map (or ignoring it). I’ve also notified my friend and the landowner on his other side about the woods being archery only, so if they feel inclined they can contact the Director of Conservation as well.

Since joining the minority of Americans who hunt, I have become addicted to the experience, and ready at a moment’s notice to don my camouflage apparel and hit the blind. But as with the other areas of my life, I believe in a strong code of ethics, and I believe ethics in hunting is of utmost importance if we are to maintain the right to hunt in an era when liberty is under attack much like the USS Liberty was in 1967.

Turkey season goes through the end of May, and I will utilize as much time in the blind as I can, until I can bag at least one long beard. And you can be assured that my hunt is an ethical one; with appropriate precautions and practice in place. One shot, one turkey. Now; hopefully I will see some soon, and they won’t all be stuck in the firing zone on the military installation side of the woods.

For a quick but worthy read on ethical hunting, I recommend, “Beyond Fair Chase: The Ethic & Tradition of Hunting,” by Jim Posewitz.

In the blind by 0530 and calling turkey at 0630, using my Illusion box call, Mossberg shotgun in my lap.

In the blind by 0530 and calling turkey at 0630, using my Illusion box call, Mossberg shotgun in my lap.

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Preparing for Spring Turkey Season

As I write this, I am so sleepy. But it’s that good kind of tired that comes from staying up late preparing for the next day’s “hunt,” and then arising at 0500 to be in the blind by 0600. I suppose you could say that it’s the kind of tired depicted in modern art of a relaxed hunter asleep under a tree.

This is my first Spring turkey season. I bought a tag during Autumn but didn’t have the first clue how to hunt for turkey, so I’d bring my Illusions box call out with me sometimes while hunting deer, and when no deer showed up, I’d fiddle with the box call a couple of times. Hence, my Thanksgiving turkey was store bought.

I set out to do turkey hunting correctly this season; so I bought a video on turkey hunting from Walmart –Primos Truth 25 Spring Turkey Hunting. First I bought a hen decoy, a Primos Gobbstopper Hen, and then after watching an hour or so of the video, I bought the Gobbstopper Jake as well. Added to my arsenal was a Primos Crow Call. Much to the chagrin of my neighbors, I’m sure, I practiced with my box call and crow call at night while watching the hunting video.

As I’ve never called turkey before, I wanted to experience a dry run, to build confidence. I was on the road to my friend’s property by 0545, bringing my Nikon CoolPix L110 camera to shoot turkey in a non-lethal way. This was also my first use of the Ameristep blind I purchased. My goal was to situate myself in the blind, learn what my mobility and visibility would be, and make sure that I could duplicate the results I watched on the Primos hunting video.

Sunrise isn’t official until almost 0800, but I noted that the Primos hunting team were calling turkey as early as 0700. I also had hopes of spying some deer coming out to feed first thing, as they seem to cross my Moultrie trail cam between 0600 and 0630. It was still quite dark in the woods this morning as I walked to the blind. I had my flashlight on so I wouldn’t trip over any fallen branches, and I’d never been to this part of the woods in the dark. Ironically, even though I took the path I always take, I still got momentarily lost. The woods can be disorienting, and I kept looking ahead for the blind, using that as my focal point. Alas, the blind had collapsed in recent Kansas winds, so I had difficulty locating it. Once I did, I set my gear down to reposition the blind until standing, at which time my camo phone case fell off my BDU pants and onto the blind. That was frustrating in the dark, as the camo cover got “lost” on the camo collapsed blind, laying on the leaves and twigs.

Once inside the blind I set up my tripod and camera, and retrieved my box call and crow call from my bag. Apparently I made just enough noise, or shone just enough light, that the deer vetoed breakfast. I could hear short bleats from both sides of the woods, and foot fall in the brush, but the deer never showed.

At about 0650 I started calling for turkey. At 0720 a heard a response and saw a hen walking toward my decoys. I was thrilled to capture her curiosity for five minutes as a MP4 movie on my camera. If that would have been the end of the pre-hunting trip, I would have been happy. But I had the opportunity to play with the wild turkey for another two hours almost!

Once the hen left, I continued calling for about 30 minutes, to no avail, so I grabbed my Mossberg Plinkster and decided to set my sights on squirrel. I had seen some in the trees while I’d been in the blind working my box call, but once I had rifle in hand there wasn’t a squirrel to be seen. Then I heard hens… so I popped back into the blind and picked up calling again. At one point, there was a flock of hens with a couple of jakes in the woods and brush to my right. I’d call, they’d respond. I was on the edge of my seat – literally – just waiting for them to emerge from the woods into the clearing. My camera was poised for action. Instead they taunted me for at least five minutes, giving me only a glance of brownish body feathers passing by in the bushes. Without so much as a goodbye, they were gone.

After a bit more calling, and waiting, I decided I’d exit the blind and tie one side off to a tree as an anchor; to decrease any chance of another collapse. Just as I stepped one foot outside the blind, I heard turkeys in the woods near my location. Back in the blind I went, bringing my camera and tripod to the back of the blind, where the turkeys were, and naturally facing that way. I waited, with my camera ready to capture the moment, but they didn’t show up. Instead, the two jakes walked to the side of the blind entering at the front, near my decoys. I twisted my body to see them, causing me to fall partially off my camo seat, while at the same time grabbing my mobile phone and turning the video function on. I repositioned myself to the front of the blind, holding my mobile phone as a camera with one hand and holding up my actual camera with the other, trying not to surrender to the severe lean of my cloth stool. By the time I managed to get my Nikon and tripod to the front of the blind, and operational, the jakes had walked off. Thankfully I captured them with my phone!

It’s a wonder they stayed by the decoys at all, what with my leaning, and falling, and twisting (and I’m sure there had to be a grunt or two). It was at that point I decided it truly was time to call it a day and pack up my toys. My mission was accomplished, albeit with some damaged grace; I called turkeys and they came! I saw a hen and two jakes, videographed them, and learned some turkey communication skills.

I also had the opportunity to feel the temperature change subtly in the woods as the morning drew longer, to hear the myriad bird songs that greeted this new day, and to watch as the woods change in appearance and hue with the shifting light. As I sat in my little blind, in my little (borrowed) corner of the Flint Hills, I sat relaxed and at ease; without the noise of politics, civilians, or home-grown terrorists (http://www.foxnews.com/us/2015/04/10/kansas-man-accused-plotting-to-detonate-bomb-at-fort-riley-military-base/). It was just me, a gazillion singing birds, a few flying insects, wild turkey, and G-d.

Only five more days before I do it again; but with my Mossberg shotgun instead of my camera. My senses tingle in anticipation… or that could be my body’s way of telling me to take a nap….????????????????????????????????