TALKING TURKEY: Spring hunter tells it like it is

Oh, what we can learn by listening to people who know their stuff. Better yet, we quickly realize, how little the act of shooting wild game means to some and how much a larger picture affects the hunter who sees more in the outdoor experience than simple quarry.

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Please, come along with us and read a letter from one such man, Bob Rice, a Southern Marylander who hunts deer and wild turkeys in the remotest corner of Western Maryland’s Garrett County and who deeply appreciates nature and all she has to offer.

“Dear friend,” he wrote me during gobbler season last spring. “I’m up in the mountains in my camper, watching it rain and catching up on correspondence. We’ve had thundershowers one after the other, day upon day, it seems. By the way, I filled out my turkey tag last week (May 2).”

(I hate when he says it like that, probably because I get skunked more than Bob does.)

“Called in a nice 18 1/2 pound gobbler – my 24th. After my shot, I stayed put and just quietly watched him for a while. Then I noticed a slight movement in the brush from the direction the bird had come. It was a large bobcat, which had been stalking my gobbler!

“Although bobcats are protected in Maryland – I had no intention of harming it anyway – I enjoyed seeing him so closely and I wished I’d had my camera at the ready. Except for the sound of my shot, the cat had no indication of where I was, so when he withdrew to sneak away he happened to creep by me very close in a fluid slow motion with his brisket almost to the ground. He was so stealthy. He’ll probably feed on many a nested hen, and poults, too.

“I was pleased to get such a close look at a bobcat. Some days you are richly rewarded for the many hours spent afield. I just learned that for two years now Maryland has declared the mountain timber rattlesnake up this way endangered. It’ll be a $1,000 fine for killing one, but it’s a bad year for the snakes, and the locals I’ve talked to could not care any less what Annapolis has to say. Because the 1996 winter has held so long, it quickly turned into summer without any spring and it appears snakes are more prevalent this year or are all emerging at once.

“Bob Ringgold is here this week, trying a little turkey hunting when the weather permits. Meanwhile, I just enjoy the quiet time I spend in my little trailer. Sometimes I see a hen feeding out front near the window. Yesterday, a deer flopped down and bedded 60 yards off to the side of the trailer.

“Over the backside of the mountain, closely located in front of my deer stand, I found an ancient, man-made stone formation. I don’t know how I overlooked it for so many years. Each slab of stone was carefully placed by hand, the smallest being about 300 pounds. It intrigues me. I wonder what purpose it served and for whom. Maybe it covers artifacts of an ancient Indian chieftain. Who knows?

“For now, I’ll simply pause and ponder it some more,

“Best regards, Bob.”

See? Hunting wild turkeys is about much more than the potential benefit you get from chomping down on a drumstick. Bob Rice easily says as much without actually putting it in those words.

A TURKEY BOOK THAT DELIVERS THE GOODS – If you want to get in on some of the most exciting action anywhere, turkey hunting, but if you first need to study your quarry, consider the latest addition to the Complete Hunter Series by Cowles Creative Publishing. The title is “Wild Turkey,” and it promises to be the most complete book ever written on hunting the elusive game bird.

The author, Gary Clancy, a longtime turkey-hunting expert, covers all aspects of turkey hunting, from old, time-tested methods to new, innovative techniques. You’ll learn about the wild bird’s complete biology, its preferred foods, habitat needs, available range, social interaction and behavior. You’ll also be guided into proper calling methods (even for call-shy toms or toms who are already with hens) and equipment for hunters, from shotguns to bows and arrows to muzzleloaders. Blinds, decoys and the appropriate clothing also receive proper attention.

“Wild Turkey” shows you how to scout for turkeys, learn predictable movement patterns and secure permission to hunt on private property. To buy a copy of “Wild Turkey” ($19.95) or get the location of a store that has it, call 800/328-0590.

* If you want more fishing, hunting and conservation coverage throughout the year, look for Gene Mueller’s Outdoors column every Monday, Wednesday and Friday – only in The Washington Times.

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