The “Snicker Bar” Spring TurkeyPosted on: March 13, 2019 By: FHMD
I am very fortunate to have been born into a family of avid outdoorsmen. Although I have few memories of my grandfather (his nickname was “Pop Daddy”), as he died when I was 6 years old, my father told me that he had a reputation for being a knowledgeable, self-taught naturalist and avid hunter and fisherman. Folks used to say, “If Pop Daddy isn’t catching them, there is no reason to go.”
I have wonderful childhood memories of gathering in my grandparents’ kitchen on Walnut Street in Cumberland after Sunday morning church service. As a young boy, I was in total awe as my uncles would tell stories of their latest outdoor adventure, be it floating the Potomac River for smallmouth bass, hunting grey squirrels, gathering mushrooms or filling burlap sacks with black walnuts.
Dad’s oldest brother, Jack, was a passionate wild turkey hunter in the 1950s and 1960s. At that time, Maryland only had turkeys in the western part of the state and hunting was restricted to the fall season. As I reflect back on my lifetime of hunting, I give Uncle Jack credit for instilling in me the importance of being an ethical hunter.
I could not appreciate it then, but, as I got older and began to hunt myself, I developed tremendous respect for Uncle Jack’s turkey hunting skills, as he routinely bagged adult gobblers in the fall in Allegany County and nearby Bedford County, Pennsylvania.
I recall one early November day, probably around 1965, when Uncle Jack took me on my first turkey hunt. That was over 50 years ago, but the memories of that day are etched in my mind. Jack drove an orange CJ 5 Jeep with a cloth top. This was a great hunting vehicle, but not warm. I recall Jack whispering in my ear as we stalked quietly to the crest of an oak hickory ridge top: “Tom – approach very cautiously and slowly peer into the hollow below. I have killed a lot of turkeys by sighting them before they see me.” I also recall him saying, “Anytime you shoot at a piece of game, make sure that you search thoroughly to retrieve your game or to ensure that you have had a clean miss.”
As the years passed, the forest habitat conditions for wild turkey in the tri-state region continued to improve and wild turkey populations were doing well. In the 1970s, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources initiated a Wild Turkey Trap and Transplant Program. Wild Turkeys were captured in western Maryland and released in suitable habitats across the state. This program was one of Maryland’s most successful wildlife conservation stories, which resulted in turkey populations being established in every county in Maryland. I was fortunate to have been involved with this project. Credit must also be given to the Maryland Chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation for being an instrumental partner in this project.
My personal interest in hunting wild turkeys was sparked by my early hunts with Uncle Jack, but it continued to grow after I became a wildlife biologist in the mid-1970s. Although I continued to hunt turkeys in the fall, it was spring turkey hunting that really caught my fancy. One of my favorite books on the subject of turkey hunting was Tenth Legion by Tom Kelly. I recall a great line from this book: “Fall turkey hunting is maneuvers while spring turkey hunting is war.” Wars are made up of battles and the following story is one of my most memorable.
It was about 1995. My cousin Tim and I were hunting spring turkey in Green Ridge State Forest located in eastern Allegany County in . It is the third week of the season and we have been hunting almost every morning. We are at our listening location well before sunrise and are sitting beneath a large white oak tree discussing our strategy for the hunt. It’s not too long when we hear the familiar call of the barred owl. “Who cooks for you…who cooks for you-all.” Instantly, a gobbler responds and we are thrilled that the ole boy is just where we were hoping he might be roosting. After seducing this gobbler with a few tree clucks and a flydown cackle, we think the bird is on the ground, but after waiting an hour, my cousin Tim loses patience and decides to wander off to try to find another bird. I decided to wait this bird out.
After a couple hours, my patience also begins to wane. My 4 a.m. coffee and cold cereal is but a memory and I am hungry. As I sit under a towering white oak, trying my best to become one with the forest floor, in my tree bark camo, I remember that I have a Snickers bar in my left shirt pocket beneath my camo jacket. I also have a head net on. My hunter instinct tells me not to move with a gobbler in the vicinity. Finally, my hunger pangs win out.
I slowly crawl my right hand from my lap up to the front of my jacket, while keeping my eyes searching the landscape for the familiar white and red head. After what seems like an eternity, my hand makes it to the top of my jacket and into my shirt and I feel the candy bar. I am half way there! I manage to remove the wrapper and now begin to slow crawl it up to my mouth. I push my head net up with the Snickers bar and begin to take the first bite when I hear, at a distance of about 15 yards, the familiar sharp pitched “put-put-put” alarm call of the gobbler. He had me pinned…game over. I watched him take two frantic steps and go airborne. I took my head net off, enjoyed my Snickers bar and chuckled.
As I waited for Tim to return to my location, I looked up to heaven and smiled…the ingredients for another storytelling session. Thanks, Uncle Jack.
With 2019’s spring turkey season running from April 18 through May 23 (Jr. Hunt Days are April 13 and 14), now’s the perfect time to plan your turkey hunt in Maryland. Be sure to visit the Department of Natural Resources online to information on turkey hunting regulations and to buy your license. You may also want to visit our Plan Your Trip section for information on lodging options, hunting guides and outfitters, outdoor retailers, shooting ranges, and more.
If you’re looking to turn your turkey trip into a road trip, there’s no better way to experience the beauty of Maryland than travelling its scenic byways.
- Only bearded turkeys are legal in the Spring Season.
- Hunters may only use shotguns (loaded with #4 shot or smaller), crossbows, or vertical bows in the Spring Season.
- Dogs and organized drives may not be used.
This post was written by Tom Mathews, retired Maryland wildlife biologist.
Images courtesy of the author, Jay Fleming, and Andres Gue via Maryland Department of Natural Resources Flickr account.