Chuck Warner and Cutter
"Waiting for turkeys to 're-assemble' "
By C. Scott Sampson , Ovid, New York
As we climbed to the top of the ridge, I found myself thinking, "East Hill should at least be called 'East Mountain'". I also was a little ashamed of my slow pace as a liver-colored, lap-sized dog was running circles around me.
The Boykin Spaniel named Cutter weighed in at 20-plus pounds and was working close circles in front of Chuck Warner and me in the hills above Spencer as we searched for wild turkey.
Warner, a 43-year-old dairy farmer from Rushville, Pa., owned the dog, a little-known breed from South Carolina that happens to be that state's official dog. It was developed at the turn of the century from a dog that was found at a local church and adopted by a man named Boykin, Warner told me. The dog had natural abilities for hunting turkey and was entirely liver colored and was small enough to fit into a bag or on your lap.
Turkey dogs are still relatively new in New York and are legal only for hunting in the fall season.
I was hunting with Warner at the invitation of Joe Sears of Adventure Game Calls and Guide Service in Spencer. Joe is the proud owner of a 10-month-old Boykin named Kee-Kee, a relative of Cutter. Sears, Kee-Kee, and Dave Henderson, an outdoor writer from Binghamton, hunted the opposite side of the valley and took a 2 1/2 year-old tom with a 7-inch beard and 1-inch spurs. Kee-Kee has a record of nine birds in her young life.
Warner has hunted the wild turkey for 25 years but didn't take his first bird until five years after he'd started. Only recently has he been enticed into fall hunting with the aid of a dog.
Dogs aren't legal for hunting turkey in Pennsylvania, so Warner make the hour-long trip to the hills of Tioga County just south of Ithaca to work his dog and to try his luck.
Cutter has broken up more than a dozen flocks with equal skill and has a record of more than a dozen birds. She has the good sense to bark when on birds and is silent when working the woods or waiting for birds to come back.
After the initial rush and scatter by man or dog, fall hunting is a waiting game. The idea is to get the birds moving in all directions. Being gregarious, they'll attempt to regroup, which is when the hunter has his best chance.
A mile along the ridge top, Cutter hit the jackpot in a mixed woods of beech and oak. We had seen turkey scratchings, dusting areas and even a feather or two, but Cutter assured us they were old signs. When she broke into a flock, there was a high-pitched bark and birds flying everywhere.
You have to resist taking them on the fly, which results almost certainly in just a wounding shot. Six adults, including at least two bearded toms, headed downhill. Cutter continued to bark. Two smaller birds, young of the year, glided over our heads. It was 8:20 a.m..
"Pick an ambush site," said Warner, adding that he liked one less open so the birds would have to come in close. We made ourselves comfortable to wait for the birds to start calling.
"If you break up a flock in the morning, they seem to want to get back together quicker," said Warner. In the afternoon, birds are more apt to loaf, not worrying about getting together until it's time to roost.
Cutter was placed on a leash but immediately began the "love me" routine of a lap dog. That's why people find them an ideal combination dog for field and home.
Even when the Boykins moved about in the field, it's light step sounded like a squirrel in the leaves rather than a dog.
At 9:20 a.m. exactly one hour after the break, we heard the first call, a faint whistle or short kee-kee. These aren't the robust calls of spring but short pleadings for company. After a three-note answer on a diaphram from Warner, we waited for the birds to take the lead. A soft cluck. Whatever the birds say is what you should repeat.
We were set up for a bird approaching from downhill, but suddenly we needed to change directions - there had to be more than one bird and we were going to be run over from above, a direction from we never witnessed bird flying.
Shooting uphill off your belly is a shot that demands practice. I never had time to sit against a tree when the bird caught us short. The 3-inch, 12-gauge load of 6's dumped it head over tea kettle but not totally down and out. It ran, it rolled, it tumbled to the bottom of the ridge with Cutter in hot pursuit.
The little dog that could, did. Cutter stood atop the bird. It was hers.
Then it was ours.
C. Scott Sampson
6992 County Road 132A
Ovid, New York 14521
Note from PK,
Check your state game commission or game offices before taking your
Boykin out with you on your next turkey hunt. It is illegal in some states. I checked
here, in Florida, and you are not allowed to use dogs to hunt turkeys. I called the
local office to ask why. "Hunting turkeys with dogs is just too effective," was
the answer I was given. "Turkeys will squat when first flushed and make an easy
target (just like quail) before they fly."
I asked about just taking my dog out, without a gun, and just walking the woods to see what my dog would do or for training purposes. The answer there is, "On private land it is okay. On management areas it is illegal (all dogs must be on leash) except during hunting season in dog areas only."
I don't advise being out there, on public land, during deer season.
Oh, well, I was going to take Curlee out and see what she'd do with a big bird! PK
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