April 16, 2014 - 09:37
Spring Turkeys arriving
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Male turkeys, known as toms or gobblers, usually begin attracting female turkeys, known as hens by gobbling in late winter and early spring.

What's that sound?  To many outdoor enthusiasts the call of the male wild turkey signals the end of winter.  What many consider the "King of American Game Birds", the wild turkey is quite vocal during the spring breeding season.  The call (gobble) of the wild turkey in the mountains of east Tennessee is an unforgettable sound. 

Male turkeys, known as toms or gobblers, usually begin attracting female turkeys, known as hens by gobbling in late winter and early spring.  This thunderous sound is a sure sign that spring is in the air. Gobblers are very competitive and become quite vocal at times.

Turkeys can be found throughout the Cherokee National Forest, but that has not always been the case.  At the beginning of the 20th century, unregulated hunting, human encroachment and poor land management practices greatly reduced wild turkey populations throughout the nation.  By the early 1930’s only 30,000 turkeys remained in isolated flocks nationwide.  Today, the wild turkey population is estimated to be over seven million birds in 49 States.  This achievement is a tribute to the efforts of State and Federal agencies and countless individuals and organizations such as the National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF.)  

Through continuing partnerships the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA) and organizations including the NWTF, and the US Forest Service, considerable effort has been made to create, improve and protect wildlife populations and habitat in the Cherokee National Forest (Forest).  The majority of the 650,000 acre Forest is open to hunting and is managed jointly between the Forest Service and TWRA as a wildlife management area (WMA.)

The 2012 Tennessee statewide spring wild turkey season opens March 31st.   Many outdoor enthusiasts believe the Cherokee National Forest offers the ultimate turkey hunting challenge.  The steep rugged terrain and remoteness of much of this area makes it a unique place to hunt.  Although turkeys can be found throughout the Forest, they can be difficult to hunt. Much of the Forest is rugged and steep with elevations ranging from 1,200' to 5,000'. 

Experienced hunters must rely on topographical maps and a compass, or a global positioning system unit to make the most of their hunts. 

Approximately 50% of the roads within the Forest are closed to vehicular traffic, but are open to foot, bicycle and horse travel unless otherwise posted.

Many of the closed roads are maintained as linear wildlife openings that provide food for a variety of wildlife and “bugging" areas for poults (young turkeys.)  Insects are an important source of protein for young birds.

Doing pre-season scouting, knowing how to read a map, knowledge of turkey habitat and habits, physical stamina and determination are keys to a successful turkey season in the Cherokee National Forest. Hunters often walk ridge tops and closed roads in hopes of hearing a turkey gobble.  That's the easy part.  When a hunter hears a turkey gobble it often requires a cross-country trek to get into position closer to the bird.  This sometimes forces hunters to hike into deep hollows and climb steep rugged slopes.  Once a hunter hears a turkey gobble it is not uncommon to hike an hour or more to get close to the bird.

Sudden sounds such a crow cawing, a woodpecker call or the hoot of the barred owl will cause a tom to gobble.  This is called “shock” gobbling.  Gobblers often gobble at loud sounds and noises.  Trucks blasting their horns or automobile doors being slammed have caused gobblers to respond with a gobble.

Hunters often imitate the call of the barred owl or crow while turkeys are still on the roost just as the sun is coming up.  When a gobbler responds, this lets the hunter know the general whereabouts of the bird. This makes it a little easier to move into position to begin the hunt.

For the determined hunter a typical morning hunt in the Forest covers from three to six miles.  Experienced hunters say there's just no easy way  - you must be willing  to work hard at turkey hunting in the mountains.

Many people hunt the Forest because of the challenges it offers.  Many believe that if it was easy it wouldn't be as rewarding.  Harvesting a turkey is only one aspect of a hunt.  Using your map reading skills, going into places that most other hunters do not, and enjoying the sights and sounds of the spring woods are all part of why many people hunt the Cherokee National Forest. 

With the Tennessee spring turkey season just around the corner Forest Service officials remind hunters to check with the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA) for specific hunting regulation information.   The TWRA is responsible for setting seasons and bag limits, and for licenses/regulations.   TWRA offices in Crossville (1-800-262-6704) and in Morristown (1-800-332-0900) can provide this type of information, or visit the web site: www.tnwildlife.org.         

General national forest information and maps are available at Forest Service offices in Greeneville (423-638-4109,) Unicoi (423-735-1500,) Tellico Plains (423-253-8400,) Benton (423-338-3300,) and in Cleveland at (423) 476-9700, or visit the web site: http://fs.usda.gov/cherokee.

The next time you visit the Cherokee National Forest in the spring be on the lookout for the King of Game Birds, and listen for that special sound!


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