KEVIN TATE: Rites of spring just around the corner for turkey hunters

By Kevin Tate/Outdoors Writer

Of all the outdoor traditions that require a formal introduction, none may come pre-loaded with more lore than turkey hunting. Thankfully, potential mentors aren’t as scarce as they once were.
For many in the Clay County area, Fox Haas will always be a favorite authority and sounding board of turkey hunting wisdom. His start in the game came with more difficulties than new hunters encounter today, though, and a lack of turkeys to hunt was only one challenge he faced.
“The first turkey I ever killed in the spring, I called it up using a yelper I’d made myself,” Haas says. “That really added a lot to it. I’d taken a piece of heavy copper wire and bent it around a hammer handle, then hammered it flat to make it rigid. I covered it with tape and light rubber and that was it.
“Some yelpers made in that style were built from lead, and you could flex the frame to adjust the tension, but the kind I made, whatever slack you wanted in it, you had to put in from the start.
“The fella I hunted with, the guy who really gave me my start, was an old-timey turkey hunter. He was the kind of guy who wouldn’t necessarily take you with him. He thought you’d learn better if you did it yourself. I started turkey hunting when I was 15, and I killed my first one a year or two later. Maybe the fact that I went so many times before I had success made it sort of a challenge. Today, 64 years, later, that challenge still fires me up.
“The first time you make him gobble is the initial surge of blood pressure. Then you have to make a move, get set up and see if you can make him come up. You walk the way you want to, you owl and he answers and, all of a sudden, the mosquitoes don’t bite and there’s no chill in the air.Then the next surge of blood pressure is when you see him.
“When I hunt with my grandchildren now, it’s as exciting for me now as it was when I was just getting started.
“It’s a challenge. You’re out there with all the elements the Good Lord gave us.
“With a deer, you don’t really call him. With ducks, if you mess up the first duck, there’s another one coming. But with turkeys, it’s all or nothing on every move, every call, every decision. If you mess up the one you’re working, you’re probably through for the day. But when you succeed, there’s nothing like it in the world. That interaction and intensity are probably what keep me coming back for more, that and simply enjoying the wonders of nature and the spring woods.
“It’s been a lot of fun. I still look forward to it every year.”
Thanks to him and many others like him, many of the rest of us do too.
Kevin Tate is V.P. of Media Productions for Mossy Oak in West Point.