Why yes, a bird dog belongs to a turkey hunt

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Tenley Skolfield, a registered guide in Maine, hunts turkeys with his hunting dog, Tinker, in Athens in early October. The bell on Tinker’s neck helps Skolfield keep track of her dog and also, through Tinker’s cadence, whether she is running or searching. Some hunters use a warning collar or even a GPS collar, but Skolfield prefers the more traditional, old-fashioned approach. Derek Davis / Personal Photographer

SOLON – Run, flush, back. Eat treats, take a nap, repeat.

It’s turkey dogging, and while its popularity has yet to flourish in Maine, at least one registered guide from Maine takes his short-haired German pointer in pursuit of wild turkeys in the fall.

Tenley skolfield 9 year old dog Tinker, or Tinkerbell, hunts turkey flocks to perfection. The goal is to break up the herd and give Skolfield – a 35 year old bird hunter – a crack to them when the birds congregate, as this very social bird always does.

Except in Tinker’s case, the hunt is not a fall turkey hunting manual, as it is called in the South. Tinker is a bit late at fall hunting – albeit enthusiastic. When Skolfield first embarked on the fall turkey hunt two years ago, Tinker had already retired from grouse hunting for the life of a beloved pet. SoThe older dog did not understand the still part of the hunt after the birds were flushed. Instead, Tinker goes to take a nap in Skolfield’s truck after the obligatory treat reward.

But for Skolfield, old Tinker’s routine represents the sheer beauty of ‘turkey dogging’.

“She rinses them off, then gets a treat and takes a nap.” It shows that any dog ​​can do it, ”said Skolfield.

Skolfield may be among the few Mainers turkey dogging, but the sport has grown dramatically across the country over the past 30 years, said Pete Muller, communications director for the National Wild Turkey Federation. Fall turkey hunting with dogs took off nationwide in the early 1990s, when it was then legal in 11 states. Today, there are 42 states where fall turkey hunting is legal and 25 allow hunting with dogs, according to the federation.

Turkey hunting was first legal in Maine in 2002 when fall hunting was open to archers only, but the use of dogs was not practical until shotguns became legal in 2007.

A turkey flies up a tree after Tinker separated two herds in a farm field near Solon on October 9, where Tenley Skolfield was allowed to hunt. Derek Davis / Personal Photographer

The practice is popular in the northeast and as far south as Tennessee, as well as in several western states including Oregon, California, Idaho, Wyoming, and Colorado.

“The majority of the places where this takes place are in the northeast, around Pennsylvania, in New York City,” Muller said.

Skolfield knew few people in Maine who hunted turkeys with dogs – and Maine state bird biologist Kelsey Sullivan hasn’t come across many either.

“I think it’s a niche method,” Sullivan said.

Certainly not for lack of turkeys in Maine, whose fall season runs from From September 20 to November 6 in 2021, with a bag limit of five birds (all sexes, all ages).

Since the early 1970s, the number of turkeys nationwide has increased from about 1.3 million to 6.2 million birds, according to the federation. In Maine, the population has increased since the birds were first moved here in 1977 to over 70,000 statewide in the spring and 175,000 in the fall after the breeding season – although many perish after the winter due to national causes, Sullivan said.

“Maine has a lively population of birds that have helped other states with trap and transfer in recent years,” Muller said. “Maine hunters are only focusing on other things in the fall.”

But not Skolfield, who pursued his share of grouse in the woods of northern Maine. But she had never hunted turkeys with dogs until she recently moved to Cape Cod and started hunting on fall weekends at her boyfriend’s camp in Solon, which is right in the center of the country. agricultural country – always at zero point for turkeys.

In turkey dogging, dogs chase a flock, return to the hunter, and stay with the hunter, often under a camouflage blind as turkeys have such keen eyesight. Turkey hunters dress from head to toe in camouflage.

Once the flock is destroyed by the dogs, the turkeys eventually attempt to herd. Usually a hunter has about 30 minutes until the birds find their flock mates, said Kevin Antonovitch from South Dennis, Massachusetts, Skolfield partner and avid turkey hunting enthusiast.

At this time, the hunters must stand still, waiting like statutes. The older hen – or “patron hen” – will make a strong and insistent appeal to attract the younger ones to her. This is how the hunter knows where the birds are – and if they are approaching. An experienced turkey hunter can summon this patron hen with the help of a call that he holds in his mouth.

In the case of a novice turkey like Tinker, the rushing and calming fire drill that occurs as soon as the birds disperse is a little different.

But, Skolfield – a Harpswell native who operated a northern Maine sports camp for 13 years, is not discouraged. Courtesy of a farmer near Solon, she and Antonovich park near the field where Tinker hunts birds. Then, Skolfield puts the dog in the truck and rewards it with a treat before returning to the field.

A quintessential turkey dog ​​- which Tinker isn’t – will bark at birds when running after him. But because turkeys fly so remarkably fast for their size – as fast as 55 mph – Tinker is nowhere near catching one.

“You can break them yourself. But it’s a lot more fun with a dog. Plus, a dog is faster, ”Skolfield said.

Tenley Skolfield puts Tinker in the truck before going to hunt turkeys in the woods. Derek Davis / Personal Photographer

From there, Skolfield and Antonovich make their way to the woods beside the field as the birds prepare to congregate – and wait.

They are seated against trees about 40 meters apart. Antonovich calls out at least one of two hens that appear to belong to two different flocks, but the other birds – about two dozen – are fearful.

The hen walks within 10 yards of Antonovich, sometimes repeating his rally call, but it’s a bird with keen eyesight and Antonovich doesn’t dare pull out his shotgun.

“The bird would see it and run away,” he said with a shrug.

So, after 70 minutes, Antonovicth and Skolfield leave the woods and join Tinker in the truck to go in search of another herd, which they eventually find. At that point, the fun begins again. But the day ends without bringing home a turkey.

“It wouldn’t be the chase if it was easy,” Skolfield said with a smile – mimicking Tinker’s enthusiasm. “Having it (on the hunt) is like having a child. She knows she’s going out. And when she sees them, she is so horny.


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