I slid my canoe into the river an hour before dawn and began to paddle downstream. The whippoorwills were singing from the black hills. Ahead of me the river was a shining silver path.
In less than a mile I came under the shoulder of a forested hill that rose directly from the riverbank. There I quietly beached the canoe, made a line fast to an overhanging tree, and sat down to listen. Dawn was a gray band in the east when the whippoorwills finally quit their clamor. A few seconds later, about a quarter mile downstream, a gobbler cut loose. A moment later he gobbled again, giving me a good fix on his location. He was low, close to the river, not up on the ridge.
I slipped into the woods and climbed uphill to get above the bird, then turned parallel with the river and worked my way into position. Since it was early spring and the leaf cover was slight, I moved in the darkest places and used folds in the terrain to hide from view.
When I reached an open red-oak grove in a low saddle about 200 yards above where I figured the gobbler was, I set a hen decoy in a crouching position and placed a little standing jake decoy a few feet behind it. I paced off 17 steps and sat down against a dark log. The turkey gobbled from his limb once more as I got out my box call and placed a handmade slate call and striker in my lap. He was below me, just where I expected, and it was still a few minutes before fly-down time.
That turkey was in my gamebag and halfway back to the canoe before I heard any shot from the distant ridges. Again, my canoe had given me access to a chunk of turkey country other hunters rarely, if ever, get to at dawn.
Beat the Crowd
When most turkey hunters head uphill for the oak and beech ridges where turkey populations are known to gather in the spring, I take a canoe or small boat to reach lowland turkey country that is difficult to access from the road. Here’s how to do it:
Check local topographic maps to find the widest possible bands of forest or farmland situated between roads and riverbanks, swamps, or the shores of lakes, reservoirs, and other large water impoundments. Next, find the closest usable boat launching site. Once you have located a forested tract that can be reached by water more easily than it can be accessed from a road, take a boat and check it out.
**Look for scratchings **where turkeys have fed under mast-producing trees early in the spring. Wherever groups of turkeys are feeding, there is sure to be a gobbler nearby. Listening from a boat drifting offshore at dusk helps pinpoint where a gobbler is roosting.
Use a boat that makes as little noise as possible. Carpet the decks of aluminum or fiberglass boats. Paddle quietly, or use an electric motor. If you use a paddle, wrap the midsection of the shaft with leather or synthetic insulation and tape it in place.
**Hide your boat **out of sight, then sneak to within a couple hundred yards of the roosted gobbler before he flies down. If he’s roosted close to the water, call from a spot that will allow him to approach you on a route that is parallel to the water’s edge. If he’s roosted on a hillside near the water, call from slightly above his roosting location. Gobblers are easier to call uphill.