Friday, December 12, 2014


Dawn greeted us with gloom, wind, and drizzle—the traditional late fall bad-weather mix.

    Only a month prior, my college deferral fish-bumming road trip had lead me to Pennsylvania’s Pine Creek Valley, ablaze with October foliage, though the river suffered severely from record-low water.  As luck would have it, I was given the opportunity to return as part of a media group from TroutUnlimited, but the Valley, one of my new favorite locations, had fallen victim to the changing seasons in my absence.  The abrupt surrounding mountains were transparent—skeletal and hardened by the onset of cold—and the river ran high and dark with the cold rains of late fall in the Northern Tier. 

    In three cars—two pickups and a rented SUV—we caravanned to a trailhead on State Forest property, shotguns, blaze orange, and seat cushions in tote.  Four well-trained turkey dogs rode patiently in the bed, knowing all too well what was coming.

Photo by Mark Taylor, TU Eastern Communications Director
    The air was translucent with fog and the smell of the wet fall woods.  Deliberately, our party trudged up the trail, up the mountain, past rose bushes and hemlocks, watching friends and stand-in turkey guides Rob Mucinski and Ron Magnano send their wiry-haired turkey seekers on the chase with directional gestures.  Somewhere within earshot, a gobbler boomed.

    The grade continued, with no switchback or relief, until the trail flattened out on a bench quickly dubbed “the orchard” for the thick population of apple trees growing in an understory clearing.  Paula Piatt, a representative from Trout Unlimited, had done the scouting the week before, and informed Ron and Rob that the birds had been spotted near the orchard on several occasions. 

Photo by Mark Taylor, TU Eastern Communications Director
    “The dogs will find them soon enough,” Ron reassured the group, confident in the ability of the four-legged hunters.

    As we crossed the bench lengthwise and approached a switchback leading further up the mountain, the dots on the guides’ GPS clumped, and baying ensued.  Standing frozen, we watched as a handful of turkey fled the scene in flight and listened as the rest of the flock beat air on the opposite side of the ridge.

    “It’s a clean break,” Ron and Rob agreed.

    A clean break is essential in fall turkey hunting.  The trained dogs are taught to ambush a flock with the hopes of pushing them into immediate flight and dispersing them radially.  Only then can a caller reliably reassemble the frazzled flock with gentle kee kees and clucks.

Photo by Mark Taylor, TU Eastern Communications Director
    Wasting no time, everyone in the group stashed their blaze orange and traded it for camouflage.  Chairs were unfolded, layers adjusted, and bathroom breaks taken.  It takes a certain level of preparation to sit motionless on the forest floor for an hour or more.

    The party split to take up stand locations on each side of the ridge, while the guides took stands behind the shooters, covering the praised dogs in camouflage burlap to quiet them.  In moments, the woods were once again silent, and the calling began.

    Ron and Rob seemed to be talking to one another as they took turns kee keeing from across the ridgeline.

    Rain picked up and the wind swirled and subsided.

    Just a bit more than an hour had passed when the tone of Ron’s calling changed tone.  A shotgun blast followed, as I squinted in curiosity in his direction.

    A bird was down!

    We continued to sit and call for another half hour with no luck; and so we made the decision to break cover and check on the rest of the party. 

Photo by Mark Taylor, TU Eastern Communications Director
    Don Knaus, a local Pennsylvanian outdoor writer, emerged from the woods with a fine bird clutched and displayed by the legs.  Excitedly, Don recounted his encounter with his first fall turkey shot with the aid of trained turkey dogs.

    Don’s bird was the first and only harvest of the day and the trip; and despite the humble apologies of Ron and Rob who had wished for more shots, each and every one in attendance was pleased and excited to share the experience.

Originally published in The Rural Virginian

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