Firemen-Middle Relievers of the Spring Season

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In the bygone days of my youth, I was never a gifted baseball player.  Standing only 5 foot 4 inches and having no hitting or fielding ability, I decided to try my luck on the mound.  While I never had the arm or longevity to settle in to the starting rotation of my high school squad, I did develop a niche as a middle reliever.  Typically following after our ace had tired, my 75 mile per hour fastball, creeping change-up and looping curveball kept hitters somewhat off balance.  While I was never dominant, I held my own, and learned the value of throwing strikes and pitch placement over speed.

While the terminology of starter and closer is well known even to passive baseball fans, the moniker given to middle relievers of "firemen" is relatively unknown.  Yet for those of us has-beens who gladly filled that role in glory days gone by, it was a term we cherished.

If one was to break turkey season down into frames the same way one would break down a baseball game into innings, the last fifteen to twenty days of a season would be fireman territory.  Many of the turkeys have been either killed or educated, and just as fireman has to be crafty to adequately fill his role on the mound, a hunter has to shift his tactics to fill his tag.

In my home state of Alabama, the point of the season that the game shifts from that of the starter to fireman territory typically comes around the tenth of April.  The turkeys begin to go into a lull due to a rise in the thermometer, and the success rate drops astronomically.  Even with the majority of the hens nesting, the game becomes tough and wears on hunters both physically and mentally.  It is truly "gut check" time in the spring woods.

Every season is different; in 2009 I setup on only 5 gobblers between April 10th and 28th.  The spring of 2011 was a tad bit better, as I was able to kill a bird during the same period and have a few close calls.  Yet it required me to sharpen my game and mentally focus to do so.

Our weather pattern year in and out over the last twenty days is like a scene out of Groundhog Day; every day seems to be hot and muggy.  In 2011, we were fortunate to have a three day stretch of cooler weather in the middle of this time period that led to some great hunting.  However, cool spells are the exception, not the rule.

Cooler weather in a string of hot weather seems to rejuvenate the seemingly stagnant turkey community, which tires of hot weather in the same way Brahma bulls in the Texas plains do.  Turkeys gobble better on somewhat cool mornings, and if a hunter sees an Alberta clipper headed his way, my advice would be to plan his off days accordingly.  In dry areas dependent on rain, such as south Texas, turkeys get revitalized after a rain.

Overall, turkeys can still be killed in lulls; it just requires a hunter to be on top of his game and sometimes abandon the tactics that worked for him early in the season.  The first two weeks of the season, hunters can kill turkeys with bad yelping, bad setups, and bad decision making.  Two year old turkeys are more prevalent, and you are essentially working the numbers game in your favor.  As those turkeys slowly vanish into the freezers and frying pans, older turkeys are all that seem to be left.
The one advantage the firemen of the spring have over the starters is the "green up."  As the trees' foliage begins to thicken, hunters are able to get closer to turkeys, reducing the margin of error for wily longbeards.  When setting up, the cutting and cackles of opening day may need to be ditched for clucks, purrs, and soft yelps.

However, just as a fireman does not rely on curves and change-ups solely, a savvy hunter must learn to be aggressive when needed.  This is where the rookies are separated from the veterans.  Being able to adapt in the heat of the moment is many times the difference between victory and defeat.

I was fortunate to be able to hunt with Phillip Pitts and Jacob Walker of Endless Season Outdoors in the spring of 2011 near Montgomery, Alabama.  Arriving mid-afternoon, we quickly made a thirty minute drive to a tract of land that held a few relatively fresh turkeys.

Towards the end of a long and tiresome prospecting loop, we struck a turkey with some aggressive cutting.  We setup on a small road and began to call softly to the gobbler.  The gobbler answered us at seemingly every call, but would not come around a big bend in the road.  It was the proverbial chess match that keeps all of us up at night.

I quickly decided to try to get the turkey to break and come my way via extremely aggressive cutting and yelping.  The plan worked, as the gobbler inched closer.  Once I felt his momentum shift my way, I went silent.  The bird continued gobbling on his own, and then revealed himself at 35 steps, announcing his presence with a vicious gobble.  When Pitts gave me the signal, I announced my presence to the big five year old longbeard with a round of Winchester Extended Range No. 5's.

No two turkeys are the same, and had the bird lived another day he may have walked the other way when I unleashed my cutting sequence.  However, I felt given the circumstances and the proximity to dusk it was the right thing to do in that particular situation.

Being a fireman of the spring woods requires conviction and confidence in your decisions.  As I have experience many times in the last third of the season, the bird you setup on may be the only one you have available, so you must decide wisely.  Early in the season, you can afford to be wrong, as you will likely have another customer to sell your product to should the first client politely decline.  So focus as the game wears on, and be willing to quickly and decisively adjust as the scenario dictates in order to strike out that big longbeard.
Wild Turkey Report Staff
Wild Turkey Report is the internet's new destination for information on the sport of turkey hunting. Follow them on Facebook at and on Twitter @wildturkeyreprt!
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