The flock of turkeys had been broken up. To my right, the guide was sounding reassembly. Several turkeys answered with plaintive calls and began sneaking toward the kee-oak and clucks of our guide. When the first bird came in, I had the beads of my shotgun on it for what seemed like an eternity. It was right in front of fellow hunter Paula Piatt, who sat hidden in camouflage to the right of our guide. My mind screamed, “Shoot, Paula, shoot!” I had held my shotgun up so long that, even with my elbow resting on my knee, my muscles began to quiver. The turkey was at thirty yards. My arm was screaming for relief. My shaking was almost imperceptible, but maybe that’s what spooked the bird. It took flight back down the mountain. I really, really wanted Paula to take a turkey. She, after all, had scouted all week and located this flock. Discussion afterwards indicated that, angles being what they are in the woods, she couldn’t see the clucking hen.
I was on a hunt sponsored by Trout Unlimited (TU), and Paula is the Eastern Sportsmen Organizer for TU. At the invite of TU, four outdoor writers got to hunt with turkey dogs and their handlers. I had never hunted bronze birds with dogs, and I jumped at the chance. Turkey dogs run wide-ranging circles, listening and sniffing. When they find a flock, they race in and bark, breaking up the flock. The dogs’ collars are equipped with GPS devices. When the dogs barked, the owners pointed, “They’re 500 yards that way.” Off we went, collecting the dogs along the way. We posted up and the dogs crawled into camouflage bags where they lay while their masters called. Our guide for the morning was Ron “Turkey Dog” Magnano of Olean, New York. Ron’s dog, Curley, nestled in his sack. Will Elliot, outdoor columnist for The Buffalo News, was to the right of Paula.
Mark Taylor, the Eastern Communications Director for TU, had set up the hunt, and he was around the mountain with our other turkey dog guide, Rob Mucinski of Limerick, Pennsylvania. Near him were writers Micah Sargent from Wellsboro and Matt Reilly, hailing from Charlottesville, Virginia.
A second bird responded to Ron’s call and came within fifty yards only to take flight. I saw it for a split second after it took wing—out of range. Within minutes, a third bird answered and cautiously snuck near, working directly toward me. I feared that it would spot me and vamoose, so, at forty-five yards, I pulled the trigger. It dropped and flopped. All my life, whenever I’ve hunted turkeys with experts, they always said, “If you knock one down and it’s flopping, run to it as fast as you can. You don’t want it to get up and run.” So I did. Ron had whispered, “If you shoot one, just sit still. Sometimes another turkey will be just behind it and keep coming in.” Hard of hearing, I never heard that. As I was running to the downed turkey, I heard something indistinguishable and then the word “DOWN!” I thought Ron was saying, “Got one down!” Nope. He was telling me to sit down. I felt bad, but...a filled tag for Don.
I experienced a dichotomy of emotions on the hunt. While we were hiking up the mountain, someone asked, “How old are you, Don?” I answered, and I suddenly felt old. I was hunting with thirty-and forty-somethings, and I knew that, when I was that age, I would have thought someone my age was really old. There was the exhilaration of hearing the dogs bark, signaling a break-up of the flock. There was the relaxing sit while waiting for birds. Adrenaline pumped on the first bird. Then I shot a bird...a longer shot than the one that I passed on. Later, the hunters offered high fives to my success. No other birds responded, and the group chose to spend the afternoon lazing at Bear Mountain Lodge.
Katy Dunlap, TU Eastern Water Project Director presented a lecture and slide show focusing on local Marcellus Shale activity. I know it’s her job, but Katy rattled off statistics and figures from memory that I bet Marcellus insiders couldn’t cite. She listed the number of gas wells in Pennsylvania. That was mind-boggling. But when she popped up a slide showing the wells as red dots on a map...whew! Trout Unlimited is a major sponsor of Sportsmen Alliance for Marcellus Conservation, and the group regularly updates members on shale gas concerns on the East Coast and sportsmen’s continued efforts to address these issues. Trout Unlimited’s member sportsmen are at the forefront of the battle for clean water and are working to ensure that large interstate pipelines avoid or are minimally intrusive on Pennsylvania’s cold water streams. Volunteer monitors act as the eyes and ears on the ground. TU is doing the right thing in employing concerned citizens to monitor water quality in the streams of the Keystone State. Locally, the Pine Creek Headwaters Protection Group aids the monitoring of streams and the group has stepped up activity with the advent of Marcellus Shale drilling. Tioga County, Pennsylvania, Planning Director Jim Weaver trained volunteers who keep an eye on local water quality. They call themselves “Water Dogs.”
On Sunday, we toured several drill pad sights, one on private land, one near Wellsboro’s municipal water supply, and one wholly within Pennsylvania State Game Lands 75. Katy and Paula explained drilling and extraction activity throughout the expedition. Paula travels to TU events and offers presentations like “Shared Habitat in the Eastern Shale Gas Region” or “Heads Up! Protecting Our Headwaters and Trout Habitat.”
To top off the weekend, we hit Slate Run and fished. TU had arranged for a guide from Slate Run Tackle Shop to take us fishing. The guide was the personable and professional Julie Szur, and she got the guys into trout immediately. I was able to get some nice photos of fly-caught brown trout. The weekend was a great experience, one gone to the dogs...turkey dogs and water dogs.