Turkey decoys not for the birds

The Baltimore Sun

Gothenburg, Sweden -- That's a crazy dateline for a Maryland outdoors column, but what the heck, that's where we are.

This town on Sweden's west coast is deep in fish.

There's a huge statue in the middle of town of the Greek god Poseidon squeezing the daylights out of a fish locals swear is a cod but I think looks like a shark.

There's a fishing museum, but it's closed until spring, which I believe begins July 18 this year.

And then there's lutefisk. Don't touch it, let alone taste it. The air-dried fish doctored with lye would take the bugs off headlights. Wash it down with akvavit, the foul-tasting adult beverage of choice here, and you've hit the daily double of stuff that might kill you.

But the town is compact and walkable, the people are unfailingly polite (and so are the drivers) and my company-issued cell phone doesn't work, so it's been a quiet week.

Still, I miss you guys. The handwritten news releases on the backs of envelopes. The weekly inquiries about my sanity. The Maryland General Assembly - no assembly required.

Striped bass season is just weeks away. Perch anglers are flogging Chesapeake Bay tributaries. And I just bought my Hallmark cards celebrating turkey season, which begins April 18 and ends May 23. The annual hunt for youngsters 16 or younger (accompanied by an unarmed, licensed adult) is April 12 in all counties.

Be safe out there, folks.

Remember to wear an orange cap. Don't wear turkey colors: red, white, blue or black. Tie a piece of hunter-orange ribbon or plastic tape around a nearby tree to mark your calling spot for other hunters.

Don't stalk the sound of a turkey; it could be another hunter. Let the critter come to you. Put your bagged turkey in a bag or tie an orange ribbon on it to prevent someone else from taking a shot. Double bagging only works at the supermarket.

If you're hunting, holler at an approaching hunter to warn him.

And be careful as you place your decoys. At a distance, the best ones look good enough to eat.

While on the subject of turkey decoys, let me introduce you to two local hunters who have invented a better, less-expensive way to make the inanimate foam creatures move.

"Decoymate" is a simple $30 device that uses two springs and a spool of monofilament line to control the movement of the hen. It not only is convincing to turkeys, but it has also convinced outdoor retail giant Cabela's to sell them.

Bob Zablocki and Tom Barr, two fanatical turkey hunters, are the brains behind the birds.

"All I do is hunt and fish. That's all he does, too," says Barr, a retired design engineer who moved from Columbia to Gettysburg. "As soon as you hear a gobble in the woods, you're hooked."

In the spring season of 2000, Barr killed a bird in Prince George's County that set the state record for "typical" turkeys, a mark that stood until last May.

Typical turkeys have two spurs and one beard. Atypical turkeys have more than one beard and/or more than two spurs.

Barr's bird weighed 25 pounds, with spurs measuring 1.5625 inches and 1.4375 inches and a beard of 11 inches. The National Wild Turkey Federation score was 77.00.

Todd Harrington's record, set in Dorchester County, was a "typical" bird weighing 24.50 pounds, with spurs of 2.1250 inches and 2 inches and a beard of 10.3125 inches. His score was 86.3750.

Barr and Zablocki would like to help hunters take more record birds (although you get the feeling Barr might like to get his record back).

"Seventy percent of turkey callers are terrible," Zablocki says. "Anyone can call any turkey in to 125 yards, where he transitions from hearing to sight. You sound like Dolly Parton, and he's looking for Dolly Parton out there.

"If he doesn't see what he hears, his anxiety and his need for safety rises. It overrides everything else."

By slowly tugging on the monofilament line, hunters can make a decoy hen rotate 180 degrees and dip its head as if feeding.

"You show him what he wants to see," Barr says. "Eighty percent of them run right at our decoys, and they're strutting all the way in."

Barr used to make them by hand, but when calluses and cuts covered those hands, he turned over production to a small Pennsylvania company.

The inventors say the device is particularly effective in high-pressure areas, where birds are easily spooked.

They hope their invention takes off, except in western Pennsylvania.

"That's where we hunt," Barr says with a smile.


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