It takes a lot of focus to hunt turkeys in the fall.
Every movement in the woods has to be carefully calculated to avoid being detected by a turkey’s keen eyesight.
Flocks are tracked down by locating scratchings on the forest floor or by listening for the faint tree calls of roosted birds at daylight.
Food sources need to be located, strategies implemented and oftentimes countless miles trekked up and down steep hillsides and hollows just to find a flock.
Despite all the work, hunting turkeys is one of the most active, hands-on ways to hunt.
I look forward to the fall turkey season as much as the rifle opener for deer. I like the focus, dexterity and attention to details that are required to hunt turkeys. But last week when I pursued flocks in several parts of the state I found a lot of distractions as well.
Tiny, minuscule annoyances that, if I didn’t pay attention, could eventually become a big deal.
While I searched for scratchings under grape tangles, hiked hillsides to locate flocks and listened for calling in the morning darkness, my turkey hunting routine was repeatedly interrupted by small arachnids crawling on my clothes.
This year the fall woods, at least where I hunted, is loaded with the bothersome insects and I found them in all sizes.
Periodic checks yielded tiny larva — about the size of a pinhead — nymphs and the larger adult females, complete with the red-tipped body that meant they were blacklegged ticks, the species that transmit Lyme disease.
I don’t have Lyme disease and I don’t want it, and that’s why the abundance of ticks forced me to stop hunting periodically to check for the pests. They’re not easy to see, either, especially as they crawl across the camouflage pattern of hunting clothes.
It was bothersome and a hindrance, but necessary considering that ticks have become more of an epidemic than a simple nuisance, especially in Pennsylvania.
In 2016, Pennsylvania led the nation in 8,988 confirmed Lyme disease cases (according to the Centers for Disease Control), more than double the 3,332 cases in runner-up New Jersey. In fact, Pennsylvania has led the country in Lyme disease cases every year since 2011, and the number of cases has increased in the state for each of the last four years.
Granted, ticks are abundant in our state but it’s doesn’t have to be the end of the world. Repellent such as DEET, permethrin and cedar oil keep the pests at bay, and perhaps, if I remembered to bring some along during my recent turkey hunt, ticks wouldn’t have been a problem.
But they were, and it proved to be a significant impediment to the way I hunt.
Calling to a scattered flock proved to be challenging. Typically, I sit on the ground against the trunk of a large tree and call. This time, however, I knew if I took a seat in the leaves on the forest floor I’d be sitting in a tick haven, so I chose to kneel instead.
I even found myself avoiding certain areas while I walked. One hillside I encountered was covered with Japanese barberry and green-brier, both of which harbor ticks in great numbers. I walked around those areas when I could, but sometimes it was unavoidable, so I trudged through the thorny stuff and stopped to brush away several dozen ticks after I got through the spot.
While I recall the time when ticks were seldom seen in the woods and never encountered, they’re here to stay.
Their presence and the risk of Lyme disease isn’t going to prevent me from hunting turkeys in the fall. But in addition to focusing on the aspects required for a successful turkey hunt, I have no choice but to pay plenty of attention to the ticks that are hunting me as well.