The phrase “man’s best friend” may never have been so true as it is for turkey hunters — fall turkey hunters, to be precise.

Hunters and dogs have been teaming up on fall turkeys in the mountains of southern Appalachia for generations. Due to a technicality in state statutes that classed wild turkeys as “big game,” it was long illegal to hunt turkeys with dogs in Pennsylvania. A campaign led by John Plowman, turkey dog enthusiast and former Game Commission legislative liaison from Harrisburg, was instrumental in getting the law changed in 2007. The tactic remains rarely used, but Pennsylvania hunters can now know the pleasure, and effectiveness, of hunting with specially trained turkey dogs.

“There’s a certain degree of misconception about turkey hunting dogs,” Plowman said during the legislative push. “There is nothing unsporting or unfair about using these dogs. The dog’s role is finished as soon as it finds and scatters the turkeys. After that, it is still a matter of the hunter’s skill.”

Without dogs, fall turkey hunting is a three-phase process — find, scatter and call. The hunter walks quietly through good habitat looking for scratchings, droppings and other turkey sign. If turkeys are spotted, the accepted tactic is to rush toward the flock, hoping to scatter the birds in all directions. Wild turkeys — especially fall flocks of hens and young birds — are highly social and motivated to reassemble. After the break, the hunter sets up in a concealed position and tries to call the flock back together, taking one of the birds upon its return to the site.

Trained turkey dogs help the hunter with the first two phases of the hunt and are remarkably cooperative in the last. Turkey dogs find a flock by scent, then rush quickly among the birds to flush them, barking to let the hunter know a flock has been scattered.

At that point, turkey dogs adopt a role that some hunters find hard to believe, until they’ve seen it for themselves. As the hunter prepares to call the scattered flock, the dog crawls into a camouflaged burlap bag and lies motionless in the hunter’s lap, sometimes for hours, during the calling phase of the hunt.

Fall turkey hunting with dogs is still so new in Pennsylvania (it was legalized in 2007) that few hunters here have adopted the practice. In addition, the statewide one-bird fall limit cools hunters’ incentive to acquire and keep a dog for limited use.

“I have been an avid turkey dog enthusiast for years,” said nationally known turkey call maker and guide Scott Basehore of Denver, Lancaster County. “For years, I’ve traveled to West Virginia, Virginia and to New York to pursue this sport, but now I can go here at home. Often, I take other people out just for the pleasure of watching my dog work.”

New York isn’t the South, but it is the home of the “northern disciple” of hunting fall turkeys with dogs. Pete Clare operates Turkey Trot Acres (, a hunting lodge in Candor, New York, just north of the Pennsylvania border, that specializes in fall turkey hunts. Basehore takes his dog to Turkey Trot during the fall and works as a guide.

“These dogs add a lot to our operation,” Clare said. “Not everyone can keep up with a flock of turkeys in the woods, and it’s seldom that you can run fast enough to achieve a good, 360-degree scatter–besides, the safety of running with a loaded gun is questionable. We put a dog on fresh sign, and it does the finding and scattering. We just wait to hear the bark, then we go.”

On a recent hunt, Clare’s dog Luke flushed a big flock of turkeys from a cornfield next to a wooded ridge. Six of seven hunters killed turkeys there over the next two days as the birds came to calls.

“I grew up with hunting dogs,” Clare said. “We don’t have wild pheasants anymore. Having a turkey dog now, especially with the abundance of wild turkeys, is a real joy. We love taking people out on their first turkey hunt in the fall of the year. Even if we don’t get a bird, people love to see that dog hunt like a raging maniac one minute, then lie down in the bag in my lap. It’s a unique outdoor experience.”



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