The Ultimate Spring Hat-Trick Turkey Destination…Plan Now for Next Year: Hunting, Fishing, Eating!

Chautauqua County turkeys, lots of 'em in spring.

  • Look for these Critical Elements to assure a great Turkey Hunt:
    • Woods, Waters, Streams, and Forage Resources
    • High-Harvest Average 
    • Lots of Public Hunting Land – it spreads out the hunters
    • Chautauqua County in New York meets the List!

By Mike Joyner

My Hat-Trick Gobbler – thanks to Jake Ensign for this photo.

Ultimate destination – a bold claim for a resource-laden state such as New York. To be clear, New York boasts many vibrant outdoor adventure meccas, but you’ll want to plan your next turkey hunting and spring fishing getaway to the outdoor paradise in Chautauqua County. Hunting and fishing interests are easy to satisfy and that’s the honest goal for every sportsman.

My recent hat-trick getaway to Chautauqua was memorable and was just what the doctor ordered to decompress and rejuvenate my busy business life. The excursion found me spring turkey hunting in the mornings with Jake Ensign, followed by an afternoon of fishing with Captain Frank Shoenacker of Infinity Charters. In the evenings, after the outings, I could choose from a smorgasbord of places to visit and explore. My base of operations would be at the Comfort Inn Hotel in Jamestown – it was close to Chautauqua Lake and the turkey woods. Perfect for the extra minutes of sleep needed when chasing gobblers.

I met up with Jake Ensign, a supreme hunting friend that lives nearby.

Jake provided an eye-opening personal tour of his game room, as he is one of only a few dozen archery hunters to successfully hunt all of the North American Big Game Species. It was evident to me, Jake had spent many years of dedicated preparation to be so successful. Jake goes the extra mile, the extra 10 miles, in making each hunt an exercise in due diligence. It is impressive even to a veteran turkey hunter like myself.

Jake Ensign hosted us on a private tour of North American Big Game critters that he took with his bow.

My introduction to the Chautauqua County turkey woods came early the next morning and did not disappoint. We started out just above a vineyard on a ridge top with plenty of roost trees. Plenty of sign was present.  Feathers, tracks, scat and dusting bowls were scattered about during our walk in and out. With the exception of two clucks further up the ridge behind us, we were greeted with a whisper quiet, yet beautiful morning. You could hear every sound and if a turkey gobbled, we could easily locate the bird and make an approach.

As the sunrise greeted us, a chorus of trains blasted their air horns providing shock gobble inspiration from nearby highway crossings far below us. The gobblers, however, opted to be of the strong and silent types. We gave it some time to let the place reveal itself and after several setups, we backed out to not disturb the location. Running and gunning was not the game plan that so many engage in when the action is at a lull. Jake had mentioned they have had many successful hunts in that spot. Assessing the area with such ample sign, I would agree. Of course, when you have plenty of Intel on an area, courtesy of Jake, you conduct each hunt more patiently.

Collin Voss, a young local outdoorsman, is sizing up this giant bear. He did admit, “Geez, he’s huge!”

After checking a number of properties in the southern region of the county we came upon a parcel not far from Route 86 and got an eager gobble in response to our pleas. With a flat ridge top that lay between us, we settled in to see if we could persuade him across. The wind had come up and it was a solid “maybe” as to whether or not the bird answered us after that. Thirty minutes later a report of something lesser than a 12ga shotgun rang out ahead of us, but much lower on the ridge on another property. We decided to back out. Consistent with other properties we checked, we would come across plenty of turkey sign including sets of gobbler tracks. We were in the middle of great turkey country

The first morning concluded with sightings of a few hens out bugging in the fields, as we searched for more gobblers to keep track of for the next hunt tomorrow.

Having hunted gobblers in nearly half of New York’s 62 counties, I would point out that the turkey woods of Chautauqua County are among the nicest woods I’ve ever set foot in. A quick review of the past 10 years of harvest data reveals Chautauqua as #1 in New York for turkey hunting harvest. In any given season, Chautauqua is always in the top echelon. With over 20,000 acres of public forests and a mix of land types and food sources, it would be a sound recommendation to add Chautauqua County to your annual spring and fall gobbler chasing vacations.

Before heading out for an afternoon of fishing with Captain Frank Shoenacker on Chautauqua Lake, Jake suggested that we have the best sandwich to be had anywhere (i.e. North America) for lunch. I naturally agreed. My sampling verified his suggestion. A trip to the Ashville General Store is must do stop during your time in the area. The “Jester” spicy turkey sub served hot is a turkey hunter-approved menu item (https://ashvillegeneral.com).

After that great lunch, I met up with Frank at the Bemus Point boat launch. The launch was easy to find and not far from the exit off Route 86 for Bemus Point. With eight boat launch sites available on Chautauqua Lake, there is ample access for all boaters (https://www.dec.ny.gov/outdoor/23907.html).  The Lund Tournament Pro-V was perfect on this beautiful, sunny afternoon. The Lund had a heavier hull and was stable, even in the slight chop we had.

Perfect boat for our day on Chautauqua Lake.

On this outing, Frank and I would both fish and that set the table for a relaxing time on the water. We fished simple, drifting live worms along weed beds and enjoyed lots of fun conversation. As Frank spends more time guiding than fishing, I invited him to fish too and our trip became perfect fun. We were using a killer rig, a homemade double-hook worm harness with a butterfly spinner made by Frank. It’s sort of a secret rig.

We were one of just a handful of boats on the water as you might expect at mid-week of the early season. We caught walleye, perch and a surprisingly large bullhead.  A perfect afternoon.

Captain Frank Shoenacker with his secret troll/drift rig to catch walleyes.

In his larger boat, Frank also guides on Lake Erie: Infinity Charters https://www.infinitycharters.com/. It is a fantastic way to plan an essential part of your Chautauqua Hat Trick.

Having fished Lake Erie in the past, it is also on my ‘A’ list to visit frequently.  I plan to return with my bride of nearly nineteen years to modify the hat trick concept, this time, to be a fishing and lazy-tourist combo. Lee, my wife, loves to fish, and I have promised her to revisit the region.

For the evening, I needed to visit the Southern Tier Brewing Company for a craft beer tasting and a pulled pork sandwich. Accompanied by their “Nitro Stout,” a great beer product, they earned my attention for another “must-do” stop while in the region. Their friendly staff and personal service were 5-star. 

Author’s favorite…Southern Tier Nitro Stout microbrew.

I caught up with Jake after dinner to plan the morning hunt and received good news. As Jake scouts at sunset periods, he has endless energy, he found two different turkeys roosted. This is the best kind of news to get when chasing gobblers. Again, another short night, but I would wake up 10 minutes before the alarm clock sounded. Excited? A little bit.

One prime spot we found in Chautauqua turkey country.

This last morning of my hunt, I would come to appreciate the dedicated strategies that Jakes executes. Our walk to the first roosted bird was in total silence, not a twig nor a dried leaf to reveal our progress. Jake routinely rakes and grooms his paths for stealthy approaches to known roosting areas. It is this extra effort that ups the odds for a successful hunt.

As daylight approached, a hen began to yelp on the limb, not sixty yards from where I sat. Jake mimicked her and I would also respond with muted tree yelps. No gobbling nearby, but one volley of gobbles came from the second location that Jake had marked the night before. It was a little over 250 yards from us. Once the hen flew down, she walked right past Jakes’ location as he sat motionless. She fed away. Once she left, we moved up about 100 yards toward a low swampy area where we had heard the gobbling.

We got a quick response from four different gobblers once we sat down and began calling from our new position. They had closed the distance, spotting them moving to my left around the swamp at 80 yards. They were circling and closing fast. As seconds seemed far too long, the most aggressive and vocal of the birds marched in and would stop within range to survey for the hen. The brilliant red, white and blue heads of the gang of four was impressive. The boom that followed sent the other three back as quickly as they came. Maybe a little faster, as I think of it.

The turkey woods was picturesque with a lush green canopy newly emerged. It was a great hunt in a beautiful hardwood forest. It also reaffirmed the wisdom for scouting, roosting, letting the hunt play out, and having patience. All of these hallmark attributes describe Jakes’ approach to turkey hunting.

My hat-trick gobbler was right on time, thanks to the good scouting of my buddy, Jake Ensign, who snapped this photo. Jake Ensign Photo

We concluded the hunt with a hearty breakfast which always tastes a little better after a successful hunt! We’ll catch up again in the near future to hunt next year when I am sure to return!

There are so many places to visit here. Great eateries, wineries, breweries, entertainment venues – something for everyone.

I have planned a returned visit for next year, stay tuned!

© 2019 Mike Joyner- Joyner Outdoor Media

The 2017 Lake Erie Experience: A “Must Do” Destination – Dunkirk Harbor

  • Lake Erie 2017 is a WALLEYE MECCA near Chadwick Bay / Dunkirk Harbor
  • Merritt Estate Winery offers FREE SAMPLING of all Wine Varieties
  • Cassadaga Lake is a Bass and Musky SECRET
  • Cabana Sam’s Blackened Grouper is a WINNER DINNER

By Mike Joyner

The great Empire State by any casual observation is one of our nation’s meccas for natural resources and endless opportunities for recreational pursuits. With a critical eye it is by reasonable opinion one of the top five states arranged only by personal recreational preferences.

 It is now entirely possible to nudge a hard core turkey hunter to enjoy nearly as much, another sportsman’s activity such as fishing. It is a most somber admission after a quarter century of long beard mania madness. In all honesty fishing came first as a wee young lad, whitetails in my mid-twenties, and in 1993, gobbler chasing took over everything. Prior priorities were relegated to distant second and third rankings of outdoor passions.

I accepted the invite with eager anticipation to attend the 9th Annual VIP Fishing Day taking place out of Chadwick Bay Marina in Dunkirk Harbor. Timing with my workload fell into a rare alignment of the stars making it feasible to get away. It would turn out to be a great mid-week getaway to enjoy several days of great fishing, camaraderie, and an opportunity to meet with local leaders, and tourism professionals to exchange thoughts and ideas as well as the requisite tall tales of fishing adventures.

Dave Barus had set up ‘Chautauqua County Media Fish Camp 2017’ for us to take in and experience what the area has to offer. I cannot thank him enough for handling the logistics and details of the excursion. He has a bright future in herding cats as outdoor writers are an independent group of individuals. Sunset Bay Cottage would be base camp for the duration. Located in Sunset Bay it is a great place to meet up, enjoy the beach and dining establishments, all within short walking distances. Past NYSOWA President Wayne Brewer, Leon Archer, Steve Colley, Wade Robertson and Collin Voss would be fellow camp mates and made for a great fish camp. Steve and Wade hailing from Northern Pennsylvania would join us for the latter two days while Collin, our youngest member in camp would endure initiation rights and would enjoy the third day out on the lake. Ultimately Collin out fished us all and kept his shirt tail intact. The conversations and storytelling at camp are the very reasons we cherish our time there!

First morning out we would head to Dunkirk Harbor only to find rough conditions which had already forced a number of boats back to the marina. We met up with local bass pro’s Scott Gauld and Scott Callen and decided to head over to Cassadaga Lake for bass, both smallmouth, and largemouth on much calmer waters. We fished the upper lake and enjoyed a relaxed and fun time catching smallmouths along with a few muskies. A special thank you to their sponsors Denali Rods, Kamooki Lures, and Venom Lures for being perfect equipment choices for our time on the lake. After a morning of ‘impromptu testing’, I will be adding them to my A-list for ‘must have’ gear. 

Scott Callen. Wayne Brewer, Leon Archer

Later in the day we paid a visit to Merritt Estate Winery located in Forestville, New York. We met up with Bill Merritt the owner and enjoyed a fine tasting of current offerings. With my ties to the industry in the Cortland area, I hope to see their offerings there. The staff is to be commended for their prompt and friendly service. They present a relaxed and comfortable atmosphere to enjoy the fine wines they craft. Being a big fan of New York craft beers, distilled spirits and wines, the offerings at Merritt Estate Winery was worth the trip. My wife and I routinely stock our wine racks with New York wines and will add Merritt estate wines to our preferred vino to have on hand.

We would take a short walk over to Cabana Sam’s Sunset Bay Grill later that evening to sample the dining fare of the area. Blacken Grouper Reuben was my choice, and I would go out of my way to go back there again just for that. I’ll express empathy to my other camp mates that could not be there for the dinner outing as it was a meal not to miss.

There are many other wineries, craft beer companies, and distillers in the area. It is my only regret of the trip that I could not stay an extra day or two to enjoy tastings at each of them and further enjoy the many dining choices of the area. It is my thought that the Tourism Bureau has a lot of great offerings to work with and promote. I will return to the area for that very reason.

Our second full day in Dunkirk would have us out on the Great Lake Experience Event with conditions a bit more hospitable for fishing. Although I purchased nearly the full accordion worth of licenses each year to hunt and fish, it was appreciated that the day was deemed a free fishing day as to attract invited guests experiencing their first time on the lake. The event matched up boat captains with outdoor writers such as myself, many folks from the surrounding county tourism bureaus, NYSDEC, local politicians, county dignitaries, state legislators, and Congressmen. It was estimated that over sixty participants were paired up with twenty-two well-experienced boat captains who went above and beyond to show all of us a great morning out on Lake Erie.

After being assigned to come aboard 365 Sportfishing Charters, I headed out with Chautauqua County Executive- Vince Horrigan, fellow outdoor writer Paula Piatt, Chautauqua County Chamber of Commerce President/CEO- Todd Tranum, Congressmen Tom Reed Staffers- Jaqueline Phelps (Regional Director) & Alison Hunt(District Director), with Captain Mark Hitcome at the helm. We were after walleyes, as were the other charters. After navigating several miles out into the lake, we were in the thick of it at water depths of 70-100 feet. With a full complement of planar boards and down riggers rigged, we soon had one pole after another set hook, and there was plenty of action. Everyone caught a pile of walleyes along with a few silver bass. There were seven or eight just under the 15″ legal size, and we kept seventeen walleyes altogether. We came in an hour before the appointed time due to the lake kicking up five-foot waves. One of the walleyes I caught was one of several that came in just shy of four pounds.

Once docked and the fish taken care of we headed to the Northern Chautauqua Conservation Club. A luncheon get together was scheduled with invites for all the participants and special guests including NYSDEC Chief, Bureau of Fish and Wildlife Services- Steve Hurst, Chautauqua County Executive- Vince Horrigan, City of Dunkirk Mayor- Willie Rosas, NYS Assemblyman District 150- Andy Goodell, and US 23rd District Congressman Tom Reed along with other local dignitaries. Zen Olow, chairman of the Great Lakes Experience event and Club President MC’d the affair. Presentations covered issues concerning pollution in the Great Lakes that eventually flows into Lake Erie and on to Lake Ontario, upcoming/pending legislation initiatives, club awards, and comments from distinguished guests. The main course on the menu as you may have guessed was walleye cutlets which in my opinion is the tastiest culinary delight of any game fish caught in New York State. I would have to admit that begrudgingly. As a young boy, I totally believed that Northern Pike was the best fish to eat. My grandfather cubed them into one-inch pieces within minutes of being taken from the live well and placed directly into a fresh pot of fish chowder simmering on grandma’s stove. I can still remember his old F-100 coming down the driveway with giant Northern’s still jumping in the bed of the pickup. The delicious smell of fresh chowder simmering is one that stays with you all your days. Now that I leave you hungry… With over a hundred people attending, it was as much fine eating and education that you could possibly pack in between the four walls of the club.

 Our second evening was spent in camp with home cooking courtesy of our host, fine wines, and the best of company. David’s grandson Collin, would join us that evening and was a welcomed addition to our camp. Collin is an impressive young man and a exemplary example of his upbringing. The fact that he out fished all of us is something we’ll have to let go of and come to grips with eventually… all kidding aside it is a pleasure to have him in camp.

Our last morning on the lake would pair myself, Leon and local area outdoor writer Gene Pauszek with Sassafras Fishing Charters. Captain Lance Ehrhardt along with Zen Olow would be in charge of another great day out on Lake Erie. the lake would be a bit calmer than the day prior. Once all the rigging was complete we would not wait long for the hooks to set and the reeling to start. Although a little slower pace than the day before we would limit out on walleye. With calmer waters, we relaxed, told tall stories, cheesy jokes and caught plenty of walleyes! A bit of back story as few days prior to the V.I.P. event, I would learn that Eastern Lake Erie Charter Association members Lance and Zen, along with Joe Jemiolo (passed away in 2014) were the main forces behind the creation of the annual V.I.P. fishing event. All the walleyes cooked up for the grand luncheon were made possible by Eastern Lake Erie Charter Association Members in concert with Sunset Bay Shoot Out, Razor’s Big Dawg tournaments. We were in the company of great people, great volunteers.Collin Voss

It is a focused opportunity to couple what we so love and are endeared to as sportsmen to convey, to educate those that promote tourism opportunities, and ultimately makes decisions, crafting legislation that impacts our sport. It is also an opportunity for outdoor professionals & sportsmen to learn and gain insights as to how decisions are formulated. We as sportsmen can provide data or participate in the research needed to enhance our great pastime, and attract newcomers to a grand recreational experience.

Maintaining and improving the natural resources, a world class fishery was the topic at hand. I’ll speak for all that attended in that we enjoyed a grand experience of a vibrant and healthy fishery. It is a fine example of what can be achieved in the Empire State. As if you need further prodding, the word among the group was that the current state of the fishery on Lake Erie promises to be great fishing for years to come given the abundant and diverse age classes of walleye and of other fish species.

As I titled this scattered collection of impressions and honest opinion it holds so true that it is a “Must do in Chautauqua County from Dunkirk Harbor” destination. It is a gem of our great state and one that I will return to with my wife to enjoy the great fishing, as well as the other offerings that the area excels at. As an outside observer, it is impressive the number of groups, people from very different interests working together to build up a healthy ecosystem, a vibrant fishery, and a destination well worth the trip. All of us who cherish New York State’s natural resources, the quality of its fisheries extend a very large thank you to all that have made it so successful.

-MJ

© 2017 Joyner Outdoor Media (Link: http://www.turkey-talk.com/tblog/?p=622)

Spring Turkey Woods is a Special Place

turkeywoodsSometimes old friends meet in a familiar place.  If you’re a turkey hunter, you know there is something extra special for those moments when a hunter and the woods come together in search of a nearby gobble.  It’s downright exciting!

There is a special sort of celebration to enjoy because this meeting takes our heart and brings it together with our deep-rooted passion to hunt, to be in the woods. It’s a journey, a special adventure, and we know before we even get there, it will be fun and promising.  That’s how many of us feel when we head out turkey hunting on opening day, wherever the hunt takes us.  There is a thrill, a sense of relief just to be there.  We feel the “YES” of such moments.

A not so old outdoor friend is now sharing some of his secret turkey success so that others can join in the outdoor fervor he has found.  Mike Joyner is an acclaimed nature author and outdoorsman who shares his secrets to success in pursuit of wild turkey in a book entitled “Grand Days in the Turkey Woods.”

From preparation for the hunt, Joyner provides a first-hand account of adventures that will help you in the turkey woods.  He delivers details of personal experiences that make a difference and provides little tips that create a new strategy for every successful hunt plan.

This is more than a “how to hunt” book, Grand Days in the Turkey Woods will appeal to novice and veteran alike.  Joyner brings it all together with considerations for weather and things that can right to make the wind and rain work for you.  He shares thoughts about food supply and the extended challenges we face when hunting new lands, plus the joy and excitement too, that we will find when that plan works for us.  He shares details.

Joyner has pictures and personal notes that he uses for trip plans and there is a lot to learn from here, as he started hunting gobblers back in 1993.  He has achieved hunting success in 14 states, has been honored for his skills with two wild turkey grand slams and a top twenty NWTF gobbler in his home state of New York. .He is a volunteer too, since that experience resulted in nine years of volunteer service to the New York State Wild Turkey Federation / National Wild Turkey Federation, as a board member, where he also served as President for four years.  He knows what he is doing in the turkey woods.

Look for his book in book stores everywhere, on Kindle, in home town libraries or on Amazon at this link: http://www.amazon.com/Grand-Days-Turkey-Woods-Joyner/dp/150011281X.