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It was a hot and sticky morning already when my boy and I headed into the piece of woods behind my house. The thermometer reading 70 degrees at daylight played the deciding hand in how we would approach this day of turkey hunting. While not my preferred method of going after gobblers, the fact that I was able to come up with an alternative strategy, and seeing that strategy almost work, gave me great confidence as I bid adieu to the 2022 turkey season.
There’s a spot everyone has where they expect success or action simply by being there. I have a personal area for whitetail deer where I almost cockily think that just by showing up, I will fill my tag on a nice buck. I also have a similar feeling for this transition line of hardwoods and pines that runs adjacent to a large field. It seems like every time I go there, turkeys are all around me. It was there two weeks prior where my boy and I had a close encounter with a longbeard (See “They Are Hung Up” from May 10).
Getting to our spot is no easy task. We must climb a power line that peaks before rapidly descending to a low gully, and finally taking us on a logging road up another mountainside. While getting to the spot is difficult, it is tempered somewhat by the anticipation of the turkeys that await us. No, it’s the return home, and the excruciating climb back up that is the killer.
The blazing sun and climbing temperatures forced us to alter our normal strategy of running and gunning, which is to stay mobile while occasionally calling, hoping to strike a gobble. There was no way we were trudging through the woods all morning! We decided to head to the line where the pines give way to hardwoods and park it on the edge of a ridge in order to conserve our energy.
It can be a lonely time in the woods when the birds aren’t gobbling. Despite my infrequent calling to let any turkey in the area know a “hen” was there, only the serenading of the songbirds and the occasional chatter from the squirrels filled the airwaves. It’s a time where one can easily close his eyes and drift off to sleep.
The gobble came at about 9:15 AM, arousing us from our slumber. He sounded approximately 100 yards away from directly in front of us, with the thick springtime vegetation blocking our view of him and his view of us. Remembering our tough luck on past turkey hunts where the bird hung up just out of shotgun range, we quickly slipped to the flat spot on top of the ridge and set up shop against a perfectly placed blowdown.
The bird sounded off again, only this time he was heading to out left, still quite a ways off. I decided not to call, hoping the bird would circle to where we were originally seated, which would put him directly in front of us. He went silent for five minutes, before he bellowed again, this time further to our left and going away. I couldn’t stand it any longer and softly clucked to him, to which he responded with another call. He knew where I was now!
Unfortunately, the tom quickly grew tired of me and sauntered off. Despite waiting it out until the noontime shut off, we didn’t have any more action. This was the end of the hunt, and with it the end of another turkey season, as youth sports and other commitments prevented us from getting out into the woods again. While the season was over, it didn’t go away without one last shot at a beautiful northeast bird.
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They say most men are afraid of commitment. That they talk a big game but when it’s time to put the pedal to the metal, they’ll sheepishly walk away, petrified of any long-term ramifications. After this past weekend in the turkey woods, I’m completely operating on that side of the fence.
It was a beautiful morning last Friday. A light frost clouded my windshield as I placed my hunting gear in my car to go greet Dad in our trusty hunting spot. With temperatures already in the high thirties, it was evident that as the sun came up, a comfortable day would await us.
After a short walk up the old log road, a distant gobble answered my crow call. Darkness had given way to light by now as we advanced toward the noisemaker. We pinpointed the bird on a ridge across a brook, approximately 250 yards away. We made a play by crossing the brook upstream and attempt to hunt him on the same level of terrain. This plan ultimately failed, as we busted the birds on our way to find a set-up.
That isn’t the end of the story, however. After licking our wounds, Dad and I decided to head to another section of woods and start over again. After blind calling for about 45 minutes, we heard another gobble down over the bank. We closed the distance to about 150 yards and sat down, perfectly situated behind a stand of thick fir trees that blocked the bird’s view of us and ours of his.
With a couple of light hen yelps from Dad’s mouth call, the tom bellowed, having easily come to within 75 yards of us. I got the 12 gauge up, ready to fire. We decided to shut up, hoping the bird would march to within shotgun range. He excitedly gobbled every minute or so, but his feet seemed stuck in cement. After about 20 minutes, it was evident he had drawn the figurative line in the sand and was demanding the “hen” come to him. Dad and I had both been in this situation before.
I decided to lightly cluck, and his thunderous response confirmed the gobbler’s stagnant positioning. Eventually, he worked away from us and up the mountain, gobbling to my every desperate call. I picked up the calling at a last-ditch effort to entice him, but Dad and I already knew the game was up.
Two days later, my boy and I were up on the mountain behind my house. After walking and calling for a few hours and enjoying nothing but each other’s company, we decided to head back down to a mix of hardwoods and pines that is adjacent to a field where we have had action in previous seasons. Along the way, I would hen yelp to try to locate a mid-morning, lonely gobbler.
At about 9:30 AM, my son and I both heard what we thought was a gobble, approximately 350 yards down the mountain and in the general area of our destination. We picked up the pace and headed downhill, as I occasionally blew on my crow call to pinpoint him. He obliged and we made a beeline for his position.
At one point, when we were in his area, I hit my hen yelper and was surprised to hear the bird gobble so close. Panicking, I decided we should sit down. As the turkey answered my calling, he was noticeably coming in. I had my boy get the gun up in the firing position and told him not to move.
Finally, on top of a small bank, about 70 yards away, we both could see the tom strutting, his tail fan puffing up and down, putting on a show for the object of his affection. As was the case two days earlier, this bird had decided he would go no further, and when he undoubtably could look down and easily see no hen in sight, he decided to walk away, gobbling out of our life. I believe my biggest mistake was not setting up closer to the top of the bank to where my son had a shot. Instead, while I’m sure we were both quite still, the turkey needed to see a hen to continue the game.
What is it about commitment? Why do male turkeys always get their way and expect the hen to come to him? Why do the hens allow them to get away with this conceded behavior? Why do I allow myself to keep getting into these heartbreaking situations? Why do I still take part in this sport? I’ll be out there as soon as I can to try and find out.
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You nailed it. I bet I’ve been hit with every one of the pitfalls mentioned at least ten times over!
I watched him half an hour until he dropped out of the trees thirty-five yards from where I sat, waiting on his hens. I clucked twice, if only to get his head up. To make it feel like I’d done something.
Eight-tenths of a mile back to the truck along the edge of a sprouting wheat field provided plenty of time to ruminate on the nature of luck. I knew why I was going where I was, even if I made plans four hundred miles away- two or three blocks of woodland linked by riparian forest in a landscape largely given over to agriculture meant it’d likely hold birds. Probabilistic planning.
The trouble with turkeys is every hunt comes with its own Sword of Damocles- anything, big or small, which may foil your plans. Not just the easily identified things like coughing or sneezing or moving too quickly. You can…
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