Saturday, June 6, 2020

The Secret to Turkey Hunting

This morning, as I was laying in bed listening to a turkey gobbling in between the wind and thunder of a spring storm I was reflecting on the lessons learned this turkey season. The first one being that kids hate waking up early for anything, and turkey hunting is not an exception, but they also love taking little trips if you can work in a stop or two at McDonald's or something similar. The second is the need for a great hiding spot is more important than the desire to see everything from your seat and facemasks make a difference in your ability to blend in. Getting close to the roost is a dangerous game and sometimes the best tactic is to sit still, or even take a nap, rather than chase birds that aren't gobbling. But the secret? We'll get to that...

Caden didn't feel like getting up, so I headed out alone. Got set up in a spot where I've seen turkeys in seasons past, but that I hadn't really set up this season. The birds gobbled from the roost and the hens responded, but minutes after fly down it was over as the birds found each other for their morning hook up and went about their business. There was definitely a part of me that wanted to head home to get a little more sleep since it felt like the morning hunt was over before it began, but I keep hearing how mid-morning is when the birds disperse again and a Tom can be called in. Being patient does not come naturally to me, I want to get after it and make something happen, but I knew that it made no sense to start moving on a morning when there wasn't any gobbling or ways to know where the birds were. As the morning progressed and warmed I let my lack of sleep catch up to me and started to doze. Sleeping under a tree in the warm turkey woods is a wonderful thing. When I'd wake up for a moment I'd make a few light calls and listen until I fell back to sleep. 

Time passed much more quickly than I'd realized utilizing this method, and midmorning was in danger of ending unremarkably when I thought I heard something moving through the leaves nearby. I sat up a little and in a moment was only about 3 yards from a jake that had come in from the side to investigate the calling. Two other jakes followed him into the set-up, and I figured this was it, I was going to shoot a jake. I hesitated, trying to see which jake had the biggest beard (like it makes a difference!?!) when the tom came into view. The jakes were all off to my left side and extremely close, but the tom was checking out the decoy 10 yards in front of me. I held as still as I could until his head went behind a bush, then I reached down for my gun and got it into position before his head came back into view. Off went the safety and I made the shot on my first tom. A rush of excitement was only tainted by the wish that Caden had been there and had this opportunity. 

The walk back to the house was a sweet one, with a bird over my shoulder I answered the text from Deli asking if I was going to come home. Coming back heavy! I'm not sure how the tradition of getting a picture with your bird on the porch started, but I love it. Deli was nice enough to take some pictures for me. 

We tried to get out and replicate my success for Caden, but in the same set-up a couple of days later only a couple of hens showed up. We tried our best, getting up early and hunting late until the end of the very last day but it never came together. So the secret to turkey hunting? It's better to be lucky than good!

Hope you're as lucky, 


Monday, June 1, 2020

The Way You Say It

The fishing itch has been creeping in on me again. So we planned our trip where I knew we could also do some fishing if the hunting would allow it. Hunting does allow for downtime if you let it, but usually, I can only focus on one thing and during the limited hunting season my focus has to be there. I've often said that I can't even have fishing gear with me because I might get distracted. 

The first canyon that we ventured up seemed to be overrun with OHV's to the point where the trees on either side of the main road were dusty. We tried a few spots and had a great tailgate hot dog roast (forgot the pan to cook in...) but it became obvious that this area was too crowded for what we wanted to do. So we made a late-night drive to another area where we've seen turkeys before and settled down to sleep for a couple of hours in the truck. The downside to the new canyon is that it isn't exactly a great one for fishing, but fishing can wait a little while longer.

Morning came quick and cold! Once we had our hunting clothes on and were mostly packed up we walked a few yards and made a call. We heard a faint gobble, so we moved toward a ridge to set up. Before we had walked the 80 yards to the ridge two hens fed their way towards us. Too bad they didn't have a tom (or jake) with them! This has been the story of Caden's hunt, all hens. 

The hens continued to feed past us so we moved towards the nearest cover to call and hope that our luck would change. Just before the sun crests the ridge is the coldest part of the day and I was sure feeling it! Or not feeling it in the case of my fingers... Caden seemed fine, so we toughed it out for a little while, watching deer feeding below us, when I caught a glimpse of something gray a couple hundred yards out. Immediately, I told Caden to pass me the gun and called one more time. The coyote came in a straight line right towards us and only stopped when it was about 15 yards away from us and 5 or so yards away from the decoy. I had a clear shot at its head so I took it and bagged my first coyote!

Coyote's get a bad rap and I'm not sure where I stand with it all. On the one hand, research says that you can't eliminate them, or even reduce their numbers through hunting or trapping. On the other, they kill turkeys and fawns and if we can knock their numbers down, even for the short term, at the right time of year we could help recruitment for these species. As far as I'm concerned right now, any hunt becomes a coyote hunt once you see one. Steven Rinella of MeatEater fame has said that if you pronounce it KIH-OAT-EE then you never shot one, but if you have you say KIH-OAT. So I guess I need to adjust the way I talk now. 

Hope you're as lucky,