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Wednesday, May 23, 2012

5/20/12 Last Day. First Bird. Putting the "chase" in "fair chase"

Before even getting into the details of the day, I need to first say "Thank You" to my buddy Mike for getting me out to hunt with him on the last day of the season. He'd already filled one tag on a giant turkey a few weeks back which weighed in at 21.5 lbs, measured an 11" beard, and sported a pair of unreal spurs that stretched the tape out to 2". In fact, Mike actually left another good buddy's annual spring bash to drive home, catch a few hours of sleep, and wake up to me anxiously sending text messages from his driveway at quarter till 5:00 in the morning. To say I'm thankful for the opportunity is an understatement. "I really appreciate it buddy, next time out I'm the designated driver and you even get to control the music!"

With the sky still trying to hold onto the darkness, the morning light was starting to win the battle on the horizon as we made our way along the familiar path, pausing on top of the greened up ridge to listen to the woods starting to come alive. Every hunter knows that feeling of experiencing the outdoors awaken, and those that haven't felt the sensation won't be able to truly understand. I simply live for being a part of that awakening, and actively stepping in to participate in nature's life cycle is a driving force that's difficult to explain. As we both stood in silence listening for the first Tom to break loose we heard a gobble way far off in the distance. We waited some more, hopefully to hear some closer calls from the roost, but after a few minutes and with light gaining traction above, the decision was made to slip down the hillside to set up along a two track that cuts across the block of woods.

As we eased downward, a bird decided to leave the roost. Maybe from us bumping it, maybe not. We quickly continued onto the path and set up the strutting Tom decoy along with a hen. As we were getting into position a Tom fired up directly in front of us, about 100 to 150 yard away. Moments later another gobble cut through the warm spring air as Mike & I nodded at each other, acknowledging the good sign of at least one bird close by. This went on for quite a while, with the Tom hearing Mike's calls and answering back, but not giving up any ground. We agreed to wait for his next gobble and if the bird was still holding his ground up ahead of us, then we would give up some of our ground and try to close in without being picked off. The Tom lit up again, still standing firm. We quickly and quietly moved into the new position ahead, leaving the decoys behind, but still completely visible along the path for a passing bird.

Mike gave a few soft yelps on his diaphragm call to let ole Tom know we've come a bit closer. What a difference a slight adjustment can make. By slipping in closer, and letting the birds know we were there, the response was almost instant. In what seemed like only seconds, there were turkey heads bobbing through the thick underbrush along the edge of the freshly cut hay field, weaving their way in to investigate the new party crasher. Closing the gap to head off the intruder were a pair of nosey hens that appeared suddenly at about 15 yards! As if on cue, your body knows not to move a muscle or twitch your nose, then because of this awareness for some reason your leg automatically starts to fall asleep, your forearm is cramping up from holding the gun, and of course your butt is sliding off your seat as you're fighting gravity sitting along the side of a hill.

Mike keeps whispering, "It's gonna happen man, it's gonna happen" as my heart rate starts to increase and the steam is escaping from my face mask. Suddenly two Toms, with glowing red heads, and prominent beards pop into view along the path at 40 yards. "We're gonna try and double" Mike says, "let the first one walk by and take the second." The plan's coming together as we sit like granite statues surrounded by birds.

Then, for some reason, the Toms' 6th sense knows that something just doesn't feel quite right about this situation. The birds are instantly nervous. You can see it in their body language. Scanning the woods constantly, on edge, they decide to take a turn and head out to the field behind them. Mike gives me the green light, "They're gonna leave man, take the shot if you've got it." I can't move though, they need to walk behind the cluster of tree trunks to their left in order to give me the split second needed to shift the 870's barrel into position for a shot. Then just mere moments later, they follow the script, allowing me to make a deliberate swing, click off the safety, and take aim. Everything goes silent except the heartbeat that sounded like its coming from my ears, the sun seemed to filter down through the glowing green canopy above like a stage light onto the bright, red, dome of one of the Toms while the bead on the end of my barrel matched up with him. A slow squeeze, followed up by a loud boom, and the woods erupted with birds running, flying, and getting the heck outta dodge!! My bird lays up ahead, flapping and flopping around. "You better run up and get him!" Mike says...

Double checking that the safety was back on, I was off on a slow jog, hopping over a logs and brush on my way over to claim my bird. As I got closer though the bird struggled to gather himself, flapping in a circle before somehow gaining his feet and looking wobbly standing there just inside the woods along the field's edge. The 870 met my shoulder, safety off again, bead on the bird at 15 yards, finger pressing the trigger, "click". Oh crap, I never pumped the forearm and ejected the spent shell!! Quickly racking the fore end up and back on gun, the hull flies out, and I assumed that the gun chambered another. That's what normally happens right? "Click" again. What the hell!? I push in the gun's action bar lock, and cycle the fore end again to cycle the third round into the chamber. That should do it now. "Click" Oh what the HELL now!?

Suddenly the Tom decides to impersonate a road runner. I swear I even heard a "meep-meep" as he headed out into the open field. "GET HIM!!!" Mike cheers from the spectator stands (or at least that's how my brain processed it) as I dashed out after him. Luckily my lightening quick reflexes had me over him in short order, like a hawk swooping in from the heavens. Only as my grasping hand reached down and swooped the bird up, he flapped free again, and into the open. There was no one else to beat as he broke for the end zone (or at least that's how my brain processed it again). Tossing the piece of junk single shot aside, my inner Troy Polamalu unexpectedly surfaced as my body was rocketing horizontally, almost Superman like, toward the touchdown Tom. As the cloud of dust, hay, camouflage, and feathers cleared I had secured the victory... and probably gave Mike a cramp from laughing so dang hard. Hey, he passed on a bird and gave me the shot, the least I could do was to try and make it entertaining for him right? And besides, I figured I didn't have the funds to pay for both a full body turkey mount and a new shotgun, so a nice DIY tail fan wingboard mount will have to suffice.

I can see a new spring time addiction has taken root.

11" beard

1 3/8" Spurs

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Spring Turkey season through 5/19/12

Spring Turkey season has been something that I did in the past just to get back out in the woods. I'd hunted turkeys on and off over the years, mostly with limited success getting on birds and trying to call them in. A few times I had some close encounters with birds working, gobbling their heads off, and closing the distance to my calls only to have something go wrong in the end. Whether it be from a fox charging across the ridge top toward the gobbler sounding off, of from other hunters on public land trying to creep in on the bird I was working, something always goofed up the good chances I was about to have. Oh well, that's hunting right?

Well, after taking a lengthy break from chasing spring birds, I'd had enough and was really wanting to get back after it this year. The last hunt I was on 5 years ago, was just 2 days prior to the day my wife gave birth to our daughter. That wouldn't have been a big deal if I was close to home and had cell service, but that wasn't the case, and for some reason my wife saw issue with that. So, I decided to take a rest from the birds for a bit since spring time is always hectic around the house, and I'd rather spend my days in the autumn woods anyway.

First Hunt of Spring Season 2012:

Having trail camera pictures of turkeys, and seeing them in the fields during my spring time scouting ventures, I was fairly sure I'd be able to at least get out, and be close to the right spot. Whether it would be the right time was still undecided, but you can't kill 'em if you don't hunt 'em, so let's go...

As I was setting up my jake & hen decoys a gobbler sounded off from the roost in the still dark morning light. A smile came to my face since I was setting up close. He was fired up too, sounding off more and more as the sun started to light up the sky that morning. I called sparingly since most of the advice I've gotten from more experienced turkey hunters is that the #1 mistake people make is calling too much. It's hard to stop making those turkey noises though when a gobbler fires back at you every time you scratch out a call.

The Gobbler was sounding off looking directly beyond the decoys here.
After flying down, the birds hammered out a few more gobbles and I responded with some turkey talk back at him. Apparently either I didn't sound enticing enough to him, or he had some other hens within sight that took him away from me because the next series of gobbles were further away, then again further away, until finally I was hearing him across the property line and still moving away from my set up. I waited it out without hearing another sound before pulling up the stakes and heading off to my "to do" list for the day later that morning.

Second Hunt of Spring Season 2012:

Back at the same property, only this time setting up on the north end, and above the area where the birds had been roosted. I felt confident walking in that morning that I would hear birds again, and as I was starting to get set up, the first one sounded off. I stood still, listening, when the second bird joined in, clearly coming from the same direction, only located a few hundred yards to the north of the first bird. The only problem here was that they were across the road and on a neighboring property that I don't yet have permission for.

Time to move. I packed up and snuck southward through the woods along the creek bank. The birds are both still hammering away as the sun is gaining height. I got the decoys ready, crawled out into the open field, and stuck them in the ground about 15 yards out from the giant tree that would be my back rest for the morning. My only chance was to hope the birds saw my decoys, heard my calls, and didn't have any hens with them keeping company.

This time about I tried calling a bit more since there was a field, a road, and another field between my set up and where the birds were roosted. Probably a distance of 200 yards all together. The Toms were all responsive each time I laid into the box call. On one hand my fingers were crossed that something would happen, but understood the chances were slim on my other hand.

The opposite tree line in the back ground was where the Toms sounded off from this morning.
After flying down the birds gobbled a few times here, but as the sun warmed up the ground around me, the birds cooled off and grew quiet. A few random gobbles could be heard occasionally throughout the morning but they were so far off you would question yourself if that was a gobble at all. After waiting it out a few hours it was time to pick up and get back home for my son's soccer game. Apparently the other two hunters that slipped into the same woods I was set up in thought the same thing as I noticed them trying to discretely slip off of the property on the very far north end. I'll have to ask the land owner if he had granted anybody else permission. Something tells me that wasn't the case though....