We started our hunt of 2011 with a lot of nervousness. When we started turkey hunting a handful of years back, it was up along the west side of the Kettle River around Barstow. For the first few years while we were learning how to out smart an animal with a brain the size of a pea, there were plenty of birds around on which to practice our "skills" without being a danger to their population. Then over the past three years, the turkey population has declined due to some cold wet springs which is very bad for the nesting hens. The hens build their nests on the ground, in a place that is as well hidden and protected from the weather as they can find. Hidden from preditors, and protected from the weather because the hens only sit on the nest for a few hours each day. So for most of the day, the eggs are covered up with nesting material, and the heat that they got from the hen while she is sitting has to keep them alive and well until she comes the next day. Cold wet weather saps the heat out of the eggs. This causes poor chick production and many parrish. When we arrived to hunt, there was little going on bird wise. We hunted opening morning and I didn't see much sign where we were hunting. After a while I was able to call up a gobbler, and it made me happy when I finally got that gobble. He was down the hill below me and off a ways, but there was a gobbler out there. I was calling as I headed to meet him. I got him to gobble 3 times and right after the third gobble, a shotgun blast came from the same area. and that was the last of Mr. Turkey. I hunted the rest of the morning and didn't hear a thing turkey wise. This was going to be a bust!
We went back to the trailers at the campground for lunch and to talk over what we had seen. We agreed it was not promising. I desided to go look in another area, out near where my family had its farm when I was in grade school. I went out to the Pend Oreille Wildlife Refuge and scouted around, and it looked better than where we were. Part of the reason I wanted to scout out there was going back to camp, I wanted to stop at the Flying W tractor dealership in Arden, which is owned by our Port Engineer at Western Towboat, Ed McEvoy and his son Bobby. Ed is an incredible individual and about the smartest person I know. I always feel like a dim candle next to a bright light when I'm around him, but always enjoy being there. When I got to the tractor shop, Ed was over in Seattle at WTB, and I talked with Bobby and caught up on what was going on around Colville. The guy working with Bobby said that there were turkeys up at the place where he was living and we could come and shoot some if we wanted. Oooooh Yeahhhh! I visited for a while and said that we would meet him at home in the morning and he would show us what there was to hunt and what was not avalible.
We got up at 4:30 the next morning and headed out to the place. It is about an hour drive and we were there a little after daybreak. We stood on the porch and watched as a large flock of birds with about a half dozen gobblers, followed their morning ritual and wandered across the far side of the small valley heading for the woods. We got the details of what not to do and headed out to see what we could learn. We drove around to the farside of the valley and parked in the edge of the woods and geared up. The plan was to split up and scout out the area they were going after they left the fields and make plans for the morning once we knew what we had to work with. Tom headed up a track behind the truck and was gone about five minutes when we heard his gun go off. Mike and I had been talking and were just starting to leave the truck when we heard the shot. We looked at each other and said he couldn't have gotten one already, but we were wrong. Tom was just out of sight when he saw the gobbler and laid the bead on him. It was a nice bird and while Tom dressed and plucked his bird, Mike and I went out and hunted and got the lay of the land. We stopped on the way back to camp and Tom picked up another tag for the next day, then went back to have dinner and plan out the morning.
We were back before daylight, parked, and got into position to intercept the birds on their way out of the fields. They flew down and did their morning strutting and started wandering our way. It was so exciting to see everything falling into place. When they got half-way to where we thought they would go into the woods and where we were waiting, they turned up into the trees. When we realised they weren't coming, we scrambled up into the woods to try and intercept them. I cut through the woods trying not to make noise, and trying to see them before they would see me (neither easy). I got to a spot where I was on the point of the shoulder of a small draw, looking into it and across to the other point that had a small clear spot that looked like a place that gobblers would like to strut, and all of it was in shooting range. As I was calming myself down I saw a hen coming up the bottom of the draw. I knew I was in the right place. About a half dozen hens came up the draw and then I saw HIM. The big flock daddy gobbler coming up the far side of the draw. It was so cool watching as he strutted his way up the hill. When he came into range, I couldn't get a shot because the only time I had clear shots he was in full strut and pointed in my direction. If I had shot, I would be picking an ounce and a half of shot out of his breast and that is not good. When he was almost across from me he started down to the bottom of the draw and coming up my side. He crossed a small opening about 10 yards away and I knew at this range it would be a clean kill or clean miss, no tweeners here. When he came clear I made a little sucking noise and he popped his head up to see what that sound was. Just what I wanted and a perfect target. Boom! He was a gorgeous bird, with a 9 inch beard and spurs almost an inch. The turkeys up in our part of the country don't get the big spurs, but they grow nice beards.
I was trying to relax and get my heart back in my chest when I heard another boom a couple hundred yards up the hill. It turned out that Tom had been above me and after I shot the rest of the flock came freight training by around him and he pulled a quick shot on a jake. They saw each other at the same time and the jake was making the jump to light speed and fly out of there. Tom thought he saw a beard before he pulled the trigger, but after he couldn't find it for a while (pretty small) and was getting worried he had made a mistake when he finally saw it. We didn't see anymore that day but knew there was at least one more good gobbler in the flock so we went for lunch and didn't bother them for the rest of the day, to let them settle down. We stopped by and saw Ed Blankenship of Gobblers End, and we got some calls from him. Then we headed back to camp and picked up my second tag on the way back to relax for the evening.
The next morning we were looking for Mike to connect. Tom was out of tags and was shooting with his camera. We setup so Mike had the best chance of getting a shot and I took a position to backup him up if they got by him. The turkeys started flying down before you could really see much and did their morning thing in the field then started for the trees. The gobbler moved up on the field road at the edge of the trees and started walking up the road. Right in front of Mike who obliged in shooting him. It worked out perfectly. Mike got another of the big flock gobblers, a real nice bird. Well we had really ripped up that flock and didn't think there were a lot more prospects there, so we decided to go look at some public land near by that might be promising.
We found an area of state land that looked good and split up to look it over. Mike and Tom went together up the hill and I went down toward the creek below. When we met up later in the afternoon they said they had heard turkeys just before heading back to the truck. We called it a day as the afternoon was getting on, and headed back to camp. The next morning we went back to the field but the turkeys didn't show, no suprise there. So we went back to the state land to look into the area where they heard the birds the day before. We parked and I went up to the top of the ridge while Mike and Tom headed towards where they had heard them beyond where we parked. I got to the top and started along the ridge top doing a little light calling and a lot of looking. I broke out into an area that had been logged and as I was reaching the edge of a small bench I saw a turkey about 400 yards ahead of me. I picked a spot that helped cover me and glassed the area. There were 3 gobblers and about 15 hens that I could see. I could also hear 3 other gobblers not in this flock, calling from other spots, that I could not see. I started doing some light clucks and trying to sound like a content hen near by. I saw some birds begin wandering in my general direction, so I made sure I was in the best spot I could be with what was around me, and played my part. I was enjoying watching the turkeys do their thing and listening to the chatter. The ones that had moved toward me I lost sight of when they went below the lip of the bench. I had not seen or heard them for some time, and I was getting nervous because they will sneak up behind you and bust you if your not careful. I was scaning around behind me and to the sides, and as I was turning my head from the left side to the right I spotted a stick at the lip of the hill that I didn't remember and didn't look quite right. I froze looking out the corner of my eyes and stared at it. It didn't move for over 5 minutes and when I was begining to think that it might be a stick, it moved.
It had been trying to figure me out, and started moving ahead to get a different angle on me. I had a bush with no leaves on it in front of me that broke me up a little, but the turkey thought something just wasn't right here, and was trying to figure out what. It pretended to loose intrest and wandered forward past a bush, popping out on the other side staring right at me. It was trying to catch me moving so it would know what I was. I started bringing up my gun which was resting on my lap each time it went behind something. I would get my gun up a little higher each time, but stop moving just before I thought it would come back into view. We played this game for 15 to 20 minutes, and I still didn't know if it had a beard or not (in Washington's spring hunt you can only shoot bearded turkeys). I had my gun up when it had circled about 90 degrees around to the left and was coming out into an unobstructed spot where I was going to get a good view of it. By this time, it really was starting to loose intrest in me, and begining to acting more normal. It stepped out in the view right down the barrel of my gun, it had a nice beard, and a load of shot headed it's way. He went down instantly, my season was over, and it started to snow when I pulled the trigger. It snowed the rest of the afternoon while I tended to my bird. It turned out to be a Rio, which aren't supose to be up where we were, but was a pretty bird with another nice beard. Mike and Tom came up a few minutes after I shot and Tom got a couple of pictures. Then Mike went on hunting for his last bird. He didn't get another shot, but we all had a great hunt and our best group results yet, five gobblers for three hunters. We are looking forward to revisiting this area in 2012.