Our spring turkey hunt for 2012 was a bit different. For one thing Tom was unable to come as his nephew was getting married down in Alabama during our hunting time, and he needed to do the good uncle thing. The second thing really impacted the hunting was the late arrival of spring. The turkeys internal calendars were about two weeks behind the one that we planned our hunt with. In the area we hunt, the turkeys start mating about the first week in April. By the time hunting opens on the 15th, the hens have normally mated and are going off into the woods around mid morning to find a nesting site, build a nest, or start laying eggs. They leave the toms and spend the rest of the morning and early afternoon by themselves and then start to gather together with other turkeys and feed in the later afternoon until they go to roost when it is getting dark. It is during that time when the toms are left alone that some of the best hunting can be had. That is what we were expecting to find happening when we got to our hunting area.
The turkeys didn't get the memo and they were still spending the day flocked up around peoples houses, farms, and places we couldn't hunt. It's funny to listen to the locals complain about all the turkeys, but they won't let anyone hunt them on their property. Anyway, Mike and I went out and were checking out the flocks near where we could hunt trying to see if any were breaking up for the afternoon. If we could find some birds where we could hunt, we would be in business! Opening day was drawing to a close, and we were going to check on a flock on our way back to the trailers. It had not been a very encouraging day, but as we were going down the road, darn if a small flock didn't pop out onto the road right in front of us. Even better, they split with the hens going right and the tom going left. Even betterer, the tom went onto a piece of state forest that was next to a private field that we couldn't hunt. We quickly parked the truck and grabbed our gear and headed into the woods. I went in about 100 yards and about 40 yards from the edge of the field. I got behind a 12 inch pine tree and called. Right away he gobbled and I knew we were in business. Mike had set up closer to the road and edge incase he was going to try to get back to the hens, and was off to my right about 50 yards or so. I called once more after the tom gobbled, and got ready and watched. After a couple of minutes I heard him gobble again, and he was closer and it sounded like he was coming my way. A minute later I saw him picking his way through the woods, headed right for me. I kept still and watched for the "magical beard" that means that I could shoot him. As he was coming towards me in the woods; I saw him gobble, and I saw his nice red head. When he was about 30 yards out, he went around a tree that was between us and I saw his beard. Bang! 2 ounces of number 5 shot were on the way. He was a nice medium sized mature bird and he was mine.
What really made me happy was that I had called him in to me. Most of our success in the past has been by stalking and "run and gun". Like a lot of turkey hunters, Iíve watched my share of turkey porn (turkey hunting videos), and in them they do a lot of calling, and the turkeys come a running to all their gear. But where I hunt, you hear little of turkeys talking out in the woods. They tend to be pretty quiet most of the time and if you call very much, the birds tend to wander the other way because they don't believe you are real. Calling to a tom that is with hens is almost as sure to send them away as running into a flock yelling your head off. Calling a turkey in up in Northeastern Washington requires a "little" bit of good calling, and the right situation. And I did it. It was so cool to see him coming strait for me. If he had to go around something in the way, as soon as he was clear, he was coming right to me. Mike had a better view of things and saw him coming before I saw him. He said that after I called, he started right for me and never stopped. So cool!
When it comes to hunting gear, I have been stepping back from taking a ton of gear out in the woods, to a real light outfit. I've got a vest full of calls and all the cool stuff they show you that you have got to have in the turkey porn. Decoys and blinds; box, slate, shock, gobble, and mouth calls. They are staying home now. I'm now down to a couple of small scratch boxes and a couple of wing bone calls that fit in a shirt pocket, my gun and the three shells it holds, a small day pack (with emergency supplies, water, map, compass, etc.), and the light camo clothes that I wear. I find that nature provides more than enough blinds and hides. Iíve shot a turkey while kneeling behind a 3 foot tall Ponderosa pine that made Charlie Brown's Christmas tree look real good. There is a lot of me to conceal too. With good camo that matches the surroundings you are hunting, and being still, turkeys and other critters just won't figure you out. Just use something to breakup your profile (and if it conceals you as well thatís a bonus) and you will do good. Like fishing gear, a lot of turkey gear is for catching turkey hunters, not turkeys. Just think about all of the money spend on making that porn, to sell you all that gear. Those guys wouldn't be out hunting all of the time, in front of a pro camera crew, traveling all over the place, if they were not making good money from the sales of the products they are promoting. They would have to be back at work like the rest of us. Now if all that gear makes you happy, God bless. But you don't need a lot of it to hunt turkeys successfully. So let me get off my soap box and we'll get back to the hunting.
We went out each day and had a good time hunting, we just werenít getting any shootable turkeys. I had a great time calling in a couple of hens. The first was so funny. I had been calling from the back edge of a state tract that we mapped out to put us closest to a flock that was living in a field surrounding a house that was a couple mile drive to get to, but was only three tenths of a mile from where we were calling. We hoped that we were close enough that if they went up into the woods they would be able to hear us and we could draw a tom up to us. Well after I had called a little, we heard off in the distance a hen calling back. So we found ourselves places to hide and I worked on the hen, not calling too much, but enough to keep her coming in. When she sounded close I shut up and let her come in. I was standing close behind the trunks of a couple of 9 inch trees that were growing from the same roots at the ground and were a foot apart at head height. Not much for a large guy like me, but Iíve used a lot less before, and it gave me a good view of the area. Well little miss hen popped up over the edge of the hill and was making a bee line right for me. I watched as she came walking and calling right up to me. She came around the trunk of the tree and stopped less than 3 feet from me, close enough that I could have kicked her or clubbed her with the barrel of my shotgun. She stopped and looked me over, trying to figure out what I was, but couldn't because I wasn't moving. After a few seconds she decided that what ever I was she didn't like me and started putting. Put, put, put. That is what they do when they are disturbed or distressed. So she started putting and walks around behind me and stands about 10 feet behind me (guessing form where the sound was coming from), putting at me because she doesn't like me, and still trying to figure out what I am. After a minute or two of putting she yelps a little, looking for the other turkey, then puts at me, and then back to yelping. After about 3 minutes of the put/yelp thing she started wandering around where we were, yelping and looking for the other turkey and forgot about me. A few minutes later she wandered away, still looking for her friend. Mike had been about 20 yards to my left hiding behind a downed log. I could see him out of the corner of my eye and his back was slightly bouncing up and down as he was silently laughing, trying to keep from spooking the hen. It was so much fun to see and watch her, as well as fool her like that. It made me feel more confident in my calling.
Monday through Thursday were tuff. The turkeys were in the yards and all the calling in the world wasn't going to get them to come. On Thursday, we were getting worried we were going to run out of time before they started breaking up. There was a small flock that we had seen on another field edge that was backed up by forest. We looked over our maps of the area and figured out that the forest was state owned. the access wasn't great, but with the way things were we decided to go for the hike and try to get into where they were hanging out. When we got back to where we wanted to go, we found that the birds were hanging out on the private land right next to the state land where we couldn't shoot. When the birds got nervous, they would move into the thick state woods until the felt it was safer. But it was very difficult to get a good position on them and we spent several hours waiting for a shot when they came in range and were on state land. Mike was going to do the shooting and was ahead of me in the best position he could find. The flock started into the woods and Mike thought he had a shot and fired. It turned out the tom was a bit further away than it looked and he high-tailed it up the mountain side and it was the last we saw of him. We looked for awhile, but the tom had drawn a lucky card that day.
Friday morning we were up bright and early, and went out to check on the flocks. We were down to Friday and Saturday to get Mike a bird as we were going home Sunday morning. The flocks were where we had expected them, so we went up to where I had called the hens in to see if we could call somebody up. It was a nice morning but after a couple of hours of not hearing anything, we went back to the truck to check on the flock. When we got to where we watch them, there were only a couple of birds out in the field where they had been living. It looked like they were starting to break up. We talked it over and decided to go get have a early lunch and come back around noon, when the toms would be lonely and looking for companionship. When we came back the flock was gone from the field, so we headed up to the state tract with hope of a better day. When we got up to that tract, we saw turkeys finishing crossing up the road on private land headed up to a field beyond the trees above the road. We parked and worked up the hill and over to the edge of the tract and saw a couple of birds but didnít get any shots. Mike decided to hunt across the upper part of the state tract and drop down into the one piece of private land we could hunt, and that was so good to us last year. I drove the truck around and parked it on the other end so we wouldnít have to hike all the way back when we were through, and then started working my way back to meet up with him coming my way. I saw mike up ahead and stepped into a few small fir trees and did the still thing to see if I could surprise him. I was in filtered sun and shadow, right on the edge of the trail with a couple of small branches in front of me. He was sneaking along and walked up 10 feet from me and looking around for something. He looked at the where I was standing and started coming to me and then jumped. I told him I was waiting for him to pass before I said anything. Mike said he had seen a turkey below me form just up the trail and stopped to find a place to call from, decided he liked and was going to use the spot I was standing in, and as he stepped towards me realized I was standing there in front of him. You have got to love good camo. I told him I would call and he could set up to shoot if he wanted. So he went down about 30 feet in front of me and got in some small firs that gave him some cover and a good view and shooting lanes. I called and bang, the tom went off down where we expected him. I called back letting the tom know I heard him, but acted like I was more interested in what I was doing where I was. I couldnít see him, but Mike did from his position, coming towards me. It was a perfect setup, with the easy lane for the tom coming right up by Mike on his way to me. When the tom got into range, Mike dropped the hammer on him and we both had a bird apiece. I ran after Mike to his turkey, and as I was following I saw off to the left another tom running down and to the right. It was a nice younger mature bird he shot, and we were both so happy because we both had birds now and the pressure was off. I told Mike about the second turkey, and he said he had not seen it. It was about 3PM and we cleaned the bird and went back to the trailers, calling it an early evening and watched a movie. I was a great day, and I was happy that I had called in another tom.
The next morning, Saturday we both slept in. Hunting is great but after 6 days of getting up at 4AM it was nice to sleep in. We had breakfast and went out about 9AM and took cameras figuring on getting some pictures. I still had a tag ( I donít know why but I bought 2 when I picked up my license) so I took my gun along in case I got a shot. We took some pictures and a bit of video, but after the morning fly down the birds were heading for the woods after a short time in the fields. The other thing was that most of the camera shots were longer than our lenses. But it was a beautiful day, and we were enjoying the last day in the field. We did a little driving to check out some other spots we found on the maps, looking for possible future hunting places. The more options you have, the better. When afternoon rolled around we decided to do a reverse of the day before. Mike dropped me off on the state tract and took the truck around, while I hunted over to where he got his bird, and I had seen a second. It was a nice hike through the woods looking and listening for turkey. When I got onto the private land near where Tom got his second bird last year, I decided to give a call, as I was near where I had seen the other bird the day before. Right away a gobble goes off down in front of me, probably a bit over a hundred yards away. I waited a while and I didnít seen anything, so I gave a soft call and a gobble came right back closer this time. After a few more minutes I saw a nice red headed gobbler slowly coming my way looking for the hen. A minute later I see another turkey running in from the left about 60 yards from me and just past the one that was coming to me. When the second one saw the first, it hit the air and flew down the hill and out of sight. When the first one saw what was happening, it turned and took to the air as well figuring that the second must know something, and followed it down the hill. Well I took off running down the trail and came up on Mike coming my way. He hadnít seen the turkey, but I think it saw him and took off. I told Mike what had just happened, and that I was going down to the left to the spot that I shot my big bird last year and try to call the tom back. This put me down at the edge of the bench we were on, where a small ravine cuts it, and I would have good cover with a good shot to the open area right across the ravine between me and the birds. If I figured right I was now about 200 yards to the left of where they had flown. When I was in position I called and got a gobble right back. I acted like I was from a broken flock looking for the others. He gobbled each time I called, and I could tell he was coming. So I sat tight making him come to me. When he wasnít in sight by the time I thought I should see him, I gave a soft call and he came right back just beyond the open area across from me. A few moments he cautiously came into the open area and walked across it behind a big pine tree. I didnít shoot him in the clearing because it was about 40 yards and he was still coming to me. I thought he was going around the tree, and then come down into the ravine which would be a closer and better shot. But no! He popped his blue head and neck out from behind the tree and waited and watched the bunch of small trees where I was standing. The standoff lasted for over a minute; then I decided that because it was about a 35 yard shot and I had his head and neck in sight, to let him have it as he was hung up again. He could just walk away giving me no shot at all, if I waited too long and he was acting a bit spooked. I pulled the trigger and he went down filling my second tag, and the season was over for me. He was a nice jake (a tom from last years chicks) and we left another tom on the hill for next year.
It was a good hunting year for Mike and I. We had fun hunting and hanging out together, something we don't get to do as much these days with work and all. I was so happy to have called in those 4 toms and couple of hens. Being able to fool those birds in the tough hunting conditions was awesome. That is what made this season for me. It doesn't get much better than being out with your best friend, doing something that you love.