Gettin' Hooked - Memories from Gobblers Past
For every hunter there are animals or hunts that stand out in stark contrast from the crowded halls of our memories. They may be a first of a species or an incredible occurance but one thing is for certain, each of these kindles a fire for what is to come.
The end of the fall hunting season is every hunter’s time of remorse. Growing up I hated it when the fall would end, even though I was able to hunt in my home state with a bow until the beginning of January, and I would start to dream about the next September archery season and chasing mule deer.
Then my dad and I discovered spring turkey hunting. Initially we strictly looked at it as a way to temporarily satisfy our hunting obsession in the spring since the fall was seemingly so far away. Well, after stalking, decoying, and calling turkeys in the fresh spring air and having success with both the scatter gun and the bow, we were absolutely hooked!
One particular spring, the 2nd or 3rd year in our growing turkey addiction, the Meleagris gallopavo fell to the stick and string on two occasions on the same Wildlife Management Area in southwest North Dakota. The first was on a rainy afternoon with my Black Widow recurve, shooting old Gamegetter II Easton arrows, fletched with turkey feathers from my first turkey shot with a shotgun the year prior. Spotting the turkeys from a distance, this was a simple spot and stalk/ambush hunt and the Black Widow sent the old aluminum arrow straight to the mark in short order.
The second was a major lesson teacher on the use of a jake decoy in conjunction with a hen decoy. Running the home video recorder and not having any turkeys respond to our calling and decoy setup, I left the security of the tree rows to pick up the hen decoy out in the field to relocate to a new area and had a jake come running to within 15 yards while I was standing right next to the decoy. He suddenly got nervous and turned and ran. We assumed it was due to our presence, until we turned around to see a giant tom now coming in. He obviously paid no attention to our hen decoy until he saw that nosy little jake coming in and that was all it took. When the tom went just below a small hill on his way to us, Dad and I both quickly ducked back in the trees and got set up. Within seconds his fan appeared on the horizon, and continuing to within archery range, Dad sent an arrow on its way and the rest is history.
Turkey hunting became more than just a passing spring activity to get us through until the fall big game seasons we loved so much. It was now a part of what we did and looked forward to each and every spring...and still is to this day!
I’ve always said and will hold to the day I die that killing turkeys is easy, hunting turkeys isn’t. My first bird was like a drive by shooting in some inner-city slum: I’d been busting my 12 year old butt for days ineffectually trying to coax a big old gobbler into range of my shotgun when on the drive back to my grandpa’s cabin for lunch we spotted a group of birds strutting a short distance down a National Forest two track. There was a chaotic scramble for gun and shells, a mad dash after the birds and a lucky shot that resulted in my first turkey. Not something I remember fondly but I killed that bird and now it was time to learn to hunt them.
A couple of years later I had grown both in stature and knowledge and still hadn’t managed to properly dupe a wise old Tom but I hadn’t resorted to the bushwacking life either so there was progress and it all came to a vibrant red, white and blue head one foggy Michigan morning.
I had properly roosted the big Tom the evening before. I knew he was gobbling from the big split oak at the edge of the beaver flooded woods about 100 yards in from the southeast edge of the field. I also knew exactly where I needed to set up the next morning.
As the grey light of dawn began to reveal damp surroundings the old bird ripped a gobble from his perch. I had my decoys set up less than 150 yards away in the corn stubble leftover from last autumn’s harvest. I waited until I heard him flydown before I let go with my first seductive yelp. It worked! He immediately fired back and within seconds I saw him slip into the field about fifty yards off my right shoulder. A sweet little purr had him break into a half strut trot and before I could believe it he was strutting next to my hen decoy.
The only problem was I’d placed the decoy on my right side and being right handed had to twist to get on the bird. Luckily, he turned his fan to me and I was smart enough to make my move then. As he came around and his head cleared I clucked loudly to make him break strut, the shotgun blast shattered the misty silence and with it my turkey killer status. I had graduated from marauder to hunter and the journey continues each spring.