The morning of Friday, May 13th found me sprawled across a sweat drenched bed, wheezing for air. Only days earlier, spring had finally made its presence felt, leaving behind a thick green layer of pollen and subsequently causing me intolerable sinus congestion. I spent the night sleeping for 15 minutes at a time, and incessantly checking the clock to see how much longer until I would have to wake up. 2:30 AM… only one and a half more hours of “sleep”. 3:00… one hour left. 3:15 … a miniscule 45 minutes. By 3:45, I sat up in bed, and turned off the alarm before it even had a chance to start buzzing at its scheduled time of 4 o’clock. Propped up against the headboard, I thought long and hard about whether hunting today was a good idea. The ultimate deciding factor was that I was incapable of breathing while lying down, therefore eliminating any possibility of gaining any additional sleep. As I began stirring about—and with the aid of a strong cup of Joe—I gradually felt myself regaining my strength and energy. Fumbling with my gear in the predawn darkness, I reviewed the day’s plan with my father, and set out with him into the still slumbering wilderness.
The blind that I started my day in
From the house we walked up to our blinds and readied ourselves for the early morning action. I was set up above a wide open feeding field, with clear views and wide open shooting lanes, while my father patrolled a popular strutting area of dominant toms (a mature male turkey). Turkeys, who roost on high tree branches of hard wood trees, are known to make quite a bit of noise before leaving the roost. At 5:30, I heard the first gobble of the morning, and quickly positioned all my calls and my gun (12 Gauge Mossberg 835 w/ turkey choke) so that they would be both easily accessible, and hidden from plain sight. As my heart rate jumped up a few beats, I mentally ran through several scenarios which I was likely to encounter. However, the only sounds I heard following that early gobble were cackling geese, tweeting songbirds, mooing cows and the neighbor’s tractor noisily clanking through his fields. Not a single gobble. Nothing.
Believe me when I say that sitting up against a tree in the woods for 4 hours straight without any action can be BORING. However, one of the nice things about the solitude that nature offers is that you can truly reflect on a lot of things in your life. I spent those slow moving hours alternating between pensive self examination, observing the woodland critters and just dozing off for a few minutes at a time. Every time I drifted off into a casual, relaxing nap, I couldn’t help but hope to be awakened by the sound of a nearby gobble—no such luck. Between naps, I found myself constantly thinking back to opening day, when I had 4 mid-size jakes (yearling male turkeys) come within 15 yards of me for a carefree feeding session. The longer I thought about passing up this wide open shot, the more I regretted doing so. I calmly told myself that it would end up being worth it, though it was clear I was trying desperately to convince myself of this semi-truth. By the time 10:00 rolled around, I decided sitting around waiting wasn’t doing me any good, and decided to start running and gunning.
I promptly packed up my calls and hoofed it up the ridge to the plateau near the pond. No sooner had I sent out one call than a distant gobble sounded off in the woods to the south. It was close enough to know that I would have an opportunity to call in this bird, but far enough away to allow me to walk around a bit and find a good shooting position. To ensure that I knew where this bird was, I sent out a call every 30 seconds or so, and just like clockwork, received an excited gobble in return. The high frequency calling made this bird come in on a string. This is where I made a major mistake. Instead of setting up right away in an ideal location, I walked towards the gobbling in an attempt to cut down on the distance the bird would need to travel. However, when the tom let out a thunderous gobble just south of me, I knew I needed to find a position fast! I frantically surveyed the area and found a tree I could setup against. However, once I sat down I immediately realized the overgrown brush was too high and I wouldn’t have an open shot. Trying to position myself so that I could shoot over the tall weeds, I knelt on one knee and braced the gun with trembling hands. Right at that moment, the bird let out a deafening gobble that reverberated through the mountain behind me. A couple of small branches rustled, then out popped the tom in full strut. At that exact instant, the bird pulled all of his feathers in, did a quick about face, and sprinted back in the safety of the dense woods. I could not believe what had just happened. I knelt there in utter disbelief kicking myself for blowing such a great opportunity. Well, lesson learned. I now know that it was a huge mistake to try to creep closer to the bird and should have instead been trying to find a perfect shooting location that offered both cover and open shooting lanes. Defeated and exasperated, I shot off a couple more futile calls, heard dead silence and got back on my feet.
I wandered the woods for the next half hour, occasionally chirping out a loud hen yelp. The tom I had just spooked was dead silent and certainly not falling for my deceitful calls anymore. Eventually I heard a faint gobble WAY off in the distance. He was due west of me, and was either on our neighbor’s property or barely on the dividing line. With time running out on my hunt (you can only hunt until 12 noon to allow undisturbed breeding during mating season) I made the decision to stop stalking and to try my luck sitting and calling. Mindful of the fact that there could be birds in the field below me, I cautiously crept down the deer trail towards my initial blind. I continued a little further southwest and set up in a new position overlooking a small field that connected two turkey hotspots. My thinking was that I could intercept a bird traveling from one to the other. At 11:00 I was fully setup and ready to go. One hour wasn’t enough time to stealthily and accurately track a moving bird, so I resigned myself to the fact that I would just have to sit and wait. Time passed slowly, as I continually checked my phone for the time. Around 11:15 I heard another gobble coming from the border of the neighbor’s property, but this time slightly closer. I would not live with myself spooking two birds on the same day, so I shouldered my gun and pointed it in the direction where I thought he could potentially stroll into my field. I sat there for a short time longer, where mere minutes later, this eventful day would take a remarkable turn.
A successful end to an exciting day
As I peered out onto the field below me, I heard a soft “putt, putt, putt” coming from my right. I could tell the sound was very, very close. Without turning my head, I strained my eyes as far as I could to my right. I could make out the outline of a turkey body, but could not gauge the size of the bird. Judging by the “putt, putt” sound it was making, I was certain it was a hen, which you can’t shoot during the spring season. I thought to myself, “wow, just my luck”. However, as the bird moved into a better view, I was able to identify the unmistakable sight of its beard dangled from HIS chest. . My heart nearly jumped out of my chest! The bird was moving fast though, in steady jog. I had always envisioned a slow and deliberate shot where the turkey was standing still and I had time to remind myself to exhale, put the bead right on its head, and gently squeeze the trigger. It was clear this was not how it was going to take place. In a matter of seconds the bird had scurried his way down below me and began turning to cross my field. It was almost like the bird was doing exactly what I wanted him to do, so no calling was necessary. Although I had my gun shouldered, it was not raised and up against my cheek, which definitely concerned me. For about two seconds the bird walked behind a shrub that was growing in the field, which allowed me barely enough time to raise the barrel of my gun. I waited for him to pass behind one more shrub so he would cross into the ideal shooting lane. Once positioned dead in the center of the shooting lane, and without even having enough time to remind myself of proper shooting techniques, I slowly squeezed the trigger. With the immense amount of adrenaline coursing through my veins, the 3 ½ inch shell that had nearly blown my arm off two weeks earlier at the range felt like nothing. As the boom from the shotgun echoed through the rolling hills, the bird had gone down—hard. I could tell immediately the shot was a clean one, which certainly relieved a lot of the nerves I was feeling. For a brief second I thought about the thousands of rounds I had shot in my life, and how they all prepared me for this difficult moving shot. Similar to an important at bat in baseball, you cannot be thinking about mechanics while you’re at the plate. You have to put in the hours of practice so that when the situation arises, you’re able to just instinctively react. The elapsed time from the point I initially saw the bird out of the corner of my eye until the shot was taken was no more than 30 seconds. After cleaning up the calls scattered on the ground around me and attempting to process what had actually just happened, I walked down to claim my bird. It was at this time that I heard my mother and father cheering and yelling from the deck of our house 500 yards away. Apparently my mother had binoculars on me the whole time and witnessed the entire event take place. Anyone who has watched a hunting show on television knows how exciting it is to see another hunter take his harvest; I can only imagine how my mom felt watching it in real-time. Finally, I brought the bird back to house where it was tagged, weighed, and measured. It clocked in at 21 pounds with a 9 inch beard and one inch spurs. It proved to be a very large bird, and I was happy to finally bring one home. Wow, what a day!!
So that’s the story of our first harvested animal at Red Hand. The experience was completely surreal and I look forward to expanding our library of hunting tales. The next day I was exhausted so I slept in while Kellen and my father picked up where I left off. Kellen got extremely close, but the clock struck 12:00 as he was left staring up at a monster gobbler (talk about bad luck). On Sunday, I went out with Kellen, and although we heard several toms gobbling early on, we weren’t able to bring any of them into range. So far this season has been extremely eventful and everyone is having a tremendous time up at the farm, even mom who is simply enjoying the sights and sounds of nature with her limited mobility. We can’t wait to get back up there!