First Tom for JP
[BUMP from 4/23/06]
[Update '09: It's turkey time again! What a great time of year! Lush green warm new spring growth everywhere. Birdsong at daybreak. What a far cry from frigid gun deer season. But we've had cold rain the first few days of this opening week. My pal Steve and I know where a BUNCH of toms are. I hope we're not being too confident, but we're holding off til the fine weather coming up Thursday. Our neighbor said she saw 3 roadkill turkeys. Dang! I gotta nab some of those! Turkeys...I want em! This season I'm going after the Longbeards with my Grampa's old singleshot, the one with the camo duct-tape repair on the stock. Wait'll you see it. It groups like a demon! Best group wins! So that's the gun of choice. Long barrel; full, full choke. Look out, gobbler! Steve is using a recurve bow. He gets first dibs. I'll play mop-up. Crow call, owl call, mouth call...time for action!]
I've been thinking that the turkey is the new pheasant for a few years now. There are so many of them around now! Too bad you can't hunt them with a dog. [Actually, you can! ...For the fall season! The way you hunt them then is to find 'em, scatter 'em, then sit tight and wait til they come back, which they do.]
I miss those pheasant days in the 1970's of tromping thru fields with a good dog, getting a good dinner along the way. (Developers and high-yield farming---fewer hedgerows---knocked out enough of their habitat that they've never recovered. That, plus the bottom falling out of the fur market and the resulting unchecked bird-eating predators flooding in.)
But there's a big new bird on the scene. You just don't get to burn many calories hunting him. They're the sharpest things out there, so you better not move at all if you want one. ...They're tasty, too! [Actually, we do a couple miles of hiking between good sit-places. You gotta follow their gobbles so who knows where they'll take you.]
Just as nice is that they're the only springtime gamebird. I find it just wonderful to go out afield in the wee hours in the spring, with all that new green just coming on, all that new energy coming on after being held down all winter. It's great to get out and be a part of it.
My bro and I tried to get one a few years ago and had a thrill---it almost worked. We called a couple in, strutting and turning like kabuki dancers, but it wasn't to be. (One set of them was almost in range. They went behind a bush in a field. Never came out the other side.)
They call 'em "longbeards."
Well, there's a big patch of vacant land still near here where I sometimes mtbike ride. I've scared up turkeys there. So I finally got my act in gear and phoned up my old highschool huntin' pal and he was psyched to give it a try. We used to hunt that land when we were teens. So we went out this morning. It was great to revisit it. I'd hunted on it last for deer, ten years few years ago, with my osage selfbow. Gorgeous land.
So we went out while a crescent moon was still up with a planet alongside it.
Steve knows turkeys. It's his other favorite season. He hunts deer and turkeys and calls it a year. You can only do so much. He's given up fishing. A few years ago I showed him some longbow action and he's taken it up fully, way beyond me. So I brought my shotgun and he brought his longbow today.
I rode my bike around the turf yesterday and saw sign but no birds.
We walked out, in full camo, into the dark fields. Steve had the good modern-style camo. I had a tattered old outfit given to me by a friend---it was her dad's in the 60's. Let's see if it still works...
Steve stopped and gave an amazing yell like a pissed off crow. A flash later the night lit up with a pissed off tom turkey gobbling up in a stand of hardwood trees right near us. Wow!
We bee-lined to a good spot near the trees and set up Steve's blind and decoys and got inside, silently, wordlessly. Steve has 3 different turkey calls and proceeded to use them expertly, starting with the quietest little chirp. The first gobble had come from a few hundred yards away and I couldn't imagine that little chirp doing anything. Gobble!!! Turkeys have keen senses. Soon that turkey was going nuts over our sexy plastic ladies in the field. Then the gobbling came from down low---he'd flown out of his roost. Then it sounded off closer. Still, he took about an hour to make his way to us. In that time, a great orange sunrise washed over our world. As he came closer, Steve's calling became more amorous and insistent and the gobbling came back more excited yet.
The plan was for Steve to shoot him with his longbow and two-bladed broadhead arrow if he came in close enough. The decoys were only about 10 feet in front of the blind. Steve said the tom would go right up to them. But that we had to stay motionless even in the blind. If we did everything right we might get a good close shot---and Steve could get his first longbow turkey.
But the turkey came in behind us! We had no open windows that way.
After another half hour the gobbling started going further away. The spoiled lad wanted the ladies to come to him.
So we packed up and took a stroll further into the territory. A half hour later I was looking down a two-track and Steve was looking into some woods. He then looked down the trail and hissed "Turkey in full strut! Off the trail!" We just stepped laterally into the trees. I never looked up again. I can't believe I didn't see anything first. He said, Sit by this tree and I'll go back here and call him up to you, and he went back 100 feet the way we'd come and started calling. Sure enough, the morning lit up again with wild gobbling. There were indeed turkeys just down that trail. Yes, more than one. After a short time of calling back and forth they suddenly gobbled much closer. I raised my gun on an opening and waited. Moments later two longbeards bobbed their way into my tiny view of the trail and I let the first one have it in the noggin. He dropped. The others acted surprised. Steve jumped up and ran forward. About 6 or 8 other turkeys flew off left and right off the trail, not too startled it seemed.
So I got my first turkey! Thanks to Steve. What a perfect ambush, on the fly. Expert-style!
I'd come across the good spot...and Steve brought 'em on in. That's the way!
We walked further down the trail and saw where several of the toms had strutted in the sandy trail to Steve's calls. What amazing birds. They puff up so big and turn circles when they do their courtship thing. ...But if you move or make a wrong sound, they're gone. And if you can't speak their language you might as well not start. I have a couple calls myself and can use them fairly well, but it was great hearing Steve go to town.
He took my shotgun and we headed off where some of them flew and called again shortly. Again with the wild gobbles. Those lads can't get enough! We set up again, this time to give Steve a chance with the gun. But they wouldn't come in this time.
Steve's son is 14 now and starting to hunt. He's going to bring him out soon to this hotspot to maybe get his first turkey, too.
A couple hours later, my turkey was in the freezer---giblets, too. He weighed about 17 lbs to start---almost as tall as my boy. Had an 8" beard. Medium size, said Steve. My commemorative trophies are drying, rubbed with Borax to preserve them. What a beautiful bird a turkey is. I'm keeping the tail fan, the rainbow-iridescent cape, the beard and spurs. Good bird!
Now all we need are some morels, wild asparagus, ramps and maybe a few trout...and we'll have a springtime feast.