Trying for Turkey…

My second morning of turkey hunting really was clear and crisp, and as I carried my gear out to the car I looked up at the 4 am stars, pleased to see the familiar summer constellations back in the sky.  It certainly didn’t feel like summer, shivering in the dark mid-April air, but I knew that once the sun rose the temperature would rapidly rise.

As we started unpacking the car for the day’s adventures, we head a warbling call from the nearby lake, and exchanged smiling glances.  The first loon of the spring back in Florence!  We headed out to the same spot where we had sat the morning before, but for some reason we couldn’t find the nice, comfortable, flat spot where we had set up then!  We dallied a while, searching our 200 square foot area for that one 5×5 spot – to no avail.  As the sun rose, we popped open the blind and set it down where we thought it would be decent… but in fact it was on enough of a slope that it led to a few more minutes of scrambled seat-arranging.  We hastily abandoned thoughts of a morning spent in comfort, and settled in to focus on the task at hand.  J pulled out the box call and produced a soft whine, followed by a couple louder ones, and finally a quick yelp.  He was instantly rewarded by a couple gobbles – from two different directions!  We exchanged excited glances, and J couldn’t resist calling one more time before setting his tools aside to wait.

The gobbles from the south were repeated frequently, but didn’t seem to get any closer.  We weren’t sure if the turkeys had even come down off the roost yet, until finally the excited males seemed to be moving towards us.  J put his new diaphragm call into his mouth to soften it, then began to entice the gobblers with the yelps of an eager hen.  As the gobbles came slowly closer, I imagined a proud tom strutting back and forth on the gravel road with feeding hens looking on from the brush, feigning boredom even as they followed him along.   As the hen sitting next to me in the blind, that is also what J was doing – mostly sounding like she was just minding her own business here in this lovely clearing, though allowing a frustrated yelp to escape every now and then.  He explained in a slurred voice around his mouth call that he was calling much more frequently than he usually wood, but he soon convinced me that he knew what he was doing, as the tom suddenly sounded almost outside our door!

We were in a broad clearing, with a good view of a trail of sorts that led in from the gravel road, across the grassy bracken field, and up a hill.  I couldn’t

View out of my side of the blind, with a good view of one of the decoys next to a trail. The road is off to the right, over a berm and beyond some brush.

see where the trail met the road, but I was sure that our tom was just on the other side of a small rise next to that intersection.  Any second he was going to pop around the corner, so I got into shooting position.  That sounds easier than it was: since the birds were on my side of the blind (and don’t forget that we were on enough of a slope that I was doing everything I could to stay on my seat), I had to kneel down, turn to my right, negotiate swinging my 12-gauge shotgun around in the blind without hitting J with the stock, then simultaneously balance myself on the tilted ground and aim slightly uphill.  That accomplished, J continued his clucks, purrs, and yelps to mask my maneuvers, but the gobbler just kept gobbling … right outside of our view.  He stayed there for about twenty minutes, and we could hear not only his excited calls but his drumming wings and shuffling feet as he danced for a mate.  Unfortunately, we could also hear that he had a hen out there with him.  J groaned softly when he first noticed those clucks, but renewed his efforts, grabbing the slate call at his feet.  Working both the slate and the diaphragm, J teased the gobbler at our doorstep with the prospect of at least two potential mates here in this lovely inviting clearing, and the tom responded by getting, if it was possible, even more excited.  Not, however, excited enough to come in off the road.

After a few minutes, I thought I heard a new hen calling, and I was astounded that J could manage threecalls at once – but when I pulled my gaze away from the window, I saw that he was looking out his side of the blind, and he let out a low chuckle.  I, too, was soon able to see a real, live hen crossing the slope in front of us – J hadn’t managed to get a tom in here, but he’d convinced this female that there was a flock of others like her with a great spot that she might like to try out for herself!  She clucked as she made her way towards our decoys set out along the trail.

The real hen (left) feeding nest to the “alert” decoy!

The tom out on the road got more and more excited, but our hen just played hard-to-get, as she foraged very intensely text to the trail.  She went and checked out each of our decoys in turn, and seemed a bit confused that they didn’t respond to her polite greetings, but J just clucked and purred softly, and she seemed to accept the situation.  After a few minutes, though, J began to cough – having that diaphragm call in your mouth and constantly calling for an hour can do that to you!  As he struggled to gain control of his larynx, the hen got somewhat distressed, and I was sure that she would not only run off, but alert the birds out on the road in the process!  However, some quick calling by J, combined with the apparent fact that the hen really, really  didn’t want to lose this opportunity to breed, seemed to allay her fears.  Unfortunately, after she had been around for about fifteen minutes, the tom either got what he wanted from the hen he had with him, or gave up trying, and we heard him proceed fairly rapidly back in the direction he had come from.

Remarkably, J managed to keep the hen around for another half hour or so, while we tried to figure out a new strategy.   As we watched the hen feed and work out her own strategy, I became very impressed with J’s calling ability – he was able to mimic the real hen almost perfectly!  Just as we were starting to get bored with our “pet” bird, we again heard a gobble out on the road – only this time from the other direction!  Now, when I had scouted out this site, that was the direction I had seen birds come from, so I wasn’t completely flabbergasted, just rather surprised that he had gotten this close to us without our noticing him at all.  The hen heard it too, and began to walk fairly quickly back in the direction.   J struggled to keep her in the clearing – if she got out to the road, the tom would have no reason to come and investigate our faux hens, but only succeeded in slowing her down a bit.  It became clear that there were two birds on the road, a fact which the hen apparently also noticed and turned back towards them with greater decision.  All of the action was now on J’s side of the blind, and just as the hen passed away through the brush, and our disappointment started to set in, I heard him say, “Here they come!” which what might be described as a hushed squeal of excitement.

He motioned me to get into shooting position, an act which was significantly easier out that side of the blind, and I was set up within seconds.  J said, “There are two of them! Wait for them to separate,” so when a male head bobbed into view, I let him get far enough through my field of vision to make sure that there was no other bird next to or behind him.  He was about 15-20 yards away, I had an easy view, and was aiming slightly downhill.  J claims that I said something like, “Oh, I can hit that!” which, given the above situation, should have been obvious.  I don’t remember saying anything but, in the heat of the moment, I can believe him (if he’ll forgive me the “squeal of excitement” comment, which is also true).  In any case, I quickly proved it to be true – I squeezed the trigger and the bird went down.  I was going to re-load, in case I’d only injured him, but J cried out, “He’s down! You got him!” and struggled to unzip the blind.  We got out in the field, and over to the bird, which was indeed dead where he lay (though, in the manner of dead birds, still had some twitching going on).   It was pretty wild that, after wooing one bird for over an hour, the whole experience with this group only lasted around ten minutes.

After examining the jake for a few moments, we began the photo shoot – I think we got every pose imaginable… but hey, I had to figure out which was my “good side” in camo!  The young bird itself wasn’t a trophy (with a half-inch beard and little frost-bitten nubs for spurs), but I hoped that would make him taste scrumptious!  Check out the upcoming post for the determination on that…

Me with my first turkey, posing approximately in the location where he went down, with the early-April bracken grassland around me and a ridge of oaks beyond.

These cranes flew noisily overhead as we were posing the turkey for his photo, and J caught a quick shot of them.

J did a wonderful job calling in some turkeys for me, and I think that he might have been more excited than I was with the result!  Not that I wasn’t excited, I just wasn’t squealing about it J  Now I’m rooting for him to be able to get one of his own, which means doing an anti-rain dance (doesn’t seem to be working, so I think I’ll need the rest of you to help me)!  And next year I hope to call in one of my own!

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