The alarm clock rang and I immediately cursed it out. It seemed like just yesterday I had been rolling out of bed at 4:00 AM every day to sit in a freezing cold deer stand, how could this early wake up call be coming again so soon? What had I got myself into now? Well, after finally getting myself together, I stepped outside into the icy April air and immediately felt the stiff breeze hit my right cheek. I noticed the droopy eared basset hound fast asleep next to the old red barn and I caught a sliver of sunlight coming over the horizon. My senses were in full gear and an almost dream like sense of calm was upon me. And then BANG. BANG. BANG. All around me the woods filled with the echoing thunder of a gobbling turkey, then another and another. To my left and then my right, over my shoulder and then right in front of me. In a matter of seconds I heard 6 different turkeys sound off like cannons in the early morning light. And in that moment I was hooked.
I still remember that morning like it was yesterday and it was in fact my first time turkey hunting ever. It was spring 2009 and I went on to hunt a few more days that year with my bud Jeremy as a guide. But it wasn't until last year that I actually got to taste turkey hunting in it's purest form. On my own, doing it myself, deep in the wilderness going 1 on 1 vs the wiley old longbeards of Spring. And so began my first real season of turkey hunting.
I consider 2010 my first real season turkey hunting because it really is a whole new ballgame when it's you, and only you, responsible for choosing where to hunt, when to move, and how or when to call. It becomes quite a bit more challenging and quite a bit more fun. During this first season, both of these points came to my realization quite clearly and along the way I had some incredible moments and important lessons learned.
One of these long lasting memories began on a morning that most could never imagine going turkey hunting on. I awoke to thunder and lightning, but my stubborn excitement to chase turkeys wooed me into donning rain gear and trekking into the pitter pattering hardwoods. After sitting through a handful of uneventful and wet hours, the storm finally passed and sun began to warm the early afternoon air. Not long after lunchtime I was knocked out of my trance by a distant boom of turkey talk. My ears perked, my mind jumped into gear and my trigger finger got itchy. A minute or so later another gobble reverberated over the hills and this time it sounded closer. Knowing he was getting into ear range, I fired up my box call and let out a hard string of yelps. To my surprise he fired right back at me! My first response from a turkey to my calling! Needless to say, I was a little excited. Things got even crazier when another turkey started hammering back and forth with the first gobbler. At this point my heart was acting more like a hummingbird's wings and I turned to face the apparently fast approaching gobblers!
By now I was already thinking to my self that this was the best moment of my short turkey hunting career, but when I saw these two gobblers emerge across the field and begin barreling towards me, things went to a whole new level. Strutting and puffing, then charging and busting out a neck stretching gobble. It truly was a sight to be seen. But things started to fall apart when the thunder birds neared the edge of the woods. You see, I didn't have permission to hunt the field, so I was set up about 60 yards into the woods on a ridge overlooking that field. These turkeys finally came into the timber, but when I maneuvered my body, I got into a position that made it very difficult to use my box call. Unfortunately I had yet to develop a real talent with a reed, so a mouth call wasn't an option. As I sat frozen, waiting for the birds to cover the last 50 yards, I stared in dismay as they turned and headed back to the field. My best attempt at sending "sweet nothings" their way didn't seem to sway them, as they trekked away and out of my life forever.
Lesson learned? First, learn how to use a reed. If I could have continued calling to these birds, I do believe they would have continued in towards me and noticed my decoys. Lesson number two, get permission on that field! From what I've seen and heard, it's hard to beat a set up on a field edge with decoys. Things tend to get a little more dicey in the timber.
Another encounter that weekend still haunts me to this day as well. It was another uneventful late afternoon until a distant gobble perked me up. Similar to the first encounter, this turkey started moving my way and I began coaxing him with my slate call. I could tell he was closing distance, but a field and several ridges lay between us. Our back and forth continued for quite awhile, until I came to the realization that this old gobbler was hung up. It was decision time. Do I play it safe and stay put? Or should I throw the hail mary and make a move on this bird? Lets not kid ourselves, I of course decided to go for broke and chase this bird down!
I quickly grabbed my decoys, crouched down and ran into the ditch that ran down the center of my piece of timber. My plan was to maneuver into a much closer position to the gobbler, while also moving south of him, all while remaining a ridge of two beyond his sight. It all ended up working perfectly and once settled I let out the best series of yelps, purrs and clucks I could muster. The reward was a gobble so loud that it could knock your lazy eye straight. I mean he was close! With a few more coaxes, I could hear the old man moving my way and when he crested the ridge in front of me it was a truly majestic sight. Strutting and hammering away he put on a show at 60 yards. Unfortunately he never noticed my decoys and just wouldn't budge off that ridge.
So what was the lesson learned here? Honestly, my biggest take away was that turkey hunting is simply a blast. And if you come away with nothing else from this blog post, and you've never went turkey hunting before, I hope you might now see that the chase for a spring gobbler is certainly something worth waking up for!