Charge of the Bright Brigade

By Daniel James HendricksMay 18, 2015

It is my experience that most hunters who have taken a swipe at the wild turkey, regardless of what kind of a legal weapon is used, consider it to be an addicting, exciting pastime worthy of the time, effort and expense required to bring home such a small dab of, most often, quite chewy, white meat.

Ground of battle from the blind.

Ground of battle from the blind.

The addition of Minnesota’s Spring Turkey Archery Season was all that I needed to urge me to jump into the sport… mainly because of the liberal benefits offered a bowhunter.  No lottery drawing and the last five seasons to hunt with a bow were the only reasons I needed to crawl on board the turkey train… those two and the fact that I have a passion for flinging arrows at everything I can hunt.

I set my blind up in the usual place this year, a few days before I planned to go out. This particular location had produced very quick success the past few years and I was once again going to rely on its proven track record.  Three large wetlands with farm roads snaking in between the trio creates a natural thoroughfare between the bird’s roosting and feeding areas.  Hopefully it would once again provide me with plenty of wildlife action for the camera and the opportunity to take a big tom with the crossbow.

Ground of battle from the Tom's point of view.

Ground of battle from the Tom’s point of view.

Once the decoys were placed, I settled into the blind, opening the windows for business and readying my gear.  I mounted my camera on its monopod, cocked my crossbow and placed an arrow on its rail.  My tote bag was opened and the tea was removed and placed within easy reach.  When everything was properly arranged and in its place, I settled back and watched the day dawn, occasionally giving a series of hen yelps in an effort to tempt a tom to take a peak.

The gallant "Charger of the Bright Brigade".

The gallant “Charger of the Bright Brigade”.

At a little after six o’clock I was startled by a very loud and confusing noise coming from the heavy woods to the west of my position.  After a several repeats I realized it was a turkey gobble, but I did not understand why it was so distorted and garbled.  My hearing aids can warp sounds, but I was quite sure that this odd racket was not the result of that distortion.

The monster sound continued in response to each series of calls I made.  Finally I caught movement up the trail as five big toms slowly emerged from the trees and walked out on to the road.  When I called, all five would gobble at once creating the very loud and very crazy gobble I was hearing.

The birds were approximately a hundred yards away and when they paraded into the open and spotted the decoy set up,  they turned in unison and began moving toward ground zero.  As they moved closer, they fanned out and formed a rough shoulder to shoulder line and deliberately marched, without hesitation, towards the Jake decoy that was positioned exactly 15 yards in front of my hide.

Victor with his one allowable prey.

Victor with his one allowable prey.

Snapping a few photos with my camera, I quickly tossed that aside when I saw how big the beards were on the approaching wall of gobbling toms.  By the time I had the crossbow to my shoulder, the decoy was blocking at least two of the birds in the center of the row from a clean shot.  I moved the red dot of my scope to the chest of the tom on the far left of the lineup as it was in the clear, directly in front of me.  I slowly (at least I think it was slowly), applied pressure to the trigger until the Excalibur crossbow barked!

The birds broke formation in an explosion of noisy, wing-flapping confusion, while the tom on the far left took the full force of the arrow in a solid thump to the chest.  A cloud of feathers erupted from the bird and then slowly began to do a swing-float to the ground all around the spot that seconds earlier had been filled with angry toms that were hell-bent upon beating my decoy to death.

Birds zig-zagged in confusion in the thick cover creating dramatic noise as they scuttled through the brush clucking and yelping in alarm.  An occasional glimpse of a turkey was all I could manage, still unsure of whether my target had gone down or not.
The toms moved back and forth in the woods, obviously not sure whether to go north or south.  They eventually moved out of the heavy cover atop of the ridge not allowing me to see them all until they finally moved along the edge of one of the water-filled potholes.  When I could eyeball the entire group, I counted only four.


The true colors of the hunter’s quarry.

Waiting a few more minutes until I was sure that the group had scampered away and was long gone, I got out of the blind and slowly began to search for a terminated tom.  Heading in the direction that the birds had originally fled, I did not have to go far before I spied the inert carcass of the big bird I had let the air out of just a few minutes ago.  It had not gone far, perhaps thirty yards, before it had piled up in its final roost.

Picking the bird up and moving to the trail, I walked back to the blind and discovered my arrow amid a small clutter of turkey feathers, right where I had hit the bird.  Nice… I had thought perhaps finding it was going to be a challenge, but it had been a perfect shot, falling to the ground after exiting the tom’s torso.  Again… nice!

The Tom weighed 22 lbs and had a 9" beard.

The Tom weighed 22 lbs and had a 9″ beard.

Once back in the blind, I picked up my camera and checked the photos that had been shot.  I was pleased to see that I had capture the “Charge of the Bright Brigade”… five tom turkeys, adorned with their bright red and blue heads, marching in formation on a mission to maim and destroy my decoy, only to be ambushed and beaten back by one lone, very excited and determined turkey hunter.  Unfortunately the low light of the early morning sapped a significant amount of the quality away from the photos, but with a little help from my editing program I would salvage enough of the image to serve as a fine reminder of what a grand charge it had been.

My 2015 hunt, after just 45 minutes, was over and I was in possession of a mature Tom.  Good luck for me, bad luck for it.  I don’t care what anyone says… this turkey hunting is NOT for the birds!

Daniel James Hendricks
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