Turkey Hunting: 18 Days, 1 Shot – Bowhunt or Die!

by Beka Garris

18 Days. I hunted 18 days before I even had the chance to release an arrow while turkey hunting this year. This was easily one of the toughest, most frustrating, exciting and epic seasons I have ever hunted.

I went into this season with a confidence that I most likely shouldn’t have been feeling, but couldn’t really help. I had just finished up a successful youth season with my friend, Jen, and her daughter, Savannah. Last turkey season I shot a big tom on opening day on public land with a traditional bow. I was hoping for more of the same this year. I had so much time to hunt this season, it was going to be great. How could it not be?

If you’ve ever hunted public land, you’ll understand what I mean when I say it can be frustrating. Factor in turkey hunting with a recurve and no blind, and the odds of being successful are considerably less.

The first week of turkey season in Ohio crept by as I located and called in birds, only to be messed up by other hunters. I had hunters walk in and set up 50 yards away and call. I had hunters creep silently between me and the bird, and I even had someone block my drivers side door with their vehicle. You would think fellow hunters would have a mutual respect for each other, but that’s not always the case.

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Get after it, or go home? That was the struggle.

I became more and more frustrated as morning after morning I would get up while it was still dark, drive to my spot, only to leave empty handed. On top of the public land troubles, the birds weren’t very vocal. They were henned up, and the few times I could get them to come in, it was too far of a shot. Traditional archery struggles are real. I was convinced that it simply wasn’t going to happen this year.

About two weeks into the season I scouted a new area on public land. There were lots of open fields surrounded by woods and lots of turkey sign. I saw a few hens while out on an evening hunt and made a mental note to come back in the morning. Sure enough, the next morning I heard two different birds gobbling on the roost as soon as I arrived. It was still dark enough that I could get in a lot closer without them seeing me, so I started making my way towards the closest gobble. About five minutes into my walk, I heard what sounded like a dying crow behind me. I turned to see two other hunters moving at a brisk walk across the middle of the field, directly towards the gobbles.

That was it for me. I felt defeated. I just turned and left. By the time I got back to my vehicle it was breaking dawn. I unloaded my gear and sat in the drivers seat for a minute contemplating my next move. Maybe I should just go home?

Now, early on in the season I had hunted one of my favorite spots. It was flat land with lots of swampy areas and big fields surrounded by open timber. Last year it had held several toms and jakes, but this year all I had seen were a half dozen hens and hadn’t heard a single gobble. I had pretty much written the property off, but in the back of my mind I kept thinking of some advice I had been given by some well weathered turkey hunters. Perhaps there was a gobbler there that simply wasn’t vocal. I didn’t have anything to lose, so I decided to drive to the property. I wandered rather aimlessly through the woods to the edge of the biggest field and immediately froze when I saw a huge gobbler strutting with 5 hens.

Much as expected, he wouldn’t respond to my calling. He stayed in the middle of the field and then followed the hens as they left in the opposite direction. I stayed in the area for several hours hoping the hens would break away to go nest and I would get an opportunity to call him in. But no such luck.

The next day I was back at the property bright and early hoping to see him, but I never saw or heard anything. I decided to go back that evening to roost him. I saw hens right away, but the sun continued to sink and I didn’t see or hear from the elusive gobbler.

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Learn to enjoy the journey or you’ll find yourself wanting to quit far too soon.

I was about ready to call it quits and head back to my vehicle when I saw a black speck in the far corner of the field. I looked through my binoculars and sure enough it was him. It was getting dark fast, and it was nearly the end of legal shooting light. He headed down the middle of the field, strutting the whole way, not a care in the world and ignoring any call I used. At dusk I saw him fly up into a tree and my mind was racing as I tried to plan out my morning hunt. I was a bit preoccupied as I quietly made my way back towards my vehicle, but out of the corner of my eye I saw several hens following the tree line towards the gobbler. I walked as fast as I could to the treeline and managed to push them back towards the other side of the property. If he was roosted alone, my hunt in the morning was going to be ten times easier.

turkey hunting beka-turkey

18 days. 1 shot. Never quit. Bowhunt or Die!

I could barely sleep that night. I knew that this was probably my best chance at making it happen. If I messed it up, that would be it.

I was up hours before dawn the next morning. I was sneaking through the field well before the sun was up, armed with my bow and a single hen decoy. I got as close as I felt I could without disturbing the roosted tom and set up my decoy in the field about ten yards from the treeline. I settled myself against a huge old Maple tree, surrounded by brush so thick that I would only have two small shooting lanes.

It was starting to get light out when I started second guessing my decoy location. Was the grass too tall? I belly crawled out and repositioned it (not the most comfortable thing to do at 18 weeks pregnant), then crawled back through the poison ivy to the tree. I did this once more before I finally felt my decoy was in the perfect position.

Once the woods started to wake up, I decided to call a fly down cackle and use my hat against my pants leg to imitate a a bird flying down. Not a single gobble followed. I waited ten minutes and then softly yelped a few times on my slate call. Nothing. I waited. And waited. Maybe he had seen me.

And then it happened. I could hear him drumming before he came into view, and it felt like the whole ground shook. He came in from behind me, and circled to my right into the field. He came in slowly, at full strut, and straight to my decoy. At about ten yards he fanned away from me and I lifted my bow. I barely had enough room in the brush as I balanced on my knees and waited. I was shaking so bad I was sure I would miss.

He turned to face me dead on, still in full strut, his fan cockeyed. I drew and released. The arrow hit him hard and he went down. He bounced back up and stumbled a few yards before falling over again. Then he went still.

Turkey hunting - beka-walking-with-turkey

Persistence paid off. Walking out with the reward.

 

I sat there in disbelief for a few minutes, just taking it all in. Everything had gone just as I had planned. All those hours I had spent in the woods turkey hunting up until now, all of my messed up and unsuccessful hunts had all led up to this moment. It was as if I could feel Fred Bear himself smiling down on me.

This hunt will forever be one of my most memorable, and a reminder to be relentless. Never quit. Bowhunt or Die.

Trad Gear List:

Bow: Bear Kodiak 45#  /   Arrows: 3Rivers Archery wood Harvester Arrows  /  Broadheads: Woodsman 125 grain

Comments

  1. Richard Black says:

    My hats off to you! You are a turkey hunter in the truest form! Congratulations

    Reply

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