Tuesday, June 29, 2010

2010 Turkey Season Part Two

As you read in my last journal entry, my turkey season was a bust for many reasons this year but that wasn't the end of my season by any stretch of the imagination. I had the pleasure of hunting with my kids for their chance to bag one of the elusive gobblers! Mikey and Mackenzie both drew a late season tag so I knew I had plenty of chances to get back out and fool one of the 'ol boys to walking within range of one of the kids thunder sticks!

Since both of them drew late season tags and that gave us three weeks to get the job done, I knew I would have to rotate their hunts to get them into the field. One additional challenge was that Mikey had a buddy that he wanted to take out hunting with us this year since his friend had never been turkey hunting.

With that additional challenge I was only able to get Mikey and his friend out once this season. They really didn't seem too fired up to get out that early in the morning and chase birds, I guess I was the same way when I was 15! The morning we did manage to get out, I put them on some toms immediately as usual.

That morning before sunrise I started to work the owl locater call and the gobblers couldn't resist shouting back to me to give up their location! We hurried in and set up on what I thought was a sure bet, but it didn't take long for the old boy to show us who was the king of the woods that morning. As the sun rose and light began to filter through the canopy of leaves I knew that he couldn't be too far away from us. I began to call softly to try and coax him our way. He gobbled and gobbled at us and some other nearby birds that were calling also. As it became time for fly down, I began to search out the trees to see if I could make out a silhouette in the trees.

All of a sudden we heard the obvious noise of a turkey flying down off of the roost. He was now on the ground and only about 40 yards in front of us, only problem was we couldn't see him! I made a few soft clucks and that was the end of our morning! We waited and waited to see if he would show his head but nothing! Not a peep, not a sound, not one glimpse of the old boy! Once again he tucked tail and took off away from us! We did try a few other spots but there was nothing else moving that morning except for a few birds on some land we couldn't hunt.

On the way to the truck we did run across another person out taking a stroll and it was someone that I had bumped into earlier during last year's duck season. The good 'ol boy gave us a tip on where we might find a big tom in a field. I tucked that info back for my daughter's hunt!

On her first hunt we went to our new usual spot where we knew birds would be roosting. We only had about two hours to try and get a bird since it was a school day. Nothing like hunting before school I say! I got down deep in the woods and began to try my locator call and found them roosting in the usual area that morning. This was like clockwork, only problem was that we could never get them to play nice when they hit the ground.

A Wet Forest Floor

This morning would prove to be no different. We heard the bird hit the ground off of the roost and I knew exactly where he was, the problem this morning was the water hole that was between us and him! Oh yeah another little problem was the hen that decided to come through our area and pull him away from us! We heard a lot of birds but never saw one in front of us. But it was a good morning for Mackenzie since this was the first time she had heard a gobbler up close and thundering off of the roost! She told me that she couldn't believe how loud his gobbles sounded! I just wish she could have seen him up close and personal!

I Heard Somthing!

Hunt number two for her was a week later and again on a school day, but never fear we always get her to school on time! We started off again in the same patch of woods, but we only heard a couple of gobbles off in the distance. I thought that this morning was going to be a bust; it didn't take long to change! I saw movement out in front of us at about 50 yards!

Waiting For Mr. Tom

It was a hen putting around through the brush, then I saw a couple more heads and they were all headed our way! She could see them in the brush also, but then they disappeared completely! I thought I heard something to our left so I slowly turned to try and get a look at what it was. Low and behold they had cut around us and were sneaking behind us at about 20 yards! It was four hens moving through and one of them was a smoky grey! I have never seen a smoky grey hen in the wild before so this was a first for me also!

Mackenzie and Her Remington
Youth 870 20ga.

It was getting late so I knew we had to pick up and get to school, so we made our way back to the truck and started heading out. We passed the spot where the hunter I met the other day told me that he had seen a big tom in so as we drove by I noticed a hen in the ditch. I told Mackenzie to check it out and as I drove past her I looked in my rearview mirror and all I could see was a huge tail fan climbing the hill on the side of the road! I stopped immediately and turned around, she asked what was going on and all I told her was that "You're going to be late for school this morning"! I got up the road and parked quickly. We busted out all our gear and hit the nearby tree line to try and cut him off. I knew he was going to be coming our way. We got to the opposite side of the trees and hunkered down near a willow bush. I looked through the bush and all I could see was a tail fan walking dead at us at about 100 yards!

Dead Down Wind Face Paint And The Vest-a-Blind

I set her up into a good shooting position and then scurried down the tree line to set a decoy up to the right of us so it would pull him through us to the decoy for a shot. By the time I got back to her he was now at about 50 – 60 yards away and closing fast. The sun was glistening off of his tail feathers, it was a beautiful sight to behold. I looked at Mackenzie and asked her if she could see him and she told me yes very quietly! Within a few seconds I saw the hen that was with him and she cut in front of us at about 25 yards but she crossed on the opposite side of a huge willow bush. I knew that the tom would follow her on the other side so we couldn't get a clean shot at him. When he stepped behind it, I moved Mackenzie so she could get a good clean shot at him when he stepped out from behind it. This bush was the size of a van! After about 30 seconds I could see him starting to get to the edge of the bush and told her to click the safety off. He was within a step or two of his head clearing the bush for a clean shot when all of a sudden I heard a loud noise over head at tree top level! It was a stinking helicopter buzzing the tree tops!!!!! The tom immediately bolted in the opposite direction and was never seen again!!!!

I couldn't believe what I had just witnessed!!! I was stomping mad and Mackenzie was laughing and saying that was the coolest thing she had ever seen!!! It put me in my place at that very moment. This was her hunt not mine and what ever happened to make her laugh and happy should have made me feel the same way! Then we both laughed at each other and talked about what had just happened. I looked down at her hands and they were shaking uncontrollably. I asked her if she had an adrenaline rush to which she replied "yeah, that bird really shook me up"! Again we laughed and then returned to the truck and off to school we went. Yes she was late that morning but it was well worth it!

Before we left for school we had an experience that was a great piece of education for Mackenzie. Once we got back to the truck I noticed that there was a DNR truck nearby and there was a CO in the vehicle. He stepped out and approached us to chat. He told Mackenzie don't worry you're not in trouble he just wanted to talk. He asked her how her hunt went and sorry she didn't get a bird. He asked to check her license and explained to her why he was checking it and what he was there for. I thought that was pretty cool to take the time to explain why to her so she understood why he was doing it. He was actually checking the area for a guy he was trying to catch that had been reported to be poaching! We managed to give him some information on a vehicle we had seen in the area. It was a great experience for Mackenzie to see the good side of what Conservation Officers did and why we need them.

Mackenzie and The CO

We planned out our strategy for the next week's hunt and we both thought it was a great plan. We sat up in that same area we almost shot that big tom at, but we moved down the field a little and found an apple tree right next to the edge of the field. The tree had low hanging branches which gave us perfect cover along with the knee high wild grass. She could see right over the top of the grass and with my Quaker Boy Vest-a-blind spread out to cover us both with the guile suit there was no way that a turkey would spot us!

Turkey Ambush Spot

After sun up we could hear the tom on the roost just across the field and the little road we were hunting near. Then he appeared in green field across the road, I watched him with my binoculars for at least a half hour. Then he made his move towards us. He crossed the little road and hit the edge of the field we were covering. We were sitting at the top of a knoll so when he was within range there was no way he would see us until it was too late. Sure enough I could see the tail fan walking through the grass while he was making his way up the hill towards us. Mackenzie also took notice of him quickly and swung around into her shooting stance. His tail fan grew bigger and bigger the closer he got to us. I told her to click the safety off and get ready. All of a sudden his white head appeared in the grass and then at the top of the grass! I told her to peel his skull cap off when she got the bead on his little white dome! I was waiting for the sound of the shotgun going off but all I saw was the bird stop dead in his tracks and looked past us to our right! What was going on? Did our decoys spook him? What made him stop! Just as she was going to shoot, he tucked his head back and disappeared down the hill! Not again I thought. We were whispering and discussing what had just happened when she told me there he is dad! He went down the hill and circled down around it and came up to the right side of it in the opening. Only problem was that he was now about 45 yards away from us! I later found out it was 42 yards with my Leupold range finder. He stopped dead in his tracks and kept looking to our right. I glanced over to the right and there it was! Four sand hill cranes were standing there and he didn't like it! It was an old fashioned western stand off! They took a few steps towards him and he bobbed his head at them. They did it again and he took a step back. They did it again and he tucked tail and ran! That was the end of that hunt!

We didn't laugh at that situation this time. She told me that it was so close she could almost taste the gunpowder! Once was funny but twice was starting to get a little frustrating for me and her. She kept a good attitude about it and said that is why we call it hunting and not killing! She was right! That was the second to last day of her season, so we hit it hard one last time on the last day of season. The only problem was that we put in the time but didn't see one single bird that morning. We heard them plenty though. We heard a gobbler gobbling his fool head off for over an hour that last morning in the field across the road which was private property! There was no way he would leave that field and there was no way to get at him.

Mackenzie And Dad In The Field

We left that morning knowing that we tried everything that I had in my arsenal of tricks to try and woo a lonely tom to within gun range, but this year as I stated in my last journal entry: "Everything I threw at them this year either seemed to not work or if it did, they escaped at the moment of truth! No matter what I did, those Tom's always walked away to live another battle." These birds had the courage to walk in the face of danger and even death only to laugh at us and walk away with the lady or hen of his choice to live another day. That my friends is why I think Benjamin Franklin talked about why the turkey should have been our national symbol instead of the eagle. They have the courage to face death head on to get the ladies of their choice! Oh wily tom you may have out smarted me this year to live another season, but just you wait! I know where you roost and where you travel, I WILL have a new plan laid out for you next season. So when next turkey season rolls around in 2011, GAME ON!

Monday, June 14, 2010

Benjamin Franklin and Turkey Season

When most people hear Benjamin Franklin's name now days they think of the $100 bill with his likeness on it. After this turkey season I will think of Benjamin Franklin talking about why the wild turkey should have been chosen as the American symbol instead of the Bald Eagle in his letter to his daughter.

Benjamin Franklin

Why you ask? His two reasons were that the turkey was a true native of America and very courageous. I think of the turkey as looking like it is vulnerable but always in control of the situation. Just when you think you've got him dead to rights, he manages to elude your best tactical set up. He always seems to win no matter how the cards are stacked against him! Lastly at the end of the season he always seems to be the last one standing after the battle has been waged and he also always gets the ladies at the end of the day!

That is why I will think of Benjamin Franklin when I see a wild turkey strutting his stuff as I start to scout for next season's hunt! Everything I threw at them this year either seemed to not work or if it did, they escaped at the moment of truth! No matter what I did, those Tom's always walked away to live another battle.

My season didn't start out as planned. I should've scouted the month before my hunt, but as fate would have it I wasn't able to get out once! Instead I was left scrambling trying to get an Episode of Beyond The Wild edited. Every time I should have been out something came up for me to tend to that kept me from hitting the woods trying to learn their patterns. That is what happens when your trying to run a team of outdoors men and keep them on task to get the show on the air.

After scouting hard last season, I had a couple of places nailed down to hunt and I thought I would rely on my go to spot to hunt this year. Once again when that opening morning of my hunt came, I learned that my go to spot had been gone to by some other hunters! What to do, it seemed like this season was doomed to be a failure even before it began! I decided to try another spot I had scouted last season in hopes that it wouldn't be over run with hunters. Finally I caught a break!

I had my cameraman in tow with me on that Monday morning not knowing what to expect to see or hear. After donning my new war paint from Dead Down Wind, we parked and hit the wood lot and I hit my owl hooter call. Immediately I heard a Tom off to my left a couple hundred yards in, then one to the right bellowed at about 400 yards! My cameraman called right and I called left since he sounded closer. We scooted in to within about a 100 yards and set up quickly. I settled in and gave a soft call.....nothing! I waited about 15 to 20 minutes and called again....nothing! This went on for about an hour. Finally we gave up not seeing or hearing anything. On my way home I did drive by my first spot and set up for about an hour with no luck what so ever. So much for day one! But I will say this, that camo paint from DDW is simply awesome! It goes on very easy and comes off just as easy with only soap and water! No scrubbing and tearing your skin apart. I've always had problems with the grease paints breaking my skin out and not coming off without sand paper. But this stuff is well worth trying out!

Dead Down Wind Face Camo Paint

On day two my cameraman and I went back to where we started but came in what I called the back door. As we approached the back side of the wood lot we were going to hunt, I blasted on my owl call and immediately got a response! Problem was it was only about a 100 yards away! We sneaked in as quickly and quietly as possible only pushing into the woods about 20 yards or so. I knew we were close to the perched Tom, so I played it cool for a few moments. As light began to break on the horizon I began to call softly. The Tom screamed out a loud gobble! I thought to myself this guy is on top of us! I began to scan the tree tops for movement and there he was! Only about 50 yards away in a tree that didn't quite have full leaves yet I could see a dark ball moving around. He kept gobbling and then I saw him fan out on the limb! He shook his wings and feathers, probably to throw off any water on him before he flew down. My cameraman was right behind me and I told him if this doesn't get your blood pumping nothing will! He was rolling tape and got all the Tom's sweet renditions of I'm Gobbling For You on video tape! It was simply awesome to be that close and see him on the roost. But that was also a bad thing, because when he pitched down on the ground he went in the opposite direction never to be seen again! Or so I thought for a moment! I knew exactly where he was headed and told Art that we needed to pick up and run to another wood lot and set up. We hit the trail running and got into the next section of woods just before 'Ol Tommy Boy made his arrival. I made a soft call and he gobbled a song of "Fat Man in a Little Feather Coat" to announce his position! Game On Again! But as fate would have it again he played with us a while and then headed back in the opposite direction, never showing himself to us to even get a glimpse of him on the ground. It was a disappointing yet also satisfying day in the woods.

Itchy Trigger Finger

Day three of my hunt I grabbed my oldest son Mikey to run camera for me. His school starts at 9:30am on Wednesdays so I knew I had about 2 ½ hours to hit the woods. We got to the same spot a half hour before day break and I used my locator call again with no luck! We sat and watched the sunrise waiting for a distant gobble to go and chase only to hear song birds waking up. I set up in the wood lot hoping that a straggler Tom would come by in the short time I had to stay out. Day three ended just as my first one did. Not seeing anything, but worse yet not hearing anything. My confidence from the previous day's hunt was now gone.

Gun Barrel Waiting To Thunder!

Day 4, 5 and 6 of my 7 day season were busts. Day 4 and 5 were torrential down pours and I had no cameraman to run with me even if the rain wasn't around. Day 6 was almost like we were in a wind tunnel to test for aerodynamics and wind shear! So needless to say I stayed home knowing that I still had Sunday to get the job done.

Tools of the Trade

Day seven, the last day of my week long season started with one of our Up North Journal staffers coming down to run camera for me on this last day. Dave and I headed back to the last spot I had seen or heard Tom's at. Once we left the truck we heard gobbling in every direction! This was going to be a good morning I thought to myself. Dave wanted to head in the opposite direction towards the closest Tom sounding off. I told him that where that bird was, was private property and that there was no way we could even get close to him. He reluctantly listened to me and we headed in the woods. I hit my locator call and got two responses immediately within a 100 yards or so. One to the left and one to the right. We also heard a bunch of hens cackling to the right with another Tom sounding off in the distance! This was going to get good quick!

I told Dave we were going to set up on the Tom to the left and he wanted to go to the right with the other nearby bird. My thinking was that the bird to the right was going to head to the hens which were further in to the right. This meant that we would have to get between him and the hens to cut him off. That was too risky so I chose the Tom on the left since he would come right through us to get to the hens on the opposite side of us. At least that was my thinking, yeah right! We set up and I gave a couple of soft calls and the old boy bellowed off the roost! After a few minutes I saw him pitch down to the ground to the left of the direction we were looking, great I can get a perfect shot at him as he walks past us since I'm a right handed shooter. I told Dave to get the camera ready and rolling. He was kneeling on the ground behind the huge oak tree I was leaning against. I caught movement to my left and there he was a beautiful white head bobbing in the undergrowth. He was about 30 yards out, when he hit an opening and I clucked once on my mouth call. He snapped his head around and puffed up! My bead was on his head and he was walking my way. I asked Dave can you see him. He told me, "Don't move we have a huge Tom strutting right behind me at about 20 yards!" What!!!! I can't believe this. I've got a bird staring down my gun barrel and now there is one behind me messing with me! Dave couldn't move for fear of getting busted by the bird behind us. I watched the Tom to my left start to head towards the other strutting Tom which now had a hen with him! Once I had the chance I rolled around on the ground being blocked by the huge oak tree and got to a position to see the other Tom and hen. I could have shot him left handed at about 20 yards but Dave was still pinned down. I then saw the bird turn and start to walk behind a tree, so I told Dave, "When I tell you to I want you to turn the camera and yourself as quickly as you can and get on that bird because when he comes out from behind that tree I'm going to take his head off!" I said go and Dave did just as I told him and I brought the gun up. The Tom just started to peak out from behind the tree and then turned and walked dead away from us never presenting me with a shot! He also took the other Tom and hen with him as well!

I told Dave to get up and let's go. He asked me to where? I knew that they were going to head the same direction as that Tom did on day two, so we started heading towards that other wood lot. Just as we got to within a couple hundred yards of it. I could see a truck parked in a nearby parking area. I had seen this truck before and knew that this guy was hunting turkeys as well. I simply turned and walked away not knowing where he was hunting at. I didn't want to ruin his hunt or walk in blind and possibly getting shot myself. It was hard to walk away knowing that this was how my season was going to end! But I knew that I could have shot either one of those Tom's that morning, but I wanted to get them on video for the show and I knew that wouldn't happen if I shot them without Dave being on them. If I let them walk, there was a strong chance one of my kids would get a crack at them the following three weeks they had to hunt, so with that we went home.

Quaker Boy's Guille Suit/Turkey Vest

Provide Great Concealment

With the way my week had went and what was about to happen over the next three weeks with my kids hunting, you will understand why I have given turkeys a new level of respect! In my next blog I will cover what happened during the late season hunts with my kids. Stay tuned!