Tracking Down Turkeys

Posted on May 29, 2018

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How the Deer Tracker Plied His Craft on 2018 Gobblers

 

 

A turkey is a species that responses to external stimuli, the very reason it is so fun to hunt them. Our job is not only to get the gobbler to respond, but to fool him into thinking that we are the very thing he wants most in life.

If we cannot coerce the birds to come to us, we need to go to them. Otherwise, all our best set-ups, efforts and seductive calling is in vain. After all, if you’re the only one that shows up to your own party, it becomes a lonely, pointless affair.

While it is speculative as to why birds won’t respond favorably to a call, there is a reason, and if we are to be successful, understanding why turkeys are behaving in a certain manor provides the clue as to what we should do in response.

 

 

Due in large part to winter lingering far into spring this year the birds remained in survival mode much longer than usual. Until the eco-system awakes from its dormancy of white, there is no food in fields for hungry birds. This all hearkens as to why, at least for the beginning of this spring’s turkey season the birds spent most waking moments in the woods. And that is where the tale of two birds begins for me.

(Author’s note: Special thanks to Running Wild Game Calls for how well they worked in two very different and challenging hunting situations when other calls I used would not.)

Check… Mate

Oh boy, here they come as if on a string. A pair of Toms were coming to my breeding pair set-up but they seemed tentative. From a photo session with my oldest grandson three days prior, when a big gobbler spotted this exact decoy, he came running in and made every attempt to kill the poor dummy Jake atop the hen.

 

 

When the duo got within shotgun range, still curious but unwilling to commit, I figured I’d best take one of these birds before they decided to vacate. With my first volley the birds just froze in place. Upon launching my next blast instead of the flop, I got the run-turkey-run trot. And at the report of my third and final shot, both birds took flight for another part of the world.

Some might inquire, how do you miss with a shotgun that sprays hundreds of shot pellets at the target? It’s easy, just watch me. For reasons known only to those smarter than I, my 870 does not pattern well at a distance between 35 & 45 yards. Want to guess how far out the birds were when I shot?

An hour later, after nursing my wounded pride, another opportunity was opening up as yet two more long beards responded to my vocalizations. They came towards me only to then, at 80-yards distance, turn and quickly waddle down the entire length of the field and ultimately disappear into the surrounding forest.

After sitting for another thirty minutes in quiet assessment, I concluded that it was time to take the game to the birds, rather than hoping for them to bring the game to me. It was time to go ‘old school.’ As my turkey mentor, Bob Humphrey liked to say: “It’s time to run & gun.” And that’s when the fun began.

It was 10AM when I placed my hen dummy at an intersection of two ancient skidder paths, a natural funnel for turkey travel located just beneath the summit of the ridge. Once nestled down against a suitable tree I gave my first series of yelps. Within seconds, the long silence since day break was interrupted with resounding, reverberating gobbling directly in front of me. Game on!

 

 

Now that I had his attention, my next move had to be to convince him. Trying not to sound like I was too hard up, my yelps were subtle and seductive, which served to hold his interest. But, at this point in the match the old boy was playing by the rules, demanding, ‘you come to me.’

During the next 45 minutes, he made his way 180 degrees around the back side of me. “Now”, I thought, “If he comes out from the direction where he’s gobbling I am perfectly positioned.” My grip on the gun got a bit tighter, expectations began escalating…and then, silence.

It’s during these moments when you ponder what the next move or sound should be. Although there is no wrong sound when talking turkey, there is, on any given day, with any gobbler, notes that are uttered that ultimately can kill the romantic mood.

With a hush toned ‘yelp-yelp-yelp’ not only did I fire him back up, but also engaged a not so happy hen. For the next few moments she and I bantered back and forth and all the while our boy was going absolutely nuts with double and triple gobbles. And just like that, the conversation ended with silence yet again.

Not wanting to disengage with Sir Thomas, or lose him to some hussy hen, I yelped, cut and purred to his obvious delight. He gobbled back but only now he was on the opposite side of the ridge top. Time to make a bold move. My turkey mentor from years ago once told me, “You can call a bird up a hill, but seldom will you call one down.”

 

 

Grabbing my dummy, quickly and covertly I scampered up the incline. Once on the top I vocalized three short yelps, stuck the decoy in the ground and sat down. His gobbles were now thunderous. With my gun shouldered, peering through the sights I waited. At this point the bird was now hunting for me. He wanted me – he wanted what he thought I could offer him – and his love sickness now had the better of him. The Proverb of Solomon reads: “For the lips of a forbidden woman drip honey, and her speech is smoother than oil, but in the end she is bitter as wormwood, sharp as a two-edged sword.”

 

 

As he ascended the incline, his glowing red head came into view. He was fixated on finding the seductress. Although I now had him squarely in my sights, I waited for him to take another step, which revealed his beard. With the tug of the trigger, the gun reported thus ending the game indicating, Check – Mate!

 

 

Even with him weighing north of twenty- two pounds, it was a joyous mile-long hike with this ole boy slung and swinging from my shoulder.

 

 

Show Down at High Noon

Archibald Rutledge, the famed literary giant of outdoor lore once wrote, “Big things happen from small beginnings.” I can tell you, anything that was to happen today in a positive way would be quite an improvement from how my morning began. At 3:15 AM frustration began with my inability to publish my blog post. Technology and I are constantly at odds it seems. Then, I dropped a very minute piece of hardware in the kitchen that I very much needed. Fifteen minutes later, with the entire house awake, kitchen in disarray, I finally found the pin-sized apparatus. Quickly dressing, I marched out of my house shaking my head in vexation, climbed into the truck and sped for the turkey woods.

 

 

Under a full moon shimmering through the mist, I sat quietly enjoying the peaceful tranquility that pre-dawn brings. My dummies were set with the belief that I’d have gobblers in the big pines above and behind me. And sure enough, right on cue at 5:00 AM the bearded boys began to make noise. Things were beginning to look a whole lot more promising.

Twenty or so minutes later gobbles could be heard from all directions. As daylight began to erase the night sky I provided a bit of hen talk just to generate some interest. Once fly down had occurred, the music stopped. It was as if someone had unplugged the radio. No pleading, hard-up sensuous verbalizations gained me a single response.

Exactly one hour following first light, two Jakes walked casually into my fake birds showing almost no interest at all. After milling about for a couple of minutes they continued their course walking out of sight. Once the coast was clear, I hiked to the highest point in the field, set up decoys and plopped down in a hedgerow to call. Nothing. After some serious self-contemplation as to what I should do next, I decided to go check out a piece of woods I’d never hunted before. But first, a coffee from DD and a drive home where I was able to successfully post my blog. (I have yet to miss the alternate Tuesday publish time since the inception of my blog back in 2011.)

It was 10:15 AM when I finally slipped into the real estate that I wanted to check. The temperature, for the first time all spring was rising above the 60 – degree mark. Three different calls failed to solicit a peep as I slowly moved through the bottomland. Although this looked like great turkey habitat, and I indeed located tracks, my expectations, at least for today were not great.

Upon reaching a stream that served as a boundary separating thick, dark conifer from the open wood I decided to plant both me and my hen dummy down for a spell. The hen stayed on the open side while I jumped the stream and put my back against a tree and began calling with what became my fourth different diaphragm. It was 11:00 AM, and as far as I could hear in the distance behind me, was the faintest of gobbles. “Was he responding to me or was this just coincidental,” I wondered. When I called again, another gobble. “Well, since l have no place I’d rather be, let’s see what happens.”

 

 

Each time I yelped, I would get a response, and the gobbling was definitely getting closer. After 45-minutes of call and response, it became apparent that I was drawing in more than one Tom. The gobbles that sounded closest seemed to be coming from directly behind me. So I got up, jumped the stream and sat down against a tree facing that direction. Two minutes later, the gobble was coming from both my right and left. Once again, I jumped up, vaulted the stream and sat back down against the original trunk.

By now I had birds gobbling from the four corners of the planet, and all in close proximity to my position. And to add just a bit more flavor to the entire mix, a hen started yelping from within the thick greenery at my back. Now I poured it on, yelping and cutting as if my life depended on getting a bearded suitor.

 

 

I spied the first gobbler well off to my left. He was fanned, gobbling but acting very timid, especially being at least 75-yards away. It wasn’t long before the reason for this behavior was revealed. Two very loud gobbles rang out directly behind my right ear. Once that stopped reverberating, I heard spitting and drumming behind my left ear. And to only heighten my senses to new levels of excitement, three gobbles resonated to my one o-clock. At this point I’m thinking, “What have you done Bernier, called in the whole race of male turkeys?”

 

 

I no sooner had that thought when a big black shadow passed on my left, eloquently spread his wings and leaped the stream. And with that move he was now directly in line with my gun barrel not ten yards away with his back to me. No gun slinger ever wanted to shoot someone in the back, but turkeys are not armed and this was no gun fight.

 

 

When I shot, the bird lurched forward, then came straight up, turned in one fluid and ultimately final direction facing me (due to his closeness I think the main part of my shot load missed its mark) when I fired again toppling him. Silence returned as if nothing had ever taken place, that is with the exception of the beautiful bird now lifeless at my feet. Looking at my watch revealed it was now high noon.

 

 

To begin a turkey hunting day in utter frustration only to end it being surrounded by no less than seven gobblers, one of which came out with a free ride on my shoulder more than proved that, “Big things (can and do) happen from small beginnings.”
What made this bird extra special was for the first time I shot a turkey on May 1, which would have been my long-time friend and mentor’s 71st birthday. Here’s to you, C.J.A.

 

 

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