Monday, March 31, 2014

The King and Queen - 2014 Opening Weekend Turkey Hunt

I'm certain there is a level of pure luck and chance involved in the way some hunts are formed. For instance, most recently, I have had the pleasure of meeting several people in my community through a social network site, and many of those folks that I have met have become instant friends of mine who share many of the same interests that I do for the outdoors and firearms. One gentleman in particular, just so happened to ask me if I wanted to spend a day on his Uncle's property target shooting at the end of March. So I ask, where's your Uncle's property, to which he answered, Jackson. Well, it just so happens that since I was a young boy, I have been traveling up that way countless times to visit family and to access some of my family's favorite camping spots and knowing what I know about Jackson, I was certain that no matter where his Uncle's property was, that there would be turkey's there or nearby. In short, I suggested we turkey hunt that day and my buddy Sam said, let's do it. So we scheduled a hunt for March 30th, the opening Sunday. This all happened about three weeks prior to opening day. 

So opening weekend rolls around and as fate would have it, a big storm front pushes through the Sacramento valley, high winds and a ton of rain for the opening morning of the general turkey season. I chose to sleep in and sit out the opener. Hunting turkeys during a big storm has never proven to be productive, typically, I just get wet. The forecast for Sunday, the day my hunt was scheduled with Sam was looking no better, but I was watching the forecast on the hour hoping it would break. Sam and I went back and forth on whether or not we should cancel or reschedule and finally, late Saturday night, we just decided to go and as it would turn out, we were both glad that we did.

Sunday morning, I wake up and walk out to my back patio, clear skies. Beautiful. Sam meets me at my place and we head out. It's just getting light when we arrive at the Uncle's property. From what I can see, I'm thinking to myself, this place is gorgeous and perfect for turkey hunting. Slight breeze from the south, no distant gobbles, but I am liking our chances. We grab all of our gear and start are descent out onto the property. So what I knew about the property at this moment was that there were was a decent sized ridge line on the west side and rolling hills to south that open up to a big valley that holds a man made pond with bunches of trees spread throughout. Sam's Uncle gave us a scouting report and mentioned that the turkeys were seen traveling from the south side of the property to the North. I like flat areas, and since we were going to be sitting in my pop up blind I wanted a good background to break it up, so we headed to the south, still without hearing any sound from a turkey. After meandering through the property we finally found a spot that I thought would be good to set up in, the pond was about 100 yards to the south, had a slight rolling hill to the West, and a good group of trees to the East. We set up the blind facing the West and had clear views in front and to each of the sides. Perfect is what I thought... Decoys were placed about 15 yards to the West. Still very quiet in the area. We climbed into the blind and got ourselves situated to do some calling. 

So this was Sam's first real hunt, and naturally if I am with a new hunter I want to impress and be on my best game. I confidently grab my diaprhagm call and place it in my mouth and let out a series of yelps, thinking, the second I do this, this land is just going to erupt with the thundering sound of a big mature Tom. Unfortunately, nothing happened, it was quiet, dead quiet. So I begin to tell Sam how sometimes on private property, especially property that has a high concentration of mature birds, that once you start calling, you may not get an answer initially, but that doesn't mean that nothing is listening to you. In fact, from what I know this can mean several things, one being that the birds are "henned" up, the other being that there are birds off in the distance who first want to get closer before they make their presence known. I was counting on the latter and so we waited. About ten minutes later I let out another series of yelps with my diaphragm call and immediately, I get an answer and it doesn't sound like he is too far out either, I guessed about 200-250 yards out of sight to the West. Wait a few, and then more yelps, to which the Tom answers, and before he finishes I hit him with a kee-kee run, and I am certain I have the birds attention now... I know this bird is moving in and seconds later my intuition was confirmed, when I caught the tip of a fan cresting the hill in front of us a little over 100 yards away. Watching a Spring Tom in full strut, is like watching poetry in motion. Every move when the bird is fanned out is methodical, smooth and fluid. He danced back and forth slowly inching closer. It looked like he was alone, and then I heard it, a hen, coming from the same direction of the Tom and sure enough as I peak out and look behind the Tom, there she is, carefully scanning the area and calculating the risk of moving closer to my decoys. She's standing completely erect, head held high, motionless. I quietly, let out some faint yelps, and this time the Tom did not say a word, but his queen did and it sounded like to me that she was now competing against me. So I grab my slate call, and start purring which gets the Tom to move closer. At this time I am hoping to get him to close the distance to about 40 yards so I can at least get a shot as the hen was not having any of what I was selling. It was like a chess match, every time I made any advancement she would strike back by leading the Tom away, but every time, I was slowly making advancement, winning the small battles first, knowing that if I won enough of them, I'd win it all. They were now within about 60 yards, but still moving slightly away. I was still talking to the Tom with soft purrs and clucks, but now the hen seemed certain to lead her king away. She started to move off, with the Tom in tow... Knowing that I was not going to win over the Tom I resulted to a last resort effort and I figured if I could get the hens attention, I might be able to get him to follow as well. So with my slate, I started a series of aggravated loud clucks! Very aggressive. The second I did this, she stopped, turned and looked back at my decoy as if she was saying, oh yeah? Is that all you got? She sprinted towards my decoy, it was seconds before she was staring inches from the face of my DSD Upright Hen. She started to purr and she fluffed out her feathers as if she was strutting like a spring gobbler, circling my decoy, just hoping for a fight. The same time the Tom starts moving in very quickly, and Sam starts to get pumped! He is now  within about 15 steps of his hen and my decoy and he goes into full strut, I whisper to Sam that I am going to shoot, and seconds later he released his strut and stuck his head out slightly... The next thing I remember, was the king, deafeated. Laying on his back, kicking his legs... Check mate. 

What an experience that was, and to share it with a good friend and to have him see a hunt like that for the first time. We were both pumped! High fives and all, the total hunt lasted no more than thirty minutes. Can't thank you enough, for the opportunity Sam, what an amazing 1st hunt of the season!

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