Monday, April 8, 2013

Catch and release...turkey style...

April 6, 2013:

Youth Hunt Opener:

The Illinois Youth Hunt Opener for the North Zone arrived after five days straight of scouting and a lot of waiting and wondering.  There was a slight chill in the air with temps in the high 40's, at 5:00 A.M., as my companions for the day pulled into the drive.  I gave Austin and his dad a quick run down of where we would be, what I had seen scouting and my hopes for the morning.  As is always the case when hosting guests, I was a nervous wreck wondering "will the birds be there, will they gobble."  This was Austin's first experience and I wanted it to be a positive one.

We made the short trek across the fields and set up where the "back" field squeezes down to about 50 yards wide and set up next to an ideal oak tree large enough for all three of us.  Once we were comfortable we settled in to wait for the woods to awaken.  It was overcast at first and it delayed the typical 5:50 a.m. gobbling.  The first sound was a raspy hen to our right that let out a few coarse yelps.  It was still very dark, well before 6 a.m. when I thought I heard a turkey fly down to my left.  I peered through the darkness...and for a moment I swore there was a big black blob in the darkness at the end of the field.  Knowing this field like the back of my hand, I was sure there was "something" there, but my experience with turkeys told me no way it was a bird at this time of the morning.  The hen talked a bit more and finally it got light enough for me to confirm it was indeed a strutting tom that was in the field 150 yards away to our left!  I pointed the bird out to Austin and Mike and as we were watching him, the birds to our right began making noise and flying down.  There were two brief gobbles during the fly down to our right but really limited gobbling overall, but that disappointment was easily outweighed by the fact we had a big strutting tom in the field with us!

Our attention was now firmly on the big strutter that was alone in the field with only our decoy to look at.  The big bird never left strut and worked painfully slowly towards our location, only closing a few yards over several minutes.  A gave him a few coaxing yelps and was rudely cut off by a hen in a tree across from us.  As she flew down, multiple other hens exited the trees in front of us.  Soon after Mike spotted hens coming down the adjacent hillside and the gobbler headed towards the live hens and disappeared into a small strip of timber.

One of the hens was particularly sassy so I began a standard "I'm better than you" routine on the mouth call.  In just a few minutes the longbeard popped back into the field and then four hens, led by the bird I had been conversing with.  They were 150 yards at that point and the dominant hen made a slow and deliberate march to the decoy with the gobbler trailing the pack.  Being it was a youth hunt, I had placed a Dave Smith Hen decoy 15 yards right out in front of us and as she came I leaned over and whispered to the boys that I expected this hen to come and attack the decoy because I have seen it happen so many times before.  She did not disappoint! 

The ole hen came directly to the decoy and began purring and went into full strut as the three other hens and the gobbler closed to 40 yards, 30, 20!  At this point I realize we are going to have a whirling dervish of four hens a long beard and a decoy at 15 yards in front of a young man who is experiencing his first hunt ever!  We did our best to coach him through as the hen continued to flog the decoy the bird even gobbled to the response of the hollow decoy being struck by the hen.  The birds were so fixated on the decoy they never became nervous or aware of the three strange humps just 15 yards away on the oak tree.  Finally, with three hearts pounding, the bird gave a slight bit of separation and turned away from us and Austin raised his gun.  The shot went off and the bird didn't even flinch!!! A clean miss, unhurt and relatively unflustered, the gobbler and four hens walked away and disappeared into the timber with the gobbler still strutting his stuff as he disappeared. I checked the time and it was 6:40 a.m.!!!  We were all shaking from the adrenaline rush.

We took a moment to recover and moved to another farm where we spotted four hens, circled them and set up hoping they had a gobbler in tow.  For the second time in less than 3 hours we soon had live birds inside 15 yards as the four hens came in to inspect the decoy.  That was it for the day, no late morning gobbling heard but certainly some great observation time of the big birds.

April 7, 2013:

  The quintessential perfect turkey morning met us for day 2.  43 degrees, raising to 70 during the day, clear skies and dead calm with a heavy moisture on the fields that allowed us to make a quiet approach.  The strategy for day 2 was go back to the same field but I was torn between setting up where the birds crossed into the timber or in a familiar brush pile in the area.  I opted for plan A and we set up right where the bird yesterday had crossed into the timber with my thinking being he felt comfortable there.  Well before light I noticed a bird in the cottonwood tree in front of us and pointed it out to Austin and Mike.  For such a perfect morning I was shocked that we heard no gobbling at all, until a raccoon scuffle ended in a loud abrasive squall that enticed a powerful shock gobble out of a roosted bird in front of us.  The bird put on a show strutting on the limb with the coming sunlight back-lighting the bird and his 7 hens.  The birds were less than 100 yards away and I was sure we were in the cat bird seat until the gobbler flew down, not in our field, but across the creek in an adjacent field.  As the hens followed, I knew we would have to wait em out but I was confident they would make it our way eventually.  The gobbler put on a show, gobbling at a hen flydown cackle and strutting his stuff on the hillside across the creek for several minutes before all seven hens headed our way and flew the creek into our field.  This time there were no aggressive birds and I was unable to convince any of them to come beat on the loan hen decoy.  Eventually the gobbler flew the creek too and the 7 hens and the gobbler worked across the field angled towards us but not enough to put them in range before they passed by.  I was kicking myself as I watched them walk just in front of the brush pile that was plan B.  It was as this bird was crossing the field that I realized he was much bigger than the bird from yesterday, he had a large paintbrush beard and I could see his spurs when I zoomed in on camera.  They worked up the hill and disappeared, heading out into the wide open field behind us to spend the day.  We tried a little running and gunning and one set but were unable to strike up a bird the rest of the morning.

Mike and Austin preparing for mid morning set.

Austin had to call it a season, with much excitement, we got a ton of experience without having a bird for pictures,.  Austin and Mike handled it right, despite a little razzing from dad, I heard Mike say to his son, "even though we don't have pictures of a bird, we have memories "up here" " (pointing at his head). 

1 comment:

  1. Awesome story, and great memories for the young hunter and his dad, excellent job