How Cool is Turkey Hunting? Read this.
I’m jolted from a deep sleep when my phone alarm goes off at 4:30 am back in the woods at our hunting cabin near Sandstone Minnesota. Out of sorts, I struggle to shut it off. I look out my window and the perfectly round, beaming bright full moon, is staring back at me. My wife rolls over and covers her head up hoping this sleep interruption is brief. I roll out of bed and shuffle down the stairs to the mud room. I turn the light on and it blinds me. The cold linoleum is no comfort to my bare feet. Digging through my hunting clothes, I manage to find everything I need to keep me camouflaged and warm on this 36 degree spring morning.
Off to the kitchen, I make a bowl of oatmeal in the microwave. With the steam rising and the smell of maple and brown sugar filling the air, I head outside to the picnic table. A shiver of cold air hits me as I sit. There’s that amazing moon again. Lower now and starting to turn blood orange. The sounds of spring pour in from everywhere. Frogs, birds, geese, swans and two owls join the choir. The only thing missing is a turkey gobble, and that’s really the only reason I’m sitting out here in the half dark. This whole crazy, getting up early thing, is to chase spring gobblers. This time of year, I can usually sit on the patio and hear the male turkeys gobbling in their roost, the Toms. That sets my plan in motion. I head in a gobblers direction seeing how close I can get before I set up my decoys. My decoy arsenal usually consists of one hen, the female and one Tom. So far this morning, it sounds like the jungles of Avatar out here, and it’s incredible, but no gobbles yet.
I’m a little confused because the day before they were gobbling like crazy. I head to the garage and throw my hen decoy in a bag over my shoulder. I then grab my bow in my left hand and my mighty Tom decoy in my right. Sporting real turkey tail feathers, from a bird I got a few years ago, makes this guy awkward to carry. Determined and excited, out the door I go. There’s that moon again. Amazing, giant and glowing with more red as it falls closer to the horizon. I listen for a minute. No gobbles. Huh!
Off I head across the giant pasture making my way on foot to the neighbors cut corn field. It’s my go-to spot. It’s almost 5:15 now and I can see across the pasture as the sun is trying to make its debut and the finale of the full moon is near. Both filing the sky with enough light for a turkey to see me from a half mile away. Deer. All kinds of deer. As I march across the field it’s nothing but white tails bouncing away from me. Two Sandhill cranes come alive and start squawking and scare me half to death. I didn’t see them hiding in the tall swamp grass. Man their loud and they aren’t happy with me at all. They hold their ground and don’t fly away.
After the Sandhill’s stop yelling at me, I pull out my mouth call and send a few hen yelps into the air. I focus, listen and still nothing. Come on, what’s going on here. Now picking up the pace, I am determined to get to the corn field and set up. Any minute the turkeys will be flying down from their roost and I want to be ready.
The feeling of sweat and steam on my back. Darn it, I dressed too warm. Keep moving, get to the field, you can cool down then, I say to myself in a friendly internal conversation.
Under the barbed wire fence I go. Stay low, don’t get caught. Out in the cut corn, more deer. I mean a bunch of deer. And ducks, geese and more ducks. Three wood ducks fly right over my head and startle me a little. That’s pretty close. I can make out the two drakes keeping up with a hen. Their colors are amazing.
I beeline for the far back corner. I love that spot. Stopping for a second to cool down and take a breath, I send a few more yelps out. I pause, listen, nothing. This is crazy, I know there are turkeys around. I charge forward and close in on my corner. Suddenly, a gobble! I slam on the breaks and listen. Wondering how far away it was. Another gobble. The same Tom. It’s far enough away that I don’t have to dive into the brush and hide. I crouch down and hurry to the corner. I knew it would be worth making the mile hike. I push forward a little out of breath, sweat dripping down my back and an aching right arm. This Tom decoy is getting heavy. I quickly stick it into the ground so he’s facing into the woods. I then slide the hen out and stick here a little closer to the field edge. This should do the trick. I sneak back into the woods about ten steps to a big rock pile. The giant rocks work perfect when I don’t have my blind. It gives me just enough cover so I can hide and pull my bow back. I struggle to find a comfortable position. He gobbles again. With my mouth call, I send a flurry of soft yelps his way. Yelp, yelp, yelp, yelp. Bam! He gobbles back. I smile. I figure he’s about two hundred yards away, but now he thinks a hen is in the field. I have hope!
This goes on for about forty five minutes. Every time a crow fly’s over and caws, he gobbles. Every time I call, he gobbles. A wood pecker starts hammering on a cabin off in the distance and he gobbles. This guy likes gobbling. The problem is he hasn’t moved and inch. Now an hour goes by and this rock pile is not comfortable. I decide it’s time to get mobile and go after this crazy gobbler. Patience isn’t my forte.
I ease back to the field and grab my hen decoy. I put it in the bag figuring she’s all I can carry for my mobile attack. Then with my binoculars, I scan the huge corn field one more time. Turkeys! Two turkeys about a quarter mile away walking into the corn. Oh man! I quickly pull the hen back out and stick her in the ground. I hurry back to the rock pile and start calling again. The dude behind me lights up instantly, but the other two I don’t hear. Maybe they were hens.
I go silent and figure I need to wait this out. About a half hour goes by and nothing. I slide my call back in my mouth and decide to try one more series. I let three short yelps go and suddenly I hear the unmistakable boom sound of a drumming Tom. It’s like someone taps a giant leather Indian drum and the deep base sound fills the air and your soul. It’s not loud, It’s not quiet, you just hear it and you know he’s close. And the Tom only does it when he’s all puffed up in full strut. I’m guessing he’s in the field where I can’t see. I picture him all fanned out eyeballing up my hen decoy. BOOMmmm, BOOMmmm, BOOMmmm. He keeps doing it over and over. This is so cool! My heart is pounding and I realize my hands are shaking. I smile at myself realizing how much this fires me up. All these years of hunting and “Go Time” still gets me. Man he’s close. But with my head net on, I still can’t pinpoint where he is. The sound just fills the air all around me.
Then a passing crow calls out and like lightning crashing through the sky, the Tom gobbles. The vibrating sound hits my back. Oh my goodness, he’s right behind me. All this time I thought he was up in the field. I freeze. I mean he’s ten steps behind me. I grip my bow tight to hold my left hand steady. The same crow or maybe another one calls out again. He lets out a thunderous gobble, now closer. He sounds huge! Man, I want to turn around and lay eyes on him. I know that’s not an option, since he’ll be gone if he sees one bit of movement from me. My only chance it to stay frozen.
Oh my goodness he has to walk right past me to get to the field where his pretend girlfriend awaits him. I try to be one with this rock pile and hope I blend in enough. Is there any chance he’s not going to see me? Boom! BOOMmmm! He drums. I smile. This is what it’s all about. I wish everyone could be stuck with me on this rock pile and witness this.
I catch movement to my left. Not daring to move my head and draw attention to myself, I strain my eyes as far as they will go. Is it a hen, or the chipmunk that I have seen scurry by all morning? I can’t tell. My eyes hurt from stretching them so far to the left, so I ease them back to center. I take one long slow breath to calm everything down. Man, this would be a lot easier if I had a shotgun in my hands. But easy isn’t what I am looking for. Hunting is about putting yourself in this exact situation, where you’re immersed in nature and witnessing the magic of the outdoors. My body feels more alive than ever with all my senses on high alert. Now can instinct, skills and luck all come together so I can get a shot? Even if I don’t, this will be burned in my memory to be cherished forever. This is awesome!
Suddenly to the left of my hen decoy he magically appears and is in full strut and drumming. How did that just happen, is that a second turkey? No way, was that him that snuck to my left? Is there one behind me and one in front of me? Like a sumo wrestler, he slowly marches up to the hen. He’s giant and every feather is puffed out making him look even bigger. He doesn’t even care about the full strutting Tom decoy, as he seemingly tries to mesmerize the hen with his drumming. I get the feeling this giant bird isn’t afraid of any other turkey and he’s going to claim this hen one way or another.
Inch by inch, he moves in on the hen with his eyes focused straight on her. The one problem I have, is that his right eye is also facing me. I know that one movement from my direction will have this whole thing over in a flash. Patience Kev, wait for the shot. As soon as he turns away from me I can pull back. BOOMmmm, BOOMmmm, he drums! This is all playing out only ten steps in front of me and I’m reminded just how cool bow hunting is. If I had a gun, this would have been over the second I saw him. With a bow and arrow everything has to be perfect, you need a clear shot and the bird can’t see you pull back. As I wait for my ideal window, I get to witness one of the coolest wildlife displays ever.
Suddenly it’s happening and he starts turning away from me, so I can’t see his eyes. Now! Come on Kev, make this happen. Silently, I pull back with all my might and settle my right hand next to my cheek. He has no idea it happened. This is it, I take a small breath and wait for the perfect angle as he’s now facing directly away from me. I settle my top pin on the perfect spot where all his tale feathers come together and let the arrow fly. Thud! He rolls over, gets up and starts half running away. I grab another arrow from my quiver and find it almost impossible to get it on my string with my hands trembling. By the time I get the arrow nocked I look up and he’s gone.
I quickly run up to the field to find nothing but my hen decoy laying on her side! No sight of the giant turkey that was just standing there moments ago! I believe the shot was perfect but I know that a turkey can run just twenty yards away and hide and I may never find it. This is that moment were a hunter’s feelings crash together like two giant meteors going the wrong direction. On one hand, I want to cheer with excitement raising my bow up to the sky in victory. On the other hand, I’m boot kicking the ground wondering if I’m going to find this turkey. No pun intended.
I play back the shot in my head and still believe that everything was perfect. Stay positive. Come on Kev, you can find this bird.
Like Sherlock Holmes with a magnifying glass, I slowly pace up and down the field edge looking for sign. A track, blood, feather, something to give me hope. On my second pass, I spot the perfect sing. Blood! Finally I find a bright red drop of blood on the dried dirt. Yah baby! I follow it like a bloodhound off the field and into the woods. It goes down a deer trail headed into some thick grass. I ease along with patients (as much as I can muster). I have my second arrow ready as the blood trail gets bigger. I ease my way into the grass and catch sight of feathers. I pull my bow up in a half ready position, waiting to see if it moves. One step at a time, I get closer and closer. Finally realizing that he’s not going anywhere, elation kicks in. I did it. I bagged another turkey with my bow, the ultimate challenge! I lift my arms to the sky and thank God for this amazing day. Treasuring the moment, I ease in and examine this incredible bird. The feathers glimmer in the sun. So many shades of purple, green, bronze and sheer black. Like a horse’s mane, the ten inch beard coming out of his chest, is full of long course strands of hair. I would not want to get into a fight with this bird, since the spurs on his legs are the longest I have ever seen. At least one and a half inches. I pick him up to estimate his weight and am caught off guard when it takes some serious effort. I have picked up a lot of turkeys in my life and this guy is without a doubt the heaviest. What a trophy. With pride and honor showing through my smile, I heave him over my right shoulder and carry him out of the woods in victory.