Spring 2003 Turkey Hunting

Spring 2003 Turkey Hunt

Turkey Pictures

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Spring 2003 marked my initiation into "real" turkey hunting. After the simple task of taking my first bird, a hen, last fall, I decided to get serious and have a go at the Spring gobbler hunt.

The 2003 Spring season in CA runs from March 29 through May 4. The limit is one bird per day, with a season limit of three. All must be bearded (male) turkeys.

Due to family and personal commitments, my season is probably limited to the first two weekends, and (hopefully) the last weekend of the season. I had been invited back to hunt with Brett on the second weekend, and had some optimistic plans for a public land hunt on the opener.

During a quail hunt in January, I had stumbled into a big flock of turkeys on a ridge in some public land. This area was not known for turkeys, and in three years of pig hunting there, I had never seen turkey hunters. I figured this might be a good opportunity to get into a public land hunt without the pressure typically associated with this kind of hunt. If nothing else, it should provide a pretty good education.

So on the opening weekend, I decided to bring Kat along and let her have a go at the big birds too. I'd been studying the calling tapes, and practicing with several calls. I also picked up a hen decoy. I was sitting on Go when the evening of March 28 rolled around.

Brett (AKA Bigolwiggler on JHO) took this nice jake on the second weekend of the season, after I missed it with the bow. He was shooting a Remington 870 loaded with Winchester Supreme 3" # 5s. The load flattened the jake at about 20 yards.

At about 0230, we rolled out of Union City and headed south. I planned to hit the trailhead by 0430, and we would be locating a roost by 0530 as the sun was rising. My plan was a little over-ambitious, though. The sun was already lighting up the eastern sky by the time we pulled up to the trailhead. Another truck had also just pulled in, and I was dismayed to see them unpacking shotguns and turkey decoys. Competition!

I decided to check with the other hunters to get an idea of where they would be setting up. Concealment is a key part of turkey hunting, and I didn't want to stumble into their setup, or vice versa. We chatted for a moment, long enough to determine that they would be in an entirely different section of the property, and they tramped on into the woods. Kat and I finished gearing up and made our own way in.

Kat was hunting with a Remington 870, fitted with Comp-n-Choke's XXXFull turkey tube, and a Tru-Glo bead. I'd picked up a couple of boxes of Winchester Supreme 3" magnum #5s, because I like the way they shot from my shotgun. Postage delays meant that we couldn't really pattern-test the Comp-n-Choke tube before the hunt, but I figured it had to be better than the modified and improved chokes that came standard with the 870. (A range report on this combo will be forthcoming.)

I was carrying my Chek-mate TD Recurve (52# @ 28"). I had a quiver full of Easton XX75 GameGetter IIs tipped with Magnus Journeyman 140gr broadheads. I figured that I'd be well equipped for turkeys or pigs, in the event a wayward porker should stumble into our setup. I had my Ruger .44mag on my hip, also in hopes of a good opportunity on a hog.

The first part of the hike involves a climb of about 1500 vertical feet from the trailhead. It's pretty tough, and by the time we reached that peak we were breathing pretty heavy. I stopped to rest, when the first gobble hit me. The sun was well up, and I was afraid the birds would be coming down from their trees. Of course, this was all pretty much speculation, because I haven't really learned much about turkey habits yet.

We moved down the ridge to an area where I'd bumped the turkeys back in January. I quickly set out my new hen decoy (which Kat promptly named Myrtle), and strung up a little tank netting in front of a thicket of chemise. We were well hidden, and I started a few tentative yelps with the call. Gobbles boomed back instantly, and I was tickled. I hadn't expected anything like this.

About a half hour after setting up, I heard the roar of wings and two turkeys passed overhead. They hit the ground in a hollow down below us, and I listened to them gobble and slowly make their way further downhill. They responded to my calls, but never would turn back toward us.

After an hour of listening to the birds apparently congregating down the ridge, we picked up and move the setup to get closer. I made one or two short-lived setups, before we finally worked all the way to the end of the ridge. Private property borders the public parcel at this point, so I set up in a clearing near the border and started to call. We got more gobbles from nearby, and a single, distant gobble echoed up out of the swamp.

I tried several different combinations of yelps, clucks, and purrs, but nothing seemed to get the big group of birds to move toward us. Suddenly an explosive gobble sounded just down the trail from our setup. Through the brush I caught the dark, feathered shape of a bird practically running uphill toward Myrtle (the slut!). I whispered to Kat to get ready, then I hunkered down with an arrow nocked. I wanted Kat to get the shot, though, so I didn't lift the bow or get ready to draw.

The tom hit an opening about 10 yards in front of me, and suddenly stopped. He cocked his head in Kat's direction, and putted a couple of times. She was busted! I waited and waited for the shot, but it never came. The tom turned his back briefly, and I started to draw, but then he hopped over the ridge and took wing. My heart was pounding! I had called in my first turkey!

I turned to see why Kat hadn't fired. She told me she thought the bird might settle down and come on in, so she didn't move anymore after he busted her. No one had told her that a turkey, once alerted, is as good as gone. If I'd had the shotgun instead of the bow, I probably could have taken that bird. But I was just as happy to have called him in.

We hunted the rest of the day. At one point we had another gobbler coming to the call, but he hung up across a deep ravine. We tried to move around and set up above him, but apparently we got too close and pushed him away.

We finished the day Saturday, and stayed to hunt Sunday as well. By this time, though, the birds had all moved down onto private property and out of reach.

The following week dragged by. I was looking forward to my hunt with Brett on private land in the Solano County area. This is where I bagged my first turkey, a hen, last Fall. Brett said the birds were definitely around, and we were locked in for the Saturday hunt.

We met up at Brett's house at 0445 on Saturday morning, and rolled out to hit the property around 0530. Once again, the sun was higher than we'd planned, but we made tracks into the field anyway. I brought my shotgun along on this hunt, but left it in the truck in favor of the bow again. I had become determined to shoot a turkey with my bow.

The spot Brett had scouted was close to a roost tree, and he was itching to get there before the birds came off the roost. Unfortunately, when we cleared a rise and started down, we could hear gobbles already on the ground. We made tracks for a good hillside, set the decoys, and dug in.

Myrtle (my decoy) and Leticia (Brett decided to name his decoy, too) were giving off those come-hither looks, and the gobbles we heard drew nearer. Brett's calling enticed them, and we prepared for the birds to come out on the trail. We hadn't counted on them being across the creek, moving along a farm road, though.

Sure enough, four jakes were coming along that road, looking for these sultry ladies. Since this would be my first gobbler and my first attempt with a bow, I decided I'd take one of the jakes if I could, instead of holding out for a bigger tom.

Separated by the creek and a fence, the birds weren't likely to come across. Brett had already stretched out and taken a rest, so he couldn't move at all as the birds flanked us, then went behind us. I was able to turn partially and watch them. They passed by along the road, then came to a bend where they could clearly see Myrtle and Leticia shaking their tail feathers in the morning sun. The boys strutted and gobbled, but to no avail. The girls wouldn't come to them.

They turned and started back up the road the way they'd come. As they passed behind a bush, I was able to turn around and get into position for a shot. The road bent to within 25 yards in one spot directly across from me, and I knew if I could get one to hold still in that opening I had a decent shot. I had the bow up, and when the lead jake stepped out into the open I came to full draw. He hesitated there, and I took my shot.

Unfortunately, I hadn't noticed the branch sticking down over my head. When I released, the arrow shaft hit that branch and deflected into the dirt about 10 feet or so from the birds. They didn't seem to pay much attention to the sudden noise, though, and moved on along the road unalarmed.

Eventually they had moved on into the vineyards or somewhere, and Brett suggested we move our position and try to call them in again. If they had a crossing over the creek, maybe we could get them back.

We moved to a new position, about 100 yards from our original spot. Brett set Leticia on the hillside, and as I was setting Myrtle out, I spotted our turkeys moving in the vineyard below. I put Myrtle to work and crabwalked back to the cover of the trees. We set up, and Brett tried a couple of yelps. The jakes responded immediately.

They seemed to be closing the distance, and it looked like they might cross the creek at a low spot below our setup. Sure enough, after a few minutes the first bird came into the clearing. He didn't notice the two tramps on the hillside, though, as he waddled into a thicket. A second bird followed. Brett made a couple of clucks on his slate, and the bird stopped and looked back. Obviously he was interested in female companionship, but his desire to stick with the other gobbler led him into the thicket as well. Dangit!

I noticed that Brett's attention was still locked on the trail, just out of sight to my right. I followed his line of sight until I spotted movement coming up the hill. The other two jakes were homing in on Myrtle and Leticia, and seemed oblivious to anything else. It was somewhat comical, watching them race in slow motion, passing each other in turn as they came up the hill. At one point, about 15 yards out, I could probably have killed both birds with a single arrow, but a turkey kabob is illegal in CA, so I had to wait until they were separated enough for a safe shot.

Finally, dead across from me, I had my chance. The range looked to be about 15 yards or less. Since I shoot traditional (no sights or release), that made a good shot. When I was sure the birds weren't looking at me, I drew my bow and picked an aiming point right where the wing joins the body... a sure kill. Then 539 grains of arrow and broadhead were zipping through the air toward the mark.

It seemed to take forever, as I watched the yellow and blue fletchings spin through the air... and then the arrow passed harmlessly over his back, missing by less than two inches. But it missed enough. The astonished jake forgot all about the painted ladies on the hill and turned to run. I hissed at Brett to "go ahead and take him" because I didn't have another shot.

Brett hesitated, not sure he wanted to shoot a jake, but the moment was on him and he let fly. The load of copper-plated shot laid the young fellow low, flattened him actually, and that was that. The second bird hesitated for a moment or two, and I even considered loosing another arrow. But then he was gone to join the earlier birds in the thicket.

Brett had his bird. We tried the rest of the day to create another opportunity for me, but the birds were done. The wind rose after lunch, and soon we could no longer hear gobbles. I packed it up and drove home, exhausted and empty-handed, but satisfied and thrilled.

Sure do hope I get one more opportunity to get out for the big birds this season.

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Copyright 2003
Phillip Loughlin and Elwing Enterprises