Normally I shy away from things I can’t do well. Not turkey hunting. For any number of reasons, I have learned to truly enjoy turkey hunting over the past decade.
That point was made clear to me once again during the recently completed third season of North Zone hunting.
No, I did not bag a bird. That despite hunting for five days.
But I did see at least one turkey every day. And I had my chance to bag a jake. Three times he walked into close range, once just a few feet away from me on the other side of a fence. There’s a decent chance even I could have killed that jake, though given my track record with shooting at gobblers, you just never know.
I don’t really regret letting him walk, even though Chef Todd makes the accurate point, “Dude, we are not good enough to let turkeys walk. Who do you think you are, Ray Eye?”
For those who aren’t aware, Ray Eye is pretty much the all-time guru of Missouri turkey hunting. And no, I do not think I’m Ray Eye.
But by letting that jake walk I got to experience the greatest musical performance since the Rolling Stones rambled through “Exile on Main Street” back in the spring of 1972. (Incidentally, a remixed version of Exile will be released in mid-May. The re-release will have 10 new songs, including “Plundered My Soul,” “Dancing in the Light,” “Following the River” and “Pass the Wine” as well as alternate versions of “Soul Survivor” and “Loving Cup.”)
The performance I witnessed last Wednesday is one I won’t forget. I’d rank it as the second-coolest turkey hunt I’ve ever been on that did not end up with a gobbler in hand. The finest came in Missouri about 12 years ago when I was just starting on my long career of missing birds. That day, we set up right under a massive turkey roost. When the birds flew down I was surrounded by turkeys, some just 8-10 feet away. Hens and jakes were everywhere and a big tom was somewhere out on the unseen periphery, gobbling his head off. After the birds finally left, guide Wilbert Goldsberry whispered, “I guess you aren’t going to shoot any jakes, huh?” To which I said, “Which ones were the jakes?”
Well, I’ve learned a little since then. Enough to know that Wednesday was special. For more than three hours I watched a big old gobbler put on the show of shows. On a day when birds were gobbling everywhere, he gobbled the loudest and the longest. I first saw him at a little after 6 a.m. He was on the other side of a corn field with a few hens, strutting and gobbling. Almost every time I made a noise with the slate call, he answered. The same pattern continued over the next three hours, until I finally left him alone and headed for home.
Often he would double- or even triple-gobble in response to my calls.
Unfortunately, he never left the safety of that field. And, despite three moves, I was never able to get close enough for a good shot.
But at least I got to see him fight off another gobbler several times. I got to see him chase hens, only to be rebuffed time after time. I got to see his fan shining in the morning sunlight. And most of all I got to see his head go from red to blue to brilliant white as he gobbled time after time.
That alone was enough to keep me coming back for more. Next up, a quick trip to Missouri. And then I’ve got a fifth season tag. Will I bag a bird? Maybe. Will I have fun trying? Absolutely.
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Well, after three days of turkey hunting so far this third season, the turkeys are winning.
Friday was my opening day of the season and I never heard a gobble. Hunted until 10 a.m. (I know, should have stayed out longer) and never heard a single gobble. I did bust one bird off the roost walking in (he was in a place I didn’t expect him to be). So my opening day was pretty much a dud. So much so, that I worried whether any birds were on the property.
Never fear. Saturday morning the birds gobbled like a fire. I heard at least four different gobblers (if you are willing to believe I can tell the difference) and had a very close encounter with a jake. Actually, I had three close encounters with the same jake. He was all around me like a puppy. At one point, he was just 4-5 feet away looking intently to see my decoy (which had blown over). If he’d had more than a 1-inch beard I’d have shot him. But with all that gobbling going on…
Needless to say, I’m sitting here Monday evening thinking that jake looked like a good shot after all. I couldn’t hunt Sunday and today was a bust. I got out super early (in the blind by 4:50 a.m.) and was ready. Normally I just run-and-gun hunt and today was the first time I’ve hunted from a blind in a few years. My plan was to get close to the turkeys, call, lure them in, shoot one and be done.
Well, I never heard a gobble. Stayed in the blind until 10 a.m. and never heard a gobble. Walking out I searched for mushrooms half-heartedly. Never found one of those, either.
And just as I was preparing to cross the dam of the lake, a bird flushed from along the shoreline and flew across the lake, no more than 3 feet above the water the entire time. I think it was the same jake that had been searching for me on Saturday. Come to think of it, he might also be the bird I bumped on Friday.
Anyway, when I go out Tuesday morning (assuming I can get up) I am going to forget the blind and try to get as close to the first gobble I hear. Or maybe I’ll just set up and try to shoot that silly jake.Story and comments
Warm, southerly breezes had an amazing impact on the outdoor world last week.
Bass and crappie started biting like crazy.
Mushrooms started popping.
Ruby-throated hummingbirds began arriving.
Grass warranted mowing.
Dandelions turned annoying.
And male turkeys took to strutting, gobbling and generally carrying on like the lovestruck fools they turn into each spring.
That was good timing for last weekend’s North Zone youth hunt. And it could be good for adults eager to hit the timber Monday for the North Zone regular season opener.
First to the kids. Youngsters in the North Zone shot an estimated 440 gobblers last weekend — up from 363 the year before. One week earlier the South Zone hunt produced an increase of 43 birds to 297.
Given three years of poor turkey reproduction, those increases were surprising. Then again, when weather and birds cooperate, spring turkey hunts can end very quickly.
Among the happy hunters was Dillon Lyon, whose 20.89-pound bird with a 10-inch beard won the youth portion of Gobble Quest at Presley’s Outdoors.
Other big birds went to Colton Boyd, 12, of Rushville (25 pounds, 10.5-inch beard, 1.5-inch spurs), Travis Begner, 13, of Edelstein (9.5-inch beard), Brant
Welborn of Germantown Hills, Kyle Edgecomb of Granville and Kaden Schlipf of Dunlap.
Schlipf shot a double-bearded 21.5-pounder in Peoria County after watching six toms strut in front of the CamoFlex, DeadFall blind he shared with his father, Jared Schlipf of Lone Wolf Tree Stands. “I have killed many turkeys myself, but it’s always more exciting to me when my kids are on the trigger,” Schlipf said.
That went double for Bryan Anderson of Fairview, who got to watch both his sons shoot gobblers last Saturday. First Nick, 10, shot a 25-pounder before 7 a.m. to start the celebration.
“The entire time we were snapping photos we could hear other birds gobbling up along the ridge bordering the creek,” Bryan Anderson said. “Before leaving I told the boys that we should throw out some more calls and see if anything answered. After the first couple yelps, booming gobbles shot out just to the west of us.
“It was as fast as we could jump back in the blind and get loaded that we could see three more birds on top of the ridge directly across from us, on the other side of the creek. A couple more soft yelps and some cluck ‘n purr on the slate had them trotting our way and they actually glided over the creek landing directly behind our blind.”
Mathew, 9, made the most of his 6-yard shot to drop a 20-pounder with a 10 3/8-inch beard and wicked 1 3/8-inch spurs.
Not everyone reports similar gobbling activity. Many say birds have been noisy on the roost but immediately join hens on the ground and turn quiet.
Not so Thursday morning in my corner of Peoria County. While auto-scouting for birds I spotted a big gobbler in the middle of a remote gravel road. After jumping
out and closing the truck door to take his picture, another bird gobbled from a thicket just yards away.
The sound of a gobbler at close range is one of the many joys of spring. Turkey season can’t open soon enough.Story and comments
At 4 a.m. I pondered staying in bed.
At 4:15 a.m I pondered going back to bed as I stood listening to the wind and fretting about the gnats and ticks everyone has been raving about.
But one thing kept me moving toward the door this morning. At lunch yesterday, Chef Todd had made a rare good point. “Dude, don’t you want to hear them gobble again? I mean this is your last chance. You gotta hunt.”
He was right on all counts.
Yes, today was the final day of the Illinois turkey season. And yes, I did want to hear them gobble again.
And boy did the gobblers deliver. I heard birds all morning in the Peoria County woods I hunted. Most significantly, I heard one bird very close. Twice.
The first time, he pulled a fast one on me. Before I knew what happened he had weaseled his way up to my hen decoy. Before I could put the bead on his head, he slipped away into the tall underbrush.
I figured that’s the way my season was destined to end. But rather than leave the woods, I decided to make a wide circle back in the direction the gobbler last headed. Along the way I took off my face mask. I looked for mushrooms (with no success). I revisited the roost tree where earlier this year during the first season I had heard a bird pooping on the roost. And then, as I started back to my truck, I heard another gobble. Close.
Gobble. Still close. Wow.
Look around. Bad set-up. On the downslope of a hill, with a creek below me. Means the bird will have to come up over the hill and start down toward me. But what else can I do?
Prop up the decoy. Put the face mask back on.
Scramble a few yards behind a tree, because there was no way to get in front of a tree without being seen.
Gobble. Even closer. Wow. Heart beating strong. So glad I got up. How could I ever think of sleeping in? How can I thank the Chef?
Then silence. Long silence. Nerve-wracking silence.
And then, out of nowhere, a red and white head appears. Then a black body. Headed to my decoy. Close enough to shoot. Just get behind that tree and let me draw the gun up.
The bird flopped, flapped and then fell into the creek nearby.
Not a monster (he weighed 19.44 pounds on the certified scale at Presley’s Outdoors), but he had a 9-inch beard and decent spurs.
More important than all that, my season was over with a smile.
And early, too. Early enough that the boys got to see the gobbler before school.
“Looks like a hen,” said the oldest, proving he inherited my turkey-hunting wisdom.
“Nice bird,” said the middle son, proving again why he is so much easier to deal with.
As for the youngest, he just stuck his face to the glass of the back door and gawked until I dragged him out for a picture—a photographic reminder that sleep is seldom a good enough excuse to miss a day of hunting.
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Frost bite can be tough on humans and tough on critters, too. The feet above and at right belong to a turkey shot on opening day of the 2009 North Zone season by Frank Baxter in Peoria County.
The bird acted normal and came right into decoys despite the rainy morning. Only after shooting the gobbler did Frank realize he’d shot a peg-legged old gimp.
Look at those toes. Nasty. But the bird moved fine.
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