Author: Shawn A
"Will this finally come to fruition after nearly 5 years of turkey hunting?" This is what kept resonating through my head as the vocal and leery bird stared at my exact location from a hundred yards away. I watched the bird slowly walk behind some trees and I re-positioned myself from my wide field of view with plenty of shooting options to a minuscule area between three large pines approximately 10" wide at the end of my barrel. I waited and waited in this position for the young tom to pop back into view.
Having grown up in a small town nestled high in the San Juan Mountains, I never was afforded the opportunity to go turkey hunting. This was especially solidified with parents who have no interest in hunting. When I moved to Durango I started to hear people talk about turkey hunting and the excitement and difficulty that goes along with it.
For years I maintained a mediocre interest in pursuing the elusive Merriam until my wife and I built our house near a small patch of BLM land. This land is surrounded by private land but still maintains public access. With permission, I can walk out my door and be hunting in about 5 minutes. One of the private parcels abutting this small gem of BLM land is just off our county road and almost every day there is a large group of turkeys, seemingly living the perfect lifestyle, in complete disregard of the hundreds of vehicles driving by every day. Seeing this group of birds almost every time I drove by increased my interest to the point that I had to try my hand at pursuing them. I couldn't help but think "Hell, how hard can it be to hunt these birds when they seem to be totally indifferent to the presence of humans?"
After talking with my neighbor and fellow "turkey-rookie" and spending many hours watching turkey hunting videos on-line, we decided it was time to simply go out and harvest one of these simple-minded birds. Since it was going to be so easy, we determined we should add some challenge to the harvest by using bows. As it turned out, we were the simple-minded ones.
We had a few birds get close and many birds sneak in to see who was making all the noise but they just wouldn't cooperate the way we thought they should. It didn't take long to realize how cunning and wary these animals are. Trying to call one of these birds into bow range and slowly draw an arrow back without being noticed was proving to be well beyond my experience and ability. After two seasons of failed attempts my wife said "Why are you trying to use a bow when you haven't even gotten one with a shotgun? Perhaps you should hone your skills before trying to use a bow." As painful as it is to sometimes admit your wife is correct, I had to concede, she was right.
Last year my 5 year old son showed interest in joining me in my turkey chasing adventures so I started taking him with me. While his interest and excitement in hunting turkeys is peaked, his patience and ability to sit still isn't. We have spent many hours hunting and have had some close calls and some long quiet spells where my son fills the time by building a great blind out of sticks and limbs, only to end a few hours later with "Daddy, I'm hungry and I'm ready to go". While these outings with my son haven't yielded a harvest they produce some of my favorite memories of us hiking silently through the woods together, stopping to enjoy the amazement of a single bone laying on the ground or the piles of rocks we end up carrying home because “they are all special".
While my knowledge of turkey hunting has expanded I’ve also noticed the behavior of the birds that reside in and around or favorite spot has changed as well. These birds seem to be even more wary than when I first started hunting there and we now encounter twice as many hunters and dog walkers. While I receive responses from other birds and they do approach my random squawks from my slate calling, they seem to have figured out there is something mysterious about the 4 strand fence between me and the private property they are on because they almost always refuse to cross over to our side.
After spending uncountable hours chasing turkeys, watching videos, sitting in the cold morning with no response and hiking many miles, I was recently feeling a bit disenchanted. This turkey hunting business isn’t anything like I first thought; it wasn’t a simple walk out the back door with a few purrs on the call and the birds come running. I wasn’t feeling too motivated to give it another try for this season until I received an invite to an on-line BHA event, Talkin Turkey. This live event, with 6 guest speakers and a Q&A session sounded interesting. The event was at 6:00pm, which is when my family and I are usually eating dinner so I had to coax my wife into enduring another turkey learning session, she has overheard many and not with the same excitement as me.
We sat down to dinner with the Talkin Turkey event on and it didn’t take long for all three of us to be drawn in and listening to all the great details and information, even my wife. After having watched a wide array of videos I found this on-line session to be one of the best so far. The presenters are western hunters who are familiar with our topography and the nuances of “our birds”. This was just what I needed to get me fired up again for this season!
I went out the next morning to an area I have never hunted or even been to before. After circumventing a group of elk and wanting to add some distance between me and them I found a nice spot on a knoll, under a group of spruce trees on the edge of a burn area. I kept thinking back to the talk the night before; keep totally camouflaged, don’t call too much, if you hear turkeys then stay in the area past noon. After about 45 minutes and a few simple calls I heard the distinct gobble of more than one bird about 200 yards downhill from me. With the time being only 8:30 I had a feeling these birds wouldn’t be moving too far from where they were for a while so I got comfortable and prepared to wait this out.
By 10:00 I was getting hungry so I broke out some snacks and proceeded to slowly eat, with minimal movements and trying to ignore the aches in my rear-end. I had only taken 3 bites of my apple when I heard gobbles only 100 yards downhill, they were much closer and moving in. Sitting and waiting might actually pay off, I thought! I spotted the bird out of the corner of my left eye and this is where I had to reposition and try to figure out what this animal was about to do. Once he disappeared into the bushes I wasn’t sure what he was going to do or where he was heading, but I had a feeling he wasn’t going to walk straight into my tiny shooting lane. I leaned left and right trying to see around the trees in front of me but I couldn’t locate him! After only a few minutes I leaned right a little further and I heard it, the distinct sound of a turkey flying downhill from my right. He flew right in front of me, as if to say “Ha ha, I got you!” I couldn’t believe he had covered that much ground so fast since he was barely moving when I last spotted him. I sat to collect my thoughts for a minute then decided to give just a small cluck and purr in hopes that maybe by pure miracle he might come back to check me out again. I barely started my purr when I received an immediate gobble from behind me. I slowly turned my head to see him looking at me and then walk behind a tree, this is when I turned around, grabbed my gun and got up on my knees in one quick motion. Within 2 minutes he walked from 80 yards to within 30 yards, weaving in and out of trees and giving me my opportunity to steady myself and plan for the shot that would soon be my first turkey.
Through all the years of hunting turkeys; the reading, watching videos and compulsively thinking about hunting turkeys, I owe a lot of gratitude to my family for putting up with my “turkey fever” but I also owe a huge “Thank you!” to BHA for adding that icing on the cake of information. That extra bit of information is what truly made it all happen.