Spring Turkey Part 2b: Filling Tag #2

Flush with confidence from my special hunt (that I’d gone and done it, not that I saw and conquered) I headed out Saturday morning to my friend’s property where just the Saturday before I had faced a long-beard with my crossbow and been deemed the victor. Because my labbie-girl was still on her vacation at Paws Inn I was able to prepare and eat a hearty breakfast before heading out, although I somehow still managed to run a bit behind schedule; indicating it is me, and not my labbie-girl, who causes my tardiness in the morning.

The weather report called for thunderstorms and scattered rain, but I did not let that deter me. Of course, by the time I got parked and began to get my gear out of my truck, the rain started. By the time I got my decoys up and sat myself down beside a tree, behind my Turkey Fan, the thunder and lightning showed up. Fortunately I had my son’s multicam rain jacket he’d left with me, when he and his wife left my place on their globe-trotting honeymoon (www.globalcrusades.net), and I dutifully put it on to avoid getting soaked.

By 6:30 I had started calling, again using my Turkey Thugs raspy old hen mouth call (from Quaker Boy) with inclusion of my Illusion wooden box call. The morning sky was colored hues of grey, indigo, blush and salmon, and streaked periodically with bolts of white light. I wasn’t sure if the gobblers would welcome my clucks, cackles and kee-kees given the storm, but by 7:00 a.m. I was rewarded for my efforts with the first response gobble. With my confidence boosted by the turkey repartee I continued to call out, using both forms of calling to entice the long-beards to investigate.

The rain came intermittently, causing just enough of a nuisance that I had to fuss over my Contour video camera, which was beside me on a tripod, and my mobile phone, which was attached to the bottom of my shotgun barrel with my Bow Mount mobile phone mount. But during those still moments, when the rain paused to give the clouds a rest, I reveled in the serenity of the morning. The atmosphere in my hunting spot was changed by the colors and energy of the storm, and it donned a magical appearance.

At about 7:15 a.m. I spied movement to my right and a hen had come in to find out who was making all the noise. I had hopes she would bridge the 10 yard gap between her and my decoys and make some noise of her own, to help draw any Toms in, but she opted to walk away unimpressed. Closer to 7:30 a.m. the gobbles got louder in response to my calls, and when I looked to my left toward the pond I saw three gobblers walking the sandy bank of the pond headed my way. They quickly approached my Primos Jake decoy, but only one Tom puffed out his chest and fluffed up his fan. As the other two walked just past my decoy, Mr. Tom pounced on it, knocking my Jake decoy partially out of the ground and scaring the other two long-beards. Mr. Tom seemed somewhat taken aback as well, perhaps hoping for more of a fight. He walked past my decoy and then turned back to look at the Jake, helplessly beaten down with one pounce. That’s when I aimed the front bead of my Mossberg 505 20 gauge shotgun at the back of Mr. Tom’s head and squeezed the trigger.

Now I know any regular shotgunners out there are probably beside themselves because I aimed my shotgun. In my defense, I’m primarily a rifle and handgun gal, and my use of a shotgun is minimal. So when I argued with myself over whether I should point with both eyes open and risk missing, or close one eye, aim the shotgun and hit my target… I naturally opted to hit my target. It was the first time I’d ever had the chance to harvest with my shotgun. In the past, turkeys have never shown up when I have my shotgun at the ready, and only when I have my Parker Challenger crossbow; which is why my lifetime record of turkey harvests up to that point (one hen and two long-beards) had been with my crossbow. My shotgun had finally been able to do its job. If it could smile, I know it would have.

This was also the first time, since I started hunting three years ago, that I filled my tags. Two tags, two turkeys. Albeit a very short hunt on Saturday, just one hour, it took hours upon hours of preparation; seven hours in Clay County the day before, and before that episode after episode of hunting shows, and much practice with my mouth calls to get any sound to come out, let alone a respectable turkey call. And as any hunter will tell you; it was well worth it!

As I went to inspect my harvest, hail started falling, followed by more rain. Taking photos with my prize was a bit of a challenge, but I managed a couple decent selfies, and then brought him up to my truck where I field dressed him to the bone. Most folks who hunt turkey say that only the breast meat on wild turkey is worth eating. I disagree. In my quest to achieve ethical hunting and pay homage to the bird who gave his life up for me, I take every bit of meat I can; breasts, legs, thighs, bits & pieces stuck to the bones, the liver and the heart. The breast meat I portion out and vacuum seal at home to create tender turkey breast steaks. The rest gets cleaned, trimmed and vacuum sealed for turkey stew in the crockpot. Once slow cooked, a dark tough leg is moist and very palatable. And turkey stew (stoup, as I call it; thicker than soup but thinner than stew) is a marvelous high protein meal on cold winter days.

That, my friends, is my spring turkey hunting story. From my crossbow harvest on Saturday April 8th to my shotgun harvest Saturday April 15th anticipation had been high, and I have come to truly appreciate the art of turkey hunting. In fact, I still have much to learn, and hope that, in the years to come, I’ll be able to make more out of a special hunt than I did yesterday. But for now; I am happy, I feel satisfied, and my freezer is well stocked with wild turkey. I can’t believe there was ever a time when I didn’t hunt; it is so much a part of who I am, and I feel my hunting birthright deep down in my soul.

Stay tuned for my adventures with predator hunting, coming soon. And check out my YouTube channel Gal HunterMidlife as I post my hunts and improve my videography along with my hunting skills… and please subscribe.

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Spring Turkey Part 2a: Special Hunt

Having never won a special hunt before, I didn’t know what to expect; but visions of wild turkeys flocked my thoughts as I imagined a veritable buffet of gobbler choices in my special hunting area. To prepare, I made sure my aim was true with my shotgun, had cameras charged and ready to go, packed my Field & Stream backpack with extra knives and food storage bags, and tucked away my son’s multicam raincoat just in case. I took my service dog to Paws Inn, the kennel/doggie resort in town on Thursday evening so I’d be unencumbered on the day of my hunt; and took Friday off of work in order to utilize the first special hunt day.

The weekend prior, my labbie-girl and I had driven out to the location in Clay County, an hour away, to make sure I’d know where it is; which I was thankful for given the dirt roads and such I’d have to traverse in the semi-darkness of pre-dawn. By 4:20 a.m. Friday morning I was out of bed and getting dressed for turkey war. I opted to eat a hearty breakfast first, as I was unsure of how long I’d be out in the field, and even made a ham sandwich on a bolillo roll that I packed with an ice pack in with my gear.

By 6:30 a.m. I was parked and making tracks onto the property I was hunting, heading past the tree line that I supposed provided turkey perches and across the first field I came to. A deer walked across the field ahead of me, seemingly not alerted to my presence. Once I reached the location I thought would be best, I set up; decoys out, game camera set up at turkey level, Turkey Fan in front of my tree stand cushion I was using for seating, Contour camera on tripod set up and aimed at me, bipod adjusted to height, and shotgun loaded and ready to go.

As the morning awakened before me, I called out using my Turkey Thug raspy old hen mouth call (from Quaker Boy) and my Illusion box call. I recorded myself on my Contour video camera, speaking normally in hopes of being heard on camera, as my previous recordings of my hunts have been at a whisper and inaudible (and I have since learned that even a conversational tone outside is not well captured by the Contour microphone). Sometime around 9:00 a.m. I decided to move locations as I had no reciprocal clucks or gobbles in that position. Packing everything back up (four decoys, my game camera on a metal ground stand, and the rest of my whole shebang) I traipsed through a thicket of woods, heavily riddled with deer tracks, across another field to a spent corn field alongside some woods and the winding creek on property. I set back up and, calling all the while, waited.

The location was beautiful and I imagined that turkeys would be spilling out of the woods into the corn field looking for bugs and responding to my calls. Instead, two coyotes came a ’calling; the first ran off quickly, but the second, a slightly smaller and mangier looking yote, stood about 30-40 yards in front of me listening and watching. He (could be she, I didn’t check) spied my decoys and took interest, but seemed to notice they didn’t smell like live turkeys and therefore weren’t actually prey. I called quickly, just to see what he would do, as I was fascinated by the encounter, and of course recording the whole thing. At one point, the yote began to approach closer, but a noise in the woods (likely a deer) startled him and then caused him to look at me. In response I stared back, bared my teeth and growled, which prompted him to hightail it out of there.

It was an exciting diversion, and the only wildlife encounter I had all day. The wood line looked beautiful, and part of it was fenced belonging to the neighboring property, so I took a small hike along the edge of the woods and corn field until I reached the creek. Deer tracks were abundant, and had I been hunting during deer season I’d have been plenty hopeful. Yet I didn’t see a single turkey track, turkey scat, or feather. Looking over the creek, however, I saw another part of the property edged by the neighboring land and a lush green field. Perhaps if I were young and spry (although I don’t ever really recall being spry) I would have tackled crossing the banks of the creek; but at almost 55 years young I decided to drag all my stuff back to the truck, drive the block to the other side of the creek, and hike back in. It was about 11:00 a.m., and I’d already eaten half my sandwich. The wind had been blowing like Kansas (I was going to say “like crazy” but anyone who knows Kansas knows the wind blows here far more than crazy), with rain drizzling the whole time I was in that second location. So I was cold, damp, and ready to sit in my truck for a spell.

It was no easy feat, but I made it back to my truck. My backpack had loosened and was falling off my shoulders, pulling on my neck and back, and I was carrying a burlap bag stuffed full like Santa packed it, with my four decoys. Once I reached my truck, I drove down the road to the other side of the creek and rested for about 15 minutes as I endeavored to get my strength back; then I grabbed it all again and hiked to the far side of the property, up against the neighboring green field, through a low lying spent corn field covered in muddy water and accented with violet wild flowers. And enough deer tracks to make a deer hunter climax. I found an area slightly raised above the water, where some green grass was growing and set up, with my two Primos decoys and two random decoys in a dry area of the corn field. And there I called, and called, and ate the other half of my sandwich, and called some more; but I neither saw nor heard any turkeys. At 1:00 p.m. I decided I’d stay until 1:30, and at 1:30 I packed it all back up and walked back to the truck.

By the time I got home from my special hunt I was in pain, tired, and feeling somewhat dejected. I decided for certain that Saturday I would just return to my friend’s property to hunt, where I knew turkeys lived (and sometimes died….).

As with any hunt though, it’s not just about the harvest – it’s about the journey. This was the first time I had ever hunted unfamiliar land. It was my first ever special hunt, and I felt blessed to be a lottery winner out of almost 1,300 applications (169 special hunts were awarded). My special hunt marked a significant increase in my confidence as a hunter, a willingness to get out of my comfort zone, and an opportunity to hike around an area in search of my prey. The hunt brought me outside for a better inside, as my friend Phil says (and I hashtag often #outsideforabetterinside), and thrilled me with a coyote encounter.

Let me sum up my special hunt with the following three very apropos quotes:

“One does not hunt in order to kill; on the contrary, one kills in order to have hunted… If one were to present the sportsman with the death of the animal as a gift he would refuse it. What he is after is having to win it, to conquer the surly brute through his own effort and skill with all the extras that this carries with it; the immersion in the countryside, the healthfulness of the exercise, the distraction from his job.” – Jose Ortega y Gasset, Meditations on Hunting.

“If the thrill of hunting were in the hunt, or even in the marksmanship, a camera would do just as well.” – Jonathan Safran Foer.

“If you consider an unsuccessful hunt to be a waste of time, then the true meaning of the chase eludes you all together.” – Fred Bear.

Stay tuned for part 2 of Spring Turkey Hunting Part 2 (which would be categorized 2b, I guess….)

Preparing for Spring Turkey Season

As I write this, I am so sleepy. But it’s that good kind of tired that comes from staying up late preparing for the next day’s “hunt,” and then arising at 0500 to be in the blind by 0600. I suppose you could say that it’s the kind of tired depicted in modern art of a relaxed hunter asleep under a tree.

This is my first Spring turkey season. I bought a tag during Autumn but didn’t have the first clue how to hunt for turkey, so I’d bring my Illusions box call out with me sometimes while hunting deer, and when no deer showed up, I’d fiddle with the box call a couple of times. Hence, my Thanksgiving turkey was store bought.

I set out to do turkey hunting correctly this season; so I bought a video on turkey hunting from Walmart –Primos Truth 25 Spring Turkey Hunting. First I bought a hen decoy, a Primos Gobbstopper Hen, and then after watching an hour or so of the video, I bought the Gobbstopper Jake as well. Added to my arsenal was a Primos Crow Call. Much to the chagrin of my neighbors, I’m sure, I practiced with my box call and crow call at night while watching the hunting video.

As I’ve never called turkey before, I wanted to experience a dry run, to build confidence. I was on the road to my friend’s property by 0545, bringing my Nikon CoolPix L110 camera to shoot turkey in a non-lethal way. This was also my first use of the Ameristep blind I purchased. My goal was to situate myself in the blind, learn what my mobility and visibility would be, and make sure that I could duplicate the results I watched on the Primos hunting video.

Sunrise isn’t official until almost 0800, but I noted that the Primos hunting team were calling turkey as early as 0700. I also had hopes of spying some deer coming out to feed first thing, as they seem to cross my Moultrie trail cam between 0600 and 0630. It was still quite dark in the woods this morning as I walked to the blind. I had my flashlight on so I wouldn’t trip over any fallen branches, and I’d never been to this part of the woods in the dark. Ironically, even though I took the path I always take, I still got momentarily lost. The woods can be disorienting, and I kept looking ahead for the blind, using that as my focal point. Alas, the blind had collapsed in recent Kansas winds, so I had difficulty locating it. Once I did, I set my gear down to reposition the blind until standing, at which time my camo phone case fell off my BDU pants and onto the blind. That was frustrating in the dark, as the camo cover got “lost” on the camo collapsed blind, laying on the leaves and twigs.

Once inside the blind I set up my tripod and camera, and retrieved my box call and crow call from my bag. Apparently I made just enough noise, or shone just enough light, that the deer vetoed breakfast. I could hear short bleats from both sides of the woods, and foot fall in the brush, but the deer never showed.

At about 0650 I started calling for turkey. At 0720 a heard a response and saw a hen walking toward my decoys. I was thrilled to capture her curiosity for five minutes as a MP4 movie on my camera. If that would have been the end of the pre-hunting trip, I would have been happy. But I had the opportunity to play with the wild turkey for another two hours almost!

Once the hen left, I continued calling for about 30 minutes, to no avail, so I grabbed my Mossberg Plinkster and decided to set my sights on squirrel. I had seen some in the trees while I’d been in the blind working my box call, but once I had rifle in hand there wasn’t a squirrel to be seen. Then I heard hens… so I popped back into the blind and picked up calling again. At one point, there was a flock of hens with a couple of jakes in the woods and brush to my right. I’d call, they’d respond. I was on the edge of my seat – literally – just waiting for them to emerge from the woods into the clearing. My camera was poised for action. Instead they taunted me for at least five minutes, giving me only a glance of brownish body feathers passing by in the bushes. Without so much as a goodbye, they were gone.

After a bit more calling, and waiting, I decided I’d exit the blind and tie one side off to a tree as an anchor; to decrease any chance of another collapse. Just as I stepped one foot outside the blind, I heard turkeys in the woods near my location. Back in the blind I went, bringing my camera and tripod to the back of the blind, where the turkeys were, and naturally facing that way. I waited, with my camera ready to capture the moment, but they didn’t show up. Instead, the two jakes walked to the side of the blind entering at the front, near my decoys. I twisted my body to see them, causing me to fall partially off my camo seat, while at the same time grabbing my mobile phone and turning the video function on. I repositioned myself to the front of the blind, holding my mobile phone as a camera with one hand and holding up my actual camera with the other, trying not to surrender to the severe lean of my cloth stool. By the time I managed to get my Nikon and tripod to the front of the blind, and operational, the jakes had walked off. Thankfully I captured them with my phone!

It’s a wonder they stayed by the decoys at all, what with my leaning, and falling, and twisting (and I’m sure there had to be a grunt or two). It was at that point I decided it truly was time to call it a day and pack up my toys. My mission was accomplished, albeit with some damaged grace; I called turkeys and they came! I saw a hen and two jakes, videographed them, and learned some turkey communication skills.

I also had the opportunity to feel the temperature change subtly in the woods as the morning drew longer, to hear the myriad bird songs that greeted this new day, and to watch as the woods change in appearance and hue with the shifting light. As I sat in my little blind, in my little (borrowed) corner of the Flint Hills, I sat relaxed and at ease; without the noise of politics, civilians, or home-grown terrorists (http://www.foxnews.com/us/2015/04/10/kansas-man-accused-plotting-to-detonate-bomb-at-fort-riley-military-base/). It was just me, a gazillion singing birds, a few flying insects, wild turkey, and G-d.

Only five more days before I do it again; but with my Mossberg shotgun instead of my camera. My senses tingle in anticipation… or that could be my body’s way of telling me to take a nap….????????????????????????????????