Spring Turkey 2016: A Hunt to Remember

One of the key lessons I learned recently at the NWTF sponsored turkey hunting clinic I attended in Emporia, Kansas is that turkeys will do whatever they want. As I hunted after work Friday late afternoon (15 April 2016), endeavoring to enhance my patience (not a known Leonine trait), I repeated that thought in my head.

My choice to hunt after work was whimsical; I didn’t think anything would come of it, but it presented an opportunity to get outside of my normal hunt schedule (which is at dawn). I didn’t engage in any preparation ritual as I normally do; no scent-free shower, or mind psyching. I simply went home with my service dog, fed her, changed into my hunt clothes, and went out to the blind. I put up my decoys with no stealth. I even walked the clearing dropping veggie pulp from recent juicing sessions, not wanting to throw the pulp out but no longer baking veggie bread with it (I figured some creature would enjoy it).

So imagine my surprise when I got seated in my blind and started turkey calling with my Illusions box call at 5:00 PM and was immediately answered by a nearby gobbler! As I strained to follow the gobbles with my eyes, I saw the turkey’s red wattle and caruncles through the wooded scrub. He was 20-25 yards away! As I called, he responded. After about 10 minutes, there were no more gobble responses to my calls and I thought perhaps he’d moved on, providing me just a titillating hunt experience. Yet, I saw some movement and then the red of his wattle again.

This pattern continued for an entire hour. At about the 30 minute mark, the turkey stepped out into the open to move to a different location. I wasn’t afforded a shot, but I was able to see that this was no Jake, as I suspected my first successful spring turkey hunt (whenever I had a successful hunt, that is) would produce; this was a nice sized Tom. He went into another patch of trees and scrub, craning his neck in the direction of my decoys (which he never seemed very interested in), and appearing at least three feet tall from head to toe.

Several times I turned my Midland video camera on, which was mounted to my Parker Challenger crossbow, hoping the camera was picking up what I was seeing. I realized, from the get-go, that the excitement of my turkey encounter was causing a physiological reaction in my body; my heart was pounding hard, my throat became as dry as the sand in a desert, and a lump developed in my throat which felt the size of a golf ball. This physical response continued the entire 60 minutes I sat there in my blind watching that Tom. Even in his new location I could see him. He’d eat a bit, raise his head and rotate it side to side to assess potential threat, and at one point appeared to lie down for a rest. All the while, I kept calling, alternating between my box call and my H.S. Strut triple glass call, with periods of silence.

At the 60 minute mark, there-about, the Tom decided to get up and head toward the clearing. His movement was slow and precise. He stepped into a small clearing just behind my Moultrie game camera, and paused. It appeared to me he was going to head back into the woods, so I had only that chance to take a shot. It was about 21 yards from my blind, but I felt fairly confident having re-zeroed the scope on my crossbow a couple of weeks prior. I aimed for his chest, figuring that was a bit more of a target than his neck, and knowing that my chest shot during autumn turkey season had been fatal for the hen I’d targeted.

The shot was dead-on. The Tom responded with a squawk and began moving to find cover while flapping his large wings in distress. I could see the vanes and nock protruding from his front, so knew the arrow was lodged in his body. I leapt up, as best I can (not a graceful sight), and ran out of the blind toward where I’d last seen him, and headed in the direction it appeared the Tom was heading. I searched for about 10 minutes, following sounds of rustling (thinking it might be him surrendering his last breaths) with no trace of him before texting my friend, John, on whose property I hunt, and asking him if he’d assist me in searching. John contacted his friend and neighbor, Dave, and before long all three of us were scouring the woods in search of my turkey. At one point, John found two small feathers on the ground, with blood on them, which headed him and me off in a direction different than I’d suspected the Tom had gone. We went deep into his property finding no more signs of the turkey, but finding many deer tracks and a new area we decided was primo for placing a ground blind. Meanwhile, Dave searched the perimeter of where we searched with no success. At one point I grabbed my flashlight to use, albeit still daylight, hoping the light would illuminate the Tom’s iridescent feathers. At about 45 minutes in, the guys were about done. Dave suggested this was a lost harvest, but would feed critters well. Yet I couldn’t let go of the thought the turkey was somewhere, and we could find him.

I still heard rustling from time to time, but thought myself insane for even considering it could be the turkey this long after I shot him. Out loud I mused, “How could he have disappeared,” to which Dave responded jokingly, “Gamma rays.” Dave and John poked fun at me a little; Dave teasing that I would have nightmares of the turkey trying to exact revenge. But to me, with a firm belief in ethical hunting, and a history rooted in ecology and animal rights (in a prior lifetime), shooting an animal and not harvesting it is not okay and should be avoided when at all possible.

As we headed back to the beginning, where the turkey had been shot, my flashlight picked up the rear shaft of my arrow sticking up from the ground. Initially I had the bizarre thought that I’d actually missed the Tom, but as I picked up the shaft and vanes I saw it was covered in blood and only half the arrow. Excitedly, this led us all in a different route and we endeavored to track the Tom in this new direction (which was the initial direction I’d thought he’d gone). Dave ventured off ahead of John and me, and within a few minutes called out for me to hurry up to his location. 20 yards away, Dave found the turkey… alive! He also found the head of the arrow, which the Tom had also managed to dispel from his body. Apparently, the rustling I’d been hearing had in fact been the Tom, who circled around us wherever we went, evading capture. But he was mortally wounded and losing his fight, albeit still feisty enough to use his spurs to cause some serious damage if we weren’t careful.

Dave endeavored to herd the turkey toward John and me, but the Tom had enough energy to put up a fuss. Dave tried to humanely end his struggle, but the Tom had the spirit of a warrior. Finally I was able to approach him and grab his neck… but then was unsure of what to do from that point. John suggested slitting his neck, but I was unable to get the knife to penetrate; his neck was so thick. It was then suggested I hold the bird by his neck and spin him, to break it; yet I was unable to succeed at putting the Tom to rest despite my best effort. John then followed suit and did the same, which seemed to have little impact on the Tom either. Remembering he had a much sharper knife than me, John then assisted in severing the turkey’s neck. He passed his last breath as I carried him back to the clearing.

Turkeys will do whatever they want. I went into the hunt with a personal schedule. Complete all hunting activities by 6:30 PM and get home to take my labbie-girl outside, fix dinner and watch Sleepy Hollow at 7:00 PM. After an hour of practicing patience and turkey calling (otherwise known as hunting), it took another hour to find the Tom and put him to rest. Then there is the regulatory completion of the game tag and electronic registration of the bird, and photographs of the trophy. It was probably close to 7:30 PM when I finally began to field dress the turkey… and 9:00 PM by the time I got home.

It was an experience I won’t soon forget however, and to pay homage to the spirit of this wild warrior Tom I took him into a taxidermist on Saturday for a full display plaque; fan, beard and spurs. And I’ll be keeping his wings also. The broken arrow will be mounted on the plaque.

I also claimed about 10 pounds of meat to nourish myself with… but that’s for a different essay.

The pursuit was captured on video, and is posted on my channel on You Tube. It was a memorable and surprising hunt. In my turkey hunting fantasies I never imagined I would harvest a Tom for my first spring turkey tag. I couldn’t have dreamed that the gobbler would be standing in the woods waiting for me to show up, or that a turkey could have such a fighting spirit. And it means the world to me that, not only did I acquire such a beautiful Tom as my first successful spring turkey, but I also managed to maintain my ethical hunting standards by finding and harvesting him.

 

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Preparation & Anticipation: 2015 Autumn Deer Hunting Season

As much as I’ve been looking forward to the new autumn deer season, I was endeavoring to pretend that I wasn’t, because it would mean my son had already deployed; but now that he has, and the anxiety around seeing him go is subdued, I am in full preparation and anticipation mode.

This year I’m going to be exploring tools for stacking the odds in my favor for a buck… I’m going to make mock scrapes. I’ve never done them before, this is only my second deer season, and quite honestly was not even familiar with them until I started actually reading some of the wonderful hunting magazines I subscribe to (it’s amazing how much can be learned by actually opening the magazine up and reading the articles). I’ve been busy buying scrape drippers, scrape scents, masking scents, and watching videos on the process. Recently I purchased, and read, a brochure on mock scrapes published by Wildlife Research Center, so I’m going to be using their products mainly, such as Golden Scrape, Golden Estrus and Red Fox Urine.

My arsenal also includes a second Ameristep blind, and a second Moultrie game camera. My first blind and camera have been on the upper portion of my friend’s land, where I hunted turkey this spring. Several weeks ago my friend, John, and I raised the second blind on the lower portion of his property, near the pond, in the exact location I hunted last year. Only this year I won’t be sitting on a stool by a tree watching deer watch me like I’m some Chernobyl tree. Today I placed my second game camera out at that location to keep track of the deer using the pond as their drinking hole. Next weekend is when I will likely put up my mock scrapes, to provide enough time for the bucks to re-pattern their nocturnal movements to daytime (hopefully).

I’ve already practiced at the range with my Browning 270 Medallion, the beautiful bolt action I used last rifle season, to no avail as I couldn’t get the shot the only time I saw deer. My plan is to begin hunting with my Parker Challenger crossbow the first week archery season starts, and use my rifle the weekend of pre-rut antlerless hunting. I would truly likely to bypass hunting during rifle season because there are so many hunters on Fort Riley, many hunting with rifles in archery only areas scaring the deer away; and it was really freaking cold. If I can avoid hunting in below zero temperatures I’ll be content, but I have to get my two deer first; an archery buck, and a rifle pre-rut doe. To use a John Steinbeck sentiment: The best laid plans of mice and men….

I’m really excited about truly challenging myself, and reaching beyond my disabilities and physical limitations; so today I drove with my dutiful, beautiful service dog two hours to Cabelas in Kansas City and purchased a compound bow. I shot one several times, years ago, and really enjoyed it, and that was the initial reason I bought my Knight and Hale Steady Ready stick. Now that I have a bipod support for my crossbow and rifle, I can use the Steady Ready to support my left arm when I use my Diamond Infinite Edge by Bowtech. My plan is to practice with it, and build my strength up, so that next year I can hunt with my compound bow. It won’t be as attractive as when abled folks use a bow, but if I can hit the target than I don’t really care how perty I look doing it.

The compound bow is a challenge I feel I must take, to demonstrate to myself and the world that 53 (I’ve recently had a birthday) isn’t old and physical disabilities are surmountable. In that same vein; I am scheduled for a motorcycle rider’s course the weekend before deer season starts, as I’ve wanted to ride a motorcycle for most of my life (having fallen in love with the concept while sitting behind my father on his motor scooter as a child). The motorcycle may prove more challenging than I can handle, but I’ll never know if I don’t try… and since moving to Kansas and finally taking on hunting, I am loathe to allow fear to dictate to me what I can and cannot do anymore.

Action Archery at Camp le Noche 03/07/09. Using a Knight & Hale Steady Ready while shooting a Genesis compound bow.

Action Archery at Camp le Noche 03/07/09. Using a Knight & Hale Steady Ready while shooting a Genesis compound bow.

Preparing for mock scrapes....

Preparing for mock scrapes….

Reflections on My First Deer Hunting Season

It seems like it’s been a long while since I first got the itch to hunt; so long that I don’t remember when. I imagine it was while living in Florida, and likely after the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. Despite having been enlisted in the Army during the Cold War, having earned the High Firers trophy in basic training with the M16A1 (1983), and having been raised to target shoot by my father (a Marine) as a child (and by my mother as a teen), I spent a solid 15 or so years left of center in a California state of mind. The attacks changed me at my core; or perhaps more accurately, brought me back to who I truly was at my core… but that’s a story for a different venue.

Needless to say; for over 10 years I was, what some would label, a “poser.” I wore hunting t-shirts, joined Women In The Outdoors (WITO) and National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF). By the time I was stationed in Kansas in 2011 (as an Army Civilian), I had already been a lifetime member of the North American Hunting Club for several years (as well as the North American Fishing Club) and subscribed to almost 10 hunting magazines! I had gone so far as to research hunting opportunities through WITO and NRA, and even earned my Hunter Education certificate while living in Florida. Yet, I didn’t hunt.

Several factors played into my lack of action. I believe first and foremost was my disability. Knees and back aside; having survived cancer by having my shoulder bone and surrounding muscle removed left me feeling vulnerable. It’s one thing to act like I’m not disabled in a work environment where I can conveniently keep my left hand in my front pocket to avoid movement; it’s another thing entirely to face nature with weaponry I wasn’t sure I could handle.

It was my disability which scared me into not taking my son camping when he was little… for fear I would not be able to defend him. Living in California, in the San Francisco-Bay Area, with a 70% disability in my left shoulder created a perfect recipe for learned helplessness. But I digress.

The other main reason I hadn’t begun to hunt was my lack of knowledge. Where would I hunt? Would I be safe? What do I do once I’ve killed the animal? How do I get it home? Unlike here in Kansas, where I have been blessed to be friends with a land owner (whose friendship I value in many ways beyond hunting) who mentored my hunting “coming out,” I didn’t know anyone who hunted before. I imagine most hunters learned to hunt beginning in childhood, taught by a respected adult. Many women learn via brothers or husbands. Most women do not, that I know of, jump into hunting in the middle of their lives just because they want to. Thankfully, I was eventually able to do just that.

The extended season for deer hunting has only been over in my unit for five days, but already I’ve reflected back over the past hunting season, and begun looking forward to the next. In all, I spent over 80 hours hunting between September and January. It took just over 40 hours in bow season to bag my first deer. I spent another 40 during rifle season with no prize to show for my efforts; but having learned much, and having succeeded at challenging myself in ways I never suspected I would. I visited with my chiropractor this afternoon, an avid hunter, and we discussed my rifle season exploits. He gave me kudos for sitting in a blind in sub-zero temperatures in an attempt to get another deer; and he stated that he wouldn’t even do that! I laughed and replied I probably won’t ever again either.

To take my experience and add knowledge to it, I started watching a DVD I purchased: SHE’s Beyond the Lodge; a compilation of episodes from season one of the series sponsored by SHE apparel for women (www.shesafari.com and www.basspro.com), and reading hunting tips online. One piece of information I garnered is that bow hunting takes a lot of effort, and many people hunt for seasons before bagging their first deer. I do understand that compound bow and crossbow are not equal in the eyes of bow hunters. Compound bow takes an enormous amount of skill, given that the hunter doesn’t draw the string back until the prey is in sight, and then aims and releases the arrow. Shooting a compound bow, from the perspective of loading the weapon, is more like my bolt-action rifle; my string is already drawn back with the arrow in place before any prey are sighted. None the less, the skill of successfully hitting the prey remains similar. An arrow just doesn’t fly like a bullet.

This led me to ponder how truly blessed I am, and how amazing it actually is for my very first deer kill to be with my crossbow after only 40 hours of hunting – at age 52 with a disability. And even more amazing still, that I caught it on video!

Yet, I realize I have much I still need to learn about hunting. Some things I will read in periodicals and online, some information I will get from hunting videos, but most of it will come from trial and error; being out in the woods and experiencing the hunt… hours of sitting, watching and listening, waiting for a target to appear. In the book Outliers, the author, Malcolm Gladwell, writes that it takes 10,000 hours of practice before someone becomes proficient at their skill. That’s no small amount of effort and experience.

As a hunter, I have only 9,920 hours to go….

The Meditation of Hunting

I finally did it… I went hunting for the first time – ever. Expectations were high (my own) that I would have a successful first hunt; and I suppose in all ways besides bagging a deer, my hunt was successful. For one thing, I did it!

 

It wasn’t easy waking up on a Saturday morning at 0445, especially given I went to bed after 2300. My clothes had all been placed out Friday night, so all I had to do was get dressed. But even attire required some thought. Camo or jeans? Long sleeve or short? Is there orange in my wardrobe? Ended up wearing BDU pants, black boots, and a Mossy Oak long sleeved tee, enough to cover my arms from mosquitoes and poison ivy but not so much I’d be perspiring. I remembered I had been sent a hunting vest for one of my memberships, possibly Ducks Unlimited, and it’s reversible with a very orange interior. Then came the biggest decision of all; which ball cap to wear (I have an extensive collection). I chose my camo Women in the Outdoors (WITO) hat, in case I had a photo op with a deer; to support the WITO program and women hunting.

 

I was hunting on a friend’s property and he suggested I carry a sidearm, for self-protection (not from him) or on the rare chance the deer did not expire immediately from the swift blow of my arrow. John also suggested I create a sling for my crossbow as I had to climb up into the tree stand. My chiropractor, an avid hunter, said there should be a rope to pull up my weapon, but John had never installed one. Thank goodness for over-the-shoulder luggage straps and lightweight carabiners. I made a makeshift sling to lay the crossbow over my shoulder and back as I climbed. I had my Taurus G2 Millennium 9mm tucked in my leg holster. Around my neck I wore my Nikon camera; I was determined to shoot something, even if just a photo.

 

What made the hunt successful, despite the lack of any target to shoot at (at 0800 I saw one whitetail rump disappearing into the tree grove), was the amazing experience of sunrise in the woods. Initially, the sky was so black that I could see all the stars; something that doesn’t happen in an urban or suburban setting. Then I was able to watch the sky slowly lighten. The woods came alive; birds started singing and announcing the dawning of a new day. There were so many types of bird calls I couldn’t identify them all; but I heard wild turkeys, woodpeckers, and saw a cardinal. At times a breeze would gather and ruffle the leaves such that it sounded like a gentle rain, though no clouds could be seen above. As dawn intensified, the fish in the pond on property started splashing for their food. The temperature changed multiple times, becoming cooler, than warmer… and the smell of the forest changed. Morning has a smell!

 

It was a fantastic, spiritual experience, and I was proud of myself for climbing the tree stand and remaining in it for 3.5 hours. I learned that I’m not so afraid of heights if it’s dark and I cannot see the ground. John assured me the stand was only 12 feet high in the tree, but my eyes are five feet higher than that… so it was intimidating, especially climbing up with a prosthetic shoulder (70% disability in my left arm) and arthritic knees. But my son will attest to my forced courage in the face of a challenge.

 

I’m sure there is something to be said for hunting and bagging your game, and I hope to find that out tonight when I go back out for an evening hunt. But just being out in nature, when the earth seems still, and then witnessing the reawakening of life as the sun rises, is a mystical experience. I am delighted that I finally got to hunt, even if I had to wait until I was 52 to start.

 

(This essay was originally published 20 September 2014 on Facebook by Sara Crusade – GalHunterMidlife)

First time hunting; bow season in Kansas. Using my Parker Challenger crossbow with G5 broadheads.

First time hunting; bow season in Kansas. Using my Parker Challenger crossbow with G5 broadheads.