I’m Not a Turkey Hog, Honest.

We roosted the turkeys the night before and knew exactly where they would be in the morning.

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I know it’s a little late since turkey season started in late April, but I had a lot of fun this year. I was lucky enough to bag two turkeys on two different hunts, and with two completely set of events. So while I watch and wait for bear on my cameras, I’ll recap the turkey season.

Turkey hunting is sort of odd. You watch turkeys right up until opening day fanning, strutting and gobbling in the fields only to often times find they just disappear as soon as you start hunting them. The signs always stick around: the dusting spots, the scat, the scratched up leaves where they’ve been feeding which begin to torment you since turkeys can be finicky and just not gobble no matter how hard you try to get them to answer….in fact they’re a lot like moose. They either gobble instinctively and uncontrollable, and do just as they’re supposed to, or not at all.

This was the case behind the house. Our first morning was a bust. We roosted the turkeys the night before and knew exactly where they would be in the morning. We set up and made our calls. Turkeys were coming out of the trees everywhere, but no toms in sight. The hens never spooked, but they didn’t stick around either. They simply left to join the turkeys gobbling on the other side of the field, and the toms never came our way.

We caught this guy on our game camera that same evening…and we hadn’t gone back for the evening hunt.Digital Camera

So off we went to make our truck run, hoping to spot a few turkeys in the fields where we have permission to hunt.

Sure enough, we spotted one lone strutting turkey making its way across the lush green field. We drove by, parked in the adjoining field and snuck along the tree line making our way closer to the edge of the adjoining field.

IMG_20180430_081242081John did a call. The turkey answered. We strategically kept trees between us and the bird, and made our way to the big hairy pine standing on the edge of the field. There was about 50 yards to the gully where a line of trees grew and separated the fields. The turkey was on one side, and us on the other. I was afraid the turkey wouldn’t cross the line of trees as they don’t usually like to do that. But luck was in our favor. That turkey was on a dead run after a couple more calls. I readied myself under the bottom tree branch, and waited until the turkey was in range. It crossed the tree line. It strutted. I could hear its feathers ruffling. It dropped his feather and let out its last gobble. I fired and dropped him on the spot. Textbook hunt right there, and I bagged a big fully-mature turkey. We went and tagged the turkey, but the store couldn’t weigh it. I think he was a good 20 pounds but we could only get 19.1 pounds on the deer scale.

So the second hunt was much different. In fact, this hunt wasn’t for me. It was for my friend Erin to get a turkey. I brought my shotgun because I could still shoot a bird, but I had no intentions on shooting a bird before Erin did.

John drove us around hoping to get a bird. We didn’t have any luck first thing in the morning, so we headed on our ride. Erin spotted a turkey and group of hens in a field. After some successful calling and her and I waiting for the turkeys to come our way, we gave up. The turkeys either spotted us or got bored because they simply moved away from us. So back in the truck we went. In our travels we spotted a litter of fox pups. It was really awesome to see. I didn’t have my camera, but Erin has some nice shots of them on her Instagram page.

So we headed to the spot that is known to have turkeys “later in the morning”. We headed up through the field…a long field, with a treeline in the middle. Just as we got to the treeline, John spotted a whole flock of turkeys coming our way. We dove for the ground. Erin and I scooted up to the treeline and John with decoys in hand started calling and dancing the decoys. The turkeys responded immediately. Erin and I had no idea how many turkeys were there, but they were coming fast and furious. One very vocal bird was making his way fast and was on the other side of us in a matter of 30 seconds.

I sat behind Erin telling her to get ready. Instead of the turkey busting through the opening in the treeline, it turned and headed to our right making its way down the treeline. I couldn’t see him, but it felt like I was ducking a Velociraptor that was hunting us. I was afraid to move a muscle because turkeys have incredible eyesight. But he was moving to my right. I didn’t even have my gun in my hand. I whisper to Erin that the turkey is coming to my right. She answers back to have me put my back to her. She is ready for a bird to just step through that opening and doesn’t dare move. I slowly put my back to her. I pull my knees up and pull my gun to my side.

In a split second, that tom turkey decided to fly through the trees and landed about 15 yards in front of me. He gobbled. I slowly raised my gun and POW! I dropped the turkey.

John jumped up and yelled, “What to heck did you just do?! Erin’s supposed to shoot the turkey!” Erin high fives me.

In all the commotion, we didn’t realize that there were about twenty more turkeys that HADN’T come over the treeline yet…and then we watched them all run away. Erin’s chance at a bird that day ended as quick as it began. And John now calls me the Turkey Hog.

My turkey never moved a muscle until we went to picked it up. It managed to spur John and then a bunch of  its tail feathers fell out even though I never touched them…weirdest thing ever!

I felt bad I had shot, but Erin was such a sport and congratulated me on my bird. She’s a lot of fun to hunt with, but unless I can actually help her get some game, she may not want to hunt with me again…and John says my success rate as a guide is dwindling…so Erin, I owe you! I promise the next bird is yours.

And you’re welcome to join me bear hunting over bait…but I get to shoot first…lol.

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The opening in the treeline directly behind me.

 

Tracking Blood

This whole grand slam was getting me nervous. As much as I love to hunt, I was worried I’d come up empty handed if I had only to rely on getting a buck. You think that the fact I hadn’t put meat in the freezer for two years would be incentive enough, but this basically “once in a lifetime chance”grand slam was compelling me to take new chances. Let’s face it; where I hunt there aren’t a lot of big bucks so I decided to stick to it for longer. Having a doe in the freezer is far better than waiting for a chance buck.

muzzy
Muzzy

After missing the doe during my first bow hunt and then losing my arrow, I made my trip to the local hardware/sporting goods store and stocked up on arrows and Muzzy broad head tips. I really like these tips because they feel manageable on my shorter arrows.

I only had a week left to hunt before archery season would end, so on a nice afternoon, I rearranged my work day and got out an hour early. I flew home and got my gear to go hunting. My youngest son was talking my ear off when I finally said, “I have to go. I’m running late and I only have an hour to hunt.” He wasn’t thrilled that I was off hunting again, but I promised I’d talk with him when I got home.

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My rock

I drove to my spot, parked my car as before, and schlepped all my gear up the hill. I thought I’d die gasping for air before I got there. I don’t usually have to hurry, but I wanted to get settled before the deer started coming out. I sprayed some doe pee on a leaf above me and on some as I came in to cover my scent. I sat at my rock and waited. I gave a couple doe bleats to start off the night.

It was windy so listening was a little discouraging. I took out my buck grunt and gave a couple grunts with it. I stood for a few minutes when my knee started hurting. I gave a couple more grunts and sat down. No sooner did I sit when my left eye started paining. These dang prescription glasses are annoying, but without them, I can’t see thirty feet in front of me! I was fumbling with my glasses when I heard a noise. There in directly in front of me about 10 yards away, a deer was coming right out of the woods! And me with no glasses on. I tried to get them on but I somehow made a “clink”; the deer turned broadside and walked away before I could even think of picking up my bow. I made a buck grunt. The deer stopped and stood there. I made another grunt, but messed up the ending when the call slipped out of my lips and fell in my lap. In an instant, the deer’s tail shot up, and she took off.

deer-shot-diagramI made another grunt hoping the deer would come back. Then I heard ch, ch, ch, ch-ch -ch, ch…more deer walking, so I continued to give low, short buck grunts. The noise continued but was getting louder. I was getting annoyed I couldn’t see any deer, so I leaned forward to look farther down the road. There about 40 yards out stood a deer on the left side of the road–broadside! She was definitely too far away to shoot at. So I gave some buck grunts. The deer lifted its head and walked toward me. She moved her head from side to side trying to figure out where Mr. Buck was. I had the buck grunt in my mouth and two hands on my bow. I got ready but didn’t draw. Using the spot I had missed my first deer as a distance gauge, I waited until she was close enough to shoot. She continued coming closer. It was getting dark. I could see her well, but she wasn’t broadside; more like barely broadside, but I had a target.

I drew my bow, taking time to aim through my peep site. She stood looking around. I released my bow and watched as the lighted arrow hit its mark. A fast, solid shot and a definite hit to the vitals. The doe turned and bolted with the arrow lighting the way.

I sat there in disbelief that I had finally gotten a deer with my bow. I couldn’t wait to tell the guys. I called John. No answer; he was still hunting expanded. I called my oldest son, Zack. No answer. So I called my youngest son, Tyler and asked him to bring me my bright flashlight. I took all my gear and headed to the car to put it away and meet my son. In the meantime, Zack called me back and within a matter of minutes he was there to help me find my deer. Tyler joined in, and the three of us set out to find the blood trail.

bloodIn no time, Tyler found the first spot of blood; a single drop on a leave. It wasn’t long before Zack found the big blood trail and eventually found my deer. By then we had made a small circle and John had joined the group. I thanked the deer and then the guys took on the task of field dressing and dragging the deer out for me. I was very grateful for all their help, and having all my boys there made it extra special. They were all congratulating me and I just beamed with pride.

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I tagged my deer and brought it home. I had intended to take it to a butcher, but ended up skinning and cutting up my deer, and preparing it for the freezer myself–a first. You truly appreciate your food when you know how much work goes into it, especially when you’re allergic to deer hair. Thankfully I had long rubber gloves to work with, and managed to keep my hands out of my eyes. My family is especially grateful for the meat we have in our freezer, and that in itself makes me a very proud hunter.

I can’t wait to send in all my information for my grand slam. I feel very accomplished but at the same time, I’m missing the morning sunrises and evening sits so much so, I’ve decided to hunt expanded archery in between trying to trap coyotes. Maybe I’ll get lucky and see a buck. Wish me luck!

If you are out in the woods hunting, don’t be afraid to take new path; it just might lead you to a deer. Adventure awaits!

 

 

TBT: My First Turkey Hunt

Turkey
Strutting jake

Maine’s turkey hunting season will begin on May 1st this year. Turkey hunting has a special place in my heart. It’s the hunt that got me into hunting. It’s the hunt where my oldest son got to see his mom shoot a turkey for the first time. It’s the hunt where my oldest son and I shared a hunt together and each shot a turkey at the same time. It’s the hunt that started it all. But what’s most special is that this is a hunt that John and I continue to do together to this day.

Let’s go back to 2002. Maine was holding a lottery drawing for turkey hunting. John asked me if I would put my name in for a permit. I said “sure, but if I get a permit, I get to decide if I’ll shoot it.” Back then you had a sub-permittee who could also shoot if the permit holder didn’t.

Sure enough, I was the only family member drawn for the permit! Even better, I was picked for season A, which meant the first week of the hunt. So the real test came when I had to fire the shotgun. If I could shoot it, I would shoot the turkey; if not, then John would get the honors. Although he never let on, I’m sure John was somewhat disappointed (although he denies it to this day) when I shot the 12 gauge and hit the milk jug…and I was still standing afterward. I would be hunting for turkey!

John and I started scouting for turkeys by driving around Albion since that’s where we always saw them. Unlike now, turkeys weren’t throughout Maine and were found primarily near big silage piles on big cattle farms. We managed to get permission from several places but some of the other farms were pretty free about giving permission to everyone who asked, so the chances of hunter interference was pretty certain. We got sole permission at this farm where a monster tom strutted regularly for the hens on the farm.  This farm required us to drive into a gravel pit, then hike up the hill to the other high side of the pasture and set up for the hunt. It was a physically demanding climb without my gun in tote. I knew that was going to be my biggest obstacle once I would be carrying all of my hunting gear.

We signed up for turkey school through Inland Fisheries and Wildlife which was a lot of fun. We were clueless about turkey hunting. No orange required, but don’t wear blue, red or white either…and all kinds of other do and don’t rules meant to keep hunters safe. We also learned about turkey poop which I’ll never forget. Toms and jakes  poop “J” shaped and hens poop ice cream cone shaped poops. This really is important when scouting for turkey!

Turkey no 2
Year no. 2, and still wearing my cotton camo.

I bought my first set of camouflage clothing including a hat, a mask and gloves. I even bought John some camo since we didn’t have much, and I’ve never lived down that camo became ‘important’ only after I started hunting. Okay, I admit it…I enjoy buying camo (not pink either) especially when I buy it for me…lol. Everything was the new camo pattern, but everything was also cotton; I had a lot to learn about hunting clothes. We bought turkey box calls, locator calls, turkey shot ammo, turkey vests, seats, turkey decoys, slates…we were prepared. All we needed was a turkey.

We set up the blind under a bunch of hemlocks that hung over a fence line the weekend before the first day of the big hunt. We placed a big camo drape in front with brush concealing our bodies. We had perfect cover. The first day of the season was almost at the end of the April so the field was not only free of snow, but also greening up.

The Sunday night before opening day, we were hit with a freak spring snowstorm. I mean it snowed about five or six inches. We had not counted on needing winter clothes, or rain coats since the temps were supposed to rise into the 50’s later that day. Any way we looked at it, it was going to be a gross wet mess. But we threw together some rain ponchos, rain pants and off we went. The snow didn’t help hide us as we crossed the field, but we were there before daylight and that’s all that mattered. John strategically placed our one hen decoy out about 20 yards, the distance for a great shot.

As soon as the sky began to lighten and daylight broke, John began to work his magic on the slate call. He purred, and did the fly down with his hat just like we learned. The then slowly added clucks and yelps. Turkeys gobbled! John began purring and calling on that slate call and just like text book, out of nowhere, that huge tom came barreling over the hill on a dead run headed right for our decoy. He was so fat that he waddled from side to side as he ran. Once he got to the decoy, he stopped, plumped himself up and began strutting. John purred. He dropped his feathers, stuck out his neck and let a gobble and I shot.IMG_20160302_202438591 The hunt was over in about five minutes. We barely made it past legal hunting time, but we had a turkey. A beautiful wet turkey. By the time we retrieved him, his feathers were soaked from the flapping of his wings before he died.

 

IMG_20150504_112303247_HDRJohn carried my turkey out because I knew when I held it that I’d never make it to the truck. He still carries my birds…two last year! We knew he was big. My turkey topped the scales at 24.5 pounds! The state record was just over 25 pounds at the time. Unfortunately, I never had the man at the tagging station certify my weight and records are only kept for 10 years, so I never got my Maine Wild Turkey Club patch. It’s a club for all turkeys over 20 pounds. I mounted his beautiful tail and 9-7/8 inch beard. His spurs were 7/8″ long but I did not keep them.

IMG_20160302_203726142Within five minutes of returning to the truck we were met by two game wardens. They knew of this big bird and they heard me shoot. It was an interesting conversation because they assumed it was John who shot the turkey and kept directing questions to him. When John told them I shot the turkey their eyes showed the surprise, and then came the questions. I really did shoot that turkey Mr. Game Wardens! My how things have changed since then! I’m glad to see more women are out there so that I’m no longer the exception to the rule.

We baked Mr. Turkey but it wasn’t all that good; he was pretty dry. Unlike a store bought turkey, wild turkey has a much deeper and narrower breast so laying him on his back to roast was near impossible. We’ve since adopted other ways to prepare wild turkey; my favorite is just putting it in a stew with lots of gravy.

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2015 – Two birds with one shot!

This girl still holds the family record for the biggest turkey, but I haven’t shot one with a bow. Perhaps 2016 will be the year! I hope no matter who you are, that you’ll get out and try turkey hunting. Don’t forget to bring a wife, husband, daughter, son, or a friend. Even if you don’t get a turkey, watching the sun rise above the horizon on a brisk spring morning, and watching the world awaken before your eyes, is enough to get you hooked.