My First Solo Turkey Hunt

I love to turkey hunt. It’s what got me hooked on hunting, but it’s never been a favorite for John. He’d go along, being the voice and calling in turkeys. I would sit waiting to take my shot. I never had to deal with any type of call, let alone trying to call a turkey while waiting for a shot.

After losing my job, I had nothing but time, but John had to work. I decided I’d take advantage of the time and do some turkey hunting on my own. For the last two years, I’ve been trying to learn how to use a mouth call. While I can do all of the calls on my slates, it’s entirely different trying to call and actually sound like a turkey using a mouth call. It takes a lot of practice and patience getting used to the feel of a call in your mouth. When I first started trying to call, the vibration was almost unbearable. I soon learned I needed smaller calls and then I started getting better.

Once I felt that I actually sounded somewhat remotely like a turkey, I decided to try going solo.

Turkey hunting solo is much harder that it sounds. Damn hard actually.

Add my bow to the mix and I had a challenge I really wasn’t prepared for. I’ve never shot a turkey with a bow, but I wanted to challenge myself.

For the past two weeks, I listened to turkeys gobbling. I had pictures on my game cams of turkey strutting every day at the same time. The tom had the biggest beard I think I’d ever seen.

The very first day out, I made calls. I called turkeys in consistently, but literally got busted every time I tried to draw my bow.

In an attempt to outsmart the tom, I went into my tree stand. I hung my bow and made my calls. I instantly had turkeys responding. The turkeys came in just as the deer I had shot came in. From my left, I heard them coming, but not one gobble. As they emerged, I decided I’d take whatever presented itself.

Five. Five birds busted through the bushes and straight out in front of me stood two jakes and three hens. They took one look at my decoys and started cutting and you could almost see the panic in their behavior. Before I reached for my bow, they spotted me. A few more cutting sounds and they made a sprint for the woods.

Just when I thought I was done, I gave one more call. And there it was. A gobble. A single gobble on a mission. That bird circled me from the left, up behind me and down to my right. There it stalled. I could call and get answers continuously, but I could not get that bird to come in close enough for a shot.

After it decided there was no hen, it lost interest and just stopped responding to my calls. The tom was gone. Turkeys 2, Staci 0.

After three days of chasing turkey with my bow, I decided to bring my shotgun along instead. I headed out back to find that longbeard that had been just out of reach each day. This bird had a pattern, but just when I thought I had it figured out, he didn’t show up. I followed the trails until I came along a ridge. I gave a call. Instantly a turkey gobbled back. I was at the top of a hill and no matter how much I called, that turkey wouldn’t go up hill. So I waited about twenty minutes and headed down the hill. I stepped behind this huge boulder that had a fallen fir tree on the top. I gave a call, and boom. That turkey was back answering and coming my way. I debated whether to stand or sit, then in an all out ditch effort to hide, I plunked myself on the ground in the leaves. My butt on the ground, legs stretched out and gun across my lap, I took out my slate and gave some soft purrs, and then raked the dry leaves.

That turkey came gobbling in. He was so close I could hear his feathers ruffle and puff as he strutted. He was directly on the opposite side of that boulder. I didn’t dare move. My heart was racing. I prayed to the turkey gods he wouldn’t come in on my right, since I’m right handed and was facing left. He strutted there but I couldn’t get him to cross over that rock wall to where I could get a shot at him.

Not until I decided one more time to make a soft call. Gun across my lap, I picked up my slate call and striker. As I look up, the tom hopped over the wall and stopped dead in its tracks. It saw me and there I was caught red-handed with my call in my hands. I dropped the call and drew my shotgun. I popped off a Hail Mary shot, but that bird took off running before I even had the bead on him. Then he flew. My morning was over.

Not to be defeated, I opted to try at another piece of land I have permission to hunt. I headed out. When I got there, I could see a group of turkeys strutting in the far corner of the field. Not to be busted, I made my way through the woods along the tree line, making calls with my mouth call. I had continuous answering, but they never ventured my way. I continued to work my way through the woods until I was past the end of the field. I slowly made my way to a group of trees where I would have good cover. I set up and made my first call. Immediately I had an answer. The birds (yes, there was more than one!) kept coming and calling. And then there was no sound. I sat waiting, just giving some soft purrs. I sat silently and motionless.

And then I saw them. They were making their way right to me! The birds crossed out in front of me. As they stepped behind a tree, I pulled my gun up and made ready. When the first bird stepped out from behind the tree, I shot.

My bird dropped, and the other took off leaving his buddy for dead.

I was ecstatic. I had my first solo bird.

I carried that bird out to my truck along with my gun slung over my shoulder. I was just about drained by the time I got him there, and somehow, I managed to lose my brand new camo hat. It didn’t matter that I hadn’t gotten the monster tom. I got a bird, and I accomplished my goal.

I’m already practicing my calling for this year. I have my spots all picked out. I have a new hat. Now if only I can find the time to take a couple days off from work. That big tom is still around, and I’m a bit smarter this year. I hope that if you’ve never tried turkey hunting, that you’ll give it a try. I’ve already told my friend, that I’ll take her. We haven’t gotten one yet with her as the hunter, but maybe this will be the year!

Silence Is NOT Golden When It’s Turkey Season!

Each year, I usually bag my turkey on the first day, so this year, I expected nothing less.

I absolutely love turkey hunting. It was the first hunt I ever tried, and was the hunt that got me hooked on hunting. Each year, I usually bag my turkey on the first day, so this year, I expected nothing less.

Two weeks before the season started, turkeys showed up in our horse pasture daily. We could sit on the back deck and listen to the gobbles in the woods. A slam of a car door and the bark of a dog would send gobbles throughout the woods.

The Friday before open season, I went down to my closest treestand. I brought along a Bluetooth speaker and hung it in a nearby tree with the volume cranked. The speaker amplified my turkey calls I had downloaded on my phone. I climbed into my treestand and opened up the turkey call application. A push of the “Turkey Cackle 1” and I had an answer. Gobbles nearby on my left.
I played it again.
Another response on my right!
Before I knew it, I had three jakes and a hen approaching on my right. The hen was actually chasing after the three jakes to keep up.

turkeys 4aThey were confused. Where is that hen? The turkeys walked by and once out of sight, I gave another call. They answered, came back and circled around me. The leading jake is almost fully mature, and he began to do his strut dance followed by a gobble. They weren’t alarmed since they continued to scratch and peck the ground as they moved.

As the turkeys circled me, they still didn’t know I was in the treestand. Off to my right a second gobbler also answered my call. I was having a blast!

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Turkey on the left ruffled up for the dance.

Finally the two groups of birds found each other, and I no longer mattered. They all headed away from me. Silence. Once they were gone, I climbed out my treestand and went back to the house.

Sunday, the day before the season opened, I headed back to my treestand. I used my same method of calling with the Bluetooth, but got no response. I covered a large amount of ground trying to call in a turkey while also checking my two game cameras. Just when I was about to give up, I got a response on the far end of the woods. They were still in the area! I quickly turned around and walked away.

Opening day and it was pouring. Pouring and my hunting partner was in no mood to venture out into it. By 2 p.m., the rain seemed to stop until we actually stepped out of the house. It was just a few intermittent showers to keep us moving, but listening for gobbles was not easy.

 

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We tried calling. No answers. We made a big circle and got to where I heard turkeys the day before. They weren’t responding to the mouth call John was using, so he took out the slate call and gave a try.

Instantly we had cackling, but no gobbling. We quickly set up the decoys and waited. No more replies, no responses and no gobbling.
Did they see us? Did we scare them off?
Did they hear us?
Perhaps I need to bring my Bluetooth next time…
Obviously they didn’t fall for our attempts to call them in.
We never heard any more turkeys the remainder of the hunt.

Silence. Nothing but silence. Let’s hope a couple days of rest and rain and they’ll come back and be ready for some gobbles. I have more tricks up my sleeve, so I’m not ready to throw in the towel just yet.

turkey tracks

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Few years back when I went turkey hunting with John and my oldest son, Zack.

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.