Friday, May 17, 2013

Turkey Shoot

Last fall I posted about my recent enjoyment of pheasant hunting.  About four years ago that interest expanded into turkey hunting as well.  So, for the past four years I've had the pleasure of pheasant hunting in the fall, and turkey hunting in the spring.  As time has gone by, I've equipped myself more for both sports, and I actually have quite a good turkey hunting setup going, including my own ground blind, call, camouflage, and pretty much anything else one needs to hunt Ben Franklin's favorite bird.

So far, in my four years of turkey hunting, I have been successful once - my first year - which definitely set a bad precedent for each succeeding year.  But that's the way it goes.  I still enjoy the idea of potentially shooting a turkey even if I don't get one.

My trip this year brought me to Black River Falls, WI.  A friend of mine has some land there, and it turns out that out of state turkey licenses aren't too expensive.  After making our preparations, we took off and set up the blinds on a cold and wet Thursday evening.  As I mentioned previously, I was able to get my own blind this year, purchased with a gift card that I had received for my previous birthday, leaving the cost of the blind to me to be no more than $2.50.  I was pleased.

The first morning was cold and windy.  Temperatures were forecast to be around 70 for that day, so I dressed lightly - too lightly.  It was a cold morning, but thankfully things warmed up throughout the day - so much so that I was able to take a nap between 2-3 PM.

A tom turkey fanning out as
he walks with his hen.
Click to enlarge.
On the first day I saw a total of seven turkeys - three groups of two, and a lone hen who wandered by my blind in the afternoon.  Hens are off limits in the spring season, so I couldn't take her.  Four of them were approximately 150 yards away from my blind - much too far away to attempt a shot.  And when I tried to lure them with my slate call, most of them just looked my way but didn't find the sound tempting enough to investigate.  I did get one tom turkey to fan out though, which is always fun to see.  The picture doesn't do it justice, as like I said, I
was about 150 yards away.  I could see it more clearly in person.  But even though he fanned out and showed off for what he thought was an interested female, he didn't come my way. Another two were about 200 yards away from me in the late afternoon.  They likewise were more interested in the prospect of finding food than in a hen, so they kept walking.

My big break cam early on Saturday morning.  I thought it couldn't get much colder than it was on Friday morning, but it was.  And a lot more windy.  It's funny how, when you're hunting, you're trying to pay attention to the landscape around you, to watch for movement, and to become familiar with the land.  Hunting in a blind is a peculiar thing.  The goal is to blend in with the environment to the extent that the wildlife regards the blind as just a regular part of the land, and is therefore comfortable enough to walk on by.

It also needs to be noted that hunting can be a rather boring activity.  There are hours and hours spent being alone and quiet, with nothing much to do.  You can't really do anything else, actually, because you want to be focused on your surroundings.  On Saturday morning, it was around 7:30 AM, and I had been in my blind for about two and a half hours by then.  I took a scan of the area around my blind, and then began to day dream and look around at things, as is want to happen.  Throughout this time, I just casually looked in front of me, and there were three turkeys, right next to my hen decoy, directly in front of me.  I quickly grabbed my range finder to see the exact distance: 25 yards.

By this time, the turkeys began to wander away, seemingly realizing that my hen was just a pretender and not interested in mating.  I rummaged for my call, and began to squawk.  They froze, put their heads up and looked around.  Then they all began to come back to my decoy - back into my sights.

I had set up my blind next to a wood line overlooking a food plot, facing east.  This was a great spot, except it had one drawback - I was looking directly into the sun.  This meant that I was seeing more turkey silhouettes than actual turkeys.  With the bright light in my eyes, I wasn't able to notice any distinguishing features on the birds that would clue me in to whether or not they were male or female.  Tom turkeys (mature males) have what's called a beard - a long tuft of coarse hair protruding from their chest.  Hens do not have this.  Jakes (immature males) have very little beard, if any at all.  The older a turkey gets, the longer his beard grows.

What I knew for sure was that none of the three turkeys I was looking at had beards.  This meant that they were either hens, which were off limits, or jakes, which were fair game.  But with the sun the way it was, I just couldn't tell.  I decided not to take the shot rather than risk shooting a hen.

The trip ended that afternoon, and I left empty handed.  That's OK.  It was still fun to go, and it was a thrill to see the turkeys, especially those three up close.  I really enjoy turkey hunting, and hope to make it a regular part of my year.

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