By Dan Stephany - Bass Pro Shops Altoona Receiving Manager
This past weekend, I had the privilege of taking my nine-year old son Micah out on his second spring turkey hunt. Last year, he had a tremendous experience, harvesting his first turkey on opening morning just two hours into the hunt. That’s a tall order to fill coming into this year, but we were going to give it our best shot.
Opening morning found us in a ground blind at a gate between a bottom field and a pasture hillside that the birds use regularly. I had set up a trail camera earlier in the week and had over 240 pictures of turkeys and deer just 10 yards away from our blind, so we were confident we’d see something that morning!
We had an eventful morning watching over 30 birds and 10 different toms use the bottom field and pasture. Everything stayed well out of range except three curious jakes that came in to about 20 yards on the wrong side of the blind. We tried desperately to get repositioned for a shot and just as Micah had the gun in position, they stepped behind the gate post and never offered another shot. Great encounter…frustrating outcome!
If you hunt in a highly-pressured area, you may consider not using decoys. Keep curiosity in your favor, and make the birds come looking for you.
We’ve hunted this farm now for a couple years; it gets significant pressure on all sides during the turkey season with many different hunters using decoys all season long. This has educated the birds and they’re much more reluctant to commit to a decoy, especially in the open fields where they can see the non-moving bird(s) for hours at a time. We had a group of hen decoys and a single jake decoy with a real fan set up in front of the gate. Apart from the jakes, every tom we saw skirted our corner of the field and would not come any closer than about 60 yards. My guess is they didn’t like the decoys.
Our second morning was even more exciting. We relocated the blind to the top of the hill in the pasture right where all the birds the previous morning seemed to hang out. Our strategy today was to take what we learned on Saturday and apply it. We left all the decoys in the bag this time, and simply used the terrain and calling to our advantage.
Once again, at first light, we had multiple birds fly down and begin using the field in front of us. The fog was thick and the birds were more vocal this morning. We had numerous toms respond to our box call. Around 7:30 a.m. a tom crossed the river, covering over 400 yards strutting and gobbling, and headed straight up the pasture hill to our blind. He was looking intently for that bird he couldn’t see – our strategy was paying off!
He kept gobbling and strutting his way up to about 35-40 yards. Micah actually had a clear shot at this point, but because we had only patterned the gun (Micah was shooting a youth 20-gauge Remington Model 870) out to 25 yards, we opted to let the big gobbler keep coming closer. As he closed the distance, he started walking from in front of the blind to our right side. This created the dilemma – Micah had to follow the bird with his gun back and forth around the hub of the blind. The bird came in to 20 yards, all the while blocked by the hub. We were just waiting for him to step to his left or his right.
But, he didn’t.
Not seeing the bird he expected to see, he turned around and began to walk away. Trying to get him to turn around again, I gave a soft yelp. But, he didn’t like it and ran off. Two days in a row we had a bird within shooting range and never got a shot.
First, our strategy about the decoys was right on the mark. We kept curiosity in our favor, and made the bird come looking for us.
Second, as this bird was coming in, Micah had a clear shot about 35-40 yards. I opted to let the bird keep coming in (with hopes of a more accurate shot for Micah’s 20 gauge). We could have shot sooner at a longer range, but I believe that’s asking a lot for a young hunter like Micah, who doesn’t have a lot of experience shooting. Letting the bird come in closer was the right call.
Third, I messed up. When the bird turned to walk away, I should have realized that he was walking away because he didn’t see the bird he came looking for -- to call at that close range when it was obvious to the bird that there wasn’t a hen that close was simply not a good idea. I should have been quiet and helped Micah reposition for a shot.
In conclusion, we had a fantastic weekend in the turkey woods together. We saw over 50 turkeys, including over 15 toms. We had two different encounters with birds that came within shooting range. We both learned a lot about how to become better turkey hunters and this alone made the hunt successful.
As you prepare to head to the turkey woods this spring, keep some of these simple ideas in mind:
- Listen to what the turkeys are telling/showing you. If they don’t appear receptive to calls or decoys, change your strategy. The best turkey hunters I know are the ones who can adapt on the fly and stay one step ahead of those wary gobblers.
- Consider hunting pressure and the effect this may have on your birds.
- Notice weather changes, such as the fog in our hunt. When the turkeys couldn’t see each other as well, calling became more effective. Wind or rain may also change where the turkeys want to spend more of their time during shooting hours.
Last, and most importantly, do your best to learn from every hunt and view it as a positive experience. Micah and I were devastated when that tom ran off after being within 20 yards. However, we are now more determined than ever to get back on that old tom and catch up with him again this weekend. We can’t wait to bring you an update with a picture of a very excited nine-year old and a great big old Iowa longbeard!
Micah shares his thoughts on the hunt:
Watch the actual video below of this tom walk-away, plus more father and son on our YouTube channel at http://youtu.be/Ob88Qo16d7k!
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