Josh Mason and I with our turkey double, closing out our 2016 turkey season.
(By Jon Swaby)
Turkey season has come and gone, and I'm pleased to report that I managed to fill my tag again this year. Not only did I fill it, but I was able to do so a day earlier than last year.
Truth be told, it shouldn't have taken as long as it did. Opening day I hunted with my friend, Buzzy. After hunting all morning without action we decided to try new areas. Our usual spot had a tornado pass directly overhead the night before, and we were certain that had the turkeys behaving oddly.
Driving by a field we had permission to hunt, we spotted two tom turkeys in full strut 40 yards from the edge of a fence row. A ditch ran along one edge of the field and we surmised all we had to do was stay out of sight in the ditch until we were in range of the turkeys. What we hadn't planned on was the turkeys moving south, the same direction we were attempting to move in order to close the distance.
Every time we would peek over the crest of dirt and weeds the turkeys would be another 40 yards further away. After four attempts to get ahead of the birds, to no avail, we decided the best course of action was to make our way to the far end of the field and see how events played out from there.
Reaching the end of the field, I peeked into the field to see a hen feeding a mere 15 yards away, the toms were a further 40 yards beyond her. As the hen slowly worked away from us it became evident that we either had to attempt a long shot or have no shot at all. Firing off shots simultaneously, we watched dismayed as the turkeys walked away without so much as a scratch.
Fast forward to the first Saturday of turkey season and I'm once again hunting with Buzzy. Similar to opening day, we never heard a bird gobble from the roost. Hunting on blind faith that there were turkeys in the area, we stayed in position, calling every few minutes.
To our right we heard a faint cluck. A turkey had stepped into the field and was eyeballing our decoys with the look of a teenager approaching the beach on spring break. Making a blind charge across the field, the turkey tackled a decoy and proceeded to make a show of his dominance. Buzzy decided to shoot the turkey and asked if I would get it on video for him. I held up my phone recording the turkey while calling to it, in hopes of it lifting it's head for a clean shot. After what seemed an eternity the bird separated itself from the decoy and Buzzy fired the shot... And missed.
Not to be deterred the turkey ran away 10 yards then came right back to the decoy for more. This time Buzzy wouldn't miss. His season was over, mine had a long road ahead.
Six days later I hunted with Josh Mason. Josh is a self-described "bad luck" turkey hunter. In six years of turkey hunting he never even had a turkey in range for a shot. All that changed on our first turkey hunt together. As we stalked into the woods we heard birds gobbling several hundred yards away from us. Slowly working our way towards the sound we spotted three turkeys strutting in the field adjacent to the woodlot.
We made our way around the woods as the birds slipped back into the trees. I let out a quiet call on the box call and was rewarded with a trio of gobbles just out of sight. After a half hour of waiting the toms had slipped further into the woods and were now gobbling on the other side of a hill.
Making the decision to take the pursuit into our own hands, we climbed the hill that separated us. A few light purrs on the box call and a turkey started gobbling from 30 yards away. It quickly closed the distance. A thunderous gobble came from just over the rise, the turkey couldn't be more than 10 yards away!
Then its head popped over the hill. Although I could easily see it, Josh didn't have a clear view. The bird grew anxious (how can you expect to hide in a turkey's living room from 10 yards away anyhow?) and started to make a putt-putt call and walk away. I instructed Josh to stand and shoot. As he did the bird took flight and he wasn't able to make it happen. At least he had a close encounter.
One week later, two days before the close of season we hunted together again. Unlike much of turkey season, this day greeted us with blue, clear skies and an optimism that had been lacking previously. Shortly after daylight birds gobbled on the ridge facing us and we made our plan of attack. We would set up decoys in the field where I suspected they would fly down to and when they did we would be ready to intercept them.
We settled into our positions and the show began. Turkeys started gobbling from what seemed every direction. Two on the ridge next to us, two farther back in the woods, three more farther south on the ridge and one across the road to the north.
Minutes ticked by. At 6:45 we heard the turkeys fly out of the trees onto the ridge. Birds were still gobbling incessantly in every direction. Five birds filtered into the field 150 yards away and began putting on a display for the hens.
Then to our right, a hen stepped out in front of us. 40 yards away, we were certain she would pull the two toms on the ridge into gun range. Just as we had imagined it another bird appeared. Josh and I simultaneously whispered "Tom!" Mere steps behind the first one appeared a second tom.
The hen made a hasty exit across the field as the two toms started moving towards our decoys. When they stepped into the clear and stuck their heads up to look we took our opportunity to shoot. Split seconds apart our guns roared to life and two turkeys were down.
We had done it! Josh had his first turkey and I had a hard earned bird. Sprinting across the field to claim our prize we attempted the elusive "running high-five." Needless to say it failed miserably. I'm sure if anyone had been watching we would have looked like fools missing each other at full stride.
It was, however, a fitting end to a long journey. Josh got his first turkey in spectacular fashion, pulling off the rare "double" and I was able to take home another great outdoor memory. One made that much sweeter by sharing that time with great people.
Jon is a staff writer for the Greene County Daily World. He can be reached by telephone at (812) 847-4487, ext. 21. He can also be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.