My friend Campbell Smith uses the phrase " making a plan" all the time. In association by default I now use the same phrase very often myself. I was at this moment making a plan.
600 yards across a canyon and well below us were at least two Turkey gobblers and a undetermined number of hens. It was 5pm on the last day of the Utah youth Turkey season. The storm force winds that had plague us earlier in the day had died considerably and this flock of birds had probably sought sanctuary on the sun bathed slopes in the valley beneath us. Lexi had the only tag today and she glassed the birds as I pondered an approach. I had sent a string of calls towards the birds when I had first spotted them. I was answered with a gobble and long string of yelps from a hen. Normally hunting toms with hens in our area can be a fools excise as no tom will leave hens to climb 600 yards straight up a ridge to maybe find another girlfriend when he's happily surrounded by attentive females. Such was the situation at hand.
I elected to drop back down the old two track we had been walking on, loop lower down the slope, slip into the canyon, cross the creek and then climb to a slightly elevated level from the feeding and loafing birds. Then sneak to within 150 yards, set up some decoys and try to entice the whole mob to come our way. The tactical part had merit, however turkeys clearly have a mind of their own. Some of my best ideas have been shamefully rendered into memorable avian comedies.
With this plan in mind we picked up and moved. Within 30 minutes we came into an open bench in the maple jungle we had been climbing through. A few years before Lexi and I set up in the very location in hopes of turning around a big band of Gobblers that unfortunately never stopped walking away from us. I looked around and found the tree I wanted Lexi to sit against. Three trunks grew together out of the ground in such a way that would break up her silhouette nicely and give her a commanding view. This set up was going to be to tight for all three of us but it was the best we had to work with. Quickly and quietly I walked 20 yards ahead of Lexi's position and began pulling decoys out of my pack. Since our arrival we hadn't heard a bird. Within minutes all was set and I walked back to Lexi to address any last details. She had her shooting sticks up and at the right height to give her the best field of fire on either side of the decoys. I kneeled down and told her how I hoped this might all unfold. Her mother and I would be behind her out of sight of the decoys regrettably. I said the birds would likely arrive on her 2 O'Clock, to make sure the the bird has a beard, try and pick the largest tom if given the opportunity, don't hit the decoys, and for gosh sake don't hit any hens. Due to the terrain and the slope off the bench the birds would likely appear suddenly and be on alert. She had to be ready before they stepped into view. Only their calling would tip their arrival.
As I have written on this blog before my daughter is now a veteran on this piece of property having hunted turkeys here with me since she was 4. At 15 she already has keen respect for these birds. As we were the only team on the property I felt safe in letting her deal the cards so to speak. "Ready" I asked "Yes" came a hushed reply has she pulled her face mask up to just below her eyes. Rebecca and I retreated 30 yards behind her and sat down for what could be a long wait. We could see my daughter very well but nothing beyond her position. The stage was set.
I opened up with a string of loud yelps and for the next half an hour repeated yelps, purrs and cackles. I felt at least at this moment that soft seductive yelps wouldn't do us any good, I needed to up the ante. The woods were silent. Lexi remained motionless. About 40 minutes had gone by when a muted gobble could be heard coming from our 2 O'Clock. I sent back a reply, minutes later a more distinct gobble could be heard, an old hen chimed in with gusto, other birds opened up as well, the flock was inbound. I looked at my wife and whispered "this is going to work". I glanced towards my daughter and saw she was riveted to what ever was in view before her. I heard her release the safety on the 20 gauge and shift the barrel ever so slightly to her left. The next gobble sounded as if the bird was sitting on my hat, another hen opened up and complained about the group of new arrivals in their neighbor hood. Then a second and third hen voiced an opinion, My eyes were glued to my daughter, Lexi shifted every so slightly once again and the 20 gauge roared. I could plainly hear the sound of flailing wings that would never sail on canyon winds again.
Warning puts of confusion erupted from running and flying birds as I stood up. Lexi was already walking towards the gobbler which was now almost motionless. The Federal Heavy 7's had ended the birds life instantly. I was beaming, her mother was beaming, Lexi was respectful and silent for some time, a quality that I admire in her a great deal. Eventually she broke into a smile and raised one hand to show us that she now had a bad case of the shakes. If you ever loose the shakes it time to put the guns away. She had done everything right under her own intuition, the best experience is earned and never given.
I guessed the bird would tip the scales at 16 to 18 pounds he had an ample beard and a set of nicely polished spurs. We took some pictures and as Lexi validated her permit and tagged the gobbler she told us that indeed two gobblers came in along with a number of hens, I asked how many and her reply was she wasn't at all sure as she was busy at that moment and had forgotten how to count.
I drew the bird, we picked up the decoys and then we began the long walk to the truck. On the way out we saw a number of deer and another small band of turkeys that ran across the two track in front of us. Not much was said on the walk down canyon it wasn't necessary the smile on my daughters face told the story as I'm telling you now. It was a good day on the hill.