Monday, July 29, 2019

Springtime in the Rockies

This spring Turkey season was going to be somewhat bitter sweet for me as my daughter would be heading for college in August and begining the next great adventure in her life. We have been hunting these birds together ever since she was four and often in the early days she'd be fast asleep in a kids back pack making our way in or out of the woods. It had become a spring ritual that we both greatly looked forward to.

This year we hunted some new ground, and I spent a fair amount of time roosting some gobblers and watching the direction of the flocks fly down at dawn. The four mature gobblers had found the potential for love with a bunch a hens and some of those hens sounded old and bossy. We had a month to make it happen and cool morning air always feels good with your back against a tree.

The first morning found us tucked in 130 yards from the roost of the same flock and like clock work the birds opened up right on cue. What they did next was pure unpredictable turkey behavior and sailed across the canyon to land and strut instead of at our feet as they'd done all the past mornings while I was scouting. Pinned down on our side of the canyon all we could do was watch the four long beards compete for attention. They finally circled way above us and worked into a wheat field 600 yards away. Call as I might none of the birds paid us any attention. Better to leave these and look for other birds for now.

Two hours later we had two jake's and a long beard within easy range but Lexi couldn't shoot for fear of possibly hitting more than one bird or sailing some heavy shot towards some plate glass windows on vacant ranch house down the hill. When the birds cleared the ranch house it was if all three birds were Duct Taped together. As if one bird they finally walked into the cedars and out of sight. Lexi finally lowered her Model 12 and face mask. The grin said it all and ended the excitement for that day.

The same scenario played itself out twice more on the next hunts. I called in one long beard we dubbed the Tank one morning with two hens. He pulled 60 yards away and bred both hens repeatedly for the next half an hour. As one hen was being schmoozed the alternate would walk over to us feed and preen 20 yards from our location then walk back to the gobbler and trade places with the other hen. That hen would then follow her sisters routine and all but stand on Lexi's boots. Finally all three walked out of sight, exhausted but content. Love will do that to you.

There was the morning of the "Sprint". We had slipped into place well before light set up two deeks and waited as the roosted flock came to life and then sailed across the canyon again, but this time we were on the right side of the canyon. I was behind Lexi and lower down a slope pressed into a cedar tree and couldn't see anything but my daughter. I heard the birds on the ground in front of us called a few times and saw her raise the 20 gauge and begin the swivel the muzzle to the right rapidly. It soon became evident that the gobbler had slipped around Lexi just out of range at a trot to catch up with some hens that had run by first. He never broke stride heading downhill to catch up with the hens in an alfalfa field. An hour later we had repositioned ourselves above that same flock which had picked up other members of the dawn fly down.

We crawled through some light sage to the edge of draw and spotted the flock only a 150 yards below us. I began to cut and yelp with a hen that was clearly in charge of this flock and soon began to work her way uphill to confront the loud mouth up the draw, which was me. The gobblers and other hens followed but were taking their damn sweet time and soon that bossy matron hen was almost in our laps. Lexi was sitting on my right, more exposed than I with gun on her shoulder. Soon the hen had worked out that things weren't looking quite showroom condition and sent out the alarm. All we could do was watch the flock trot out of sight behind her. As they headed into the center of another wheat field leaving no approach for a set up we pulled the plug and headed in for lunch.

I think for the next three hunts we called in every jake and hen on the property but the older gobblers stayed elusive. Sure we saw them, called to them, mixed it up with them but we never had one commit. One morning we had five long beards courting one lone hen. You'd think one of those toms when hearing another hen just down the hill at the edge of some maples would leave the rest of the team and hot foot it over to say hello. But no, love is just as blind with turkeys.

Preparing to hit the woods again the next morning I asked Lexi if she was ready for a dawn patrol attempt ? "Dad lets not leave until at least 1pm, as we've shot more than a few birds in the late afternoon". She had a point and with the season going into the 3rd week it did make sense. Let the hens go to the nest leaving the gobblers alone in the afternoon. Why not ?

We left at 2pm the next day and drove to the norther most part of the property to the base of canyon and as we gathered up our gear Lexi said "there's two now". I failed to see them as the two birds walked into a side draw 400 yards away. We slipped up the slope to an old earthen dam and dropped to our hands and knees and inched up our side of the dam to peek over the other side. It was then I saw the fan. A tom was in full display about 60 yards away at the edge of some thigh high weeds with just the crown of his fan visible. Crawling the final 5 to 8 yards to the top of the damn wouldn't put the bird in range and expose us from any other tactical move once we got there. So we elected to sweep wide around the bird to out left, swing above the bird and begin the call when we found some cover. Sounds great doesn't it !

So we made the move, swinging a couple hundred yards left, gaining altitude and found a thin line of trees to creep into. Just as we were setting up and looking down into the old dried up damn filled with thigh high weeds no less then a dozen hens stood up out of the weeds and began to putt softly. The gig was up but the entire flock was not really yet sure of what all the commotion was really about. Alert they slowly walked out of our line of sight.

We quickly peel back to the left and uphill again to try and get a couple hundred yards above and ahead of them hoping they'd settle down and then try to call the long beard from the flock. We were scrambling up the ridge on a terraced wheat field when we stopped in tiny grove of trees. At that moment we heard a gobble just above us and to our left. The bird was screened from view by the tiny band of trees. Lexi looked back over her shoulder at me as if to say "whoa he's close" when I motioned for her to kneel down behind my pack and point the muzzle uphill towards the edge of the terrace lip and to the edge of the trees. I softly purred and cut just once.

The bird gobbled again closer, now at the edge of the trees we were kneeling in. A jake suddenly appeared directly above us and peered over the edge of the terrace. I whispered "jake" and Lexi calmly held her fire, another gobble rattle the trees just to the left of the where the Jake was standing and then the long beard stepped into view. He looked directly down the slope at us not 15 yards away when the shotgun went off. The gobblers lost his grip on the terrace and tumbled over the edge and rolling towards us.

Lexi ejected the spent hull and walked a few feet over to the bird now flapping around as only a head shot turkey can, the pattern at that range was pretty tight and she just managed to dent the top of his scalp. Finally he kicked his last and lay still. The face mask were pulled down and we sat in the grass awhile not saying much, showing respect for the bird and trying to suck it all in as usual. I began thinking aloud as to how fast it all happened since we heard him gobble the 1st time and we both agreed it couldn't have been more than 30 seconds. By chance we were in the right spot in the only cover available for 300 yards and at the very right instant. I'd rather be lucky than good anytime.

We hadn't a clue if more birds were traveling with this jake and older gobbler but these two were headed for the very same draw the other flock was in. The season for her was now over, we'd gotten in six good hunts, saw plenty of birds and had plenty of up close encounters.

Spring Break at her selected college does not coincide with our turkey season in Utah. But there's a chance that after final exams, with a quick dust up at the dorm and a non-stop flight home we might  be able to catch the last 10 days of our spring season here, my favorite time to hunt these great birds and with my favorite turkey hunting partner.