Monday, April 2, 2012

Turkey on a spit

© 2012 Joshua Stark

That would have been a great title for an article where my cousin and I successfully bowhunted turkeys. 

Of course, "success" can be defined in any number of ways, and by my typical definition when applied to hunting, (amount of time spent doubled over in laughter, tears streaming down one's face), this hunt didn't disappoint.

Yesterday was opening day for turkeys in California.  In Northern California, the turkey (Meleagris gallopavo) is an established species introduced (reintroduced?) specifically for making hunters cry.  It is an impressive bird, both in size (it is the largest upland game bird) and in smarts.  It can hear very well, and it can see, in color, 280 degrees without turning its head.  On public lands, this forest phantom (or, "A-hole of the Woods" as I call them) offers the ultimate hunting challenge.

One good characteristic about turkeys, however, is that they love edgelands, and where you can get permission to hunt private property, you might actually stand a chance of shooting a bird.  So it came as wonderful news when my cousin, a wildly successful salesman, let me know that a client of his was allowing us to hunt his foothill property.  The only catch:  Kevin (my cousin) wanted to bowhunt.

I love bowhunting because it is just about the most pure hunting experience one can have.  While your range becomes limited, forcing you to get better, the type of game you can hunt becomes nearly limitless.  Only a double-barreled shotgun approaches the versatility of a stick, string and broadhead for hunting in the field.  And if you shoot an animal with it, you get to be the Great Nimrod for a bit.

With this I can hunt quail to elk. As for hitting them...
Actually shooting something doesn't happen without practice, though; something I've been out of for a while.  But at least I've got experience.  My cousin, on the other hand, had purchased his the week prior, and his first time loosing an arrow with the apparatus occurred the day before the hunt. 

Kevin was on fire at the range, but since he can hit a gnat's eye with a pistol at 25 yards, I expected this.  His equipment, a Bear compound with quite a few bells and whistles, was purchased used and so was already "tuned".  He'd mentioned nearly losing the ability to have children when he first attempted to draw the bow at the shop, and he asked what the poundage was set for:  71 lbs.  He then, in as manly a way as possible, I'm sure, asked for the archery tech. to crank it down a notch.  Now at 55 lbs., Kevin is much happier.

At the range, we set his three sight pins for point-blank, 20 and 30 yards.  Almost immediately, he was hitting a four inch group from his bow at 20 yards.  I call that hunting time.  I'd wanted to loose some arrows at the range, but had forgotten my glove (see below) and didn't want to set my fingers ablaze just so I could look cool in front of my cousin.  I guess I'm getting older.

On our way home from the range, we discussed the next morning's strategy.  I would meet him in front of my wife's father's house at 4:45 am, and we would be at the happy hunting grounds by one hour prior to sunrise.  Sleeping would be light, then, and in the living room so I wouldn't wake the family.

At 4:00 my alarm blared, waking me and the family.  My keen survival instincts tingled, sensing that if I didn't get ready and get out of the house now, I faced certain doom.  I dressed quickly, grabbed my cup of coffee and my gear and headed out the door.

If you talk to folks who hunt with me, eventually they'll make some insensitive comment about me forgetting pieces of equipment at home (ironically, they never forget to mention it).  Not one has ever thoughtfully inquired as to my mental state or any medication I may be taking; no, they just go through the Standard Litany upon picking me up:  "g'getcher bow/gun/pole?  g'getcher arrows/ammo./lures? g'getcher license?", followed by some smart-assed remark about having to drive a half-hour extra to pick up whatever piece of equipment got left behind.  Thankfully this time I'd only forgotten my belt.  I'd be doing the sidle-shuffle to pick up my pants occasionally, but Kevin wouldn't have to drive me back.

Kevin used to be that guy who would say, "meet at 4 am" and then call you at 10 am with an apology.  No more.  Now married and with two children, Kevin shows up 15 minutes prior to the stated meet-time, a time he, for some reason, set a half-hour earlier than necessary.  Sure enough, he was there and ready to go.

The drive wasn't too awful long this time, about 45 minutes, and as we reached the neighborhood, something stood out to me, something that boded well for our prospects.  The place was covered with houses.

Kevin explained where we could hunt, and also told me the advice the property owner had given him and his reply, which quickly deflated my hopes.  The turkeys show up between 8 and 10 on his driveway; last Wednesday, he'd had to get out of his truck and shoo them away.  Kevin had mentioned that any additional birds we may shoot would be donated to a local food bank.

I guess Kevin had forgotten about my hunting magnetism.  Basically, I am set to the same pole as the game I pursue.  He'd also apparently forgotten about Turkion, the Angel of Embarrassments.  Were it any other human, I'd have attributed his comments to hubris, but it's Kevin: it was excitement, not overconfidence, that led him to make that ill-advised claim.

We drove up to the driveway and parked on the car-wash deck.  We decided to head out a bit, find out where the birds might be, then move in, call, and catch them out in the wilder part of the property.  We set off into the guy's back yard.

This is what you would see if we were to make one of those cool hunting videos.
Immediately, we were hearing gobbling all over the hills.  Kevin called with a diaphragm call, and two birds gobbled back just down the saddle.  We walked a bit, waited, second-guessed ourselves, walked back, walked back down again.  Each time Kevin called, those birds would gobble back.
Kevin, looking quite the part.

Then, another bird called.  A jake turkey said Kevin, judging by its rasp (I'd have thought it was a rooster with a sore throat).  We split up, and I hunkered down in the brush while Kevin walked down a small dirt road.

He came back quickly, shaking his head.  Other hunters, three of 'em, and with shotguns.  They'd been making the jake call.  Dejected, we decided to follow the landowner's advice and went back to the driveway.  On our way back, a doe started snorting at us...

We sat down and talked about how our hunts never go as planned.  We chuckled, had a cup of coffee, and talked about waking up later in the day next time.

It was about 8:15 when Kevin glanced down the driveway and noticed a gigantic turkey walking up the asphalt road.  Camoflauge is definitely relative; our open talking, acting like we just lived there must have given that bird, no wait, those birds a sense of security.  There were now two toms.

Our turkey blind... what you wouldn't see in those videos.
We grabbed our stuff (Kevin knocking his metal thermos over on his truck hood) and started down the driveway right when that doe and her fawn decided to step out onto the road.  Seeing us, they took off running

The turkeys didn't take off running, though, but they did turn off the road and, going at that annoying speed they have (.1 mph faster than you), they walked quickly into the brush.

Two more birds emerged from the brush next to the road, also going away juuuust a bit faster than we could go.  

We walked back up to the truck and after a bit heard more toms uphill from us.

Kevin called and got a response much closer than we'd expected.  A tom was heading our way.  Kevin peeked around the shed and saw him, then another, then another.  Three toms, all walking the edge of an oak grove, coming straight at us.  Kevin called, and I'll be darned if that bird didn't puff right up and gobble back.  It was amazing.

I walked over to the truck and reached for my camera, then saw the bird looking at me.  Crap!  I didn't move.  Kevin called.  The bird gobbled and kept coming.  I snapped a picture, then moved out of the way.
I promise you, that teeny black dot in the field out there is a turkey coming our way!
Kevin called.  They gobbled and kept coming.  Now I could hear the booming that happens when tom turkeys gobble close.  It goes right through you, and it shook the shed such that it compounded those deep, deep tones.  It was one of those moments that is awesome in the true sense of that word: it inspires awe.

80 yards.  70 yards. 60 yards. 50 yards.

Just over the hill to our right came the report of a shotgun.  Two seconds later, another.  I could have cried.

The birds we were watching didn't run, but they shifted their direction, turned away from us and headed down the draw.  I told Kevin to go over and try for a shot.  He took two shots, one he guessed at about 30 yards and another at about 40.  His shots were high, and the birds headed off.

That seemed about right for our turkey hunting.

Did I want to march over that hill and skewer a shotgunner?  Why yes, I did.  Was that guy probably hunting property he hadn't been invited to hunt?  Most likely.

There's always next time.
How can a guy dressed like that be denied a turkey?


The Public Land Hunter said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
The Suburban Bushwacker said...

Excellent! The debacles make for much better reading that the internet heros will ever realise. Anyone can fly, very few can fall with style!


Josh said...

Thanks, SBW! Lord knows I've had enough practice falling to at least be able to do it with style.