Apr

23

 There are so many things to love about turkey hunting. Lessons learned. Good times had. Market analogies galore. And only one thing to not like: 4:00 am alarms. You've got to roll out of bed early to turkey hunt.

There is a real process to hunting those elusive birds. If anyone thinks they're dumb, he hasn't given chase to one the wiliest game birds in North America.

Turkeys sleep on a roost, up in a tree. A lot of guys like to go out right before dark the night before and watch them fly up in the roost so they know where to come to in the morning. I prefer a different method: owl-hooting!

In the early hours turkeys are starting to wake. And this time of year the gobblers are a bit randy. So it doesn't take much to make them gobble. A cupped hand over my mouth, a deep breath, and I let loose with the worst-sounding owl hoot you've ever heard. It booms across the hills and valleys. The sound shocks the toms into gobbling (heck, a clap of thunder, or a slamming car door will do the same thing).

This first morning, David and I were hunting a 500-acre property that I lease. It's got some sweet bottomland, great strutting ground (open areas), and lots of cover. As my owl hoot echoed across the valley, turkeys gobbled all around us, and best of all, one gobbled directly across the bottom from us slightly to our right, a mere 150 yards away. So I grabbed the decoys, set them up where the hill road runs into bottom and then moved down to the right, closer to the gobbler. My plan was to call him down from the roost and call him toward the decoys, with us between the gobbler and the decoys!

As we set up about five yards back into the woods (so as to not reveal ourselves), I situated David. Then I set up right behind him. As real owls hooted around us, the bird across from us gobbled away. I started to make soft clucking sounds with my box call and mouth call. My box call is adjustable so I can sound like more than one turkey. Couple that with the different ways I could work my mouth call, and I probably sounded like half a dozen or more lonely hens all calling softly as the dawn broke behind the gobbler (we were facing east, toward the gobbler). As the sky began to light up, I noticed a round blob in a big tree across from us. I grabbed my Swarovski binoculars and glassed the "blob". It was the gobbler. I searched slowly through the tree, looking for hens with the tom. I saw none! This was a good sign.

If a gobbler is "henned up" he is very difficult, if not impossible, to call within range. This is the origin of the old saying, "a bird in the hand is better than two in the bush". In addition, I've found hens to be quite catty about their men. If there are other hens around, the gobbler's harem will actually lead him away from the other hens (or my decoys, in this case). But I saw no hens, so I was feeling pretty good about the situation.

As it got lighter, I began to tease the gobbler. My calls got more and more seductive — and he gobbled more and more aggressively. I then took my hat off, carefully leaned backwards and toward the decoys that I had set up in the darkness 30 minutes earlier. I let out a cluck, cluck, cluck, and then began to beat my hat on my arm, then repeated that sequence, imitating two birds flying down off the roost. I grabbed my binoculars and glassed the tom. He was still sitting on the limb facing towards the two decoys, and he was in full strut, all puffed up, his tail feathers fanned out.

I knew the decoys had his attention. And I'm sure he did not like what he saw at the decoys.

You see, I hadn't just set up any two decoys. I had set up a hen in a submissive breeding position with a jake right on her tail. What's a jake, you ask? It's a juvenile bird, the equivalent of a 13-year-old boy barely into puberty.

There is no way a full-grown tom is going to allow a jake to breed a receptive hen if he can help it. He flew down into the field. He went into full strut and began to make his way over to the decoy set. He was about 100 yards away and was slowly, ever so slowly, working his way in. I could tell this was a very mature bird. He was quite large and had a beard that nearly dragged on the ground. A real trophy bird. Needless to say, David was quite excited!

The bird got closer and closer.

Then I heard hens, real hens coming in from our right. Sure enough, they came into view and were working their way over toward our gobbler. The gobbler became distracted. He strutted toward the hens, then back towards us, then back the hens, then back towards us. So I went into high gear and started sounding like as many loved-crazed hens as I could!

It worked, he came closer and closer and closer, and then he hit that magical 40-45 yard mark. I told David to shoot!

The bird turned and strutted in a circle. As a result, his head was now behind his tail feathers (he was facing away from us). When he turned towards us, I let out a soft "alarm putt". This causes them to stop, put their heads up at full attention and look around for the danger, thus exposing their heads (side note: you shoot turkeys in the head).

He looked around for 1-2 seconds, while I waited for David to shoot. Nothing. No shot.

The bird turned and walked slowly away, out of range, and kept going. Between the two hens he could see and my alarm call, he'd had enough.

I asked David why he didn't shoot. He said that he was aiming when the bird moved away. I asked him why it took so long to aim. He said that he waited for the bird to get into position and then started to aim, but the bird didn't give him enough time to get off a shot.

We then had a long talk about preparation. Being prepared is of paramount importance in hunting. I've written many times on DailySpec about the processes I go through so that I can be completely ready at the moment of truth.

David learned today that you don't wait for the bird to get into position before you begin the aiming process. Once you've identified your target and know the shot is safe (everything is clear beyond the target), you are aiming that gun at the target from then on, so when the bird is in position to take a shot; you are completely ready to go.

The market analogies are quite obvious. How do we prepare every day to be ready to act when opportunity presents itself? More importantly, do we learn from our mistakes so that we don't repeat them? David took the lesson of preparation in that morning. And it paid off for him a few days later.

For now, I have to run down the road to check on the hunters from the National Wild Turkey Federation. We donated two hunts to them last year and the first group is here right now. I've got to go make sure that they're having a quality time and invite them up to the house for fresh turkey breast!


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