My First Longbeard!
The first day of turkey hunting in 2008 was a real doozie: 6 miles of steep, up and down ridge country, 70 degree temperatures, lots of gobbles and my first turkey.
I went with a buddy from CSU that doesn't hunt, and set camp up after dark. At least we had a full moon to help illuminate the site. Of course the new travel alarm clock I had picked up on the way out of town didn't go off at 5:15am, when I had it set for, but luckily I woke up to the sound of blue jays and the first hint of light at around 5:40am. I threw on a complete duffle bag of various camo items, loaded up with hevi-shot turkey loads (that I'm convinced must be loaded with gold plated shot since they cost a fortune for just 10 rounds) and struggled out of camp under the weight of my over-flowing vest. Within 20 minutes I had let fly my first hen clucks from my slate call.
The first hour I worked two ridges that dropped into a creek bottom that I suspected the birds had been using. Sure enough, there was tons of sign all around the creek but I hadn't gotten an answer from any gobblers. This creek then joined a larger one which I took south for about a mile. I was able to shock call (with a crow call) one gobbler in this canyon but he was up above a rock face that was so nasty, Stallone wouldn't have even attempted it in Cliffhanger. I ended up walking up on a guy's set up as I climbed a ridge out of the creek bottom. He let me know his disgust with three quick crow calls. He had driven his ATV to his set up. I had already hiked two miles and didn't really feel bad for the guy.
I headed east skirting a massive burn in the area for about a mile and found my first dust bowls made by pumped up Toms. There were about 15 in a 100 foot circle on top of one ridge. It was about 9:00 at this point and I decided to go for a set up with some decoys. I laid out a jake and two hens and called sparingly. I had a gobbler that sounded like he wanted me to come to him because he'd gobble every time I would call but he wouldn't come any closer. I was about to make my move on him when a shot rang out from down the ditch I was set up on. I thought, "great, just like last year... except this guy couldn't have shot out of his truck." So I decided I better work my way back to camp to make sure my roommate Max hadn't killed himself yet. He is not an outdoors person by anyone's standards -- he ended up getting dehydrated and needless to say couldn't partake in the celebration that night.
I decided to hike across a fairly narrow part of the burn just to check it out. That was a mistake! The climb back up on the far side was about as nasty a one as I have ever seen. Once at the top of the hill I sat down and got some water. I pulled out my slate call and didn't get an answer. Right before I was about to head out a hit the crow call to try and locate a bird... nothing. After about a 1/4 mile and with only about that much left to go I remembered that I had bought a diaphragm call. Thing is... I suck at diaphragm calls. But I pulled it out anyways and gave it a try. A gobble erupted not 100 yards from me. Imagine who got shock gobbled that time!
I quickly but quietly slipped 25 yards off the path and took cover in a rock out-cropping. I clucked a couple of times and sure enough he was even closer this time. A jake came into view at about 30 yards but I couldn't see a beard and he was moving the whole time. After the jake had disappeared the big boy showed himself. He was in full strut and angling away from me at about 45 yards. I gave my best attempt at a purr with the diaphragm but it didn't phase him. He just kept moving. OK... this is the part of the story where the true neophyte turkey predator within me blossomed. Instead of just staying put and waiting it out, like most would do, I got up and Elmer Fudd'd it. I had covered about 30 yards over the course of maybe 5 minutes when movement caught my eye. He deflated from full strut and stuck his head up. I thought the gig was up. I was so pissed at myself but just mimicked one of Her Majesty's Guards. He then puffed out again and took a step forward placing his ugly jellyhead behind a tree. I turned and raised my shotgun in one fluid motion and by that time he was in the open. At 48 yards and standing I took the shot, got lucky, and filled my first turkey tag. Unorthodox but I wouldn't have it any other way.
Meanwhile, back in camp, my buddy was sleeping. Or at least until my shot. He threw on some boots and a blue and red hat (which I told him not to bring in the first place because it would get him shot) and set off in the direction of the shot. He ended up running into another hunter's set up and thank God the guy didn't let him have it. I got back to camp and set to cleaning the bird. I was all smiles. A really cool guy who was shed hunting with his 3 year old daughter on his back offered some advice on cleaning it. I had an unseasoned piece of the leg over the campfire that night... oh the spirit of the wild!