This CoVid-19 pandemic is a terrible situation in every aspect. It has taken lives, caused suffering, closed businesses, and ruined livelihoods. I have seen it first hand and know the devastating effects. So it is with this qualification that I’d like to share a story of how I made the best of a bad situation when I was unable to work during the mandated shutdown.
As this article is being written for an outdoor magazine, the reader could probably guess that it has to do with the outdoors and maybe even hunting. If you guessed hunting, then you get the prize. Actually there is no prize, but here’s my story.
In a period of one day, we were basically told to stop working, shutdown, social distance, quarantine, stock up on toilet paper, wear a mask, etc. Although, I generally have a very positive outlook and believe in the American way, this shutdown really hit me hard as I’m sure it did a lot of people. I got really down; not depressed, but down. Then I realized two things: 1) turkey season was about to open in Ohio and then two days later in Indiana, and 2) turkeys were not included in the social distancing rule. The limit for turkey in Ohio is two male turkeys and in Indiana it’s one male turkey during the spring season. Now let me start by saying that I love to turkey hunt; I look forward to it every year. But I am terrible at calling turkeys. When I use a mouth call, it sounds like two wildcats in a death match. My neighbors actually called the police due to a “terrible noise” coming from my porch during one of my practice sessions. So what I’m about to describe may be hard to believe.
I decided that since I was unable to work, I needed a challenge to get me out of the funk I was experiencing. So I set a challenge for myself to get my limit of turkeys in Indiana and Ohio. But not only to get my limit, but harvest the three turkeys in three different situations using three different techniques. So, you’re probably thinking – what is this guy talking about? Well, there are multiple ways to turkey hunt; for example – hunt from a blind with decoys, spot and stalk, “put them to bed” and set up off the roost, run and gun, the two person setup (one call and one shoot technique), use just dumb luck, etc. There are many other methods and combinations too numerous to mention here. You can also throw in some complicating variables such as weapon choice, public versus private ground, box call, slate, mouth call, etc. Ok, now you’re thinking, “This guy is either a nut job or he has way too much time on his hands.” I hope it’s the latter. I did have way too much time on my hands. I went from busting my butt to sitting on my butt in one day. So, I decided to turn this turkey season into a challenge, since I wasn’t pressed for time and could literally hunt as much as I wanted.
So here’s the challenge. I considered as many of the variations and variables as I could, and tried to harvest a turkey in three different situations. As background, I live in Cincinnati and own property in Indiana, so I have the benefit of being able to hunt in two great states for turkey. The curve ball is that I do not have access to private land in Ohio that is suitable for hunting. So I devised three different scenarios: 1) Harvest a turkey in Ohio on public ground simply by walking cold into a wildlife area and using only a box call, a GPS, and a hen decoy with no advance scouting. (This would meet the “dumb luck” criteria.) 2) Harvest a turkey on my Indiana property from a ground blind, using a slate call, a jake decoy and a hen decoy. 3) Harvest a turkey on public property using the two man, run and gun technique, with no decoys using only a mouth call. So, I thought I’d met most of the criteria: different calls, different decoy set ups, public, private, blinds, luck, skill, technique, etc.
So Ohio’s season opened on a Monday morning. Sunday night, I got online and researched the public hunting areas in Ohio to try to find a place that I could hunt the next morning. I also called a friend who grew up in Ohio and knew these public areas very well. He gave me some idea of where to start. He said that years ago, he killed a turkey on this one ridge that had pine trees on one side, a logging road on the other, and that it was close to an old shack that had burned down several years earlier. Sounds like half the state of Ohio, right? I thanked him for the help, marked a spot on my OnX hunt app, and set my plans for the next morning. I thought there was a good chance that I would get lost, wander around in the dark, and come home empty handed. But, like most hunters, I’m an optimist at heart and believe that hunting is part luck and part effort. Like the old expression says, “You can’t kill a turkey sitting on your couch.” So I loaded my truck with my turkey vest, an Avian hen decoy, my trusty Benelli Nova 12g pump with a turkey choke tube, and my Lynch World Champion box call. I left my house at O –dark thirty the morning of opening day and drove for about an hour and a half to a spot where I could park my truck and begin the trek into the woods of a public hunting area in southeastern Ohio. Roughly one hour prior to sunrise I started my walk along an old logging road which followed a ridgeline. I passed an old house that was burned out and only had remnants of a structure remaining. Next I came to a very unique stand of pine trees, almost like a small, isolated mini forest. This was the exact place my buddy had described. So I stopped and just stood there in the dark. The morning was totally quiet and absolutely beautiful.
About 10 minutes prior to sunrise, I heard a thunder that almost made me drop my gun. There was no doubt it was a mature gobbler still in the trees. He was calling for the woods to awaken for the day. It was one of those loud, long, and commanding gobbles. I guessed it to be off the trail about 100 yards to my right at a 45-degree angle. That’s when I froze with indecision. Do I drop and start calling, do I try to get closer, do I set up my decoy, or do I just stay put and listen? Fortunately for me, I heard another loud, thunderous gobble from my left about 150 yards away. Then 3 other gobbles from multiple directions sounded around me. I was in turkey heaven! This sudden outburst of challenging gobbles broke my state of indecision. I quickly but very quietly moved off the trail and into a small clearing on the side of the ridge. I set up my Avian hen decoy in the clearing, and found a fallen tree/log about 30 yards away with open views to my right and left. I actually laid down prone like a sniper with my Benneli up in front so I could shoot either direction with minimal movement. I waited for a minute or so to allow my commotion and my heart beat to calm down. I took out my Lynch box call and clucked twice, followed by a low, quiet purr. That’s when the woods erupted! Gobblers blasted from all directions! (For a moment I wondered if a hunter had ever been mauled by a pack of wild turkeys.) I then heard multiple flapping wings and turkeys landing on the ground. Now, not being confident in my ability to call turkeys, I just sat there listening to gobblers behind me, to the right, and to the left. I started second guessing my position. “That tree over there looks like it would be a much better choice than being prone on top of a log.” I decided to stay put despite the self-doubt. Just at the moment when I was about to reach for my call, three big ass gobblers appeared in the small clearing in full strut. They had seen my decoy and were posturing and performing. They circled like a parade group back and forth just out of my comfortable shooting range. This went on for maybe ten minutes with gobbles, strut, gobbles, strut, repeating. One would gobble and the other two would immediately chime in and go on strut. It was beautiful, but out of range. That’s when I almost lost it. A gobbler about 20 yards directly behind me belted out a long, harsh, challenging gobble. This had two effects: 1) It scared me like crazy and 2) It got the attention of the three strutters in front of me. Once the three birds in front heard the gobble of the bird behind me, they closed the distance and were now in my kill zone. I picked out the biggest and most dominant bird. I placed the little red sight on the end of my barrel on his head and squeezed. Boom! I killed a great Ohio long beard. What a great morning! What great directions from my buddy! The app worked perfectly, the decoy did its job, the call box worked great, and the Benelli delivered. So challenge one complete: public ground, solo hunting, box call, one decoy, and just good luck.
Now on to challenge number two. As I mentioned, I am blessed to own a piece of property in southeastern Indiana. This property is extremely special to me. It is the same property I wrote about a few years ago when I harvested a great deer over an alfalfa field. Well, come to find out turkey love alfalfa as well. So the second challenge was to kill a turkey on my private farm using decoys, a slate call, and a ground blind. Because this is my property, I was able to set out a pop up ground blind several weeks earlier. It was brushed in alongside a group of fallen ash trees on the edge of a ten acre alfalfa field. It was beautiful. Indiana’s turkey season opened on the Wednesday after Ohio’s season opened, so I was all set. I hadn’t even unloaded my truck. Again, I wasn’t able to work due to CoViD, so it was my time and place. The weather was rather soggy that day for most humans, but perfect for turkey. They seem to love to be in the fields on misty, drizzling days and that’s what it was. I got to the blind an hour prior to sunrise, set out an Avian hen and an Avian jake decoy about 20 yards out in front of the blind and settled in. About 30 minutes before sunrise, I took out my slate call and made a sound that was near to nails on a chalk board. I waited about five minutes and did it again. Nothing! No response, no gobble, no fly down, nothing. So I just waited then tried again around sunrise. Slate call, decoys, ground blind, rain, alfalfa . . . nothing. About an hour after sunrise I tried the slate call again, and this time I heard a gobble way back in the woods behind me and a gobble far to my right. That’s when I looked up and saw three jakes run into the field at full speed and begin kicking the crap out of my jake decoy. I watched this for about 15-20 minutes until they had successfully knocked the decoy over and spurred it mercilessly. They finally walked off with a victory strut. After I was sure they were gone, I crawled out and repositioned and consoled my decoy. After I got back in the blind and waited a few minutes, I once again screeched on my slate call trying to sound like a hen turkey. But in reality it sounded like a piece of wood being dragged across slate. But to my surprise I heard a loud, long, and confident gobble behind me about 50 yards. It was on! I set down the slate, picked up my faithful shotgun and got ready. I was anticipating the bird would come from my left and was in perfect position for a right handed shot. Of course the bird came into the field from my right. He entered with a full, intense strut. When he got within 30 yards of the decoys, he started circling. He would gobble, strut, and circle. This was an amazing show. Finally, he broke the distance barrier and approached the hen decoy. He gobbled once more, raised his head and the Benelli delivered again. Boom! Challenge number two in the books. A double bearded gobbler with what my friend would call a paint brush beard. So, solo, private ground, decoys, slate call, ground blind – done.
Now, on to challenge number three. This was my favorite and by far the most enjoyable for several reasons. First, it was the most challenging. Second, it involved hunting with my great friend and hunting buddy, Gerry. Third, I didn’t have to call. See the theme? Let’s face it – some of us just can’t talk turkey as well as others. Gerry on the other hand can carry on a full conversation with a turkey using a mouth call, a slate, or a box. He also can make the owl locating call with just his mouth better than any manufactured device I’ve heard. So ok, you’re right – I brought in a ringer for the third challenge. As I said, this was a partner hunt, using a mouth call, no decoys, run and gun on public land a week after the season opened. We headed out in my big truck being careful to social distance, windows open, and not stopping for breakfast anywhere. We arrived at our spot an hour before daylight and started walking the ridge. We paused around shooting time for Gerry to make a few calls with his mouth call. He also tried a few owl calls. We did not get a response, probably because this was public land that had been heavily hunted during the previous week. So we kept walking. Then all of a sudden a side by side ATV with two hunters came flying down the trail. We ducked out of the way to avoid getting hit. They stopped and told us, “There aren’t any birds back that way,” and that they’d “already driven the whole ridge and didn’t see anything.” How they expected to see a turkey from a side by side vehicle is beyond me, but who was I to question or educate? As they drove away, Gerry and I decided to try a different area. We reasoned that this is what makes public area hunting so unpredictable. We returned to the truck and drove to a less accessible area. Gerry needed to take a phone call, so I walked out a little way on a ridge with a deep valley and another ridge on the other side. I heard a gobble! It sounded like a nice, mature bird based on the intensity, volume, and length of the gobble. I stopped and listen to several sequences of gobbling and realized he was at the base of the other ridge and not approachable from where I was due to a steep drop off. I hightailed it back to the truck and told Gerry about where I thought he was and we made our plan. We drove around to get to the other side of the valley and approached quietly on foot. When we got to the edge of this ridge, Gerry called. The gobbler immediately answered. Gerry said, “We’ve got him!” I wasn’t so sure. He was a long way away and the valley was pretty steep. But we eased about a third of the way down the slope. Gerry called again; immediate answer gobble. Then the bird moved away and gobbled again; Gerry moved away and called. The tom moved closer and gobbled again. This went on for about 30 minutes. Gerry and this turkey were just talking back and forth. I was sitting there against a tree with my gun up on my knees amazed at this back and forth conversation between Gerry and a turkey. The tom just would not commit. He wouldn’t come out of the valley. I reasoned he had a strut area and probably a hen in the area. So I was about to take it on myself to move toward his strutting area. I thought I could sneak up on him; which, I knew rationally, would be almost impossible. But just then Gerry got up and called as he was walking over the top of the ridge away from the tom. I’m thinking – what the heck is he doing? Should I follow? Is he leaving? Then about 40 yards below the tom screams out a long, pleading gobble. He was somewhere below me in a thick bunch of brush. Then I heard Gerry just over the ridge purr in turkey talk, “Come and get me, big boy!” That turkey ran right passed me stopped 20 yards to my left, fanned out, and let out a gobble that I swear sounded like, “Here I come!” That’s when the Benelli did its thing. Boom! Challenge number three done. A two person, public ground, no blind, no decoy, mouth call, run and gun hunt.
Is there a moral to this story? Maybe it’s that there are many ways to be successful at turkey hunting. Try them all. And you don’t have to be a world champion caller, but it’s great to have one as buddy.
So 2020 was a terrible year for almost everyone due to a pandemic. But because of the great outdoors and our incredible natural resources, we can still enjoy things that don’t involve crowds and organized events. I am so thankful to live in this country and enjoy the great freedoms so many have fought and died to preserve. We must continue to be great stewards of nature’s bounty, and never compromise on the belief that our country became great and remains great because of our vast natural resources.