A tribute to my Dad, Thank you for all the early morning wake ups and the patience of a saint.
“Founder  of Crazy Horse Outfitter and Guides”

Springtime, the air is brisk as the sky begins filling with white puffy clouds.  Turkey season opens in two days and the weather forecast is for snow opening day.

Each year the mountains offer many different challenges to the hunters. This spring was to be no different.  The weather has been the usual warm up after the long winter; the snow has receded to the front range of high mountains and shady areas not yet touched by the sun or warm air to melt it. It has been a long winter here in the mountains and the urge to get out into the forest is strong.

W&D

The first season of the year is the spring turkey season; it is always an exciting time of year. After many months of winter and large snow falls that restrains one’s ability to get out into the forest, spring turkey season is a welcome gloom breaker.

I have been retrieving my hunting gear out of the winter storage containers, camouflage, headlamp, turkey calls, snow shoes and miscellaneous hunting equipment. I will be hunting Miriam’s here in the Rocky Mountains. I found the chalk for my box call that I use along with several mouth diaphragm calls which after the long winter need replaced. I retrieved the pack with my decoys from the tack shed.  Looked over my check list and had everything I would need, at least that is how it seemed for now.

One of my favorite places to hunt opening morning is an hour walk from the truck. It is an old roost and always produces a good flock of birds. Nobody pressures them till late in the season as the snow fields are still an issue in early April. Most hunters prefer to hunt further south where it is warmer and drier. I prefer hunting the flocks that live in the front range of the mountains. They are a hardy bird living in the deep snow and pose an interesting challenge to hunt. The habitat is difficult for a hunter because of snow and mud.

I am getting excited now, every day for the past week. I have been watching the weather, cannot say that I have ever hunted turkeys in a snow storm. But as I mentioned earlier there are many challenges that a hunter here has to be prepared to address and this is no exception.

After watching the evening weather and seeing the radar for the next two days I determined that I would pack my gear to stay overnight and hike in the evening before opening.

This way I would be there early and not have to hike in so far in the event the storm arrives. I retrieved my multi-fuel single burner alpine stove to brew coffee and my sleeping bag.

Packed a few food supplies and loaded everything in the truck. I always enjoy the physical demands that the mountains offer and backpacking in to hunt is an adventure. This type of hunt is one that most hunters would never think about for spring turkey. It’s awesome.

Here in Colorado we have birds that live far off the road and that most do not know about. All you need is a little backpacking experience, snow shoes, desire and knowledge of where to go. No competition and no noise from the roads. It is a great hunt if you are up to it.

After checking and double checking I determined I had everything except my box call, I looked everywhere in my house. I went through things with a fine tooth comb. I could not find my favorite Lynches Box Call. It is one that I have killed many birds over and love the tone it has.

As a last resort, I looked in my SUV and there stuck under the front seat far towards the front and off to the side was my box call, so I thought. I retrieved the call and without checking it stored it away in my hunting gear for the hunt.
I was burning daylight, have to get going if I am g to hike in and get settled for the night. I would roust the birds and then return early in the morning. After loading all my gear, pack and gun I finally drove down the road with excitement. The sun was setting low in the western sky with rays of orange and yellow, it was as though there was a great fire in the distance.

I recall many times that my dad and I would sit and discuss getting out and rousting the birds so as to know where they would be the next morning. Turkey do not always roost in the same location here in the front range he would tell me. They seem to move around somewhat from feeding area to feeding area. I always enjoyed those talks with my dad; he would tell me stories about when he hunted and refresh my memory of my first turkey. He could remember the details as if it was just yesterday that he took me hunting. Even with everything that my father had to do to support his family he always made time for the family. He took my sister hunting when she was young (that’s another story) and then it was my turn.

This time of year I always reflect on family stories and hunts, it is some of the greatest memories that I have of my youth. Time spent with dad in the woods is priceless and the memories are even worth more now that he is gone.
It is another year to hunt and get into the woods early I am jazzed.

Now here in Colorado, in the spring you just never know what you will see hiking into the forest. The spring presents the return of the elk from their winter grounds headed for that special area where they will give birth to their calves. It is also the time that the bears come out of their dens and start looking for those first shoots of green grass. During this time of year we find elk horns that have been shed prior to growing their new antlers. Spring is a grand and wondrous time of rebirth here in the Rocky Mountains.

As I was driving many thoughts of past hunts crossed my mind. I wondered if the birds would be there and how many there would be. How big would the gobblers be, would they be talking yet? What other wildlife would I see?

I can still remember my dad sitting us down and taking out his call, he would make sounds and far off in the distance the sound of gobble, gobble could be faintly heard. He would then position us both and begin the task of persuading the illusive gobbler to come to his call.

I parked my truck well off the road. As I stepped out of the truck I could feel the evening air. It would be cold tonight; there were snow fields under the trees. It will be in the mid 20’s tonight and a chance for snow.

I packed my pack with all my gear. It is a large pack which sets nestled on a frame. I use it every year for packing elk out of hard to get to places. I placed my box call into my call sack it felt weird, sort of small, wobbly and did not rattle. That in its self was strange as I usually place a stick of chalk inside the box. I looked at the call and it was not my box call of years past at all !!!!!!

A week earlier my family and I had attended a banquet and auction for the Turkey Federation. My stepdaughter of eight had purchase a raffle ticket at the door. They would draw tickets from a bucket and give out door prizes of small value. They called her ticket number and upon arriving at the stage area to receive her prize, they handed her a no name, (generic) turkey box call. It was very cheaply made and was only for reproducing the sound of a hen. As I looked at it my heart sunk, I had my diaphragms but I have always relied on my special box call to start the gobblers off.

Well I was committed at this point, no turning back now. I placed the call gently in my pack and off I hiked into the forest.

By this time the cloud cover was making it dark fast, the wind was starting to blow and a few flakes of snow were beginning to fall. Now, most hunters at this point would get back into their truck and head home. But this is to be an adventure, an out of the ordinary hunt.

In mountain zones when it begins to snow there is no guarantee how much snow will fall. It could be a little or it could be a lot. For me, it had been a long winter; heading out into this weather with the thought of camping over night would break the streak of cabin fever.

My sleeping bag was rated to -30 below zero and I had a one man spike tent that was designed for alpine conditions. I was not worried about the elements and was actually looking forward to testing my equipment. I am a professional guide, so having the chance to prove my equipment on a short overnight trip was great.

As I hiked I began to notice fresh signs of elk movement in the area. They are following the snow line; their coats are still very thick and require cooler temperatures. Also there were turkey tracks and numerous other tracks resembling small mammals such as chipmunks, weasels and coyotes.  As I rounded a stand of timber there in the meadow grazing stood a herd of elk. They were only 50 yards away and had no knowledge of my presents YET. Then as fast as I had seen them the lead cow raised her head and looked directly at me. I froze in my tracks not wanting to scare the herd.

elk

This time of year, it is easy for wildlife to burn needed calories if scared. So I just stood there not wanting them to run. The lead cow began moving away from me and as soon as she did the others began their movement to leave. They were quietly moving away and I watched in awe as these beautiful creatures disappeared into the forest.

I stood there as they filed into the forest, then it happened! I heard the gobbler, he was a great distance away but never the less he was there. As late as it is in the evening he is on the roost for the night. He will be there in the morning.
The snow was falling hard now as I set my tent under a big spruce tree for shelter and crawled in for the evening. I could still hear the gobbler on his roost although it was now dark.

I had set my alarm and off to sleep I went. It was a short night but exciting. Thinking about the morning and how I would maneuver into place set my decoys and start calling. It seemed as though I had no sooner closed my eyes than my alarm sounded. Now, my little alpine tent is very small but offered enough room to brew a cup of coffee. As I sat and enjoyed my coffee, I still had not looked out of my tent. It was very quiet outside of the tent and I could tell there was no wind blowing.

After my coffee, I unzipped my tent and there on the ground was a dusting of snow. I was happy as the weatherman had predicted a winter warning which could mean lots of snow.

I rolled my sleeping bag and tent, placed them in my pack. Grabbed my decoys and off I went. It was a short walk as I was close to the roost. I knew where there was a small stand of timber which would break up my silhouette and provide some shelter from the wind. It was not light yet but it was bright enough to walk without a light. At a distance things were just shadows and blurs.

I was where I wanted to be, I set out my decoys and found my spot under a low shrub. It was a little spot with plenty of concealment. I have been here many times before! The sky was getting brighter now and the gobbler sounded off. He was still on the roost, and then I heard the hens. They began to talk on the roost prior to leaving the trees to land on the ground and begin their ritual of morning feeding.

Now, for those of use that turkey hunt we know that the direction that which the birds take flying off the roost many times is determined by the sounds of other birds already on the ground feeding. I chalked the call that my stepdaughter had received as a door prize, it had never been used and had a shorter striking distance on the box than my old one. So it was, I began to call a little. Perk, Perk, Perk. The box sounded ok but was awkward.  I was skeptical, then it happened the gobbler sounded off, he was answering me from his roost. Then I heard perk, perk, perk the hens began talking to me. This went on for at least ten minutes. I would call then the flock would answer and call to each other. I knew that anytime the birds would leave the roost. Would they fly towards me and my decoys? Or would they fly in a different direction knowing that the calls they were hearing were not a real turkey calls?

Then it happened, you could hear the sound of air moving across wings. As I looked, I could see the birds gliding to the ground in my direction. They landed about 60 yards away out in the open field where they felt safe. Now I am telling myself, don’t get to excited (breath). They are not in range but coming towards me. Don’t call too much, only enough to encourage the gobbler to strut and come to my decoys.

There is a fence line between us with a wire gate that was left open through the winter. The gobbler would strut then walk towards me while the hens began their morning feeding ritual. When he reached the fence he did not want to cross under it. He would strut, turn and gobble. He would get to the fence then strut but not duck under it. I used my box call, perk, perk, perk. He would through down those wings and spread his tail in a great strut to attract the hens. However he still would not cross the fence to my decoys. The fence was 30 yards away, not a great distant but I wanted him on my side of the fence. Well that was not to happen today.

As we called back and forth, he strutted but was getting impatient and soon began to move away following the feeding hens. I knew that if I was to harvest this bird it would be now. So I stroked my box call and he gobbled, I then used my mouth call and he turned so that I had a clean look at his head. I raised my twelve gauge shotgun and looked down the barrel. He was 35 yards, once I had him in my sites, using my diaphragm call I said. Perk, Perk, Perk. He turned towards me and dropped his wings again, as he turned to fully face me I squeezed the trigger of my shotgun. It roared and I felt the surge of the recoil! I watched with enthusiasm as he fell to the ground kicking. I knew I had him!

Snow Gobbler 2

I still remember sitting with my dad and watching my first turkey on the ground, it was a feeling that I will never forget. He was so proud of me and me of him. He congratulated me on a job well done, yet he was the one that made it happen.
While sitting and giving him time to quite moving I looked and there in the distance was the heard of elk that I had seen the evening before. They were standing motionless looking in my direction. I wonder if they remember this past years hunting season and hearing the sound of a rifle.

As I climbed out of my blind, it began to snow. I walked over to my bird and gave thanks for such a great hunt. I lifted him by his legs and there protruding out of his breast was a 9 inch beard, his legs had half inch spurs. He was not the biggest gobbler that I have ever killed but he was defiantly a great bird. In Colorado the beards do not get very long as the rocks tend to wear them off short. I estimated him to weigh about 15-20lbs; his colors were bright and beautiful.
The snow was falling hard as I carried my bird to my pack; I strapped the bird to my pack for the long hike out. The elk had left the meadow now and retreated to the timber. As I hiked out, I thought of how blessed I was to have had such an opportunity to enjoy these great out of doors. How many times dad and I would walk together and share the hunt, stopping as a young boy to say did you see that dad when he strutted for you? You know just before I shot him, he would smile and answer yes I did see him wasn’t he beautiful. You did good son!!!!

The snow was falling hard as I carried my bird to my pack; I strapped the bird to my pack for the long hike out. The elk had left the meadow now and retreated to the timber. As I hiked out, I thought of how blessed I was to have had such an opportunity to enjoy these great out of doors. How many times dad and I would walk together and share the hunt, stopping as a young boy to say did you see that dad when he strutted for you? You know just before I shot him, he would smile and answer yes I did see him wasn’t he beautiful. You did good son!!!!

By the time that I reached the truck there was a good inch of snow and still snowing. It was a great morning. I drove to my father’s house for a cup of coffee and the opportunity to share my hunt. He had been the influence that would lead me to hunt, fish and enjoy the great outdoors. To enjoy these wild places that we call home. God bless you dad and thank you for all the hours that you gave to use kids when we were growing up and not giving up on us.

Today, I hunted the Wild Merriam Turkey. It was the teachings of my father that lead me here. I am now 53 years of age and it will be the last time that I will share my turkey hunting success with him. He will pass away the next February at the age of 87. I arrived at his house and my stepmom poured me a cup of coffee. He wanted to know all the details, as I told my story a big grin came upon his face and I knew he remembered the many hunts that we had shared. We walked outside as he wanted to see this magnificent bird that I had taken in a snow storm. He put his hand on my shoulder and stated, I am proud of you son. Guess you got Thanksgiving dinner! There was that big smile of accomplishment and approval that I had seen so many times growing up.

We sat and drank coffee and I explained the hunt and about all the elk I had seen. How I had heard the gobbler on the roost the night before. I explained all the details, dad sat and smiled the whole time enjoying each part of the story. After about an hour dad stated that I should get going to finish the process of taking care of the bird.

He stood, we hugged!! His voice was smooth and even, I love you son. I am proud of you.

Thank you dad for giving me the memories, ethics and love for the great outdoors that I cherish today.
Thanks to you, I understand Gods creation and know that I am blessed.

You are missed.

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Snow Gobbler