We were sitting in a spot within 100 yards of where we had seen the birds the previous evening. Richard was about 20 yards behind me. Just before day break we had two toms gobbling in the trees just on top of the ridge. As day started to break a 3rd joined in from about 75 yards down the ridge. Every now and again you could hear a soft tree yelp from a hen around the two toms. Finally I heard the fly down and I kept my eyes on the ridge.
I was getting a glimpse of the toms every few minutes through a clearing but they would not yet to commit to Richard’s calling. They worked a 50 yard area on top of that ridge for about 30 minutes when I caught movement from the third tom further away. The two toms to my left made their way to a coulee that was about 50 yards in front of me but I could not see them for the terrace. The third gobbler worked his way down the steep bank to the coulee, sinking to his rump feathers a few times in the snow. All three toms made a ruckus gobbling their heads off but they just were not going to compete with Richard’s calling and come in to it. Some days are just like that but it has been a long time since we have had 3 competing gobblers that would not compete for the attention of a hen; if it was going to happen, it would be on this trip.
After about 20 minutes of the toms beating down the snow, strutting, spitting and gobbling their heads off they split; one tom came down and went up the next embankment about 90-100 yards to the right side of Richard. The other two went right back up and over the ridge to the other side. We sat listening to them and figured they were not going to come back and cover ground that they have already been on so we got up and tried to scale the steep embankment through the 1.5-2 foot of snow. It took about 15 minutes to get to the top and by this time the toms had stopped gobbling so much and you could hear that they had moved on. Richard scaled the last 15 yards of the peak and looked around while on top and the birds were not in sight nor was there an easily accessible route down that side of the ridge. So we backed out coming down off the ridge.
When Richard had almost reached me and I turned around to walk down I heard the flapping of wings and looked up and a hen had taken flight out of a tree about 10 yards from me and was followed by a second hen. The only good thing about this is that they lit on the embankment that the lone tom had scaled and they were headed over it. This would keep the tom in the area. We came off of the ridge and started to trudge through the slushy snow trail that we had made going in and out or this area. Even the wildlife was trying to find easy routes to get around, there were deer, turkey and other wildlife tracks along the trail.
As we were driving off of the ranch and to the back side of the property we stopped along the road which would be the other side of the mountain where the tom had went in. Richard crow called and we heard him gobble. The tom responded to every sound that Richard made. So we grabbed our gear and walked about 400 yards through the snow in the valley and to the point where the mountain ridge was the lowest. The tom had gobbled some on our way to this point but once we got there we could not get a response; either the bird was moving or he saw us come across the valley. We stayed at that point for about 10 minutes and we didn’t hear him again so we headed back to the truck.
As luck would have it, when we reached the truck and started packing our gear in the back–the tom gobbled at the exact spot that we just left from. Murphy’s Law!! We decided we would drive up the road a short distance so that we could walk just inside the edge of the woods to keep some cover. We got close to the point we last heard him and Richard hit the calls and he gobbled a good distance from us still on top of the ridge line. We quickly headed back to the truck to drive further to the point of the ridge that went into a big pasture land area. When we got to the fence at the end of the ridge I told Richard to grab his gear and go without me to keep the movement and sound at a minimum. Off he went.
As I was sitting there snapping a few pictures I decided to call my co-worker to bring her up to speed on all the shenanigans that had happened to us on this trip. I had just started my conversation with her when all of the sudden I heard a gobble; and CLOSE. I told her that I needed to go and would call her back. I hung up the phone and got out in pursuit of my shotgun in the back seat. I had to open the passenger door and my shotgun was all the way on the other side with the barrel into the floor board. I caught sight of the tom at the exact moment that I stepped up into the vehicle. He was marching right along the edge gobbling away.
I quickly got my shot gun and crouched down on the ground digging my face mask and gloves out of my pant pocket and jacket pocket. I left the truck door open and crawled in the slushy mud and snow gumbo to the front tire. I pumped a shell into the chamber and peeked around the front of the truck. There he was 70 yards up on the terrace…marching, strutting, gobbling and moving parallel to me.
I thought to myself how ironic it would be that I shoot a bird that Richard just took off after in the mountains; and from a crouching position at the front of a glaringly white SUV. I had to giggle to myself. The bird was working his way closer when it hit me that I didn’t exactly know where Richard was on the other side of the mountain and there is a good possibility that he might work his way up to the ridge to see where the tom was. I looked the area over where the tom was headed and if he got in this certain spot the embankment would keep any shot from the shell from going anywhere close to where Richard might could get. Now I just needed to wait for him to work his way toward that point. He came within 10 yards of it when he headed back up the embankment and he went over. He stayed on that side of the ridge gobbling his head off for about 10 minutes then he went quiet. A few minutes later Richard walked up over the ridge and about 40 yards down the ridge in the opposite direction the tom took flight to the valley below.
We just were not going to get a break. Richard walked down to the truck and I had told him what had happened and he asked me to show him how close the bird was. He couldn’t believe that I didn’t take a shot but without knowing exactly where he was it was the right decision. He said he had not heard the bird and believe it or not, he had walked in the opposite direction so he was nowhere near the point that the tom came out…GO FIGURE!!
We decided to scout and then drove back to the ranch so we could eat lunch. I had hoped to do some typing and take a nap. Well, I never got around to the typing…we snacked on food and drinks we had in the truck. Then one of the farmers came up and we talked with him for about an hour. He showed us his bone pile. A stack of sheds and skulls that were cougar kills, death and just seasonal sheds from deer and elk. It was interesting to talk about the environment and terrain there since it is so different than we were accustomed to.
After we both took a nap in the truck we walked out to hunt the same area we hunted earlier that morning but we were going to split up; Richard would go in the direction the lone tom had taken and I would go up further on the embankment that I had been on. A big cloud had come over while we were out there and snow started to fall again and the temperature started to drop.
Our afternoon hunt was pretty uneventful. Richard did hear some toms gobbling at the end of the ridge so we made plans to set up in that area in the morning. We called it a day. On the ride home we started counting our time left and the things we had planned and started to make plans; figuring Murphy’s Law in of course. I had to cancel some dinner plans we made in Billings with some friends and cancel hotel reservations. Being flexible and one that usually copes well with spontaneity, this trip was definitely testing my ability to do so. I refuse to let it get the best of me…Life is Good!!