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As I took my faded “lucky” turkey hunting ball cap out of the dryer for the umpteenth time over the last 10 years I noticed faded dates, some completely gone with just a small smudge of an ink stain of what once was. I have to ask myself, “Has it really been ten years?”
The inscriptions on the inside of a ball cap don’t really hold the memories of the hunts, but the dates help me replay each hunt in my mind…remembering every one as if it had occurred only yesterday. March of 2007, I embarked on my first ever turkey hunt harvesting my first turkey. I was immediately hooked. The whole process from roosting the bird the night before, getting up before the crack of dawn, sitting against a young pine as the earth cracked with its haunting chill and the sun took over the sky. I was immediately mesmerized with the whole shenanigans of the Tom’s rituals to be King of his domain, his small piece of woods. How the bird put on a show for the hens when the hens seemed to act as if the Tom didn’t even exist. The whole experience was sealed with the smell of spent shotgun powder and the damp smell of turkey feathers in the morning dew. Yes, I was hooked. An immediate addict!
As I look at the dates that are left visible in my old ball cap, I relive each of the hunts…not only the hunt, but the whole entire experience. The places we stayed, the people we met, and even the hardships we faced. I have been fortunate to harvest several birds every year that I have hunted, except for one season. However, the season did not end without its special memories in itself.
I have harvested some really nice birds and even a multi-bearded bird but I have never been able to get the right trophy beard and spur combination on a single bird to warrant a full mount. My other turkey related goal is to complete my world slam which I am planning that quest for Spring 2018. I have several grand slams and I am working this season toward a single season slam, warranting this next trip to Florida; our third trip this season.
With future goals in mind, none of that tarnishes what I have experienced and the memories that I have made over the last ten years as a turkey hunter. As I remember each hunt so vividly, I am grateful for the graciousness of the “Turkey Gods” and all the mentors, landowners, and guides that I have crossed paths with. I truly feel honored to have shared some time with them in the woods and to have experienced the hunting and calling techniques of each one of them.
I pray that as long as I have the health and the means that I will be able to turkey hunt across the nation absorbing the breathtaking rituals and shenanigans of turkey behavior, the intoxicating smells of a spent shotgun shell, and the opportunity to “dance with a fist full of feathers.”
April 17, 2017: Our second trip to Florida left me empty handed, but not because I did not have the opportunity. I had a mature tom come into our set up on Sunday morning, I took the shot only to discover I had some faulty shotgun shells. When I unloaded my gun, I turned my shotgun sideways only to empty loose shot, broken up resin filler, and a few pieces of the top crimp. Not only was the spent round faulty, I had two in the magazine that were busted up pretty bad. I took a pretty good blow from the recoil of my shotgun and the results of the shot were oddly wrong.
I have since bought a new box of shells and it did not deter me getting back out in the woods after an Alabama Tom.
I had a goal, one that seemed to have clipped my legs out from under me and left me with the air knocked out of me right from the start. I have to admit, I was having a hard time with it….was there any way of saving it? A way to get back on my feet, feel the grit in my teeth? A way to persevere?
It’s not a pride thing–it is a passion…a sickness almost, but it is mine–I really enjoy turkey hunting. It’s my thing! I would give up all other game hunting if I could have six months out of the year hunting turkey. Honestly, I would spend the other six preparing for turkey hunting.
After much thought and a little research, I threw it out there; yep, another trip. Well, the results–trip number three to Florida is on the calendar for this coming weekend. A fast and furious trip praying for good odds if the Turkey Gods are willing.
Our hunting clothes are in the wash, the truck is still partially packed from our last trip and from this weekend hunting here at home in Alabama. FIVE STATES in THREE WEEKS, that is what is on the calendar and somewhere in between we will be working our 8-5 job in the concrete jungle for nine of those days with a one hour one way commute. The TO-DO/DUE-LIST has already been started for mid-week and I am looking forward to the adventure and actually all the hard work.
Yep! They say it is a passion, an obsession….I say, “It’s a SICKNESS, an insanity!” It gets under your skin like an alien bot, it wreaks your mind even when you sleep. Every far off sound mimics that of a gobble, even in the city on the busy sidewalks. It’s haunting….and warming, in the same moment….and you are elusive to being in your right mind! Yep, a sickness! An insanity!!
April 16, 2017: Last year, our goal was to be in Mexico this May working on completing my Royal and World turkey slam. A truck that broke down during our archery rut hunt in Missouri in November with a costly DEF system replacement and a roof that started leaking on our home when we returned from that trip had other plans for us. Our original plans left no need to seek a turkey lease in our home state other than a small parcel we hunt south of us. So that small parcel is all we had access to this season on our home turf.
The parcel is a small triangular shaped cow pasture with very little woods that sits adjacent to a HUGE pine plantation. Turkey do frequent that cow pasture so there was a chance of being in the right place at the right time…but chance is 50/50, so that was enough for us to get up every weekend we could and visit the cow pasture with hopes of being on the right side of that 50/50 equation.
This is our third year hunting this parcel and we have seen a few birds on it. However, just after last season, a portion of the adjacent pine plantation had been clear cut and the rest select cut, thinning out most of the adjacent property. On our first hunt of this season, we watched nine toms and twenty hens in the cut-over. Every weekend we had the opportunity to hunt this property, we watched some sort of combination of those birds…our only problem, those birds were over the fence on property we did not have permission to hunt. Yep, it was a lot like that famous Eddie Murphy skit, “I’ve got ice cream and you can’t have none!”
We put a Spartan GoCam wireless camera out early in the season and were taunted by turkey on “our side of the fence” on several occasions. We came close on one hunt but a hen won the Tom’s attention. This weekend was officially our last weekend to hunt turkey in Alabama because of our upcoming out of state turkey hunting trips. On Saturday, we were able to roost a bird on “our side of the fence.” That kind of made it easy to wake up at 3:30 am Sunday morning. We needed to get in there early while it was extremely dark and get set up with plenty of time to let the woods settle before fly-down.
Just like someone flipped a switch the Tom’s started gobbling. We were set up right where we needed to be. We had the roosted Tom on our side of the fence, one across the fence in the tree line 300 yards front of us, and another off to the right on an adjoining horse farm, all gobbling at daybreak. We never heard the roosted Tom fly down but finally he gobbled on the ground behind us.
The sun started to top the trees in front of us. The Tom was gobbling and getting closer. I had my shotgun up, my safety off, and I was turned to the right for my widest shot possibility. I waited as I heard the Tom spit twice as he went into full strut.
I could tell, even with my ESP hearing protection in my ears, that this Tom was close. I watched as a hen walked out in front of me. Then I saw movement to the right of me behind some brush just eight to ten yards away. I was tucked away in some brush and I was shaded somewhat from the sun so I knew I had the perfect advantage. I finally saw the top of the Tom’s head, red waddles, and part of a beard through the thick brush. The bird was at eight yards and all that was left was just TWO MORE STEPS by the bird to clear the brush, for me to move my gun six inches to the right, and make the shot. At least that is what my mind was saying.
The Tom never took the two steps in the direction I needed. The Tom stopped, stood a split second behind the brush looking straight in Mister’s direction, then it turned slowly and crept back the way it walked in…but not before letting out three warning putts!
When I knew the bird was out of view I turned to Mister to shrug my shoulders and immediately I saw what the tom balked at. The sun had rose to the height above the trees and was beaming brightly on Mister. A portion of his face, the frames and the lenses of his glasses were shining in the bright direct sunlight. That is why the bird didn’t spook badly, it just knew something didn’t look right. When I told Mister, he said, “I was afraid of that but there was no way to avoid it at that moment.” In the particular area we set up in it did not leave us much selection for a different arrangement. So, we ended the season without an Alabama turkey harvest but we came as close as one could without one. It was a good hunt and a great memory to end the season with.
The next two weeks are going to be jam-packed starting with a hunt in Florida where we will leave Friday night for the eight hour drive down to Lakeland, Florida in time to hit the woods before daylight to hunt an Osceola on Saturday morning with guide, Chris Graham. This will be our third weekend that we have been to Florida for an Osceola so I plan to hunt hard to make it happen. Then the following week we have a four day work week, a 20-hour drive for a DIY hunt in Kansas followed by a DIY hunt in Nebraska, then on to Missouri to hunt with Double Deuce Ranch. A lot of preparation, road weary days, headlight-lit highway nights, in-cab dining, tailgate meals, and a ton of great memories are in store.
Don’t forget to subscribe to this blog to follow along where I will be sharing our hunting adventures, what we are using in the field, how we plan our DIY hunts, places we visit, and everything in between…the good, the comical, the bad, and the hardships.
March 24-26, 2017: As this Florida Osceola turkey hunt slowly approached on my calendar, the excitement was building up knowing this would be the official kick-off to my quest to complete a turkey grand slam in one season. I was meeting several friends in Dunnellon, Florida and we would spend the next three days hunting Osceola Turkey in 80 degree weather in the sandy, buggy woods of Central Florida with guide, Dave Mehlenbacher. This would be my third time hunting turkey with Dave and up to this trip, our past groups had been 100% with him–we were hoping for a continued record. It would be hard to top our triple in 2011 where within the first hour of our first morning’s hunt, but we were willing to fathom the thought.
Our first morning we were out the door at 5:15 a.m. with strict instructions to be ready when we bail out of the truck because we would be parking within earshot of the resident turkey in the area. The walk in was on a dark two rut road because of the tall, eerie majestic plantation oaks that had limbs and branches that spanned over the entire trail. Several of us had to get in close and even hold on to the other to sneak through this section of woods to get to the backside of the property. Mister and two hunters, Raquel and Rebecca, stopped at a front field tucked away in the scrub oaks and heavy ground brush. Dave, myself and two others traveled on to the back portion of the property.
Once we reached our destination, I quickly set up with my back resting against an oak tree. Dave and the other hunter, Keith, were to my left and the decoys were also to my left in a sandy area about 18-20 yards. It was still really dark out and definitely too early for any gobbling. As I rested against the oak, my shins burning from the brisk walk in on sandy soil, I couldn’t help but feel the building excitement deep in my soul as to what the day would hold. We had two hunters, Keith and Rebecca, that were needing an Osceola to complete their turkey grand slam. One other hunter, Raquel, was working on shooting her first Osceola. I was working on my 5th Osceola and the first bird in my quest for a grand slam in one season. I have completed several turkey grand slams but never one in the same season….it was on my bucket list!
As the sky began to lighten up, the first gobble rang out. Then a second gobble a few minutes later. All of a sudden there was a strong gobble in the tree line in front of us followed by what sounded like a jake gobble, and it was like someone struck a nerve…chain gobbles came out of those trees for the next few minutes. At one point I wondered if they had time to catch their breath. It was music to my ears, making my hair stand up on the nap of my neck and my stomach felt as if fireflies were playing Quidditch in my gut and lungs.
I had already told Keith that if we had the opportunity at birds, he needed to take the first shot to finish his grand slam and if the opportunity was there for a double, I would follow-up. It was exciting to think that maybe a few of those toms gobbling on the roost would give us that opportunity. The birds eventually pitched down but in the other direction. We heard a single gobble a good distance off to the left of us. We waited as Dave made a few calls at varying times.
We were well into the first hour and a half of our first hunt when I heard a hen putt somewhere behind and to the left of me. I strained to hear movement…nothing. Within a few minutes I saw something very dark and round to the extreme left of me. A TOM!! And he was coming in HOT! The bird stopped for a moment, pecked at the ground, reassessed the decoy scene, went into strut, and marched right into our set up blown up like an overstuffed pinata. I knew at this point that the bird was directly in front of Keith, but he had yet to shoot. The bird walked over to the decoy, bumped into it and the next thing I knew he was on top of the decoy knocking it to the ground, and pecking at the decoy’s head.
I was thinking to myself, “shoot, shoot, shoot!” Then I thought, “Maybe Keith sees another bird coming into the set-up down the trail that I can’t see.” I heard my heart start pumping as I readied my shotgun. The live tom was doing all he could do to beat the decoy up and he paused for a moment when the shot rang out pelting his noggin with turkey shot and laying him out in the sand. Keith rushed out to retrieve the bird as Dave rushed out to upright the downed decoy. Well, the decoy needed a little work and wasn’t going to just easily get poked back into the sand. I dug my Buck Knife Bantam out of my turkey vest and handed it to Dave to work on the repairs. Dave was able to temporarily fix “Old Scar Face” and he ran out and stuck him up in the sand.
We sat on this spot another 45 mins to an hour but nothing else came into it. That was and exciting hunt and I was ecstatic for Keith in completing his Turkey Grand Slam. The other hunters had not seen a bird all morning.
After a quick trip into town for lunch at The Blue Gator, we returned to the woods in search of toms. We all used strategy to get us to where we heard birds gobbling in the morning thinking we may have a chance at them coming back to the roost. No such luck! With all the chain gobbling that took place that morning, we estimated at least six other tom’s in that area, but we didn’t hear a single gobble.
On Saturday and Sunday we didn’t hear a single gobble and we hunted all day both days with a short lunch break. Keith had a failed archery opportunity at another tom that came running into the Deception Outdoors Decoy setup. With turkey hunting, it isn’t over until the sun starts to set so we held out until the last minute and made our retreat back to the trucks.
I won’t lie, I was kind of bummed. Something that I set out to do was knocked down on the first turkey hunting trip. Was I giving in too easily? Was there still a chance? Would I have the time to come back this season and hunt again? All of this was running through my head on my walk back to the truck and on our drive home. After discussing it with Mister and bringing up the idea to Rebecca, much pondering and schedule changing, and the heart of gold of an awesome guide, WE ARE HEADED BACK TO FLORIDA! WoooHooo! The weekend of April 8 & 9th we will be back in those woods working hard toward achieving Rebecca’s first grand slam and for me, pulling off a grand slam off in one season. Wish us luck!!
If my memory serves me right, this will be my thirteenth year attending the NWTF Annual Convention and Expo in Nashville, Tennessee. I was attending this event several years before I ever became a hunter or even had a clue that I would ever give in and say “yes” to going hunting that first time. I attended several expos tirelessly following Mister around like a puppy at his feet, down every single isle, stopping at nearly every single booth, perusing stuff that I had absolutely no inkling of what it was, let alone what it was used for. As hard as I tried, I did my best to be engaged in conversations, the words being said could have very well been a discussion on how to build a race car engine because I didn’t have a clue or remote idea of what a turkey hunt even entailed.
I did enjoy people watching, perusing the few booths with non-hunting items, listening to the sounds coming out of some booths that people could make with a wooden stick and something that looked similar to a hockey puck trimmed in wood. I have to admit, I never got bored but I was definitely a “duck out of water.”
Fast forward 13 years, here I am, giddy as a child headed to the state fair on our drive to Nashville, Tennessee. It’s often ironic how life plays out. I remember my first turkey hunt like it was yesterday. I remember the cool, damp morning and how I felt the coolness rise from the ground at that exact moment that the sun cracked the horizon. I remember the way the fine hairs stood at end on the nap of my neck the very first time I heard that Tom rattle off a gobble from the hardwoods. And, I distinctively remember instantly having to pee, feeling a wee-bit lightheaded as my heart beat increasingly got louder in my ears the minute that Tom strutted out of the woods into the hay field. WHAT A SIGHT!! How could something that lives in the woods, robed in feathers and topped with a rather ugly mug be so irradescently beautiful with the most brilliant red, the warmest blue and the brightest white I have ever laid eyes on.
I could go on and on about those first few hunts…some would bore you, some might disappoint you, and some would even make you laugh, but there is no doubt, I was HOOKED! I found my obsession fueled with passion! An obsession packed with determination, perseverance and a deep embedded firery passion that makes even a fruitless hunt a savored memory.
I have been real fortunate in my short 10 years of hunting turkey to have hunted a variety of states for a variety of species. EVERY single hunt has its own story! Every hunt has taught me something and found a special place in my memory reserved for everything TURKEY.
This spring should be PHENOMENAL! We will be hunting in Alabama, Florida, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska and possibly Tennessee. I started this blog on my quest for a grand slam in 2009, and although I have tucked a few grand slams away in my hunting journal, I have never pulled a grand slam off in a single season. That is my goal this spring. No doubt it will take numerous hours of traveling, many really early mornings, a lot of scouting and walking–some on new land we have never set foot on–not to mention a thump of patience and a pocket full of luck. As a bonus, I get to share this experience with Mister….every mile, every step….as a team, him behind the call and me behind the shotgun, every success and every failure, we share alike. I will also get to make and share memories with hunting friends along the way, some of which I hope will share their experience as guest posts here.
The NWTF Annual Convention and Expo was the gateway to my addiction and it starts off the countdown every year for something that stays on my mind year-round, OPENING DAY! Wishing a “pocket full of luck” to all those who share in our hunting adventures through our blog, Shenanigans From the Field and don’t forget to subscribe by entering your email in the box in the upper left hand column to follow along this spring.
Hunt hard, harvest ethically and may your turkey vest be full of feathers. ~Nancy Jo