Three Days In April

27 Jun

It has become tradition in my family to take part in the second portion of the Iowa turkey hunting season every year. For three days, my wife and I chase these “kings of spring” around the Iowa landscape. Going on for 6 years now,  we have been on both sides of Mother Nature’s good graces, fighting rain, wind, and a pregnancy. On the other hand, 3 of the 6 years have been successful by the second day of the season. Here is a breakdown of my wife and I’s 6th year together in the turkey blind…

 

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The second season of the Iowa turkey season always starts on a Friday. This means that I usually take off all day Friday, and part of the day Thursday to set up the blind to have everything ready for opening morning. With rain in the forecast for Thursday afternoon, I knew I was going to get wet setting up the blind. But, I didn’t know I was going to get drenched. I love it when the weatherman says “light rain” but actually means “You better build an ark in you plan on going anywhere.” No lie, my rubber boots were filled up with water. But at least the blind was up and the rain was supposed to pass by the end of the day and conditions were going to improve by Friday morning.

I have always been told that if it’s raining the turkey like to leave the timber and head to open pastures or fields. So, I took a drive around the section and to my surprise, the turkey were everywhere. I think I counted around 25 birds, 10 that were in full strut. The turkey were in the area and I was excited for the following morning.

4 a.m. hit like a ton of bricks, but my sleep deprivation quickly turned to excitement once I looked outside and saw nothing but stars. The weather system had passed and I knew from experience that it was going to be a very active morning. It didn’t take long for Sara and I to get dressed, load up on coffee and snacks, and slip out the door. On the drive to the to farm I could tell my wife was excited as well as she was asking lots of questions regarding the upcoming hunt. This made me even more excited as in the past she usually didn’t do that.

After we parked and got situated a pair of headlights appeared down the road. As the truck approached it began to slow down, it was two of the other hunters I share the property with. We had a short discussion about where each of us were hunting so we didn’t interrupt the others hunt. Conversation was over and we headed our separate ways. My wife and I quickly hopped the gate and headed through the pasture to our blind. The moon was full, so we didn’t need head lamps in order to get to the blind. As we made our way through the pasture it didn’t take long until we had a run in with the local cattle. Like I have mentioned in previous articles, this is an active farm and it’s something I have to deal with on a regular basis. Because cattle are… well… cattle, they spooked and started a stamped, running all over the pasture. This had me a little concerned because over the years the birds tended to roost close to the timber line and fly down directly in the pasture. A couple minutes later we made it to the blind, set out the decoys and got situated.

It was somewhere between 5:30 and 5:45 when we heard out first distant gobble. Over the next 15 minutes the gobbles increased, but no indication of anything thing close. Then, like a lightening strike, a couple birds sounded off in the timber directly in front of us. Then another, and another. When it was all said and done, I had 4 toms responding to my hen call. Our confidence grew as time went on and the birds continued to gobble in the treeline that was about 100 yards in front of us.

It was about 6:00 when toms broke from the treeline and made an appearance in the cattle pasture. They continued to gobble with almost every breath, as they slowly made their way closer to our location. There were 3 toms altogether, and one hen. They were slowly making their way towards our decoy set up when it was like they hit some sort of invisible force field that did not allow them to come any closer, they would just strut back and forth about 20+ yards outside of my wife shooting range. This went on for 10 minutes or so before I took a peek outside the back of the blind. That’s when I figured out why the toms weren’t coming closer. The cattle had worked their way back in to the south side of the pastures and were creeping closer to the blind. This didn’t necessarily spook the birds but it did give make them a little nervous. About that time I noticed that the hen a had enough of the cattle and she started making her way down the hill and towards another portion of the pasture where they wouldn’t be bothered. The toms followed.

As soon as the toms dropped out of sight the gobbling stopped, and for some reason or another so did the rest of the toms in the area. My wife was pretty disappointed as we were literally steps away from getting a shot. I reminded her to be patience as anything could happen this early in the morning. About 30 minutes had passed and I started another round of aggressive calling. Instantly, the toms that followed the hen into the other part of the pasture responded. They continued to respond for the next half hour or so before I told my wife we needed to make a move to try and flank their position. So, we got out of the blind and started to make our way to the timber line where the birds were originally roosted. Once in the timber, we dropped off the back of the ridge to the valley below, then back up the other side to the back side of the ridge that connected to the portion of the pasture where we last heard the toms.  Basically making a large “U”.

There we were, 50 yards from the fence line that separated the timber from the pasture. I took off my pack, instructed my wife to hide behind a group of trees, and started a sneak move with my binoculars to see if I could locate the birds. I took my time closing the distance. I found a shaded area behind a thick bush that offered decent cover to glass from. It only took one pass with the binos through the pasture to find the toms, all three in full strut about 100 yards off the fence line. I knew there was a hen somewhere as well but I couldn’t find her. The toms were strutting on the highest point in the pasture and because I couldn’t find the hen I figured she was on the other side of the hill out of sight. I took a couple of steps around the bush I was hiding behind to bet a better look at the corner of the pasture I couldn’t see. I pulled up the binos and the first thing I saw was the hen, about 20 yards away, looking right at me. BUSTED! As she darted in the opposite direction it took only a moment for the toms to notice and they were quick to follow. As I walked back to my wife swearing, she knew what had happened.

Once we returned to the blind I decided to change our set up just a bit. We moved the blind about 75 yards closer to the timber where the turkeys had flown down in hopes of being that much closer. Once the move was completed we started talking about what to do with the rest of the morning. One thing I have learned while hunting with my wife over the years is that she can easily become burnt out as she is not a big fan of the run-n-gun style turkey hunting that I am used to. Knowing that if I pushed her too hard the rest of the day she might not want to head out the next morning. And, knowing that the mornings typically offer the highest success rate, we decided to head back to the house, get cleaned up, and head to a local winery for a wine tasting then come back to the house and spend some time with the kids. This is after all a family vacation.

I was already wide awake staring at the ceiling fan when my alarm sounded off. Got dressed, grabbed a cup of coffee and some snacks, drove to the property, walked to the bind, set up the decoys, got settled, and waited. The first thing I noticed while walking to the blind was that the cattle had made their way in to the ag field that they leave open during between the time the crops are harvested and the time they are planted. This made me hopeful for the morning to come.

As daylight started to break, there was an eerie quiet over the property. I couldn’t hear any tractors, airplanes, trains, and it even seemed that the birds weren’t as active that morning. But, you could tell by the sky that is was going to be a beautiful morning. Typically, I am a pretty aggressive caller first thing in the morning, but for some reason I decided to start off really light. About the same time as the previous morning I started with some soft hen calls and progressively became louder and louder. In the back of my head I kept thinking about the birds that busted me the previous morning and if it was going to play a role in the activity we were or were not going to see this morning. That was until we heard our first gobble coming from the same location as the morning before, then another, and another. I could see Sara’s face light up, this made me happy.

I continued with the light calling, and although they were not responding as much as they did the previous morning, they were still responding, and I felt confident that we were going to get another crack at one of the birds that were directly in front of us. As the sky became lighter and lighter, it seemed as if the turkey were held up in the tree later than normal. This had me wondering if they saw us walking in to the blind.

The next series of event happened so fast that it’s kind of hard describe in a way that will leave you captivated. But, here’s what happened. Similar to synchronized diving, one tom, three jakes, and one hen all flew down from a tree inside the timber line and landed about 10-15 yards from the decoys behind a small bush. The tom instantly went in to strut and started walking towards the decoys. Without me having to say a word, Sara had her gun in position and was locked on the target. I then heard her slide the safety off. The moment the tom broke from behind the bush… BOOM! There was no flop, just a dead turkey.

Because I had an archery tag, I quickly loaded an arrow to see if I could get a shot at one of the jakes that were still hanging around. By the time I ranged the first jake, came to full draw and settled the pin, the turkey was about 60 yards away. I threw two arrows his way that were basically Hail Mary shots. None of them connected.

We quickly exited the blind and walked over to Sara’s prize, where I congratulated her on a good shot and she thanked me for calling him in. These are the moments in life that I truly cherish. After taking time for a photo shoot, we packed up the bird, the gear, an headed back to the house to start the cleaning process. We were home before 7:00 a.m.

Later that day, my step-dad came home from his turkey hunt and was a little frustrated with how his morning hunt turned out. With another hunter on a neighboring property who seemed to be working out their anger issues on a box call, and a group of kids who were riding 3-wheelers up and down the road, he was questioning if he was even going to hunt the rest of his vacation. It was at that moment I decided to forgo the last morning I was able to hunt and take my step-dad out to one of the properties I had access to. He told me he would call for me if I wanted him to, but to be honest, I find just as much enjoyment calling for others as I do turkey hunting for my self. The plan was set for the following morning.

The plan was simple, run-n-gun our way through a property that I have had success with in the past. We hung around the truck until is started getting light in the east then made our way to the timber timber line. The lighter it got, the more we slipped in to the timber off of the field edge down an old path that hadn’t been mowed for a couple years. About 100 yards down the path we stopped under a large pine tree to begin calling. Like the previous morning, I started off with some light calling. Not knowing where the turkey were going to be roosted, I wanted to get one to respond to my calling before we set up the decoys. We started to hear some gobbles in the distance that seemed to be responding to my calls, but it was hard to calculate how far they were from our location. After about 10 minutes we heard a gobble come from a cattle pasture to the east. I figured this was as good as a place as any, we just need to wait a little longer for them to work their way to our location. I set up the decoy in the middle of the path, situated my step-dad under a tree with a shooting lane towards the decoy, and I backed up 30 yards in a low spot under another pine tree where I begin another round of light calling.

As I was calling, you could literally hear two toms closing the distance, one from the north and one from the east. After about 15 minutes of call and respond, and knowing they were getting close, the gobbles stopped. From experience, I knew this meant they were locked on our location and were on their way. To prevent them from seeing us before we saw then I needed them to gobble a couple more times to get a hit on their position.

Remember, I was in a low spot behind my step-dad so I couldn’t see the opposite ridge or the fence line that intercepted the path on the property line. According to my step-dad it was one of the most exciting 20 minutes of action he has ever had while turkey hunting, and I didn’t see any of it.

Finally, after a round of really aggressive calls, the tom to the north spoke up. The tom to the east however was still silent, although Jim could see him working his way down the opposite ridge right towards him. He could also see the tom to the north of him, who was accompanied by a jake and hen, strutting back and forth along the fence line hesitant to cross the fence down the path. At one point I could hear the northern tom strutting like the sound of distant bass from inside of a house. Long story shot, Jim lost track of the tom to the east as it flanked our position and busted him turning his head to investigate. In the meantime, the hen started to leave and the strutting tom started to leave whither her. However, the jake made the worst decision of his life and decided to check out the decoys. If you know my step-dad he doesn’t pass much game. Again, not being able to see what was going on, I jumped he pulled the trigger. Dead jake.

 

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As we both stood up and started walking towards his harvest, it occurred to me how much I love seeing others be successful in the field. And being able to share these moments are what keep me coming back year after year. We stood over the turkey and Jim filled me in on everything that I missed. We exchanged high-fives and laughs, like most hunting partners do, had a short photo shoot, then got in the truck and made out way to the house.

I can’t wait to do it all over again next year.

Thanks for reading,
Dan (DFW)

 

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