I guess sometimes less really can be more when it comes to hunting. At least it was this year for fall turkey hunting and me.
For several years the limit on fall turkeys had been four amid the season that runs most of four months. I hunted the birds hard and often for many seasons with my Lab, Hank. It was one of our main things for January, especially when duck seasons were closed.
Then this year the fall limit was reduced to one by Wildlife and Parks because spring success rates had dropped a bit the past few years.
I wasn’t a fan of the new limit, of course. I really enjoy turkey hunting and really enjoy hunting with my dog. The four bird limit gave us loads of opportunities, and a chance to help landowners/friends who thought their property had too many wintering birds.
But just one? That meant I surely wanted it to be a really good hunt, especially since Hank is probably on his final season.
We had that hunt Friday afternoon, and as the photo shows it went well.
There are a variety of ways to get within shooting range of fall and winter turkeys, and Hank and I have probably enjoyed them all. I’ve sneaked as close as I could get us many times, sent him on to scatter the birds and then sat down and called them back to the scatter point.
I’ve shot them as they’ve flown past on a scatter. We’ve walked them up like over-grown pheasants when they’ve scattered into tall grass and held tight enough to be flushed by the dog. No doubt that was Hank’s favorite technique in his prime, but at nearly 14 that prime was several years ago.
Also several years ago I started using a Dakota jake decoy, a realistic-looking replica of what I see as a submissive jake. It’s head is tucked down, doesn’t have much color and I like to push the decoy so low it’s almost on the ground. Since they jockey for dominance all year, but especially in these few months before the spring breeding season, I’ve found toms and jakes ofter readily charge what they see as an easy victim. I’ve had as many as 10 toms trashing the decoy at once on a January morning, and have photos of old toms strutting around the decoy when there’s snow on the ground.
With trail cameras and my eyes I’d scouted a flock of about 19 longbeards on a property I hunt often in Butler County. That they were gobbling well on morning roosts, and strutting off and on after fly down, told me they were probably prime for decoying. Coming and going down a farm road between two soybean fields they were about as patternable as I am going out to get the newspaper in the driveway every morning.
I’d placed a blind on a nearby food plot a couple of weeks ago so wildlife could get used to it. Friday afternoon we got into the blind at about 1:30, about two hours before I expected the birds to start moving.
As he has spent maybe 100-plus hours, Hank laid down in the blind, his nose sticking just under the zipper so he could smell what was coming and going. Several times in the past his wagging tail had been my first hint that we had turkeys downwind. But there was no wagging tail this time, because the birds appeared about 150 yards upwind in a small soybean field. A few coarse jake yelps from a slate call got their attention. They headed our way when they saw the decoy.
Four longbeards flat rushed the jake decoy, popping and slapping the decoy with their wings. I expected some go into an intimidating strut but it didn’t happen. Maybe that’s because I didn’t give them much time.
Another thing about only having one permit is that I danged sure wanted to take the turkey with my bow, to add to the specialness of the hunt. I got drawn with no problems and one of the toms was perfectly broadside about 10 yards away. That’s a shot that would have been hard for even me to mess up. I instantly knew the hit was fatal.
After the hit the bird ran from the plot, with the other toms in tow. When I saw the flock stop and mill around for a few seconds about 70 yards out, I figured the bird was done. I waited a few minutes before letting Hank out of the blind. He hit the trail of the departing flock and followed it with ease. For an old dog, he hit the downed tom with a pretty good pounce. Two years ago he could pick up a big turkey and carry it back to me. Last year he dragged them in. He got Friday’s bird off the ground for a few seconds before setting it down.
I don’t shop when it comes to turkey hunting. When I’m hunting mature toms I’m as happy shooting a two-year-old bird as I am some ancient bird with spurs like shark’s teeth. Still, Friday’s bird had exceptional coloring on it’s tail and saddle feather tips. The beard was thick and 10 1/8 inches. Both spurs were 1 1/8 inches. The tom felt like 25 pounds to me, so he probably weighed 22 or so. Because of the heat I was in a hurry to get it cleaned and cooled before I could get it weighed.
I decided to dry its fan, and add it to the trophy room along with a photo from the hunt with Hank. It was certainly a hunt and a bird worth remembering, especially since I was limited to the solo permit.