Tagging Out on Turkeys: Spring 2009

Aaron Daye

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My spring 2009 turkey season was about to start and with a few final checks before the opener, I was ready.
For the past few weeks I had been scouting my properties for the up-coming season. I was able to roost birds at all three properties during my scouting trips in the evenings and I was able to pin point a couple strutting zones during my morning trips. With a day before the opener I was still a little unsure of which spot to hunt the opening morning.

The night before the opener I headed to the property where I had heard a gobbler roosted in the same general area every time. The was located in a stand of oaks next to some marsh. If I could locate the gobbler, I planned on hunting this property. If I was unsuccessful in my attempt then I would head to one of the other properties in the morning for opening day. After arriving about an hour before dark I decided to just sit and listen. Not a sound for 40 minutes and I began to question my choice of properties to roost that night.

Then, as if on cue, a thunderous gobble echoed through the woods. He was in the same general location I’d heard him before and he was gobbling almost every 40 seconds. This had me fired up, I was pretty sure of his exact location and had a good idea were to set up with the ground blind in the morning. It would be tough due to the thick woods but I was confident I could find a good clear spot to set up. This was going to be my first year at making a serious attempt at taking a turkey with the bow. With a little luck I felt I had a great chance at this bird in the morning.
Of course morning couldn't come quick enough as I, like many turkey hunters before opening day, had a tough time getting any sleep that night. When the alarm rang I was already up and brushing my teeth just itching to get out the door. The 40 minute drive went by in no time as I was running every scenario through my head.

Once I arrived I got my gear ready and headed to my spot. After about 15 minutes stumbling around in the woods the confidence I once had about finding a clear spot was diminishing quickly. With first light fast approaching I picked what I thought was the best spot and setup.

After I got the decoys and blind set up I settled in with much anticipation on what the morning hunt would bring. I peered out the window watching the sky lighten as the starlet April night gave way to the rising sun. Before long the first gobble rang through the hard wood forest of Southern Maryland. Spring Turkey Season had started!
I had only heard one individual bird gobble at the property on my pre-season scouting trips but to my surprise I had a total of seven gobbling turkeys firing off in all directions anywhere from 80 to 350 yards of my location. The bird I had roosted the night before was about 90 to 100 yards in front of me and just to my left. He was without question the most vocal bird that morning, gobbling 40 plus times on the roost before he flew down.

I did my best to stay patient and calm while listening to this orchestra play before me. I made one soft tree yelp with my diaphragm call, which was answered immediately by multiple gobbles. After about 30 or so minutes of talking on the roost I could tell one bird about 150 yards out in front just to my right had come off roost and was heading my way. He gobbled on his own with relative consistency as he closed the distance to my set up all the while the original bird I set up on would cut him off with gobbles. It was about to get interesting with the farther gobbler closing the distance and on a course that would take him right past the other gobbler. Soft yelps and clucks from my diaphragm call only intensified their response.

There was a short pause of about three minutes or so of no gobbles so I made another soft yelp followed by a series of soft clucks. I was answered once again by gobbles directly in front of my set up about 75 plus yards out. I could tell then the gobbler I had roosted and the other bird that was roosted about 150 yards from me were joined up. They both gobbled repeatedly one after the other and even cutting each other off. So I added in some more pleading yelps and cuts. Both birds were fired up and heading my way.

I couldn't see either bird yet but I knew it was only a matter of time. The question now was would my set up work. I had set up a full strut jake decoy and a hen. This would be my first time using a strutting decoy and I wasn't sure how things would work out. Not to mention were I had set up wasn't what I considered ideal.

As first light broke I could begin to see there weren't many clear shots to take with the bow and I had a couple blow downs to my right and straight ahead. I was worried the blow downs would hang a tom up just outside of bow range. But at this point there was nothing else to do but hope everything worked out.

I first spotted the two toms about 50 yards out, they were headed straight for my set with one tom in full strut. I could see that both birds sported nice beards, so it wasn't a question of which bird to shoot but more of will they give me a opportunity.

The two toms worked within 25 yards of me with one trying to out gobble the other. After 10 minutes neither bird had stepped into a clear shooting lane for the bow and now they appeared as if they’d had enough. I had a decision to make and had better make it quick.

This would be my eighth year turkey hunting and I knew when you get a chance at a mature tom turkey you’d better make it happen or you could find yourself eating turkey tag soup. With a 2 bearded turkey limit for Maryland's spring season I had touted the old shotgun just in case something like this should happen.

With the toms obviously slowly making a retreat I set the bow down and picked up the shotgun. I decided to take the strutting bird who's head and neck at the time was partially obstructed by a laid over tree. I clucked a couple times and when this old tom stretched is neck out to gobble I dropped the hammer on ‘em.
Turkey #1 for Spring 2009 was on the ground and not to mention a good one.

1st Bird of 2009
I was elated to have an opening day tom on the ground, it's not too often that happens but I still had not accomplished what I had set out to do. With one tag left and the rest of the season I was determined now to make it happen with archery equipment. I knew I might have to do a little re thinking on my set. I felt the only thing that had held up the opportunity with the bow that morning was my set up. The toms just hung up on the other side of the blown down trees just what I had hoped wouldn't happen. Next time I knew I would need to pay more attention to where I set up the blind and decoys.

My next opportunity to hunt would be the following Saturday which might as well been next season because I was chomping at the bit all week to get back in the turkey woods to give it another shot with archery equipment.
Well that following Saturday had come and I decided to head back to the same property as the weekend before. With all the birds I’d heard the weekend before I figured it would be a good bet there would be few birds still fired up. On opening morning I had heard a couple birds gobbling from the other side of a large pond on the property. So that's where I figured I would set up for the morning.

As first light broke, birds began to pick up where they left off last weekend but unfortunately for me the only bird I heard on my side of the pond was about 300 plus yards away on the other side of a paved road. Not wanting to pack all the gear up and move I decided to wait, hoping a bird would answer closer to my location and on the same side of the pond I was on. After waiting another half hour I just couldn't take it anymore. The birds on the other side of the pond were talking their heads off and I was stuck over in what seemed to be a desert with no birds, so I decided to pack things up.

By the time I got everything back to the truck ready to make the quick trip to the other side of the property, the birds of course had quieted down. I decided to park in the same location as last week and then walk down the gravel road towards the area I was set up last weekend. I figured I would stop and hit the crow call every 50 yards or so in hopes of getting a bird to shock gobble and give away his location.

Nearly at the point in the road where I planned on turning off onto the woods to set up I decided to blow the crow call one last time and wouldn't you know it, two or three birds gobbled within 60 yards of my location. Since I wasn't sure if they had just crossed the gravel road or if they were heading to it, I decided to back away quietly and quickly veer into the woods on the other side. I made my way back off the road about 60 yards. This gave me a little distance and time to get set up. Of course in all the hurry I couldn't for the life of me find a open enough area to set up the blind. I decided there wasn't any time to set things up so I dropped my gear and grabbed my bow and one decoy.

I set a hen decoy to my left about 20 yards from where I planned sitting on the ground. I knew this wasn't ideal with the bow but at the time I had to work with the situation. Once setup I yelped a couple times instantly getting responses back from multiple birds. I could now tell they must be on the gravel road. I focused my attention in one area where I could see out to the road figuring they would pass by as they made their way to me. In short order I had six jakes heading my way. At this point I wasn't sure if I should take one of the jakes if the opportunity presented itself. I wasn't that picky since it would be the first turkey with the bow but I decided since it was still early that morning and I had quite a bit of the season left to pass the jakes up.

I let them move through until I thought I could move without spooking them out of the area. I grabbed the rest of my gear and headed to the area I was set up last weekend. This time I made sure my setup had plenty of shooting opportunities. I setup the strutting jake decoy this time with a real tail fan from a jake I’d shot a some years back. I also tied some fishing string to the jake decoy to add movement. The hen decoy was setup 5 yards in front of the jake sitting on the ground as if she was preparing to breed. The decoys were about 15 yards away from the blind.
My plan was to call periodically and just wait the morning out in this area that I knew had a lot of turkey activity. I made a series of calls every 15 minutes or so for about an hour and half. I sat there in that blind kicking myself for not setting up here in the first place. In between calling I would peer out the window of the blind straining my eyes for any movement that might be a turkey. Replaying hunts of years past I begin to wonder if passing up the jakes earlier in the morning was the smart thing to do. I knew from past experience that there are no guarantees I would get another shot at a turkey with the bow. After coming to grips with my decision I realized it had been about 15 minutes since I last called. I leaned up to the window and yelped. My call was answered by a gobble directly behind me within 100 yards of my location. I waited and the bird gobbled again a few minutes later. I could tell he had closed the distance and I decided to give a couple clucks followed by a yelp. The tom cut me off with a thunderous gobble half way through the yelp. Feeling confident this bird would come investigate I decided not to call again and just wait to see if he shows up.

With a few more gobbles over the next 5 minutes the long beard appeared about 50 yards behind the blind. I watched him through the mesh of the back window as he slowly made his way straight in my direction. Since I had not called since he got in view and the fact that he hadn't seen the decoys yet because the blind was blocking his view, I wondered what his reaction would be when he did see the decoys. Now at only 15 yards from the blind, the long beard suddenly came to full strut and began to spit and drum. I knew at that point he could see the decoys. I gently tugged on the fishing line causing the full strut jake decoy to sway back and forth. The tom took it hook, line and sinker. He passed on the left side of the blind within a couple feet heading directly towards the jake decoy. I raised my bow, came to full draw and settle into my anchor point. I took a deep breath and steadied the pin on the vitals then squeezed the trigger. At a roughly 10 yards I never saw the arrow hit the tom but I knew I had made contact. The tom ran a short distance, maybe 20 yards and then went down for the count. Words can't explain the excitement I was experiencing. My quest of taking a tom turkey with the bow had come full circle.

2nd Bird of 2009

In two short hunts of the Maryland 2009 spring turkey season I had filled both tags with respectable toms. One of which was my first ever with the bow. The 2009 spring season marked the 5th consecutive year I had filled both my tags for the spring turkey season in Maryland.

Posted by Aaron Daye under Field Journals on July 15, 09 05:33 PM | Permalink

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