By James Blackstock
I headed out to the woods on Monday morning for what was supposed to be just a video and turkey calling session with a friend. I had been selected in the Delaware state turkey lottery, but not until the second week. I hadn’t really planned on doing much more than scouting for birds during the first week of the turkey season. I’ll occasionally hunt on a friend’s private property, where I’ve had some good luck in the past, but I had some family obligations on Saturday so I didn’t get the chance to head out on opening day. It was the first time I’ve missed opening day in a few years. That being said, it just pays off to be patient sometimes. Last season I waited until the fourth and final week of the season to bag my bird, so I don’t mind waiting for the right opportunity or bird to come along. I already had a little flock of turkeys all hand picked for the second week of turkey hunting. I even have a nice collection of trail camera pictures and videos of the birds that I had anticipated hunting. My only thought on this morning was to help my buddy bag his first mature bird, and I was going to do anything I could to help make that happen.
The above video is my daughter and I on a youth turkey hunt this year.
We set out to a little piece of private property in central Delaware where my friend had been seeing some birds, but where they had mostly been uncooperative to calls. We hoped today would be different. The morning was a perfect spring day, and we got our blind set up under the cover of darkness. Once the blind was ready we set up our decoy spread. We had one Jake decoy along with three hens. We hunkered down into the blind and waited for shooting light. There was an assortment of songbirds singing their morning chorus, including what we determined to be at least three or four roosted turkeys all within earshot. Our hopes were high. The turkeys seemed pretty fired up on the roost, and it didn’t take much effort with the calls to get a great response from the love sick birds. We tried not to call too much, the birds knew right where we were, and we hoped they would head our way when they left the roost. As dawn broke, the turkeys hit the ground gobbling, but seemed to slowly head off into the opposite direction. We heard what we figured to be the boss hen, who clearly kept herself in between our calls and the gobblers, seemingly steering the them off in the other direction. We started to wonder if it was going to be just another frustrating day of hunting henned up gobblers.
I’m admittedly not the best caller in the world, but regardless of how good of a caller you think you are, you just cant outcall a live hen. We listened as the flock slowly disappeared into the distance, and our calls eventually went unanswered. After a short while, we figured it was time to try a little run and gun turkey hunting. We temporarily abandoned our ground blind to cautiously chase after the birds. We gave them time to move off and get comfortable as we slowly crept into a better location, closer to where we had last heard the birds. We set up next to a old fallen tree and after a few calls their interest was quickly renewed.
What was at first one, quickly turned into three jakes who moved in to investigate our calling. We had left our decoys all set up back at our blind, and when the jakes approached and saw no bird, they slowly moved back into the scrub. I credit my buddy’s steady stature as the jakes approached, never moving a muscle while up against that old tree. He let those jakes come in to investigate us, offering him an easy shot opportunity well inside of twenty yards. It was an exciting moment, but he had not come out to shoot jakes this morning, and his patience would eventually be rewarded.
After the birds moved off, we decided to circle back to our blind and settle back in, hoping the toms would eventually circle back towards us. We were patient, calling occasionally just in case a lonely bird was nearby. After a few calling sequences, we got a thunderous gobbling reply. The turkeys were close, I looked out across the nearby field and saw the flash of a blue turkey head coming thru the tall grass. I told my buddy to get ready.
They came into view and we realized there were actually four birds, and all mature toms. I called one last time and the birds turned to see our decoy spread. The trap had been set and they headed straight for us. My buddy got his gun ready and he anxiously waited for them to come into range. They stopped at the edge of the ditch that separated the field and our decoy spread. There were at twenty yards, and well within range. As the biggest bird stood there trying to figure out how to cross the ditch, my friend pulled the trigger and made a great shot. The biggest bird went straight down. Another bird immediately flew off, and the third ran off a short distance. The last turkey in the group just stayed right there next to the fallen bird. He put his wings out and circled around him, clucking excitedly, almost as if he knew he had just become the boss gobbler.
It was during all this excitement when my friend handed me the shotgun, asking if I wanted to shoot the last bird. At first I said no, I hadn’t planned on killing a bird today. I had all my turkey hunting plans set, my days off were planned and this just wasn’t how I anticipated the morning hunt would go. It seemed like forever as I watched that second turkey circling around, half strutting and clucking. I’m not sure what changed my mind, but something clicked in my head, and I grabbed the gun and took the shot. The gobbler went down and flopped down into the ditch. My buddy and I had just doubled up on mature turkeys, and it’s a hunt I’ll remember for a very long time.
Hunting is not just the harvest, it’s everything else that surrounds the experience. It’s the challenge and effort that you put in just for that chance at success. It’s great when you’re successful, since hunts don’t always reward you with a trophy at their conclusion. Today my friend and I were both rewarded with mature birds, and memories to last a lifetime. A bird in hand is worth two in the bush, and that certainly counts when your turkey hunting.