I had a fantastic experience on a Spring Gobbler hunt recently. I’ve only turkey hunted twice before – once last year with a mentor, and one attempt by myself last year which I wrote about here.
The hunt was an experiment and was limited to four women including myself. We stayed in a rented vacation cottage and hunted on a Friday morning and Saturday morning, with guides to call for us and advise us.
We met up Thursday night at the cottage and had a get-to-know-you “girl evening” the night before our hunt so we could go over details. These were all women who had done hunts with Calibered Events or some other manner of hunting before. It turned out to be a really fun group. We had a short evening though as we needed to get to bed for our pre-dawn wake-up call.
Our first hunt day started with a wake-up alarm at 4 am with the goal of being in the blind no later than 5:30 AM. We broke our group of four women hunters up into two groups, with two gals going with each guide to blinds on different areas of the property. I went with Sarah and property owner Don as our guide. The other gals went with Calibered Events hunting guru Ann Marie.
Our blind was located in some upper fields that were at about 3000 ft of elevation in the mountains of Western Maryland. Spring was still getting a foothold up there. It was beautiful.
After driving through several pasture gates near the top of the mountain, we left the truck and walked the rest of the way around the field to our blind. We used headlamps to light our way in the darkness. The 8-man pop-up blind was like the freaking Blind-Mahal. The thing was HUGE. There was plenty of elbow room for three adult hunters, chairs and gear and even room to get up and move around.
While our guide set up the decoys we gals got settled and I loaded up my camo-wrapped Benelli M2 12-ga former 3-Gun shotgun.
The distant gobbles started almost immediately at dawn. It was so exciting to hear these wild birds answer the calls from our guide!
Shortly after dawn, we heard distant shots, and after an interminable wait, were informed via text that one of the gals in the other group had shot her first gobbler! Reportedly, a couple gobblers came in fast on them, intending to kick around the jake decoy that was set out. But one of those Toms got a surprise he wasn’t looking for!
From our blind there were several gobblers visible on a hill in a far field, maybe 600 yards away. They would answer back, but they would not come over to our field. That part was a little frustrating, but even just that interaction was exciting for me. This was already more “action” than I had in my previous two turkey hunts combined! There was near constant calling back and forth for quite awhile, but ultimately those Toms wandered off in a different direction and left our decoys – probably to pursue real hens.
Things were quiet then for over an hour, but it was so pleasant listening to the various birds calling in the trees behind us. There were whippoorwills, and brown thrashers, woodpeckers, crows, and even a few geese and ducks flying overhead.
BUT then a single hen came in alone. She wandered in from our right (opposite from where all the gobbling had been). She checked out our decoys and listened to Don calling, but she ultimately moved on. She did not have any gobblers nosing after her either, much to our disappointment. Don thought she might have had a nest nearby.
That was the extent of our action for the first day, but it was SO interesting! Our guide was a font of information about turkey hunting. I learned much more about nesting and breeding habits than I had ever known previously.
When it was getting close to noon and the end of shooting hours, we headed back to our rental cabin and then on to the taxidermist to get our successful hunter Lauren’s prize mounted.
On the second morning the was zero activity despite frequent calling for the first few hours. It was so different than the previous day when there were gobbles almost from the first break of dawn. But we finally saw a head pop up over the rise and slowly approach us – without a sound. That bird said not a word – it was crazy. We thought it was a hen at first. In fact we thought it might have been the same hen we saw the previous day who was just backtracking along the same route.
But when I handed my binoculars over to our guide, he said he thought he saw a little beard, and then confirmed that the head was red and there was definitely at least a 5 inch beard!
That bird went from hen to little jake to longbeard in the space of about three minutes. That was when the mad scramble started. My teammate Sarah and I were scrambling around like clowns at the circus trying to get into position for a shot. We had been relaxed and just watching because we thought it was a hen, but then WHAAAAH!!! I don’t know how that bird didn’t hear us panic whispering to eachother and getting ready.
Don tried his best to call that gobbler in, but that bugger didn’t make a peep and was starting to side-step us to the right. He wasn’t gobbling, he wasn’t strutting, he was just feeding and hanging out in the wisps of sorghum left after the winter.
Our guide thought he was out about 40 yards, and thought we should try to take a shot – both of us. My chair was too low and we were facing uphill, so even though I did have a shooting stick, my body position needed to be out of the chair and in a half crouch – not sitting, not kneeling, but not fully standing either. It was not an ideal or terribly stable shooting position but I did my best.
Sarah and I both took our shots simultaneously. Our guide said he thought he saw a feather or two float away, but then the gobbler was airborne – and gosh was he pretty! I used my second shell trying to lead him like a giant pheasant but missed him as I ran out of room in the blind window and he flew off into the woods to our right and behind us.
We thought in retrospect that the timid gobbler was eyeing our Tom decoy and keeping his distance. In Don’s words, “I think that guy has gotten his ass kicked a few times and was being cautious.” We had a good laugh over that one, but the experience taught me even more about turkey behavior.
Afterwards, we thought it might be nice to have those few feathers for a souvenir, but when we got out there at the end of the morning, we couldn’t find them. When Don paced off the actual distance, it was 58 yards – much farther than we had thought. So I didn’t feel so bad about the miss. Knowing that, I’m just glad we didn’t cripple him. When he was airborne he proved to be a lot bigger than he looked on the ground.
But we had our story to tell and that Tom lived to gobble another day. What a heart-pounding experience! I saved my two spent shells as a souvenir of the day.
During the next lull, Don helped me work on my calls a bit. He roughened up the glass side of my call and gave me a wood striker to use as my fiberglass one wasn’t working very well.
I had practiced an assembly call, but even so, I wasn’t very “fluent”. In fact we joked that I was probably speaking “Turkey French”. Then that started a cascade of jokes about a gobbler being like Skunk Lothario Pepe le Pew – “Where you go, my Leetle French Love?” I had to keep from laughing too loud. There was no fun at all in our blind – nope, none.
We heard more distant gobbles through the morning, but could not get anybody to come even as close as that last one had come, so when noon rolled around we were again empty-handed. But I was certainly not empty-hearted.
I learned much more in those two mornings than I had in the entire previous season – mostly because there’s only so much you can read about. You reach a point where you simply have to EXPERIENCE.
The changing conditions on the top of those hills, and the turkeys’ reaction to it was a real education. In those two mornings of hunting we saw sprinkling rain, sun and blue sky, rolling fog and dropping temps. It’s funny that the hen we saw showed up during the sprinkles rather than the sunshine. And it was really interesting how that Tom didn’t make a single peep the whole time he was around our decoys. I learned so much, and I would definitely do this again!
This was the first time this hunt has been offered by Calibered Events and Wild Wings Hunting Preserve. I think they were a bit worried how we four women would react if we didn’t bring home a turkey. Unlike a released pheasant hunt, these are wild birds and there is no predicting behavior from one day to the next. There were NO guarantees. But it proved to be an AWESOME experience!
That’s the nature of hunting though. You have to be able to enjoy the entire experience, because you aren’t guaranteed a harvest. Wild animals are unpredictable. Although getting up at 4 AM two mornings in a row wasn’t my favorite part, that was what allowed me to experience the dawn, the birds waking up, the mist rising off the fields, and all of the intangibles that make hunting the almost spiritual thing that it is for me.