3:30 am comes really early when you have to travel 2 hours to get to your turkey hunting area. It was 6 degrees when I left the house. The truck had a layer of shimmering ice that lit up and seemed to glow under the motion sensor light that I triggered as I came out of the garage. It was pretty. I’m always a bit apprehensive when I’m going to hunt with someone that I’ve never met, which was the plan for this morning. I agreed to take someone to my secret turkey hunting spot in the Sierra Nevada foothills in California, which is a big deal. I gave him directions to the spot the night before and told him to meet me at an intersection close by. I’ve invited people before and they didn’t show up, either because it was too early or they wanted to sleep, so I was kind of expecting there to not be a truck waiting for me at the intersection.
I was wrong. Low and behold, as I pulled up to the intersection (which is very remote btw) there was a truck awaiting my arrival. I was surprised, a little excited, and a tad apprehensive. But after making our greetings and a little discussion, I knew we were going to have a grand old time.
Twilight… 5:45 am. No birds sounding off. We make our way out into a field and start to walk the edge hoping to hear a bird thunder. 6 am I crow call very loudly…Nothing…6:05am I crow call again…nothing. I’m starting to get a little bit nervous at this point. There have always been birds here before…This is Phantom Tom’s classic hangout, but nothing. No gobbles. Silence. I tell my hunting partner for the day that usually the birds are across the field roosted up in that tree over the grassy area. I couldn’t understand why the birds weren’t gobbling. Maybe the recent heavy snow pushed them to a lower elevation? I don’t know.
6:10am, I decide to do something that I almost never do while the birds are on roost. The crow call wasn’t working. Owl hoots didn’t work. I slid my box call out of its holster. Held it up high. And made a God-awful, super loud, raspy old yelp. A couple of seconds float by of silence and suddenly as if out of a loudspeaker, “GOBBBLLE GOBBLLE GOBLE!” Roared out from the tree over the grassy area to accost our ears. At that moment all nervousness disappeared and excitement took it’s place.
We hightailed it across the field and got into position. My partner set up his video equipment, I set out the decoys, a strutting tom and a hen, and we both found a tree in good position. We sat silently for a while, listening to the tom (I’m pretty sure it was the old Phantom Tom) gobble his turkey head off at every sound. I scratched the leaves on the ground and the bird fired off. A crow cawed and the bird fired off. I gave a quiet little hen tree yelp and the big guy double and triple gobbled. This bird was hot! We didn’t call anymore for about the next 20 minutes. He just kept gobbling and gobbling only 50 yards away from us. We didn’t hear any hens and that was encouraging. So we thought we had it in the bag.
I heard him fly down off the roost and land up behind our set up. We both started to do a series of yelps and cuts and he gobbled just as much. I was expecting to be shooting a big old tom any second. An hour later, he made his way over a ridge never to be heard from again.
What the heck went wrong? I knew this was PT because he had done this to me like 10 times before. I have hunted this bird every way possible, and still he manages to hang up, or come in unseen, or simply vanish. We were discussing the situation and figured that this old bird must not have liked the strutting decoy that I had set out. I’ll try something different next time.
Not wanting to quit hunting just yet, we decided to walk and locate another bird, to no avail. Whatever gobblers were around earlier must have vanished with old PT. We walked the old logging roads calling all the way back to the trucks. Nothing. Or as my 4 year old son says, “Nuffin!”
My buddy opted to go and catch his sons’ baseball game since the birds weren’t making any noise. He had wanted to get this hunt on film to post on his website business outfittershack.com, which is a great place to get any outdoor, hunting or fishing equipment that you would ever need, but it wasn’t happening this day.
We spent some time talkin turkey, but he eventually left to see his son’s baseball game. I decided to stick it out because, well, you never know. Right?
I made my way up the old logging road in my truck to another area known to hold some birds. It was about 8:50am when I stopped at the top of a ridge and called from my truck with the same box call from earlier. And wouldn’t you know it, another Tom fired off maybe 300 yards away. Needless to say, I put my vest back on and facemask and made my way closer to cut the distance. I called periodically with my mouth call just to get a response so I could locate him. I got to a little intersection of two logging roads, yelped and got a very loud Gobble just 50 yards out. I quickly found a seat and got ready.
Just as I sat down I saw a couple of heads bobbing around on the road in front of me. Hens. 6 of them eventually passed in front of me. Next in line, 3 jakes. And following closely behind, the biggest bird I’ve ever taken, heck the biggest bird I’d ever seen came strutting out in front of me. And since we weren’t getting this on film I didn’t hesitate to pull the trigger. I harvested that bird at 9:02. That hunt took a total of 12 minutes from beginning to end. He had a beautiful full tail fan. A 12 inch beard and spurs that were 1 ¼ inches long. He ended up weighing in at a whopping 23lbs. I put all of these details into my iPhone SCI application and the bird scored a 44! Whatever that means. I was ecstatic. I got the bird back to the truck and took a few pictures of him before heading back home.
I learned many lessons during this hunt. I learned that even when you think it’s a done deal, that’s not necessarily going to happen. I also learned that even when you don’t feel that the birds are responding, you’re frustrated from un-participating birds, don’t stop hunting. Keep trying. Because you never know what will walk out in full strut.