Monday, May 25, 2015

Season Ender

 Continuing with the turkey hunting success posts.  I'm back, with a season-ending tag #2.  It all started Sunday night....

My house is situated in a tight little valley with hills East-to-West.  In the bottom, we have a farm pond full of bass and eager blue-ears.  I was minding my own business having a little "me-time" on the SUP, working the pond to see how many fish on consecutive casts I could get.  (It was 13, but that's another story...)

I looked up the Eastern hill to admire the sunset against the freshly planted fields.  There they were.  Four armadillo looking things with long necks picking the freshly planted corn.  The sun was hitting them just right and I could faintly see the bronze of their backs.  I initially wasn't sure if I was looking at four hens or three hens and a Tom. One was certainly bigger than the others.  Like a Sherman Tank of turkeys.   It became obvious when he turned and flashed his tail fan and let out a gobble.  He was workin' these hens up until roosting time.

I kept an eye on him as they worked the field, catching my buzz on bluegills and a giddy feeling for what 5am was going to bring. At dusk, they wandered in the woods right at the dead pine tree.  You'd know the one if you saw it.

Alarm time.  I was up and out by ten after five.  I was pretty sure I knew where these birds had roosted, because I know these woods well and there is a grove of Pines on a hillside they seem to favor well. It was silent except for the deer that kept snorting at me all the way until 5:45.  Crows started and I was getting antsy.  A crow flew over and let out a caw-caw-caaaawww. Our man of the hour decided to let one out.  "Awww yeah" I muttered to myself.  I stuck the HS Strut Split V III diaphragm in my teeth and made my way to a good looking spot a safe distance away from the roost.

Snuggled up to a nice looking tree with some healthy poison ivy growing up it, I cleared my shooting lane from ferns, and as luck would have it, my butt was on some cushy moss, making it such a perfect spot.  I was pretty proud of myself at this point.   Ol' Tom gobbled again and by this time, I felt the need to enter the game with a tree yelp.  He cut me off so fast, and remembering last night, I thought to myself, "this has to be the horniest bird in the county!" 

I thought for certain I'd have a typical fly down-strut-show-bang-your-dead-game and back to bed by 6:30.  That would be too easy.  Hens.  Here we go again.  One flies down, two, then the third.  Ol' Tom was playin' his girls.  They came in my direction, he stayed treed, and they were scoping.  Didn't like not seeing a sister out there and they left.  Pulled a 180 and went the other way.   Now our buddy flies down and hits the ground gobbling after his harem.  Gobbles getting further away.  OK.  This is OK.  I know these woods, and if I had to guess, I'd guess a few things... They will walk the gas well road because its the safe route.  Then they will head to the field to get the early sun and pick the corn.  If I were a lucky feller, they would be heading away from me, and maybe if I could intercept them picking through that corn to the field end, I could get between the hens and the Tom.  Seamless plan.  How could it not work?
Look at those hooks

Well, luck was on my side.  I waited a bit, heard him far and away.  Made my move.  Just like I thought, it all came together.  The hens passed me,  I saw his head.  I had to play with him so I let out a yelp.  The hens stopped, looked up, he hammered off a gobble,  strutted ten feet towards me.  Gobbled again, stuck his head up, and..... BANG!

The hens scattered, and I paced out my shot.  27.

This is my best and biggest bird to date.  Specs on him are:
21#/11-1/4" Beard/1-3/8" L/1-1/2" R spurs.

He has a bit of Merriam or domestic in him  Blonde markings on his center tail feathers.
Erik keeps telling me "Dude, you are having an epic year."  Whether its fishing or hunting he is referring to, I don't care, he's right.  Hopefully, I'm just getting started.  For turkey season 2015, I have had none like it- My daughter got her first bird, I took a great bird early in the season and closed it out today with this one.  I think this is what it is supposed to feel like.  I haven't gotten around to writing the stories of rising trout and mayfly hatches yet, but there has been plenty of that too. Stay tuned.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Early Risin'

Turkey hunting for me the last several years has been slim to non-existent for various reasons.  So when we held our annual CFW Board of Directors meeting along the banks of Cross Fork Creek last week, I decided to throw the hunting stuff  in along with the fly rods.  This isn't exactly the first time I've done this and then never used it, but with a little luck and a lot more self restraint maybe this year would be different.  Maybe.

Now if you've ever attended one of our "meetings", you know they can oftentimes last late into the night as we talk about the days fishing.....something that isn't really conducive to being the first out of the tent the next morning to chase some silly bird that may or may not gobble at first light.  More than a few previous good intentions have gone by the wayside for that very reason, but I digress.

Potter County raises the difficulty factor in Turkey hunting exponentially.  First off, there is no "ease" in finding birds:  you put in a lot of physical effort in finding and locating them and once you do, there's even more planning in setting up on them with the rugged terrain that's involved.   But when it all comes together a different level of satisfaction is achieved that is hard to explain unless you experience it yourself.

Thursday morning came early.  After a 45 minute walk up a gas pipeline in the dark, I got situated along a pretty good sized bench (what the locals call a flat area situated along an otherwise steep ass hill) where I could hear for quite a ways in several directions.  What I like about this spot is there's no easy way to get there and no direct drive up access so you eliminate a lot of competition from other hunters right off the bat.  This ensures that if you do get lucky and find a bird, you can more or less work him with no competition from someone else.

Usually.  Sometimes.  But that's last years story which won't get told here.

As the sun started to rise it became apparent the fog was much thicker up on top of the hill than what I had left at our streamside campsite below.  Not the most ideal conditions,but not the worst either. Usually I don't hear much until it starts burning off later in the morning which made me start to question my decision to leave the warmth of the sleeping bag back in camp.

Was that?  Silence. Maybe.  Maybe not.  Distant gobble.  Yessss!  A second gobble determines that bird is still higher up the hill and a ways off from my present position.  Or is he.  You hunt these hills and you quickly learn a bird right around the other side of  a point facing the other way can sound like a mile away and not the 100 yards he really is.  So off I went, zig-zagging up the pipeline because walking straight up the hill is not an option.

Another gobble.  That bird really isn't  as far away as I thought.  My already fast pumping heart skips a beat and I'm practically running at this point to get into position.  With the thick fog masking things visually and last nights rain making the sounds of my footsteps practically non-existent I'm able to slip in close, like really close.  So close I can feel the reverberations of his chest as he's gobbling from the roost.  Up go the decoys and I sit back against the biggest oak I can find and settle in.

If you hunt, you know the trepidation and anxiety you feel right before the moments you know something special is about to happen is the reason we all do it.  After calming myself down and getting the sound of my own heart to stop pounding through my ears, I let out a few soft calls which were immediately answered with a gobble towards my direction.

I hear the voice of a Bahamian Bonefish guide/friend, Bradley, going through my head.  "Shit happon fast mon, you got to be ready".  I chuckle to myself and think how it relates to turkey hunting as I rest the gun on my knee and let the dance begin.

A few moments later I hear the unmistakable sound of a bird coming off the roost.  I'm set up so close to him I fully expect a B-52  to materialize coming straight at me through the fog but the woods go silent.  No gobble as he hits the ground.  Seconds seem like hours.  Another soft call goes out.  He answers.

He knows where I'm at.  No more calling I tell myself.  Seems like an eternity goes by and I can't take it any more.  A few more soft sounds from my call and an immediate gobble.  Only this time he's half again as close and coming fast.

Out of the fog a head appears the other side of a fallen tree.  As I squint to look for a beard, movement catches my eye to the right.  There's another bird skirting around me looking at the decoys with that inquisitive yet "you come here, I'm not coming there" look.  The white and red head unmistakable, and a good sized beard to boot.  Did I say it's been a while since I've been turkey hunting?

The thought goes through my head, is the first bird I saw across the log a gobbler or hen?  Could he be bigger?  Should I wait and let this one come in closer than the already 30 yards and give me a show?  Should I ...........

"Shit happon fast mon, you got to be ready".

And just like that it was over.   6:15 and I'm done.  Sometimes it just happens that way and as Z says is the reason "you just go".

Did I also mention we came here to fish?  More on that next time........

Friday, May 8, 2015

The Spring of 20-inch Trout and 20 Pound Turkeys

Tag 1 of 2 filled for PA.  This happened the other morning.  Specs on this one:
20#/1-1/8" Spurs/10" Beard/37 paces

If you have been paying attention to the recent posts, its been a fun-filled spring of big trout and turkey hunting.  Some of us live for this stuff.  Todays' installment on the latter....spring turkeys.

So I got into the woods at 5:30AM.  Was dead quiet until just about 6AM.  A far away gobbler set off the chain reaction that ultimately ended about 60 yards from me when two Toms sounded off.  Scanning the trees against the skyline, I saw a big, turkey-like figure on a limb.  Sure 'nuff, it was a turkey.

I actually backed away for fear I was too close to the roost.  Moved about 30 more yards on the top of the flat I was situated on.  Sat at a familiar tree.... I say familiar because it was from this very same tree a year ago that my daughter missed a slammer gobbler.  The game got going with birds sounding off across the entire valley every minute or so.  The bird I was watching in the tree I was sure was a hen.  Deciding to get in the game, I let out a soft tree yelp and that hen LEFT.  She didn't fly down or drop lightly tot he ground- she took off, full flight across the valley and way out.  Did not like me.  Oh $h!t I muttered to myself.  But the Toms stayed.  They stayed in their tree and continued to gobble.  Next thing I know, I hear tree branches above me, and wings flapping.  About 10 feet to my left a hen lands and proceeds to walk all around me.  No eye contact.  I literally stopped my breathing while I listend to her make purring and soft yelps.  This drove the gobblers nuts.  She made a half circle around me, and when she was out of my peripheral vision to the right, I looked forward. 

A deer was about 40 yards out and watching this hen walk away up the hill.  Nice.  Thank you, deer.

Then it all kinda just happened fast. 

A bunch of birds flew off the roost with those toms, and the ground gobbling started.  Lots of yelping, so I took a risk and got into it.  The toms responded immediately and before I knew it, I saw hens coming my way.  Then two tail fans of mature birds.  I wish I was able to get a picture of what I was looking at because it was a sight.  Sun rising behind the strutting toms, their heads bone-white with sun shining through their tail fans.  Pretty spectacular.  The lead hen started to move to her right, and both toms followed her.  She yelped, crouched, and one of the toms proceeded to mount her.  Right then, I yelped. The second tom heard the call and made ten quick steps in my direction.

He dropped his fan, stuck his neck up and I gave it a squeeze.   He dropped where he stood, the hens all took flight, while his confused brother danced around him....I'm thinking "where is my second shooter????"...Well,  that's his problem for bailing.  Knowing my bird wasn't getting up, I watched for a minute then stood up.  The other tom flew down the hill and by the time I was standing above my bird, he went back to gobbling.

Always a fun morning in the Pennsylvania spring woods.  I think I'll sleep in a few mornings and then get to working on filling tag #2.  Erik, you're up next....