Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Some Hoosier “Double” Trouble: 2007 Spring Turkey Season

The following story was written by my hunting mentor, Randall L. Dickson, of Thrill Kill Decoys. The Thrill Kill blog is full of lots of turkey hunting information, photos, and videos: http://thrillkilldecoys.blogspot.com/.



It was a typical spring morning in northern Indiana, with a crisp chill creeping under my skin while a clear blue sky materialized overhead. I’d been back in my Hoosier homeland for a week, following 15 days of barely-interrupted turkey hunting across Tennessee and Kansas. But the itch hadn’t gone away, and I couldn’t stay out of my favorite turkey woods on this Sunday morning, with Indiana’s season opener looming just 3 days in the distance.

“I’ll get to the sandy blowout, and hide out under the wolf oak,” I nearly whispered to myself, “then I can sneak back out of the woods after flydown without spooking any birds.” And ultimately, this tactic worked, but not before a hard-charging, hard-gobbling two-year old left his roost tree nearly 500 yards to my northeast, only to cross the edge of the sandy opening I was facing, en route to where the real action was – approximately a dozen gobbling birds roosted about 150 yards to my southwest. “You’d make a good bird for Joan,” I murmured, actually speaking the words as I thought about helping a coworker friend of mine try to secure her second-ever longbeard.

But opening morning looked to be a washout – literally. Joan called an hour before our appointed rendezvous time to ask if I really planned to hunt. It had been thundering and lightening at my house for most of the night, but I tried to play dumb as I asked, “Sure, why wouldn’t we be going hunting?” Joan has known me long enough to understand that thunderstorm or not, opening day is opening day and staying at the house isn’t an option. “I’ll be there by 5:30 then,” she said, already resigning herself to the soaking she had in store.

The greening canopy overhead did provide a slight respite from the pounding rain once we’d crossed a wide cornstubble field and entered the woods. Carrying a Double Bull blind and a pair of rain-proof plastic decoys (I normally use “real” fakes I mount myself), we edged past the sandy blowout to a place I’d encountered roosted birds during previous bouts of bad weather. I quietly explained to Joan the reasons for picking this spot as I handed her the decoys and hurriedly began popping up the blind.

The rain subsided a bit as the pure-dark gave way to a miserably gray morning. Peeking out the corner window of the blind I was relieved, and a bit surprised, to see not one but 3 longbeards roosted within 60 yards of our set-up. Joan, cold and wet, tried to act excited when I pointed them out. “If they didn’t hear or see us come in here, we might have a chance,” I explained, all the while thinking there wasn’t a chance in the world that our approach and set-up hadn’t messed them up.

A prolonged study finally convinced us the birds weren’t alarmed, and for the next 90 minutes we watched the longbeards, looking for signs that they were nearing flydown. One bird wanted out, standing and stretching periodically, but his buddies were having none of it. They kept themselves tucked in tight, rain still falling, and none of the 3 made so much as a peep. It was well over an hour past the normal flydown time before the adventurous bird stood on his limb, turned around to face the decoys, turned again and pitched down. When he hit the ground he was no more than 30 yards behind the Pretty Boy/hen combination, and as he strut-stepped his way in, his more reluctant littermates coasted down and joined in on the fun.

“Get your gun up Joan, and take the bird on the far right,” I slowly explained, trying to mask the excitement that approaching toms always bring with them. “I’ll take the bird on the left.” Before we could make the 3-2-1 countdown we’d rehearsed on the range, the toms had switched positions several times, while flattening out the plastic troubadour that had the nerve to strut under their roost tree. Finally, the birds’ frenzied pace subsided enough for the countdown to start anew, and when I hit “1” I remember pausing for a bit longer than the additional second used to measure the time between the call and the shot. But that wasn’t enough. The roar of my 870 was masked in my ear by the terrible sound of silence coming from my hunting partner 3 feet away. Joan never managed to pull her trigger.

With 1 of the Musketeers down in the decoys, the other 2 toms slowly jerk-necked their way eastward, quartering past Joan’s side of the blind. “Joan, get your gun out the next window, the other two birds are still there,” I barked. “I can’t see them,” was her initial reply, which brought an admittedly impatient point from me to the blowdown that the toms were now standing behind, about 40 yards away. But by the time the barrel was up and sights were aligned, it was too late. Despite a new gun, with a red-dot scope and hours of patterning practice, Joan wasn’t comfortable with the distance, and the hunt ended with just the soaking wet 2-year old to show for our efforts.

Though she did her best to hold them back, Joan began to shed tears of aggravation and disappointment while I asked her if I’d done something wrong, like counting too fast or shooting before I should have. “I don’t know what happened,” was her only reply. And that was the answer she stuck with as we broke “camp” and wet bird and soaked spirits in tow, made our way back to the truck. I’d never had such a pall hang over a clean and exciting turkey harvest before. But this hunt wasn’t supposed to be about me killing another bird, and I felt terrible that Joan was walking out empty-handed.



By the next day the weather had brightened, and so, too, had our spirits. My bird was already prepped for becoming a new decoy, and Joan felt confident about my ability to put her in front of another bird. We made plans for Saturday morning, now just 2 days away. When it came, Joan and I were again sneaking toward the sandy blowout in the black oak-dominated landscape of the eastern Starke County farm I hunted. “We won’t sneak as far up this time, Joan, because I doubt any birds will be roosted up there today,” I explained, though I was second-guessing myself the entire time.

Instead, we hedged our bets, and split the distance between the blowout, still covered in gobbler tracks and signs of strutting, and the typical southeastern roost site holding all those gobbling birds I’d heard the Sunday prior. And there wasn’t any disappointment on this day – the birds started firing off as the first hints of daybreak hastened from the east, sunlight periodically making its way through the heavy fog clinging low to the world around us.

With my attention focused on the chorus coming from the big roost it took me a minute to realize that there was a bird perched on the field edge to our north, right where that excitable 2-year old had been during the previous week’s scouting trip. And today, just like then, he was ready to find company. If someone didn’t cut us off, we’d be in business.

“Joan, that bird I saw last weekend is roosted out there on the edge of that field, and I bet he’ll come right past us to get to these birds behind us.” Prophecy isn’t my strong suit, normally, but today Nostradamus would have been proud of my prediction. In mere minutes the gobbler was on the ground and literally running in our direction.

About 4 feet separated the tree that I and the video camera were against from the one that hid Joan’s outline as I advised, “Joan, turn to your right and get your gun up.” As she complied I gave a light 3-note diaphragm yelp and the bird interrupted his harried approach by stopping to thunder back at us. I panned the camera lens rearward to locate the bird in the morning fog, while Joan tightened the grip on her Mossberg and lowered her head to the stock.

I’d no more than found the bird in the viewfinder when Joan let loose, dispatching the tom with 1 well-placed load of Federal Heavyweight #5s. “Hey Joan,” I smiled, “you’re supposed to wait until the cameraman gives you the signal to shoot.”

The footage was far from professional grade, but it did manage to capture the last few steps of that 2-year old Indiana longbeard; steps that brought him to within inches of the place he’d crossed during my previous scouting trip. It may not have been a true double, but it didn’t matter. Joan felt redeemed, I felt overwhelmingly relieved, and the tom turned out to feel like 25 pounds of turkey flung over the shoulder! It may have been atypical, but it was still a double, of sorts, and Joan and I have the memories to prove it!

video

Author’s Note: If you’re hunting with a child or newcomer to the sport, and taking a double is part of your plan, use these tips, that I had to learn the hard way, to insure your success:
1. Have a plan well in advance, and make sure both hunters understand the signal for shooting. A countdown works well, but be sure your partner knows to shoot exactly on “1” or to pause the additional second and shoot on the unspoken “0”.
2. Don’t start the countdown until your partner is comfortable and has everything lined up.
3. Let your partner shoot first (but make sure they know to sit tight once they’ve fired). You’re probably the much more experienced gunner, and can use your greater skills to shoot a remaining bird. If it doesn’t work out and the other bird takes to the air, or runs out of range before you get a shot, at least you’ve succeeded in guiding a friend to their bird. Their’s is, after all, the most important half of the double.

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