Updated: Jan 3
Did you come back for more? Well, I suppose if you're a glutton for punishment I can continue to regale you with the glory of my first turkey hunt. Just try not to be too jealous about my heroic performance. Yeah, my wife didn't believe any of that either... So let's continue the adventure brought to us by Chappy's Outdoors! By the way, look for them on Facebook too!
3 am came all too soon and after nearly an hour of sleep, we started getting ready for a long day in the woods. Why so little sleep you ask? Well, the fact is that due to my work schedule at that time I didn't usually get to bed till around 3 or 4 am, so trying to get to bed at 11 pm and waking up at 3 am was a challenge, to say the least. But time and tide wait for no man or something like that. After getting dressed and taking care of the necessary morning rituals it occurred to me I should have packed my contacts instead of just my glasses, but too late now right! So we trooped out of the main church building to the fellowship hall that was in a different building perhaps 20 to 30 yards away. After the morning prayer and breakfast, there was a good selection of snacks we would be able to pack and take with us to hold us over if we decided the hunt was going well enough not to come back for Lunch.
Since we needed to get to our target location before sunrise we didn't spend much time on breakfast or conversation. Even though I was extremely excited to be going on my first turkey hunt I was plagued all weekend with sleepiness. The reasons for this are numerous and only partially the lack of sleep. First, in the army, it's said that infantrymen have a button on their rear end and anytime they sit down their eyelids close. It may never be known if that's something those who enlist in the infantry were born with or something they learned by necessity. So there were already two things stacked against me. Second, some of my medications tend to cause drowsiness. Third and finally for me spending time in the woods is one of the most peaceful and relaxing things I have ever known. It's one of the few places in the world where my mind just stops. That's not to say I don't or can't think about, ruminate on, or meditate on topics or issues in my life. But in the woods, my mind doesn't constantly force me to, or worse keep switching topics in an endless cycle of stress. So Mike and Jamie please forgive me I never intended any offense nor did I disregard the many things you tried to teach me.
The Hunt Begins
At any rate, we all loaded into some trucks and began our predawn journey. None of the destinations were more than about 20 minutes from our temporary base of operations so we had plenty of time to get to our chosen roost. However, we had slightly miscalculated sunrise so by the time we arrived at the spot Jamie and Mike had picked for me and Frank, who was not only a vet but also Ryan's brother-in-law, the sun was quickly rising. While Mike helped get us settled into our respective trees Jamie walked a short distance away to a small clearing and set up the decoy. So what does it take to settle in? I'm glad you asked. You see turkeys have amazing eyesight and they are grandmasters are detecting sudden or fast movement. At one point when Jamie was explaining why it's so important for us to move slowly and smoothly at all times, he said that a turkey will be able to see you move your eyes too suddenly from over a dozen meters away. But if you're able to put your back to a large enough tree to break up your outline, cover your mouth and nose with a mask of some kind, and move very slowly and smoothly you can fool them just long enough to fire.
We decided to let Frank have the first opportunity for a bird and placed him in a tree facing the direction we believed the turkeys were roosted. About 6 to 10 feet behind him I sat against another tree facing in the opposite direction. In front of me about 15 meters away was the decoy. The theory was that when Jamie and Mike began calling, the tom would approach in front of Frank and see the decoy instead of him. However, nature and its creatures are not always perfectly predictable so I was to keep watch for any turkeys that may approach from the rear. I was suddenly feeling very nostalgic for setting up a perimeter around a command post in the field. I honestly can't remember how long we waited or how many times our guides called but at last, a bird presented itself for the deliverance from its mortal coil. It took far more self-control than I like to admit for me to keep vigilant on my sector and not watch Frank or the turkey. It was practically torture waiting for the turkey to get into just the right spot. Eventually, I heard the report of the shotgun we all let out a quiet cheer. Frank didn't wait long to sprint toward his prize. Now keep in mind I am 6'1" tall and at least from my perspective, Frank is at least 6 inches taller. Maybe only 3 or 4, but he looks like a giant that is mostly legs, which is to say he moved fast. I was told to stay behind while they went to confirm the kill or track the bird if it was just wounded.
Signs of Wild Turkey
I can't tell you how long they searched for that turkey since as I previously stated I tended to inspect the back of my eyelids for leaks often. Disappointingly they weren't able to find the bird or even confirm if it was hit. There was some camera footage they reviewed that made them think it was hit, but there was no bird or blood. So at this point, Jamie took us into the clearing and showed us the signs of wild turkey, turkey tracks and the lines that indicated a strutting tom. These lines are created when a tom puffs up his chest and drags the tips of his wings in the dirt indicating that he is dominant over the others in the area. At times you can see signs of a struggle in the same area when another tom disagrees with the one strutting. Other times just one set of lines with tracks in-between them. We then collected the decoy and moved to a new location since the noise and commotion in that one would have chased our quarry away. A few naps later it was obvious there was no reason to stay in that location and returned to HQ for chow.
After lunch, we returned to the same farm that was kind enough to allow us access for the weekend but decided to split up with Mike taking Frank and Jamie taking me. Since the birds wouldn't be in a roost at that time of day we mostly just started walking and listening. Especially if we heard a crow, based on my very limited experience of that weekend the call of an owl or a crow seemed to be the best noises to get a shock gobble. So when an actual crow called the result worked doubly well for us since the bird wouldn't be able to locate us from it like it could if we made the call. But from time to time Jamie would imitate an owl or a hen with a variety of calls.
How to Pack for a Hunting Trip
I guess this is a good place to cover a few items of housekeeping. If you've been reading my blog since the first post you may have already figured out I tend to go a bit overboard with the what-ifs. How this translates to this context is well, for example, my post on first aid kits. As you can see that is not exactly a small container or list. So one of the first things Jamie and Mike told me when we started heading into the woods was that I was carrying way too much. Even worse some of it was anything but quiet. You see having no experience as a hunter and zero information about the location we would be hunting, I over packed everything. My rucksack and LBV (Load Bearing Vest) I still had from the army were packed as if we would be on a 2-week field problem 50 miles from civilization. All of this was only compounded by the fact that I was not then and am not now in the best shape of my life, though I am slightly better now than I was then. After we finished eating lunch but before we set out again I did pare down the items I was carrying significantly, but I was still carrying too much and making too much noise. So learn from my mistake and plan accordingly. After I get some more experience I will write a post on how to pack for a hunting trip.
Back to the turkey calls, we have another lesson learned. Do you remember the misconception we discussed in my last post? Yeah, hearing our two guides run their strikers across the pot calls, using the box calls, and even the mouth calls in the parking lot the day before they were loud! But now, out here in the woods, standing right next to Jamie I could barely hear the calls. We always knew it though when there was a tom close by. Whisper calling essentially at least here on this farm in North Carolina appears to be of very great use. That is not to say that the volume of the calls anyone else might use anywhere else in the country should sound the same. One of the many things I'm learning in my journey to become a hunter is that just like each of us has an individual personality so too do the creatures we hunt. There is no hard and fast rule for how to hunt anything that will guarantee success, about this though I was beside myself. The videos I watched on YouTube, the practicing I had done, hearing the calls by these veteran hunters the day before all of it had been loud. Yet here we were in the woods with barely a sound made from a call and a gobbler was losing its mind about it.
There were several close calls, and I did get to see a tom up close for the first time that weekend. But I never did bring home anything for my wife to use for our holiday meals. Actually, no one did on this trip. It was still an amazing weekend for me. I learned way more than I can remember and earned my first stories about the one that got away. Whether it's hunting, fishing, or dating it seems like you're not legitimate without a few of those. I had some great conversations with an incredible group of people who genuinely just want to help others. Living in North Carolina without any extended family or even good friends who have gone through years of history with me can be a bit lonely. My wife, daughters, and grandson are a blessing no doubt, but there are always places in one's life where they aren't the perfect fit. Those days at that church and on those farms felt like the beginnings of the friendships that could fill those missing puzzle pieces. So once again thank you, Ryan, John, Jamie, Mike, Frank, and everyone else from the Franklin County chapter of Chappy's Outdoors!