Tag Archives: turkey hunting

Spot and Stalk Turkey Hunt Nets Bird, Memory

By Greg Johnston
AHT Guest Contributor

It wasn’t a promising start.

May 1, 2010 had come and gone without a single gobble on our 140 acres in Upstate New York.

Heading into the spring turkey season, my hopes were extremely high. I had seen multiple birds on a nightly basis during the fall archery season, and was even fortunate enough to harvest my first turkey with an arrow on our Livingston County property.

I didn’t have a good feeling about my dismal opening day, but if there was one encouraging fact, it was that I had only heard one shotgun blast echo down the valley during that calm Saturday morning.

Convinced that other hunters had experienced similar fates, I shrugged it off and headed home thinking that most toms had already found dancing partners for the spring prom.

When Sunday morning rolled around, I didn’t. I spent the morning with my wife and two young children, who I miss on most Sundays because of work obligations.

Monday brought a new week and new hope for me, but because of daddy duties, I wasn’t in the woods that morning either.

Nine o’clock came and that meant time to get my 5-year old off to school. We were two miles from the house and I happened to glance over, and there in a green field, was a strutting tom and at least one hen. I really didn’t think much about it, as my 2-year old was in the back seat and intent on spending the day with daddy.

That all changed though when I drove back by and saw Mr. Handsome still struttin’ his stuff. I couldn’t stand it anymore – I felt like a pot of cold water on a hot stove and I knew a pursuit would ensue.

Hard work and timely execution helped the author bag this Eastern turkey

Thinking quickly, I called our daycare provider to see if she could look after my little guy for a few hours.

By the time I dropped him off, I had roughly two hours of shooting time left, as high noon marks the end of shooting hours for turkey hunting in New York. Knowing the farmer whose field the bird was in, I stopped at the house to ask permission. He obliged and I was on my way.

My plan at this point was to get close enough to the bird and try to draw him away from his hen(s) by placing my decoy in a neighboring cut cornfield.

With a hedgerow separating me from him, I walked as far as I dared and set up on the edge of a woodlot. With my hen decoy bobbing in the west wind, I took a deep breath and then let out a yelp from my Primos diaphragm call. I waited, thinking the hot bird would for sure see the decoy and come in. But, that was far from what happened.

Thinking that the strong winds may be preventing the long beard from hearing me, I took out my slate call and gave a few strikes on it. Still nothing.

With time not on my side, I made a hasty decision to try and make something happen. Knowing that this would be my make-or-break move, I abandoned my decoy and slowly dropped back into the woods.

My hope was that I would somehow be able to gain ground on the bird while using the trees as cover.

As I crept towards the green field, the anticipation grew as I knew I was virtually on top of the bird. The question at this point though, was, “Where was he?”

I forced myself to move slowly as I feared a snapping twig would alert the bird and it would be game over.

When I reached the green field, I was astonished to see no turkeys. I thought,“You’ve got to be kidding me, right?”

I thought it was over, for sure. My thinking was that the birds had moved south prior to my arrival, however a glance through my Bushnell 10X42 binoculars proved my theory wrong.

There in the green field about 80 yards east of the hedgerow was a red head. I couldn’t believe it, not only had the bird not detected me, but he was still there.

Time to regroup.

With very little separating me from him, I needed to get behind a tree or something to ensure my presence wasn’t detected. I dropped to my knees and began to crawl down the west side of the hedgerow – using it as a buffer. I had a tree in mind that I hoped to make it to. From there I would set up and call – and for sure the bird would be able to hear me.

I made it. Tucking myself behind the mature walnut, I slowly reached for my favorite slate call. Little did I know, it had fallen during my approach.

I was forced to try and catch my breath for a minute and again using my mouth call, I let out a series of yelps, except this time I was watching his reaction through my Binos.

I couldn’t believe it; he turned his head and just sat there looking around. I let out another more aggressive call. Nothing. He wouldn’t budge. I knew he could hear me, because every time I called, he looked my direction. No gobble, no strut, no nothing.

With my bag of tricks empty and my decoy left behind, I questioned my next move. He’s about 60 yards from me at this point.

I gave a few more calls, to no avail. With my watch now reading 11:15 a.m., I had few options but to force the issue.

Slowly rolling onto my side I began to belly crawl towards the green field and the bird. I had pulled this trick off before some 15 years ago, but that time on a wounded whitetail. This time, I was dealing with an animal whose main defense was his eyes, and here I was out in the middle of a wide open field. For sure he would see me. But I had little options.

By the time I reached the green field, my arms began to burn, but my confidence grew.

As I entered a little swale in the field, I picked out a yellow weed in the clover, knowing that if I could make it to that point, my Harrington and Richardson single shot could do the rest.

The author displays the fruits of his labor. The bird weighed 21 lbs and sports a 9-inch beard and 1-inch spurs

I had reached the yellow weed without being detected, and in one smooth motion, I cocked the hammer on the 3-inch mag, came to rest on my knees and steadied my truglo sight on the red head. A swift squeeze of the trigger and the bird went down flopping. I ran up on him not believing I had pulled off the best spot-and-stalk of my life.

The bird weighed 21 lbs. with a 9-inch beard and 1-inch spurs. Not my biggest bird to date, but quite possibly my best trophy – or at least the most memorable one.

I hoisted the long beard over my back and headed home. It was about that time that I realized I had had crawled through a large patch of poison ivy along the way!

Close is good enough on this day

These hunters had been after it for the better part of six hours when Brody, the 10-year-old hunter of honor, revealed his game plan for trying to get his grandpa to get him a turkey gun for his 11th birthday in a few weeks. He said he couldn’t wait to go turkey hunting again.

This day’s hunt was a success!

Brody was the hunter. And I was his mentor, which is a nice way to say that all the pressure was on me to make sure he had fun during the Fort Bragg QDMA Annual Youth Turkey Hunt. The hunt, it its third year, is a great program that pairs the kids of military soldiers with turkey hunters to hunt Fort Bragg’s 251 square miles during North Carolina’s Youth Day.

Brody shows his shooting form!

Each hunter and mentor are teamed with a chaperone who is familiar with Fort Bragg’s terrain – a sort of human version of a GPS that proved quite useful.

The morning got started with all teams meeting for a safety / informational session at 4 a.m. This meant a 12:30 a.m. wake up call for my hunting buddy Chris and me to make sure we were on base in time. Upon talking with a couple mentors who had scouted the area Brody would be hunting, it sounded as though our chances of communicating with Tom Turkey were pretty high. So too was the pressure for me to give Brodie some good turkey-hunting memories.

We were able to hear a few gobbles off the roost shortly after first light. Sadly, they were all several hundred yards from our initial setup. We needed to move quickly.

Three setups and two hours later, we started a series of calls off the edge of a narrow LZ (that’s “landing zone” in Fort Bragg speak!). Two minutes into the set, a gobble some 100 yards away sets the woods to life. One problem, though. It was 180 degrees from where we were facing. We quickly swiveled around. Two more gobbles indicated the bird was coming our way, and coming in a hurry.

I caught a glimpse of the bird – check that, two birds – crossing an opening 50 yards or so away. The first of the two Toms crested the small ridge ahead of us – some 25 yards away – and was looking for a hen. Our decoy was roughly 20 yards behind is at this point and I was hoping his eyes would catch the decoy before they caught us.

Pictured here is the group of youth hunters who participated in Fort Bragg's Annual Youth Turkey Hunt

The lead bird moved to within 20 yards of our spread. The second bird was not quite as interested in spending a lot of time looking for this hen. He was starting to feel a little antsy and decided to walk the opposite direction. It was time for the shot. It didn’t happen, and that’s okay.

Amidst the excitement of the turkeys coming so close, Brody froze! He admitted later that he couldn’t have truly froze because he was “shaking really bad.” It was an adrenaline rush for all of us, but especially for Brody. His first turkey hunt and he had two long beards within range! I felt the pressure come off my back a little bit.

Following a fantastic lunch for the group of hunters, we headed back to the woods for a few hours of trying to get a turkey to answer us. We decided to call it a day after a few more hours.

With 13 hunters bagging three turkeys, the Youth Day at Fort Bragg was considered a success.

Brody said he wants to go turkey hunting again ... soon!

The bag total wasn’t the lone indicator for it being a good day. Also part of the measurement were the smiles and laughs presented by the young hunters throughout the day.

For the record: In addition to the Youth Hunt, Fort Bragg QDMA facilitates a Wounded Warrior turkey hunt the second Saturday of the general season. The organization also sets up deer hunts for youth and Wounded Warriors each fall. It’s able to do each of these with the support of a lot of donors and volunteers. While this was my first time participating, I look forward to helping again.