Photography courtesy of Lowell Washburn, all rights reserved.
Last Chance Turkeys
Once there is snow on the ground, the Iowa woodlands are never truly dark. Hunting for end of the season turkeys means getting there early – I mean really early — and moving slow. With two full hours to go until sunrise, I was in the blind. It was going to be a bit of wait. And although I had hoped to be entertained by the sight of a passing deer or maybe a fox or coyote, I hadn’t seen a thing so far. The good news was that I also hadn’t spooked any turkeys on the way in.
I was hunting a stand of mature oak that had been grazed during spring and summer. I knew there were wild turkeys nearby, I just didn’t know how many. At forty minutes to sunrise, I heard my first tree yelp. Before long, more hens joined the chorus. This eased my tension and confirmed that the birds didn’t know anything was amiss. After already sitting for quite a while, hearing those contented sounds really helped to warm me up again.
First light finally crept in and birds were anxious to fly down. After the first few hit the ground, it literally began raining turkeys. Although I never successfully got them all counted, there were more than 65 birds total and probably over 70. In the growing light, the ground appeared to be absolutely moving with turkeys; at least 10 or 11 were Long Beards. The numbers were a pleasant surprise and a great beginning to the morning hunt.
I had placed four decoys and following about ten minutes of calling, was able raise the ire of what appeared to be the gang’s Alpha female. Once the Boss Hen arrived at the decoys, she began to display some very aggressive posturing followed by seconds long outburst of high volume cutting. Upon hearing the agitated hen sound off, more birds immediately rushed to scene. I now had several birds standing within 4 or 5 feet of where I sat. The Boss Hen wasn’t backing off any, and was about ready to crawl into the blind with me.
Although I had a jake standing at point blank, none of the gobblers had come over – they were all too busy strutting and chasing each other in circles. Turkeys continued to pile into the spread until I easily had thirty or more birds standing within 20 paces. Some of the birds eventually grew bored and began moving off. Once they were in motion, it quickly became a game of Follow the Leader. The rest of the flock fell into step like so many sheep. Meanwhile, the gobblers remained segregated and at a distance while the number of birds at my blind was fading fast. Another few seconds and everything would be out of range again. It was crunch time. Pondering the dilemma for about half a second, I decided to shoot a hen. Hens do taste an awful lot like turkey too, and they definitely have way more flavor than a paper tag.
With the closest birds now at 10 or 11 yards, I hurriedly made my move. I was shooting my Scott Rentschier, 48 # Blood Brother longbow [best friendbows.com] and a flint tipped, river cane arrow crafted by Florida’s Ryan Gill [gillsprimitivearchery.com]. Drawing back, I picked a bird standing pretty much broadside and aimed at the top of its wing butt. Upon impact, the hen flew straight up, did two or three aerial flips, and then fell straight back down.
What happened next was incredible. The flock went completely nuts at the sight, and many of the retreating hens and jakes came running back to see what had just happened. The gobblers suddenly stopped what they were doing and also came running. Within seconds I had most of the gobblers and at least two bearded hens standing within ten paces of the blind. All I can say is that I would have gladly paid double for just one more tag.
Cerro Gordo County
January 10, 2018