Photography courtesy of Lowell Washburn, all rights reserved.
Following weeks of anticipation, the Opening Day the Iowa turkey season has finally arrived. Even more incredible was the fact today’s sunrise was both windless and cloudless — amazing! Early season hunters took full advantage of the idyllic conditions and it didn’t take long for social media to come alive with gobbler success photos — or so I’m told.
Wild turkeys liked the weather too. Although still plenty dark, gobblers started sounding off at 5:20 in the timber I hunted. At the approach of daylight, I even managed to get a few grainy photos while the birds were still in the tree. The first bird down was a lone gobbler who had been roosted off by himself away from the other toms. The bird landed about 35 yards away and immediately came roaring into my hen calls. But when the tom rounded a blowdown at 16 paces and came face to face with my jake decoy, his attitude quickly changed. Coming out of the strut, he swapped ends and nervously walked away. Obviously subdominant, I think the bird knew the Boss ‘Gobs were still in the tree and thought this was his opportunity to strut for a hen. Encountering an unknown male, he lost his nerve.
There were four gobblers in the woods and they were really rocking the house. The hens started to fly down and within a couple of minutes everything was on the ground. Things got quiet from there on and although I could occasionally see fans through the brush, nothing came my way. Pretty soon it had become obvious that the hens were leading the parade in the wrong direction. That’s turkey hunting. I’d had a near instantaneous Gobbler Close Call with no shots fired – except for the camera, of course. Some cavity searching wood ducks showed up and I hung around to watch them. Hearing no other turkeys, I left the woods around 9 o’clock.
Round Two: Deciding to try another timber, I arrived at my second location – an ungrazed oak woodland — by about 10 o’clock. Since I didn’t know if any birds were about, I only walked about 60 yards into the timber before deciding to set up. Popping up the blind, I put the jake out front and scratched out a series of six or seven yelps to which I received no response. Inside the blind, I was starting to organize my stuff when looking up, I saw a red turkey head, and then another coming through the thick understory. I was set up in some super thick stuff and the birds were already at around 25 yards when I spotted them. I don’t know how close those birds had been when I set up, but probably only around three minutes had passed since I had sounded those calls. In the turkey woods, it pays to go slow – and quiet.
Getting down to business, I pulled an arrow from the quiver while I frantically searched for my shooting glove. Cinching the glove tight, I looked up and now there were three turkeys. The first two, which I could now see were jakes, had closed the distance to around 10 yards of the decoy. I was happy to see that the third bird – the straggler – was swinging a pretty good beard. When the late comer saw that the two jakes were going to beat him to the decoy, the bird suddenly charged and was on the decoy in an instant. Knocking the arrow as he arrived, I brought the longbow to full draw. It was an easy broadside shot. Aiming for the wing butt, I released the string and watched the arrow temporarily pin his left wing to the body. Although the broadhead exited the opposite side, the bone slowed the arrow enough to prevent a complete pass through. The turkey flipped, ran a few steps, and then died on his feet.
Sensing a sudden promotion in rank, the jakes began to enthusiastically pummel their fallen comrade. Exuberant over their partner’s demise, the jakes suddenly began to gobble – a lot. And then they began to strut; going back every now and then to give their ex-leader a good kick.
Surprised by a movement to my left, I was amazed to see a previously undetected full strut, Long Beard come sliding by at about 12 paces. The jakes rushed to greet him and a full-fledged Turkey Smack Down immediately erupted. I grabbed the camera, but it was a wasted effort. As suddenly as it started, the show was already over. The gobbler was in full retreat, streaking past me at a dead run as the jakes drove him completely off the low ridge and out of sight. I’m not sure who was more surprised by the event, me or the bullied gobbler.
April 17, 2017