Photography courtesy of Lowell Washburn, all rights reserved.
Youth Turkey Hunt Provides Lifetime Memories
The first of Iowa’s five-part spring turkey seasons opened Friday, April 7, with the annual mentored youth hunt. My son Matt had some work activities scheduled [bad for him] which opened the opportunity for Grandad [good for me] to act as a substitute mentor for my nine-year-old granddaughter, Riley.
Riley had never bagged a wild turkey, and for the past few days, turkeys and turkey hunting has been all she could talk about. When not being tutored on turkey hunting protocol, she has been practicing on paper turkey targets with her new .410 single-shot.
When our big, youth day opener finally arrived, we headed for the forested corridor of the Winnebago River. Although we arrived more than an hour before daybreak, the light from the high intensity full moon made it seem like High Noon. Fortunately, we didn’t spook any roosted birds on the way in, nor did we spook anything while quietly placing our group of three decoys — two hens and a single jake.
There was plenty of anticipation, but when daybreak did arrive, we only heard one bird – a long way off – and he only managed to squeak out a couple of gobbles. Things remained dismally quiet for another hour until we heard another couple of gobbles – same bird? – from the timber bordering the river about 100 or more yards to our right. Using my Rob Kirkman box call, I made some series of yelps with no response. But a silent half hour later, were happy to see two adult toms emerge into view.
I called to the pair, but they gave no response which told me there must be some hens somewhere in the mix. Sure enough, the gobblers were soon joined by a group of four hens. I began calling to the hens, and the whole works began slowly moving our way. Things were looking hopeful until a gang of four jakes came charging out of the treeline and began harassing the toms; a development which completely derailed all forward progress. Things became even more complicated when an additional five jakes rushed in a minute or two later.
A WWF style rumble quickly erupted with some of the jakes relentlessly harassing the toms while other jakes decided to fight their siblings. Frustrated by the jakes’ extreme rudeness, the two Long Beards joined forces to wage some unsuccessful attempts at teaching the young upstarts some respect. But they were greatly outnumbered, and the harassment continued.
In an effort to join the party, I reengaged the box call. At long last, my calling began to have the desired effect. Every time I’d touch the call now, at least some of the birds would immediately gobble back. Taking advantage of the birds’ collective agitation, I cranked it up and tried to start a fire with the box’s lid. The raucous vocalizations quickly pushed the birds over the edge. Going completely off their rockers, the entire flock moved our way.
As I kept up the calling, the birds quickly went from snail-mode to a full out trot. In almost less time than it takes to tell, we had most of the jakes standing at point blank range — leaning forward and stretching their necks while talking smack to our plastic jake.
Houston we have a Problem: Although we now had an impressive collection of legal birds standing just a few feet away, there was a major hitch. The birds would not separate to a distance that would allow for a shot where the .410’s pattern wouldn’t kill multiple birds. Since the limit is one bird, this presented a major problem. To make matters even worse, the remainder of the jake squadron soon arrived. The reinforcements brought the turkey tally to nine.
For more than five full minutes, the jakes milled ‘round and ‘round our plastic counterfeit uttering a nonstop concerto of agitated vocalizations. Unable to resist the sights and sounds, the two Long Beards suddenly came rushing in to call the meeting to order. Even though, they too, were now standing at less than 20 yards, the toms provided no reasonable shot – there were just too many heads and necks packed into tight formation.
So now we had a flock of eleven wild turkeys – all legal males — milling around in front of us. The constant and dizzying bobbing and weaving of all those intertwined heads and necks seemed strangely reminiscent of the mythical Hercules’ and the locks of Medusa.
The four hens had opted not to join the circus but had hung back at a distance of around 40 yards or so. The two gobblers suddenly remembered this fact and turned back toward the neglected hens. The jakes decided to follow and, within seconds, the whole gathering was leaving the stage. So now we had eleven beautiful wild turkeys suddenly walking out of our lives — and still no ethical shot. By now, we were both becoming eligible candidates for complete nervous breakdowns – about as shorted out as tossing a hair dryer into the bathtub.
The entire flock was soon out of range when, for some reason, four of the jakes decided to return to the decoys for one last insult. Although they hung around for a couple of extra minutes, the birds stubbornly refused to separate by more than a few inches. That is until one of the jakes put about a three foot distance between him and his nearest feathery partner. This proved to be a critical error in judgment. Putting the bead squarely on the bird’s neck, Riley touched off the .410 and her first-ever wild turkey dropped dead in its tracks. I don’t know which of us was more excited, but I can say with certainty that this beautiful April morning had provided a lifetime memory for us both.
Nine-year-old Riley Washburn poses with her first ever wild turkey bagged during the opener of this year’s Youth Turkey Hunt