By L&T Managing Editor Larry Phillips
Early April, a time for spring with renewal of budding trees, sprouting grass, planting flowers and vegetable gardens – and my favorite – spring turkey season.
Now for those non-hunters out there, turkey hunting has little to do with harvesting a bird. Naturally, that is the objective, but it the icing on the cake, not the whole experience.
I guess you could say that about most hunting, and I think many hunters would agree. Being outside in the woods or sitting in blinds on the grand prairie or walking a CRP field hoping to flush a pheasant, to me, it’s being “in the field” I truly love. I have said many times to many people, it’s where I feel closest to God; it’s his ultimate cathedral.
This year, I’m excited to try something I would have never thought possible eight or nine years ago, when I first took up turkey hunting.
I was a little late in age to take up the sport, but I have always been fascinated by game calls. When you learn how to stimulate some animal to come to you when using a call, the thrill is unexplainable.
I was immediately hooked on calls when I lived in Alaska a couple of decades ago, and after a few years of practice, I eventually called in a bull moose weighing in the neighborhood of 1,200 pounds with a rack 52-inches wide. I had been making cows calls and bulls calls. When he showed up, he was only about 30 yards away coming hard out of the alder bushes I wasn’t sure if he was wanting to fight another bull or cuddle up to a sweet-sounding cow. Either way wasn’t an option for me.
When I found out there was turkey hunting around here – albeit somewhat limited – I bought my first friction call, a Knight & Hale Old Yeller slate call. I still have it but have added to my calls considerably. After a couple of years, I finally learned to get tom turkeys to respond. What fun,
Another plus is you don’t usually have to go chasing turkeys like one does for pheasants. At my age, I love ‘sitting’ in a ground blind.
Well, the difference in this year and those past is I have always hunted turkeys with a shotgun, as most do. But this year, I get to use a crossbow. It shoots a 22-inch bolt (arrow) and has a draw pull of 150 pounds. It shoots the bolt about 350 feet per second, much faster than avaerage compound bows.
I bought the crossbow last year when I saw the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks/Tourism established a trial hunt with crossbows in three deer units in the state. Unfortunately, I didn’t get the opportunity to go to one of those areas during deer season, But, voila, KDWP/T did open up crossbows for turkeys (for us older folks) starting with the early opening of archery season.
One thing special about my crossbow is I bought it from my high school football coach – Mr. Bill Blasi. We had talked some years earlier about hunting, and he mentioned he had started using a crossbow. When I called him, he said I could have it, but I insisted he take some money for it. It’s a great bow and spot-on. I will be carrying it with pride, coach.
By the time anyone reads this, I headed out around 5:30 a.m. Saturday morning for one of my favorite areas, approximately 30 minutes from where I live near Kismet. It then takes me about 30 minutes to hike through the woods with my gear and get settled in about an hour before sunrise.
It is then I get to sit and start taking in the smells, sounds, gentle breezes and ‘feel’ the outdoors. If you have never smelled cedar tees damp with morning dew while sitting in the woods just before sunrise, you don’t know what you’re missing.
About 30 minutes before the sun breaks the horizon, one starts seeing the kaleidoscope of colors developing on the eastern horizon. It’s mesmerizing, and just when you’re thanking God for letting you experience this day’s sunrise – one that has never, ever been like one before or will ever be like one afterward for time eternity – a gobble breaks through the soft noise of the woods. Then other toms follow, and soon, it sounds if there is a chorus of gobbles echoing across the sky and through the woods. It’s enough to make the hairs on the back of your neck stand at attention.
If you’’re lucky, your gentle hen calls will bring a tom out of the woods and toward your set-up. I like to use a single hen decoy – one that looks lost or forlorn – just waiting for an amorous tom – about 20 yards from my blind, in a clearing so she can be seen from 100 yards or better in some places.
One thing I’ve learned is to not overcall once he starts heading your way. And it is very difficult, because more times than not, he takes his own sweet time – stopping, strutting in circles with his tail feathers fanned out. You want to scream, “Quit going in circles and get over here – this ain’t NASCAR.”
But the excitement of watching him get closer and closer is, again, unexplainable. They are such beautiful birds, so huge and elegant, they look as if they are gliding on ice skates when they do their strutting.
If Ben Franklin would have had his way, he would have been America’s ‘National’ bird, not the Bald Eagle. I truly understand Ben’s love of the wild turkey.
As the big tom gets to about 60 or 50 yards out – still not within range, your adreneline really gets to pumping, your breathing gets irregular and fast and you have to start talking to yourself – ‘Calm down, now.”
And then, inexplicably, he turns and slowly starts heading the other direction.
He disappears into the woods.
But, the wonderful feelings stay with you, and you are better off for having the encounter. If one could bottle all that up, he’d make a fortune.