Check out Stanley's new brochure. Stan may be coming to Halifax soon to book some hunts. More on that later. Give his brochure a look.
It was hot. Maybe too hot for good turkey hunting, but, admittedly, I’m not sure about how heat effects turkey. All I know is that with thermometer reading 33 * Celsius, it was too hot for this turkey hunter trudging up the steep hill towards a small secluded field behind Chip Woodman’s place. Carrying shotgun, decoy, and comfy little seat. Reaching a spot near the field, I spied a big blow down I had successfully called in bird in previous years. As sweat poured off me, I decided that was as good as spot as any.
I hit the call and was immediately rewarded with a gobble. Before I could answer back, three more loud gobbles were bouncing around the woods. I ducked in and replied with my best lonesome hen. More gobbles…this time closer.
Being a rookie caller, I decided to call infrequently or not at all if the bird kept coming. And come he did. Despite hearing his progress through gobbles, I was startled when I seen him hop up on a long and glare right at me. I was caught kind of flat footed so to speak (although I was flat on my butt), but my one hope was there being no way he could have spotted movement from his approach. And indeed, movement is what gets a hunter 99% of the time when hunting these keen-eyed birds.
The bird would pace back and fourth on the log. The bright red head told me he was suspicious of something. After what felt like several lifetimes, he finally looked past me and spied the lone hen decoy. To an eager gobbler, when everything works, a lone hen is like finding the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. And this dude wanted some of that gold. He hopped off the log and worked his way around from behind me to my side and eventually to in front of me. I slid the shotgun forward on a convenient rest. The bird hit a half strut. He was 15 yards away and in a world of trouble.
The issue was with the quick half strut, I couldn’t tell if it was a Jake or a Tom. I’m sure a more experienced turkey hunter would have been able to, but I was unsure. At one point, I thought, frig it, take the Jake. A bird in hand…all that stuff.
As I snicked of the Remington’s safety an audible click sounded like a gun shot to me. The bird didn’t seem to mind. Then it hit me, the law says any legal bird must have a visible beard. I pushed the button back to safe and waited for the bird to turn so I could see a beard.
I honestly thought the only question would be if it was a Jake or Tom. I had my finger on the safety ready to push it to fire, while covering the birds neck with the front bead. Minutes ticked by before he turned.
Must be a Jake I remember thinking as I didn’t see the telltale paintbrush beard of a 2 year or older bird. I wrestled with the idea of taking the Jake. Had I been carrying my bow…I would try for it in a flash but with the shotgun, I wasn’t sure.
Meanwhile I kept looking. And you know what? There was no visible beard on that bird. From 13-15 yards, there’s no way I’d miss a beard, even a cigar stub of a Jake’s. I watched and waited for a beard to appear, and despite 10 minutes of it circling the decoy at every angle imaginable, no beard was to be seen.
Once I realized it must have had beard rot or ripped it off somehow, I thanked my lucky stars I held off, following the rules to the letter, as in seeing a visible beard before firing despite it being a male. The rules say a legal bird must have a beard and this one didn’t.
Twenty years ago, that beardless bird may have bothered me, and I would have cursed my bad luck. These days, I just smiled and realized I will remember this encounter more in this way then I would have if I simply would have killed it.
Walking down off the hill later in the afternoon…I knew I’d be banging out this crazy meeting on the keyboard. I was good with that.
The four Jake’s came from a long way. They were not on a string, but it was evident they were slowly but surely working their way towards the vocal lonesome hen, somewhere behind the ancient stone wall.
For the first time we had a Jake decoy out with the hen. When setting up, we only knew we received a hot response from multiple birds perhaps 200 yards away. We were hoping for Tom’s but as the short 3day hunt was winding down, I was contemplating perhaps taking a Jake if it offered up some nice video performing for the camera. I had passed already on 4 separate other Jakes earlier in the hunt, and I knew what might happen if I decided to get too cute with these clever birds.
As they strained to stretch their long neck another inch or so, they all peered over the old turn of the century stone wall. They were calm and relaxed as evidenced by their blue/white heads they all displayed.
Seeing that big Jake decoy they changed their attitude. They became nervous and unsure. You could almost read their mind, as if to say, I’m not sure if that hen is worth a battle. After 5 minutes of indecision, they opted to drift away from the pair of decoys.
That was day one of employing the Jake decoy. While exciting and enjoyable, it didn’t put a bird in the cooler.
The next (and last) morning the Jake was used again. This time however, the field we went to, Chip had watched 4 big Tom’s head to roost the evening before, while I was hunting elsewhere. As owner of Northeast Wilderness Outfitters, he watches birds all year long and gets to hunt or guide throughout most of Maine’s spring season. As a result, he is very good at reading birds.
Chip suggested he accompany me and we hit the field together the next morning. When Chip offers to come and help, a wise hunter would jump at that offer. He’s a great caller. Sound wise and simply knowing when to call and when not to.
My yearly hunts with him are often semi guided, after nearly 20 years, sometimes we only hunt a few hours together in the morning and then we split up and go our separate ways. I must confess, I always do better when I’m with him. He’s the teacher and I’m the student.
On this morning, he also suggested we mount the Jake on the hen. The rationale being that those big gobblers would not tolerate a mere Jake breeding one of their hens. I’ve seen it work a few times over the years and its always exciting to witness them boss birds moving in to kick some Jake butt.
In the pre-dawn the birds were vocal in the tree. There were gobblers and plenty of them around us. They gobbled continuously for a half hour before they flew down. When they hit the ground, they grew a bit quieter, but we saw two nice Toms out in the field. They were farther away then we had hoped and were waling the other way despite Chip’s solid calling.
When they were 400 yards out, they were joined by 3 hens. Chip’s calling had some effect on them but even he couldn’t pull them in. At one point I figured they were going to work their way out of the field, thereby dashing my hopes of tagging one.
With the knowledge there were other gobblers around, we stayed put and decided to just see what would happen. It was a beautiful clear blue morning and I was happy to sit back and watch the field come to life. We watched 3 does gingerly pick their way passed us and into the safety of the woods for the coming day. Woodchucks were feeding on the green grass. Birds were singing. Gobblers were sounding off. Turkey hens were yelping. It was an active field. A field worth waiting on.
At some point the distant gobblers began working their way back along the massive field. Chip said they may go right back into the woods the exact spot they came out. Once the birds disappeared down below a dip in the field we grabbed the decoys and ran to where they flew down an hour or so earlier.
Again, the Jake was set out as if it was mounting the hen.
The birds were becoming silent but occasionally, they would gobble back at us. Perhaps another 30 minutes had elapsed with no sign of them and they had gone quiet. Once again, we were beginning to think they had given us the slip and the shot opportunity might not happen. However, as in most hunting situations, a wise hunter never gives up. We hunters are an optimistic bunch. We acted as if they were just over the little rise in the field. No talking. No moving. Think positive for positive results…all that stuff!
Eventually I was rewarded with just the head of a Tom peeking over the brow of the rise. A minute later and there were two heads. Both nice Tom’s.
They saw that little Jake decoy on the hen and would not stand for it. They completely changed. Although cautious as always. It was clear they were on a mission and were approaching the young whipper snapper of a Jake with the intention of teaching him some manners and would let him know how things went in this field with respect to pecking order.
As it was my last morning, and I had two tags, I held off hoping they would get super tight and I might get a twofer with one shot.
I was following the bigger of the two with the bead on the waddles waiting for that instant the two heads crossed.
Suddenly it hit me that I was just about out of swing range with the shotgun while sitting down. There was a brief second where I thought I had waited too long and I wouldn’t get either bird. Just as I had that nagging thought, they stopped, with one dead to rights in line with the ol’ Remington’s bead nestled nicely on those waddles.
As I touched off the round, the Tom flopped. I pumped the gun’s action and was secretly hoping (as they sometimes do) the other would hang around for a second or two. No such luck in this instance…the second Tom was air born at the 12’s boom.
Walking out to collect and admire the bird I couldn’t help but thank my lucky stars. For good friends. For turkey hunting. For turkey hunting with good friends. For being able to provide a great meal (or two counting the turkey soup) for my family back home. My cup runnith over……
Beyond any shadow of a doubt, a multitude of variables have to line up in your favor to consistently outwit wild turkey
on a consistent basis. One false move and the jig is up. Often times it seems, there hasn't even been one infraction on the
turkey hunter's behalf, but yet, the birds escape unscathed and the camo-clad hunter is left without a smoking gun at the
scene of the crime. All any hunter can do is scratch their head and chalk it up to keen eyesight or a sixth sense these
magnificent game birds seem to possess.Whatever the reason, its frustration and exhilaration all balled up into this
passion we call turkey hunting.
Luckily for us however, if you hunt these birds for a long enough time, eventually you will see certain patterns emerge
from both successful and unsuccessful hunts. The wise hunter will take heed from his or her very own lessons from the
field. In my estimation, that grass root, first hand experience trumps all others.
Every so often I'll get asked what do I think is the one single most aspect to successful turkey hunting. The answer I
believe is there is no one single answer. In the following paragraphs I'll list what I think may be four underrated and
sometimes overlooked aspects that may lead to an unfilled tag at the end of the morning or season.
We've all watched various hunting shows on TV where it all comes together easily and according to the best laid out
plans. In reality, there are likely hours and hours of unusable footage that didn't make the cut into the 22 minutes of prime
time TV. I've selected 3 areas where I think those fantastic high definition shows we all love to watch may be leading us
astray ever so slightly. Don't get me wrong, I love and learn from those shows all the time. It's just with advertising
placement in the segment, actual commercials, and leaving enough time in the episode to capture the moment of the hunt
properly, there is little time for much else.
Secretly I was dreading the long walk back to the truck.What was once a promising set-up had gone cold.We had scouted
the birds and roosted them the evening before. The birds had not been pressured. Upon flydown, the two big Toms in the
flock showed early interest in our setup of a Jake and a hen. Three Jakes had peeled off and had actually been in among
our decoys, but we were interested in the Longbeards only on this particular morning. The Jakes eventually meandered off
towards the larger field in behind us. Perhaps 20 minutes had slipped by as the sun rose higher in the clear blue spring sky
when the bigger of the two Toms came out of full strut and headed our way. I tucked into the Beneli and for the first time
noticed the chill in the air. As expected, the Tom entered a little finger of brush jutting out from the old farm tractor road.
Exactly as the Jakes had come into our decoys. I took a deep breath and just tried to enjoy every gloriousmoment. Every
gobble. Every bass drum beat of my heart. I tried to embrace the adrenaline and not let it control me. Itsmoments such as
this that make the 3 am wake up calls all worth it. Its what we all yearn for. In my mind I had all but tagged that 3 year old
bird. All that was left was the back slapping and photo session.
This however,was not a TV show. The Tom didn't read the script.Minutes of dreaded silence turned into a half hour.
Perhaps an hour dragged on when I looked at my guide with the " What the heck happened?" look. He shot back with the
shrugged shoulder and universal gesture of " I dunno".
The Tom was last seen at about 50 yards through the brush and coming our way occasionally breaking into a half strut,
..... but then nothing. No more thunderous gobbles. No more glimpses of him. Just nothing. We couldn't even figure out
how he could have gotten out of there without us seeing him, even if he was on to us and heading for Dodge. We only had
a couple hours to hunt that morning so we simply elected to stay put. Not because we really thought we were going to
harvest that Gobbler from there, but rather because we didn't have sufficient time to set up anywhere else.
We were just enjoying each others company and the fine spring morning that was unfolding before our eyes.We poured
a cup of tea and whispered about this evenings hunt. I was kicked back and was just about to remove my heavy sweater
when out of thin air amonsterous gobble filled the air and reverberated throughout the field. It was loud and close. Very
close. It was followed by another, this one even closer.With the gobble still ringing in my ears, the next thing I knew the
big Tom was strutting among our decoys.
The rest they say is history. As I was wrapping my tag around his leg I couldn't help but think just how lucky we were to
get this bird. Had we more time that morning we would have packed up and headed elsewhere. Since that morning I have
on a number of occaisions killed birds an hour or more after the last of any signs of them had been seen or heard.
I think there does become a time when its wise to move on, especially if you have other areas scouted, but I still think
many of us give up on birds too easily and quickly.
In closing, I see many hunters who pack it in some time after 930am. I've witnessed this personally, as I sit huddled
against some giant Pine Tree I see hunters pack up and leave from a distant farm or adjacent field. I've enjoyed amany a
great wild turkey diner that was ascertained around 11am by simply staying the course.
Use a Variety Of Cal ls
While I know many have their favorite "go to" call, be it a type or perhaps even a particular brand. I have a couple of each
that are my favorites. I have at least one of each type of call. I believe I sound most realistic with a box call. If I had to pick
and carry only one type, for me, the venerable box call would get my nod. My hunters heart wishes I was amaster with
diaphragm calls. Its as personal as choosing a favorite shotgun.What may be one hunter's favorite,may not excite another
hunter and the reasons are as varied.
One thing I have noticed over the years is that the hot call one morning may barely elicit a return gobble the next. I'm not
sure why, but I know it's true.
I am not lucky enough to live in a Province that has wild turkey hunting. I was nearly 40 years old before I tagged my first
gobbler. So needless to say,my calling skills were lacking compared to those who cut their teeth hunting wild turkey from
a young age.
I remember one guided hunted perhaps 15 years ago in New York State.My guide and host Kevin was an incredible
turkey caller. He made sweet talk with any call you put in his vest. He had been calling turkey since he was about 10 years
old, and asmuch as all that practice allowed him to grow into a top notch caller, it was also the fact that he spent a
considerable amount of time just listening and watching birds go about their daily routines. He was a keen observer and a
quick study. One evening after the days hunting was finished, one very experienced hunter in camp described him as a
One morning we locked horns with a big stubborn gobbler who came hard at first but wouldn't cross a 2 foot wide
irrigation ditch. The big bird would strut back and forth along that insignificant little obstacle but wouldn't come across
Perhaps 40 minutes had elapsed when Kevin leaned into me and whispered,
"Give one of your calls a try".
I'll admit I was nervous to call in front of such an experienced caller and turkey hunter. However, the urge to tag that long
bearded 3 year old bird was strong. I broke out my cheap box call and gave a few soft yelps. This fired the Tom up! He must
have let lose about 8 gobbles. Perhaps 2 minutes went by and Kevin said,
"Hit it again, but this time louder".
Three loud yelps from that cheap box call and the Tom could not contain himself. He went out of sight momentarily and
my heart sunk, but not for long, the next time I saw him was his red head peeking up over the bank. Our side of the bank!
He strutted himself right into our decoys and a load of number 5's. Talk about excited, I had actually called in my own
Tom. I was stoked. On the walk out, Kevin offered his congratulations on the calling and said he had seen that happen many
times in the past where a different call pulled a bird in that was otherwise hung up. Not always, but enough times that he
said he carries a dozen or so different calls just for that reason but admits to reaching for only his one or two favorites 90%
of the time. He said the 10% of the time he tries an oddball call and it works is what separates an average turkey hunter
from a great turkey hunter.
After months of waiting and weeks of scouting I see, and have done, this common mistake. I know sometimes its
impossible to set up perfectly, especially when in Run and Gun situations. I feel however, it's worth mentioning in this
article. Remember, I'm not suggesting you don't get your calling down to a science , buy the best camouflage, decoys,
blinds, and gear you can, but rather, I'm focusing on often overlooked and less covered subjects that may help us all bag a
As simple as it may sound,when given the opportunity while using decoys, avoid setting the decoy(s) out where it will
put you directly behind the setup on the bird's anticipated approach. When I have had birds approach from my left or right
while the decoy set was in front of me, I have been busted way less.
Sometimes the smallest of differences can spell the difference between success and an unused tag. Mind you,with the
popup blind gaining in popularity, it makes this less of a key factor for success but I have been busted for movement even
while in a popup blind.
These days, I alwaysmake my best guess on the birds likely approach, either by pre -season scouting or just by its return
gobbles when running and gunning and try to set up so they will approach from my left or right into the decoy setup.
With today's often pressured birds every piece of the puzzle we can put in our favor puts us one step closer to sealing the
Add these three tips to your turkey hunting arsenal next time you head afield
I must hunt more ( said every hunter I know). Here's a short excerpt from a very long article....Universal Hunter was a great mag...but like many printed forms of media...it couldn't survive in todays world.... picking up around day 5...
.......... after the intense standoff I needed to sit down. I leaned the bow against the side of the hide and had a long drink of refreshing water. I was enjoying every moment of the experience. I wanted to drink in every second this all too brief trip to Africa had to offer. I could not have been more content sitting there in the hide munching on a granola bar and washing it down with cold water in the growing heat of the day.
Leaning back and stretching out cramped legs my eye lids began to get heavy. Fighting off the urge to close my eyes didn’t last long. I drifted off to sleep.
Perhaps I heard something. Perhaps a 6th hunter’s sense. Perhaps just plain good luck. I awoke with a start. I peered out through a peek hole in the hide and to my astonishment I saw legs!
I slowly arose from my slouched back position and identified the animal as a nice Impala ram drinking noisily. Still groggy I allowed myself to sit back in the seat to the point where I could still see the tops of the impala’s horns.
Enjoying the close range show I about jumped out of the seat when slowly but steadily I could see the tips of a very big Nyala drifting in behind the Impala’s. Kicking my butt for not being ready and in shooting position I painstakingly reached for my bow, careful not to knock the arrow off the shelf. Making sure I had my familiar grip on the handle and a nice deep hook on the string I again looked out hoping to still see the white tipped horns at 14 yards.
To my complete relief, they were still there almost appearing to float on air. The blackness and height of the ivory tipped horns silhouetted against the blue sky had my heart in my throat. Every movement no matter how miniscule and calculated seemed magnified.
Getting my feet back underneath me in just the right position to stand seemed to be a monumental task. Difficult beyond reason. Nevertheless, at some point I was ready to rise out of the seat. I closed my eyes for a split second, expelled the air I had been involuntarily holding in, said a prayer to whoever might be listening and began to stand up.
The Nyala came into view as I came to full height. Fighting back an audible gasp, my bow arm instinctively came up and the growing pressure on my string fingers never felt so natural and well rehearsed. Practice and muscle memory kicked in. I had no doubt of the outcome. The yellow and black fletched arrow buried deep.
The Nyala wheeled and ran. At about 75 yards it stopped and stared back. Twenty long seconds ticked by and then it began to grow unsteady. The outcome was never in doubt at this point. I silently wished for the broadhead to do its work quickly and humanely.
I’m always a little in awe of how efficient a well placed arrow can be. This shot was no exception. The Nyala fell quickly and never got up. I sat back and had to pinch myself. I’d be lying if I didn’t give myself a little pat on the back. Three record book animals with 3 arrows from a light weight trad bow. All short recoveries with quick humane kills.
I was riding a wave and didn’t want it to end. Once again I was txting Lammie with good news.
The remainder of the week I spent trying to kill a good wildebeest. I had a good bull in at 15 yards one morning but he was protected by cows that were also at the water. I can say though, having a great wildebeest at 15 yards is not something I will soon forget. In fact, there are many aspects of this hunt I will always remember fondly.
More than dust gets into your blood when hunting Africa. It truly has it all. You name it, Africa offers it.
We stopped for pictures at one particularly pretty spot. I think I left a piece of my hunter’s heart on that hillside……I hope to go back one day to reclaim it.
" It kills at one end and maims at the other " my friend chuckled as he passed me the big magnum cartridge.....
One fine spring day I was at the local shooting range with a friend who had a 300 win mag. I had just run about 20 rounds through my own 7 mag. While I've never been a fan of big recoil, I couldn't refuse the offer.
My friend was correct ! My shoulder felt the sharp recoil when the trigger broke. Although not a serious case, I did suffer a bit of magnum eyebrow.
Felt recoil though is not my thought this morning, but this statement from the past came to mind, when, once again I caught myself reliving the anguish of losing a big bruin this past hunting season.
Making a bad shot, much like my friend's magnum rifle, wounds both the hunter and the quarry. I may be guilty of letting it play on my nerves more than I should. I know beyond any shadow of a doubt, I did everything I could to find him. After two hours of searching in the dark, I elected to sleep back in the woods in my truck in order to get back on the trail at first light. Nevertheless, there are still moments I think maybe I should have gone a little further, circled one more time, or called in more friends.
There is an analogy here about spilled milk. Whining about it will not put the milk back in the glass nor will it undo a badly placed arrow. Moving forward, the question is, how does a hunter overcome a wounding loss and more importantly, how do we learn from it? How do we prevent spilling any more milk in the future?
I'm sure of one thing personally. The next arrow I fire will be at a target. That's the easy part. The bow ( or gun) will either be true or not. A few shots will give you the answer. Generally, for myself, it's seldom ( or ever) been the bow or gun.
So that leaves me back to the mental building and confidence regaining. I continue to shoot at foam. I continue to relive the bad shot. I might even climb an elevated stand or somehow try to duplicate the scene where the wounding took place. I stew over it. I mull it over again and again and then I shoot some more.
At some point, I climb back into a tree where my target will not be foam. There are moments when I'm not sure I even want to see a live animal underneath me. I'm out there because I need to be there. Hunting is in my DNA and its impossible not to be out. It's as simple as that for me and many hunters I'm sure.
Whether or not I'm ready for it, sooner or later, I'll hear that unmistakable snap of a twig. That familiar thud of a hoof meeting ground. A flash of fur between two trees. However and when ever I discover I'm in the company of a game animal is where the rubber meets the road after the brutal agony of losing an animal.
I'll admit it, I've lost a few animals over the years. It's not something I'm happy about. But I do know it happens.
I've shot at some big adult critters over the years that still make my knees knock. I'll look at old photos and still can't believe I was lucky enough to tag such beautiful animals. I've fought with buck fever on an oversized animal or two.
No shot however, has been more difficult, or put me under more pressure ( even if self imposed) than those that have immediately followed a shot where I lost an animal. Not even close, despite whatever headgear or score they may have possessed.
All you can do is remember past success. All the practice since the misplaced arrow. It's the moment memory muscle and instinct take over.
I've let down in the past simply because I felt like I was praying for a perfect hit as much as knowing I would make the shot. I have no regrets about that. Other times the familiar feeling of being apex predator kicks in and the recent wounding loss is temporarily deleted from my mind.
I don't know if there's a magic pill to prevent from ever missing or wounding. I do suspect though that making consistent shot after consistent shot is part mental and part physical.
We don't lose the benefits from months of practice from one badly placed shot. That part of the successful equation of making perfect shots remains. We may however, lose some of our confidence. The key is to regain that as quickly as possible. Regardless of the time it takes, it is important to have it before we take another shot at an animal.
Nothing makes our confidence skyrocket back as does a perfectly placed arrow or bullet.
Since losing the bear mentioned at the start of this story I have taken another big game animal. I know I'll need another animal or two to get the mental part of the game back to where it was. I'll accept the challenge . Its the least I can do. Being prepared mentally is just as important as having your gear tuned and properly matched to the game you are hunting.
The snick of the safety seemed loud in the still air. The boom of the rifle seemed quiet. Odd what the excitement of the moment can do to us !
Shutting off the alarm, I unzipped the down sleeping bag and made my blurry eyed way to the kitchen. As the coffee dripped into the pot I finalized my plan for the morning hunt.
I would hunt what we called the short loop. It would take me along the St Mary's River for a bit. It would then have me skirt the edge of the old farm before taking me up and over the hardwood ridge. Hopefully, I would have a deer before I reached the top. If not, I would continue on to the edge of the big barren. This is as far as I dared go on my own. Any farther back and I would risk not being able to get any deer back down to the camp or nearby logging road where I could get the truck.
Dressing lightly as I knew I'd be on the move for the morning hunt, I slugged back the remaining black coffee and stepped into the cool dark air.
Two deer bolted from underneath the apple tree in the backyard. Even in the darkness I could see their white tails flagging. The morning was off to a good start I remember thinking to myself.
Before long I was halfway up the steep hill on the west side of the river valley. Looking down upon the fields below as white wood smoke curled out of the camps and farm chimneys was a sight to behold, sure to stir warm emotions in any hunter's heart.
Going another hundred yards or so I leaned against an ancient maple. Not wanting to rush this hunt on the short loop ( as we called it) I was looking forward to my father and brother coming down to the camp later in the evening. As much as I enjoyed being at the camp alone and solo hunting, nothing compared to hunting with those two. Meals seemed better. The coffee was better. Their conversation sure was better entertainment than the one TV station we could get. Evenings flew by.
A slight rustle in the frosty leaves snapped me back to reality. I moved only my eyes, scanning the ridge top. Nothing. Minutes ticked by. I began to think I imagined it. Perhaps just a busy squirrel going about his business.
I stayed put as long as my 20 something year old legs would permit. Just as I was about to return to my ascent of the steep hill, I heard it again. This time however, there was an audible snap accompanying it. Instinctively, I dropped to one knee. My thumb resting on the safety, ready to push it forward if need be.
The crunching drew closer until I finally saw movement. It was early in the season and I was going to pass on any does or small bucks. Even from 100 yards though, it was evident he carried a nice rack. The snick of the safety seemed loud in the still air. The boom of the rifle seemed quiet. Odd what the excitement of the moment can do to us !
The buck dropped in its tracks. In my eagerness to punch my tag I went to collect my deer. About halfway to him, the buck regained his feet. I worked the bolt as calmly as the situation would allow me. I placed the crosshairs on him for the second time and squeezed off another round. Down again
This time I was a little wiser and less sure. I racked the bolt. I steadied the gun against a nearby tree. I could not see the downed buck but I knew he went down and I did not see him get back up. A third shot was not required.
Leaning the unloaded rifle against a tree I admired the nice deer. This was before cell phones. There were no BBD txts. Just me and a nice buck high on a ridgetop over-looking a beautiful river valley. I fished out my tag and did the paperwork.
I knew I had a long morning ahead of me getting him back to camp. I looked forward to it actually. I wanted more than anything to have that buck hanging when my father and brother pulled in the camp yard.
Getting him off the ridge was the easy part. Once I hit the level is where the real work began. Youth and excitement carried the day though. After two hours the finish line was in my sight. Another hour and he was hung high and washed out.
Sitting in the kitchen of the camp eagerly waiting to see the headlights of their vehicle coming up the dirt road was a moment I will always remember. When they did arrive, I remember thinking it can't get much better than this. It was a truly great night in camp.
Perhaps its an age thing. Perhaps memory tints things more rose colored. Perhaps each year we lose those folks who make such moments so wonderful . Perhaps as we take more game as the years click by and maybe each individual animal becomes less special. I don't really know.
What I do know however, is now, whenever I'm out hunting with a friend, I try each and every time to take a second and try to deposit a particular moment from the day into my memory bank. Even when no game is bagged or tagged. I know I can't remember everything from the day. I more just make an effort to remember a specific moment, conversation, shot, animal or laugh we shared.
I never want those memories and images to fade with time. There isn't a mount or photograph that doesn't pale compared to a great memory.
Just recently I pheasant hunted with two good buds. I remember saying we will limit out before we get through the first field. Big mistake. We didn't take a singe bird. The take from the day was how these two enjoyed themselves completely and the laughs we shared. I have a specific moment of that day in my mind. I'm sure one day it will find its way to paper. I have no idea when or what will trigger it. I suspect it will come back easily though.
Twenty years from now, I want to be able to relive a hunt I go on today just as clearly as I can the buck in this story from years ago. If I can do that, they will always be as good as they actually were.
I find some comfort in knowing those memories and hunts will stay with me long after myself or someone I share a hunt with are not able to take to the woods.
Take a moment and make a memory.....
To try and describe turkey hunting would be comparable to trying to bottle and package the sensation one gets when a large multi run salmon rises from river bottom to your dry fly or watching a black bear ghost into a bait site. I deem words inadequate to capture the moment. Be that as it may, turkey hunting has all the requisite components to make for an outstanding hunt. The birds are large, clever, make prime table fare and they respond appropriately to calling. Until you actually witness a Tom strutting in the morning light, you can't visualize the colors these birds have in their plumage. What else could any camo clad hunter want? The one thing I can think of is to have a season here in Atlantic Canada.
Turkeys are flourishing in places like Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, New York, Ontario, and now apprently in New Brunswick, which all have seasons ( Other than NB), agriculture, and natural food sources such as Nova Scotia. One year I was in a hunting store in Ontario buying a couple calls for my upcoming turkey hunt and began talking to a local hunter who happened to be in the store the same time as myself.
I asked him if he hunted turkeys. His response was an excited “Absolutely, they’re awesome!”.
He gave me a few suggestions with calls and calling. Also in our conversation he told how the birds were expanding further north every year. He told me that it was now fairly common to see wild turkeys as far North as Thunder Bay. I can only assumme he was telling me the truth. I do know that when I first started going Stateside to chase these birds each spring in nearby Maine, it was hoped they would populate and surive as far north as Bangor. They have surpassed that line and then some !. They are crossing into NB on a regualr basis.
Please don’t confuse wild turkeys with a few operations / illegal stockings that crop up once in a while. Those birds have nothing, I reiterate nothing, in common with their wild cousins. If you haven’t hunted wild turkeys, take my word, they are a genuine challenge to hunt and they would surely be a favourable augmentation to our present wildlife population. Albeit, that's from a hunters point of view.
Beyond any shadow of doubt, there are be some amongst us who perceive the introduction of wild turkeys as an unfavourable occurrence. One body of hard working folks who may be opposed are those who grow produce of some description for a living. Undoubtedly, these large birds will indeed ingest a certain amount of corn, apples, grapes, etc., but when I checked with the farmers whose acreage I hunted on in New York state, their sentiment was that while the birds do as a matter of fact eat some of their various crops, the over-all damage was manageable. Nevertheless, it is a legitimate concern on the farmers behalf.
Perhaps the poultry industry had some concerns over disease risks…..if I recall from early discussions on the subject. It is my understanding though, that any birds brought in would be captured from a wild flock and tested for desease before coming across any border.
Other circles perhaps have worries over the potential impact turkeys may have on our resident pheasant population. Whereas Nova Scotia is more or less at the most northerly region where pheasants will successfully live and breed some worry what will happen when the bigger birds are in direct competition with pheasants during our long cold winters when food is scarce. Another legitimate concern for sure, however, there are numerous locations that have both birds cohabitating within their borders, that at times have severe winters equivalent to Nova Scotia’s.
My first ever turkey hunt was almost more based on looking for a hunting opportunity for my son, who was too young to hunt in Nova Scotia. We opted for New York state as they had a two bird limit. Back then, Maine was still a draw for a turkey tag and we had missed the deadline for the draw, so we packed up the truck and hit the road. The third and final evening of our New York turkey hunt unfolded as if pre-written in a hunting show script.
Picture this: The sun is beginning to slip below the diverse stand of hardwoods we’re hunting. I’m sitting against the base of a giant beech tree. The hillside is thoroughly full of turkey scratchings (made while the birds forage for food). Hens are yelping all around us. There are possibly 10 birds approaching our calling. It’s not a matter of if we’ll see the flock, but when. While following the loud excited gobbles coming closer with each second, I see a large tom proceeding to investigate our calling. I aim at his red head and pull the trigger. The bird flops cleanly and my hunt is over.
Moments later I am securing my second ever punched turkey tag around his leg. The 4 nice birds in the cooler on the trip home will provide 6 or 8 great meals of some of the tastiest wild game meat around. From slow roasted to soup, wild turkey meat is a lean, clean source of protein.
Walking off the mountain in complete darkness, I am comforted by the hefty weight of the turkey slung over my shoulder and having had the chance to share this hunt with my son Dylan, I remember wondering to myself if it can get any better than this.
The only way I could think it would have been better was if we had wild turkeys in Nova Scotia........nearly 20 years later, my thoughts remain the same.
Standing on the lake shore, I took one last, long, careful look around. I purposely took a deep breath. Darkness had fallen.