Team No Threat Strikes…out. Opening day turkey shenanigans. By Skip Knowles
Like a bunch of camouflaged kids eager as retriever puppies on their first duck hunt, we hit the field on the turkey opener with the 28 gauge Beretta and a load of HEVI number #5s. Patterning the guns had proven the loads should be lethal in the little pop gun if we limited our range to under 30 yards or so. And I was dying to whack one with the 28.
But first we wanted young Brady Miller to kill one with his 20 gauge, which was stuffed with HEVI-Upland lead #6s. A few distant gobbles greeted us as we started sneaking down through the cottonwood bottoms along the little Rocky Mountain river, a private stretch of land that should be a home run. The light peeped through the trees and shivers ran up our backs, heavy air much cooler than expected numbing our lips and fingers.
No setup ever seems perfect, but we felt like we’d given ourselves a fair shot if the turkeys we heard gobbling spotted our decoys in the dim trail, and tried our best to blend in against the tree trunks at our back. This was it. This is what it’s all about. Grown men playing GI Joe, out in nature running around with guns and having fun, a grown-ups’ version of hide and go seek. Mike Miller, a Mossy Oak pro staff regional manager, had barely cracked his arsenal of calls out and scraped on the slate when turkeys appeared a hundred yards up the trail, coming straight to the decoys. One of them was quite large, and young Brady sat in front of his dad, straining to hold the 20 gauge up and at the ready. The small bird showed first, then the big-bodied bird strolled right in front of him, coming to the soft yelps. Just like they’re supposed to. Only one problem. We could not spot a beard on this bird and it apparently was the world’s largest hen, something I’d feared when I couldn’t spot any red in the dim light of dawn.
We kept calling, and some legitimate answers came floating back through the trees…followed by some terrible sounding ones, unless “juvenile turkey in heat” is the latest thing. It actually sounded like a chicken squawking and came from the area where we had watched 8 huge longbeards hanging out the evening prior, strutting and relaxing and showing off for the girls.
All four of us looked at each other as the turkey “calling” came to our ears, sounding like a turkey yelping as though someone was trying to strangle it.
Yep. There was someone in our woods, and they were lousy hunters. Creeping down the road, we saw tracks and strut marks and more tracks everywhere, clearly the place where our birds had flown down and landed, only to be frightened away by the hack mystery caller. Hope was not totally lost, as we could see the place was loaded with birds, and figured we’d find a strutter somewhere and work on him. But then we saw a vehicle and smoke drifting through the trees. Someone else who had access to the place had camped right in the middle of our hot spot! Bummer! We soon saw two more vehicles.
The land is a few thousand acres, so we split from that spot and started scouting, spotting, and blind calling, with never a response. Incredible amounts of sign told us the place is packed with birds…but we expertly managed to avoid any of them the rest of the day. Sigh. I chided Mike non-stop, “Hope we can duck hunt here in the fall…you’re a question mark as a turkey hunter but I know you can kill ducks…” and so on. Truth is, he is a turkey-killing machine, and has some knowledge to share, coming soon in a new blog.
And we are going back out as soon as we can. Getting to hunt with a father and an eager 12 year old was a real treat, taking me back to when my son was that age, and even further back to my own dim memories of trying to work at becoming a man and the struggle to keep your cool and hold a heavy gun up at ready. Watching Brady there slumped against his father fighting nobly to heft that shotgun with a look so excited and serious on his face you’d have thought the Germans were about to leap from the trenches in front of us and charge…well that’s the good stuff.
Hopefully part of this turkey series will involve young Brady slamming a tom….stay tuned!