A Bearded Hen

Not far off the highway at the end of a slightly muddy dirt road we parked our truck. Although we hadn’t ever seen a turkey in this particular region, the surrounding area looked promising. It contained what seemed to be prime late season turkey habitat, pinyon pine covered hills, wide open fields and large cottonwood trees. Getting out of the truck we could see the snow covered mountains ahead in the distance, but directly in front of us were fields clear of recently melted snow. Within a minute or two of glassing, Carson spotted some turkeys out in some deep grass in a field beyond a barbed wire fence not too far away. Looking over the terrain we mapped out a route that would take us close to the turkeys.

Fall turkey hunt Utah
                            Just spotted some turkeys, time to sneak on them

 

We grabbed our guns and were off. Several minutes later we had already cut the distance to them by more than half. We dropped to the ground and began crawling on all fours. Soon our hands began to sink a little further into the already soft ground. Looking down I could see that we were now crossing a large area covered by big piles of turkey droppings. Gazing upward I saw the large bare tree branches where turkeys had obviously been roosting, it all made sense. Pausing momentarily we looked forward and guesstimated the feeding turkeys to be about 60 yards away.

For a moment we considered waiting in place believing there was a decent possibility that the turkeys might feed right past us at 20 yards, but we quickly decided that waiting would be too risky. We figured that it was just as likely that the slowly feeding turkeys might remain mostly in place until it was time to fly up and roost thereby causing us to miss out on a shot opportunity. Besides, the damp field we were crossing allowed us to stalk quietly and it was several feet higher than the grass covered area that currently concealed the foraging turkeys...an ambush seemed possible. We continued our pursuit toward the extent of the pasture. Now only 10 yards from the edge, we again stopped to glass the birds. Occasionally we would see a turkey or two poke their head up above the long yellow grass. And this was the only time we could see the otherwise hidden turkeys. We pressed on -- hoping our quiet pursuit would not be perceived by the occasionally curious flock.

At last we neared the fence and now the advantage of higher ground gave way to the grass covered field below. Rising up to peer into the slight depression ahead, we could see four or five turkeys pop in and out of sight as they moved through the grass. Carson whispered that he now had a clear shot on some birds situated slightly to our left and my being on his right confirmed that I also had a clear shot on a turkey within my shooting lane. Carson began the count down, three, two, one -- we simultaneously rose from a crouch to a shooting position -- a single blast dropped a turkey to my left. Meanwhile, as I repositioned myself a piece of Velcro from my facemask had snagged my coat and pulled the mask directly across my face, completely covering my eyes. In a flurry of swatting gestures, I finally was able to brush aside my facemask. By now I could see more than a dozen turkeys ahead of me, some scrambling through the grass while others began to fly. My sights quickly fell upon a sole target and I slapped the trigger. At the roar of the gun, more than one hundred turkeys burst from the grass slightly left of where Carson had just shot his turkey, my turkey too crumpled.

 Fall turkey hunt  fall turkey hunt

                   Carson made a great shot                               Lucky to clear my facemask and to get a shot

The scene unfolding before us was surreal. Dozens and dozens of the normally ground dwelling birds launched themselves into the air in a cloud of feathers right in front of us! But as quickly as it had started, it was over. Carson and I looked at each other in disbelief. It was hard to imagine that so many turkeys could be lurking, virtually right at our feet! Our focus had been so intent on the few visible turkeys that we had completely missed the enormous flock concealed only yards away. And unfortunately for us, we didn’t have anyone along with a video camera to capture the incredible event, but we did have our two birds!

turkey hunting snow
                       Snow piled high at home

 

The next week was filled with major winter storms, some places near our home received 15+ inches of snow. While a blanket of snow makes food finding a challenge for the turkeys, the snowy conditions were exactly what we had hoped for. Our fall/winter tags had boundary restrictions so we needed some harsh weather to keep the turkeys in the lowlands where we were permitted to hunt them.

It was now Friday afternoon and the weekend was as good as here. We hopped into our truck and headed for southern Utah. With barely an hour before sunset we had finally crept across a field and parked ourselves within a row of large bare branched cottonwood trees. After setting up a couple of decoys we began calling. Without much cover nearby, we hoped our calls would carry far across the open fields until they reached the ears of some curious turkeys somewhere off in the distance.

bearded hen turkey
                               While scouting we saw this bearded hen

 

It took a while, but finally Carson spotted a line of turkeys making their way toward us across a wide open field. Excitedly we prepped for their arrival. At 70 yards distance, the turkeys hung up and became very vocal. I grabbed my Primos Power Crystal call and applied a few light strokes; the flock immediately relaxed and continued their advance.

calling turkeys primos power crystal call
                                       Light calling did the trick

 

Tucked down as low as possible and barely concealed by the berm ahead, we watched as the dark wave of turkeys seemed to almost float toward us. Finally the flock had arrived at the fence line, the boundary that separated them from the plot of ground where the giant roosting trees stood. After a brief pause dark blobs began popping through the fence and into the opening ahead. Needing to stand in order to have an unobstructed shot, Carson and I rose together and took aim. The turkeys, only slightly roused, provided each of us a clear shot so we wasted no time and fired!

 back to truck with turkey under full moon 

Making our way back under the light of a bright moon

In an instant our hunt was over, Carson had claimed for himself a respectable jake and I had just bagged myself a dainty hen with a 7 inch beard!

bearded hen turkey
  Could this have been the bearded hen we saw earlier?