2020 Pandemic Turkey Hunt

There for a moment we were concerned that we might not be allowed to travel within our state to hunt, let alone cross state lines to try to bag a turkey out of state during this particular spring hunt because of the pandemic situation. This whole Covid-19 pandemic dilemma had governors from all the states scrambling to roll out guidelines for what type of travel was deemed essential versus non-essential. But luckily and just by the skin of our teeth were we allowed to travel and hunt in both Utah and Idaho. And yes, we most definitely followed the established social distancing guidelines smile

 Idaho youth turkey hunt  turkey hunt calling turkeys

                  Preseason scouting with the boys                                    All set up -- calling and filming gobblers

On the weekend before the hunt opener, we were able to get out and do a little bit of scouting. From afar we spotted several different bunches of turkeys parading around and feeding into the newly greened up meadows. In fact, some of the flocks were massive but we knew it wouldn’t be long until those larger gatherings would be broken apart, with the smaller groups scattering themselves across the foothills as they chased the snow line.

 big flock of turkeys  large flock of turkeys

                       Came across several big flocks of turkeys                           They all contained some nice long beards

At last, the dawn of the Idaho youth turkey hunt was upon us. We were up early and had our decoys in place just before first light and now struggled a bit to keep warm in the below freezing morning air. In the distance we heard the sharp calls of yelping hens, followed by the throaty gobbles from some far-off gobblers. As the darkness began to fade, we strained to identify every object nearby. And it wasn’t long before we noticed a flock of turkeys as they made their way out into an opening 400 yards below. With our binoculars pressed tightly against our eyes, we spotted 3 big strutting toms dancing for their hens! Reaching into my bag of tricks, I grabbed my calls and began calling at them. The piercing calls obviously struck a note with the flock because the lead hen turned and began to bring the entire flock toward us and up the mountainside. It took quite some time, but finally gobbles erupted from the oak brush below just 80 yards away! Anxiously we waited for one or more turkeys to emerge from the brush…but they didn't. The turkeys must not have been seriously interested in our ruse; their curiosity was probably slight and therefore decided to pass by unseen.

 snow covered ground blind turkey hunting 

     Talk about a quick change of Idaho weather...we were prepared with our ground blind  

The next couple of days were mostly uneventful. We saw a few turkeys but didn’t have any close encounters. And with the Utah limited entry turkey hunt starting soon, we loaded up and headed south. Arriving in southern Utah late Friday afternoon, we quickly located a field and setup our ground blind. Our fingers were crossed, hoping we had picked a field where it would be possible to lure in some turkeys come morning. With that work completed we left to go set up camp and turn in for the night.

 turkeys all around ground blind 

Couldn't resist doing a drive-by before turning in...turkeys apparently unfazed by our blind!  

Saturday morning came quickly. We sat nestled tightly in place within our ground blind and waited for first light. Our three turkey decoys were placed about 15 yards from our blind and now the waiting game began. It wasn’t long until we were able to make out the silhouettes of roosted turkeys not far off. Then came the tree yelps, followed by a few gobbles a little further away.

 turkeys on the roost 

                              Getting lighter now...fly-down is in progress... 

Soon the familiar fly-down cackle began and we watched as more than 50 turkeys flew down into the field 85 yards away. Then suddenly the entire flock was on high alert, anxious and nervous -- something was up. Within another 20 seconds or so about half of the turkeys began to fly off in a panic while the rest of the flock ran for the safety of the brush. It turned out that some other hunters were walking along a tree row not far off and scared the entire flock. Just when we thought the turkey gods were smiling down on us, it all went south in a heart beat. Our hopes of bagging one of the big strutting toms we had seen the previous evening were dashed.

 turkeys high alert anxious nervous 

                Turkeys on high alert...moments before the entire flock vanished! 

Without a backup plan of any sort and in a moment of panic, I began to call. I called often for the next ten minutes alternating between my box call, diaphragm call and my power crystal pot call. For those ten minutes we sat somewhat stupefied wondering what exactly to do next. Suddenly we saw a dark blob pop out of the brush 120 yards away, then another and another and another. Miraculously we had lured several turkeys back into the field from where they had disappeared almost fifteen minutes ago. I began to softly call and move our motion decoy. That seemed to do the trick as the seven jakes turned and headed directly for our decoys! At this point there wasn’t even a second’s hesitation about passing on a jake, Carson readied his 12 gauge and waited. Finally one of the jakes separated himself from the others, just far enough for Carson to take a shot. And just like that Carson ended our limited entry Utah hunt with an 8 yard shot!

 Utah Merriams turkey 

                           Carson with his Utah turkey! 

We spent the next two weekends (and then some for a total of 11 days) once again hunting Idaho. We ran into quite a few hunters during our stint and the hunters were definitely putting lots of pressure on the birds. For the most part the turkeys seemed pretty wise to our calling. But with all of that we still managed to call in birds periodically. In fact, we completely blew two of those close encounters. While it doesn’t at all seem possible to call in a tom inside of 30 yards and still have it get away, that absolutely happened to us twice. I’ll spare you the details here, but there is probably nothing more frustrating that having a mature long beard marching around your decoys at less than 30 yards yet somehow escape unscathed.

 Mature strutting long beard turkeys marching 

                                So close...and then they were gone...

Time was running out and we were dejected as we lay in our sleeping bags making a plan for morning. Before we started our Idaho hunt, we were very optimistic about filling our turkey tags, maybe even a little over confident. And with only half of a day left to hunt, we had all but come to grips with the fact that we’d most likely go home empty handed. In fact, when our alarm sounded that final morning we contemplated turning off the alarm, rolling over and sleeping in. But after a couple of minutes of discussion, we finally pulled ourselves up by our bootstraps and headed out for one last hoorah.

 strutting tom turkeys 

Looked across mtn and worried we'd chosen to go to wrong location this morning

 bearded hen mature gobbler turkeys  mature long beard turkeys

  Ended up shooting 3 huge gobblers we called in, but not the bearded hen     At least 3 had beards 9+ in. long!

It turned out that this morning couldn’t have been more productive! Never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined that we’d slay 3 mature old toms, all sporting beards over 9 inches long! And all before 7:45 a.m.! With one more tag to fill we now have a great excuse to come back to hunt this coming fall!

 Rio Grande turkey  Merriam's turkey

     Carson found place to pose with huge Rio Grande           Greg chose spot in the trees to show off his Merriam's

 Rio Grande, Merriam's, 9 inch beards 

      Quite a contrast between Rio Grande and Merriam's...all with huge thick beards!

               First beard 9 3/4"                      Second beard 9 5/8”           Third beard 9 1/4"