A Bird in the Hand

For the next day and a half I would stomp around the mountain cursing myself. I couldn’t help but reflect on the old saying “a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush”, over and over again. That particular saying rang true to my ears and couldn’t have been more fitting, but more about that later.

It had only been a week since I was last here hunting in Idaho with my son on the youth turkey hunt. Now it was my turn and I hoped I would experience the same kind of luck as Carson. It was just before dawn when I finished setting up in a hollow several hundred yards below Carson’s lucky spot. At first light I called softly. My calls were immediately answered by a chatty hen. As I continued to call, I could hear that she was obviously approaching; hopefully a tom would be tagging along. A bit later some turkeys came into view. However, it turned out that five lonely hens came right into my decoy without a tom in tow. The good news was that it wasn’t even an hour into the hunt and I already had five turkeys pass within 20 yards! A very exciting start to the day and an amazing sight to see up close the iridescent feathers perfectly contrasted against a fresh layer of snow!

 hen turkeys in the snow 

   Managed quick pic just before they topped out

Opting to find an undisturbed spot, I gathered my gear and headed up the mountain. Forty five minutes later I was nearing last week’s lucky spot, drawn here by wishful thinking I guess. As I crept through the brush toward an opening, I let out a yelp call. Surprisingly two gobblers responded from the hollow below, right where I had been less than an hour ago. I stood motionless evaluating my surroundings and decided that this exact spot concealed me perfectly. Again I yelped and patiently waited. It felt like only a few minutes had passed when, similar to last week, two bright redheaded toms came bobbing through the sage. My heart was pounding -- I played out the upcoming scenario in my mind -- these toms will continue until they pop out at 10 yards giving me ample opportunity to double up! But oh, I couldn’t have been more wrong. At 30 yards I had a clear shot at the first gobbler but instead continued to wait for the other to follow in his footsteps. However, the second tom strayed slightly and disappeared behind a large piece of sage. Needless to say I kept up my greedy ways, watching each emerge separately, until both turkeys ultimately faded away, never a shot.

It was then that I began kicking myself for not taking the shot when I had the chance. “A bird in the hand…a bird in the hand…a bird in the hand”, kept echoing in my head. But then with semi-high hopes I set off following the tracks left in the snow by the two elusive gobblers. After 2 miles of hiking I finally caught up to the toms. They gobbled relentlessly in response to my calls but hung up just 90 yards ahead. No matter what I tried they wouldn’t come into my calls. So as a last resort I tried to sneak in on them. But that was a lost cause since the compacting snow from each footstep made just enough noise to push them away.

 turkey tracks in snow  following turkey tracks, tracking

 Fresh tracks, beginning 2 mile trek                  Still going -- tracks lead straight ahead across plateau

For the rest of the day I pursued gobbles and followed fresh tracks through the snow but never could close the deal. On several occasions I caught glimpses of henned up toms moving through the brush with their flocks, but the results were always the same, no shot. As the day came to a close I knew where I needed to be at first light, right in the middle of all of this turkey activity. My confidence was high that I would have the close encounter needed in order to notch my tag.

 turkey strutting in snow  sneaking stalking up on turkeys

     Getting closer, turkey was strutting here moments ago              Trying to sneak on turkeys just ahead

The next morning as I hiked through the dark and into the area I planned to hunt, I was very concerned with the amount of noise I was making. Overnight the snow had frozen and made for even worse sneaking conditions. I pressed on hoping to get set up in time to call a tom from the roost. No luck. After hours and hours of trying, I decided to leave the area since it appeared to be devoid of turkeys. Apparently yesterday’s pressure pushed every single turkey from this section of the mountain.

As I neared the top of the last ridge over looking the valley below, the sun finally peaked out from behind the clouds. The late hour of the morning in combination with the sun caused the snow to begin to melt, finally. Still I figured my best chance would be to drop in elevation mostly down below the snowline so that the snow wouldn’t be a factor. After a while I reached a secluded little sanctuary within a grove of oak trees, a perfect spot for turkeys it seemed. I retrieved the calls from my pack and yelped a few times. All was quiet for a time. At some point I glanced to my left I noticed a big tom standing silently, barely 30 yards away, apparently looking for companionship. It seemed as if he had appeared right out of thin air! In complete disbelief I slowly raised my shotgun and squeezed the trigger. B.T.D. Big Tom Down!

I sat in silence replaying the recent scenario again and again. Not only was I completely stunned by the unexpected encounter but I was absolutely elated! I looked at my phone, 12:22 p.m. Until arriving at this spot I hadn’t stopped for even the smallest of breaks, so I figured I would take that break to eat my breakfast before going to retrieve my bird. I hadn’t even taken the first bite of my muffin when a hen yelped from 80 yards below; the first turkey chatter of the day. Then came the gobbles -- three distinct toms were bellering in the distance. Suddenly the intensity was ratcheting up!

But for the next hour and a half, try as I might, I could not get the turkeys to commit. At that point I decided it was time to go pick up my turkey. Especially now that only one tom had been gobbling over the past 20 minutes and he had moved away from his original location, somewhere just over the ridge.

 turkey decoying strategy 

        Unorthodox decoy strategy is working

After a selfie or two I picked up my bird, it was then that I decided to do something unorthodox. With a gun in one hand and my tom held out in front of me with the other, I headed in the direction of the waning gobble. As I walked I periodically yelped with my mouth call, receiving thunderous responses every single time. Just as I crested a small rise, I spotted a strutting long beard 120 yards ahead! True to my current strategy I pressed forward, holding onto the turkey’s legs, while his wings and tail fan spread out in front of me, partially obscuring my presence.

All at once the strutter spotted me and much to my surprise, he immediately turned and headed straight my way! The impassioned tom alternated between a full strut and a deliberate march until he was 40 yards away. At that point I knelt to the ground and laid down my feathered friend who had gotten me to this point. Grasping my gun with both hands I waited. Still advancing forward, the strutter crossed the 25 yard mark. And now the glowing fiber-optic front sight of my 12 gauge was aimed perfectly – a second later the long beard dropped in his tracks!

 two long beard turkeys 

                                                     With my two mature early season spring turkeys

I couldn’t have been more excited since I had just experienced the same luck Carson had last week, all tagged out on my second turkey! With a bit of effort I finally got both turkeys back to camp. Wasting no time I broke down camp and headed for home, anxious to cook up a fresh turkey dinner!