River Barrier

The record snow year here in Utah completely messed up the turkey hunt for me. The usual spots I’d normally hunt were inaccessible due to road closures and low elevation snow levels. I’m not sure if there was significant winter kill or if the turkeys were pushed to Timbuktu, but I struggled to find them.

There were several mornings where I awoke early (3:30 a.m. - 4:30 a.m.) to try for turkeys before work and other times where I spent weekend days hunting somewhere. At times I’d hike as many as 6 miles in a morning and at other times I’d take my motorcycle up to the snow line to hunt, but I rarely saw turkeys or heard gobbles.

 snowy turkey hunt  turkey tracks in the snow

             Lots and lots of snow this year                                   Clearly turkeys are around somewhere

However, there was one particular day where I did have a legitimate chance to bag a tom. After failing to get a response all morning, I returned to my motorcycle and headed down the two-track road. I had traveled a couple of hundred yards when I looked off to the side of the road and spotted roughly ten turkeys down through the trees in a small clearing. I was so shocked by the sight that at first glance I thought someone had set up a bunch of decoys. But I quickly realized the ridiculousness of that notion. As the turkeys began to move up the canyon bottom I instantly hopped off my motorcycle and started to creep up the road to head them off.

After about 100 yards of sneaking I peered off the edge but couldn’t spot a single turkey. Suddenly up ahead a turkey’s head popped into view 35 yards away. Within a split second I had a bead on the tom and pulled the trigger, nothing, not even a click. I hurried and checked the safety, it was off. I quickly reached up to make sure the action on my semi-auto shotgun was closed and pulled the trigger again, nothing. Within seconds the turkeys were gone. My one and only chance and I had blown it! Turns out that my gun got into some weird state where it wouldn’t cock. When I manually worked the action the shotshell would eject but the bolt would remain open as if the gun was empty, leaving the next shell up in the magazine tube. Ultimately I was able to fix my gun, but what a disappointment.

The season was winding down with less than a week to go. At this point I was desperate so come morning I would pursue the long-shot tip that I had received from a friend. He had seen a couple of turkeys off in the distance from the highway on multiple occasions and provided to me the general directions. But he cautioned that a river blocked access to a significant portion of the area and the ground cover there was almost nonexistent. That night lying in bed I almost talked myself out of the morning pursuit. I had serious doubts that I would find the turkeys and worried that even if I did, that they wouldn’t be located in a huntable spot. But with nothing to lose except for a little sleep, I finally gave in and set my alarm for 4:15 a.m.

Just before dawn I nestled into an isolated clump of willows with a single hen decoy positioned 15 yards in front of me. I chose to setup where I did mostly by default. There was a highway to one side and an impassible river to the other, so I was relegated to a spot somewhere in between. The area didn’t look much like turkey country but supposedly a couple of turkeys had been spotted feeding in an open space just across the river in this general area. That fact gave me some hope that those feathered visitors would hear my calls and come from some distant haven to check me out. My first series of calls did not generate a response. After fifteen additional minutes I broke out the gobbler call hoping something different might solicit a response, but again all was quiet.

 high country turkey hunt  turkey calls box friction mouth

                   Trying a spot a little lower                                               Plethora of turkey calls

Another hour passed and negative thoughts were swirling through my mind, this spot seemed like a big waste of time. I had used every call in my bag (box, crystal friction, diaphragm mouth, gobbler), on and off, for the past while with no luck. And during that time all I heard was periodic traffic noise and the constant roar of the river which was amplified by heavy snow melt. But even though I couldn’t imagine from where a turkey might emerge, I decided to try for thirty more minutes before heading off to work. Only a few more minutes had passed when I spotted a turkey running at what seemed like full speed across the flat 200 yards down river. Within a split second I had the binoculars locked onto the moving object and noticed a bright red head! Without hesitation I let out a couple of yelps from my mouth call to make sure the tom, which obviously had some destination in mind, would be enticed to make his next stop be front and center at my decoy. Just then another movement caught my eye. A few yards back was another tom following the speed demon. There was no doubt now that I was seeing the two turkeys that often hung out in this vicinity, incredible!

My adrenaline was pumping full bore, two shooters were headed my way -- now I just needed to settle down and close the deal. After sprinting for 50 yards or so, the turkeys finally slowed but continued in my direction until they hung up about a football field away. No surprise that the big obstacle separating us, the river, halted their advance. I worried all along about this situation and the possible challenge I’d face if I had to lure a turkey from across the river; now it was a reality. Cautiously I did my best not to over call. Using my crystal friction call, I intermittently made soft clucks and purrs, just enough to pique their interest. For at least ten minutes I watched as they gobbled and strutted in response until they finally had had enough and took flight, my calling had worked!

 hen decoy turkey hunt 

            Terrain was sparse, hen decoy looks lonely

Both toms landed on my side of the river but I still had delicate work to do. The turkeys had settled out of sight next to a small pile of dead limbs, so now I needed to coax them closer by another 70 yards. Two soft clucks from the friction call and I waited, tensely. Several minutes passed and finally a red head poked out of the grass way down field. The tom began feeding towards me. One last time I dragged my striker softly across the friction call and remained motionless, that seemed to seal the deal. As both toms approached my heart was pounding out of my chest! Especially since my gun remained in my lap as I didn’t dare move it into a shooting position. Finally one tom stood curious at 30 yards until nervousness set in and he began to leave. At that moment I slowly raised my gun and took the shot as he trotted straight away. A puff of feathers and turkey dinner was again on the menu!

 tom turkey hunt  turkey tail fan

    Snuggled right up to my decoy, that was it...                               Straight away shot destroyed tail fan