“Birthday Bird”

April weather in Wisconsin is unpredictable; bone-chilling temps, cool rain showers and even snows are not uncommon, so imagine the contented smile across my face and as I drove for six hours through Illinois, sun roof wide open, radio turned up and warm sunshine streaming across my shoulders as I headed south to Peabody Recreational Land’s “Waterside Lodge” to participate in “Brenda Valentine’s 2nd Annual Turkey Hunt” to which I’d been invited.   Add to the magic that it was April 13th - my birthday - and I was feeling very positive that I’d be flinging a bird across my back the following morning.  Sure of it. 

Late in the afternoon I wheeled down the winding road toward the lodge amidst lush rolling hills and pockets of water; unexpected terrain after driving through flat land most of the day.  Ducks flew out of ditches and I caught a Whitetail flick amongst the undergrowth.  Peabody had definitely transformed this land that had been mined for over more than 50 years into a hunter’s paradise. 

Upon my arrival, Brenda Valentine and her cameraman Kenneth Chesson (there to film Brenda’s hunt for Bass Pro Shops “Outdoor World” TV show) greeted me and introduced me to the other women whom I’d be hunting with: Marti Davis from Missouri, fellow WomenHunters™ Pro Staffer Lisa Metheny, Tammy Ballew from Missouri, and Pat Dorsey from Colorado.  Introductions quickly led to turkey talk and we were all eager to head to the range to shoot our guns before dark.  We each shot, Marti was awarded some turkey decoys for the most pellets in the kill zone, we went on to enjoy a wonderful dinner followed by a reminder of safety rules by Manager Wilbur Engelhardt, and headed off to bed in our warm and rustically decorated lodge rooms. 

Awakening to the alarm at 3:30 am, I groaned and quickly informed my roommate Lisa that I was shooting my turkey that morning so I could sleep in the following day.  She sleepily agreed that was her plan also.

After a filling but quick breakfast, we met our guides outside and I headed out with my guide Kevin.  We talked on the way and agreed he would start doing all the calling, and I would concentrate on the shot.  We setup in the dark, placing two Montana Decoy feeding hen decoys just 15 yards away from us where we sat hidden against a large oak at the edge of a field.  There’d been no gobbles all morning and as the sky lightened up at daybreak I was anxious to hear a bird.  Kevin assured me there were always a couple roosted just to our east.  Sure enough, 10 minutes after sunrise, a loud “Ga-robble” bellowed out from the east, not more than 80-yards away.  Instant smiles and raised eyebrows passed between Kevin and I and we whispered excitedly that we were looking forward to coffee back at the lodge by 7:00 am .  We were sure of it, just like I’d been sure of it as I drove south yesterday.  Uh-huh.  We waited, called, and waited.  Gobbles, but not interested in coming to visit us. Hmmm…We assumed he was with a hen, but kept trying.  Finally, as we suspected, he showed himself, directly across the field about 65-70 yards away, following a hen and not straying far.  He paused for a second, faced our Montana Decoy hen decoys, went into full-strut, then turned and obediently followed as his hen led him quickly away.  After 30 minutes of nothing, we decided to travel.  We walked, setup, called.  Moved again, setup, called; and again, no luck.  

By 10:00 am we were hot and thirsty, as it was already in the upper 70’s, unusually warm for mid- April.  We headed to the truck for water and a break and planned our next move.  We’d thought we heard some distant gobbles across the road later in the morning, and both agreed to head over there and travel along a cool creek bed letting out some yelps on our mouth calls as we walked, in hopes of finding a lone Tom looking for a hen.  It was now late morning, and the chance of finding an eager and lonely Tom was in our favor.  We headed across the road and along the cornfield edge and down into the cool cover.  We paused. I let out several yelps on my Primos Diamond yelper, and got an immediate loud gobble in response from a field above us and to the south.  Off we hiked up the hill as fast as we could to get into position.  Once up top, with the turkey still a safe distance away, Kevin began calling as we walked and I focused on finding a good ambush spot quickly.  Kevin was getting responses each time and we snuck along a wooded finger of land jutting out south between two fields; one lower to our east and the other higher to our west.  I got comfortable against a tree, and loaded my Thompson Center Encore with Winchester Supreme 3” 6’s while pondering which way the Tom would approach.  I suspected the turkey would enter the field to our west since it sounded like it was traveling down a fence row toward us from the southwest.  Kevin continued his seductive yelps and cuts and the Tom finally turned his full attention to us and was on his way - fast!  I raised my Encore up to rest upon my knee and twisted my body a bit to the right and searched the area ahead of me for movement.  Kevin stroked his slate again and a loud gobble rang out directly in front of me, but I couldn’t see it!  My heart pounded as I searched frantically with my eyes knowing he was close.  My gun was up against my shoulder and I saw a flicker of white - just to my left!  He was coming out of the fence row ahead of me and heading to the east field down the hill to my left.  I hadn’t expected that, and I carefully twisted to my left and searched for a hole in the undergrowth to shoot through.  The shooting wasn’t nearly as clear or nearly as close as I would have liked to the east field, but I had no say in the matter!  I picked out one, just one, real good shooting lane and readied myself for taking a shot when he cleared the heavy brush.  I took several deep breaths as I knew this would perhaps be the longest shot I’d ever taken for a turkey.  I wanted this bird – bad - but I wasn’t so sure of the shot for a moment.  He was walking right thru the field and showing no signs of coming closer as Kevin continued to call softly.  He stepped into the shooting “hole” and Kevin let out a soft yelp - he also quickly whispered to me “put the bead on top of its head = that’s a long shot.” 

As the Gobbler jutted his head up into the air in response to Kevin’s call, I did as Kevin advised placing my bead on the top of his flaming red head and pulled the trigger on my T/C.  BAM!  Down that bird went!  I popped out my shell and ran down the hill as fast as I could toward my bird!  I knew it was a long shot, and I was afraid he might jump up and try to run, but it was evident before I reached him, he wasn’t going anywhere.  I turned and pumped my arms into the air so thrilled to have taken such a nice bird at such a distance…and Kevin just beamed at me from the hillside shaking his head.  “Do you know how far that is?!”  Kevin questioned.  I looked over the scene and guessed about 40-45 yards.  Kevin paced it off from my shooting position and announced it was at least 50 yards. High fives and hugs ensued and we agreed it was indeed a heck of a shot and a thrill to have taken my first bird of 2006 with Kevin’s help!!

I glanced at my watch….12:30 pm.  I was ecstatic, especially after having watched the “early bird” disappear never to be seen again just hours before.  I announced that this was my “Birthday Bird,” since this hunt took place over my birthday and he was indeed a fine present; of that I was sure!   He weighed 21 lbs., had a 9½” beard and 1¼” spurs.

After tagging it and calling in to register my kill, we headed back to the lodge, where we were greeted by Lisa, who had also shot a mature bird at 6:30 am in the morning.  We laughed at how our plans had worked out perfectly!  After some photos with everyone, we headed out for some Bass fishing with guides “Beaver” and “Kevin,” and had a beautiful and successful afternoon on the water. 

Thanks go out to Brenda Valentine for inviting me to this wonderful hunt and to Wilbur Engelhart and the entire staff and guides at Peabody for such great service and for the new friendships I made.

Bass Pro Shops cameraman Kenneth Chessen poses with the women hunting at “Brenda Valentine’s 2nd Annual Turkey Hunt Invitational” in southern Illinois. Alyssa and Brenda Valentine at her 2nd Invitiational Turkey Hunt, April 2006
Great fishing action kept us busy after turkey hunting closed at noon each day.  Here I am with a nice Bass I caught along with another fine catch by friend and veteran Bass fisherwoman, Marti Davis, of Missouri

For more information about the great hunting and accommodations at Waterside Lodge, go to www.PeabodyRecreationalLands.com

Or call #1-866-PRL-INFO and ask for Wilbur Engelhardt

Turkey Gear used:

© July 2006