After downing a nice Rio just three days earlier in Kansas, I drove north to central Wisconsin for an attempt at taking my second Eastern. I’d drawn a five-day permit for May 12-17th and since I’d used my Thompson Center Encore 12-gauge for my Kansas hunt, focused on making this hunt a quest for my first bow-killed turkey. (As backup, I packed my Encore…just in case.)
I simultaneously unloaded my essential gear: Double Bull T5 blind, Montana Decoys, Knight and Hale mouth calls, and new Mathews Outback bow, while I planned my strategy. I decided to setup my T5 blind and decoys at the end of a large ridge where it widened into a grassy field. I hoped the turkeys would travel down the ridge and into my decoys giving me a nice 15 to 20 yard shot.
The next morning I snuck into my blind under darkness for cover, and anxiously awaited the first gobbles. Minutes passed. Astonished by the stillness and silence of the spring turkey woods, I strained to detect some turkey talk. Finally at 5:15 two sets of distant gobbles rang out roughly two hundred yards down the ridge. Distant and weak, I wondered…jakes, perhaps? With no further vocalizations I began a series of yelps, continuing regularly every ten minutes for the next hour. Never had I experienced such silence and lack of response. I continued, determined, and assuming the silent birds were indeed moving about the woods.
Sure enough, as I took a peek through the netted viewing window after I’d just completed a series of yelps, I spotted one, then two, jakes traveling down the ridge as I thought they would. They appeared a bit wary, however, and went "on alert" at twenty yards. Still covered by brush, they altered their direction and cut directly across the top of the ridge.
Now…here I was on my first Wisconsin morning, on my first attempt with a bow, and I had two jakes at twenty yards, only to have brush and trees thwart a clear bow shot at both of them. Talk about frustrating! I’d assumed I’d get an opportunity to shoot when they reached the field, and hadn’t cleared the brush on top of the ridge behind my blind adequately. They moved further away as they crossed the ridge, despite my repeated yelping, and appeared in an opening at forty yards. I passed…too far for my first attempt. I’d wait for a better shot. Problem was, I sighted no other turkeys for the remainder of the day.
Days two and three brought similar silent mornings, at various blind locations, followed by scattered showers throughout both days. Despite spending each day hunting until 5pm, by day four I’d only had one other Tom come within 40 yards, and several hens spotted. I hoped the change in weather forecasted for Saturday would change the turkey behavior.
Fortunately, clearer skies did bring increased gobbles Saturday morning. With the assistance of my brother-in-law, I roosted two toms Saturday evening. I decided then; I’d carry my Encore 12-gauge for my final morning.
Gobbles rang out early and I smiled, knowing I’d chosen the right place to set up. I yelped softly in response, and both toms immediately and urgently answered me. The hunt was ON! As the minutes ticked by, I added some cuts to my yelps and increased the tone and urgency on my Knight & Hale 4-reed Cuttin’ Hen, and they responded each and every time. I was actually laughing out loud at their responses, never having experienced such hot turkey behavior like this before. Now this was FUN! They paced back and forth roughly 75 yards away from me for nearly an hour while I continuously did some cuttin’ and yelpin’. Despite their undeniable interest, they refused to cross a creek bed to my position. I decided it was time to "run and gun". When I heard them move southwest of me , I quickly unloaded, ran north along the creek bed, sprinted down the bank, across the creek, up the other side, then ran back south about 50 yards and plopped down. Breathing heavily from my mad dash through the woods, I quickly re-loaded and jolted to attention as two gobbles rang out within 50 yards. I cocked my Encore and readied for the shot. Moments later, I glimpsed two red heads bobbing through the brush 40 yards away, suddenly disappearing. I frantically searched for them…I had planned to take a shot when they reached a small clearing thirty yards away.
Moments later, two loud gobbles rang out… directly across the creek bed, right smack dab where I’d been sitting! I threw my head back in disbelief, but instantly understood. I’d gone silent during my sprint through the woods, and they’d finally become desperate enough for their hen to cross the creek bed, fearing they’d lose her. Now what? (Yes I was exasperated, but I was having a ball!) I heard them gobble further away from me to the east. They were moving down the ridge I’d been sitting on. I made a quick decision to run back. I unloaded again, popped up, ran directly east, crossed the muddy creek bed again, scrambled up the embankment, and crept up to the ridge. Two gobbles rang out within 75 yards (they were desperately trying to locate their lonely hen) and I literally sprinted back to my original position beside a rotting tree stump at the end of the ridge. As I reloaded, I released several more cuts, knowing they’d arrive within seconds. I cocked my Encore and lifted it searching for their red heads in the brush. One more short series of cuts on my Knight & Hale mouth call did the trick as they responded with thunderous gobbles. Two heads emerged from the tangled brush along the north side of the ridge, heads jerking side to side as they searched the ridge top for their hen. At 20 yards, the lead Tom popped up his red-hot head for the last time as my Winchester 6-shot took him down.
For the second time this year, I’d claimed a turkey with my Thompson Center 12-gauge, my largest turkey to date: 9 ½" beard, 1" spurs, and a whopping 23 ¼ pounds. It was ample reward for such a long and hard-earned hunt…and another good lesson in patience.
© January 2005