I began turkey hunting more than thirty-five years ago while stationed in Virginia, and have continued as I was transferred around the country by the Army, and then by my corporate employer. I’ve taken gobblers in Virginia, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Montana, and Michigan.
I switched from shotgun to bow in 1993, and have only used the bow since then. At times, turkey can be downright easy to shoot; but more often they are very difficult to fool. Getting close enough to bring one down with an arrow is normally a tough challenge.
Spring Season Brings Anticipation
Spring 2009 turkey hunting would not begin for me until the late part of the season, when the toms would likely be well educated. But, in past years Michigan’s late season had been good to me.
My high expectations were alive and well on May 4th when the local gobblers decided to talk to me for more than three hours without ever coming within sight of my impromptu blind. I hunted a piece of property near Lapeer that now supported at least fifty turkeys, and had a population that seemed to double every year.
When it comes to calling, I am a minimalist. I often hunt for hours without using a call, but on this day I put some serious wear on my box call as well as the mouth call. When the gobblers are responding to nearly every call, it’s easy to overdo it. But the memories of these kinds of “unsuccessful” days afield are as exciting as most successful hunts.
My newly acquired status of “retiree” did a great job of opening up my calendar for weekday hunting and fishing. I got out to the woods four out of the first five days of the season. But the hens and jakes seemed to be the only birds to appreciate my new status.
I did pass up a gobbler on day two, but his beard looked to be less than six inches – too early in the season to take a small bird. Even the most liberated of us have responsibilities, and mine caught up with me until May 16th, when two friends and I spent the morning chatting up a roost full of toms.
Each of my buddies connected – one jake and one longbeard, but the biggest gobbler we saw gave us the slip. This piece of land, near Deford in the thumb has produced good birds for several years, so I returned on Monday and Wednesday to try out some new decoys and reengage the big gobbler we had seen.
It was a good plan, but I didn’t even get a glimpse of any turkeys closer than 200 yards. Over the next two weeks I hunted farms in Jackson, Hillsdale, Lenawee, Lapeer, and St. Clair Counties. I saw some good birds, but could not coax any close enough for a shot.
My last gasp for the season would be on May 31st back at the opening day farm in northern Lapeer County. According to the landowner, there was a flock of twenty birds in his field every day. I planned to slip into a blind that had been cut out of a blown-down cottonwood right at the corner of the field. I had used this spot earlier in the season, so I was familiar enough with the ground to get in quietly in the dark.
I was settled in well before light, and at 5:30 I did an owl hoot. There was an immediate response – from above my head. And a minute later, a big gobbler glided into the field and practically landed on my decoy. I had used that minute to get my bow into position, so when he hit the ground I drew and put the twenty yard pin on his neck. He was standing with his back to me when I released, and the bludgeon tip did its job.
The impact was at the junction of the neck and backbone, so the tom was dead before it hit the ground. I paced the distance at 20 steps, which is 18 yards – a relatively long shot in my history of bow hunting turkeys. He was a good heavy bird with a beard that was at least 10” and nice long spurs. So the spring 2009 season turned out to be stereotypical turkey hunting – hours and hours of hunting and calling and excitement and frustration. Then one day a big gobbler falls into your lap.
Fall of the Big Gobblers
Fall 2009 turned out to be a series of deer hunts where the turkeys kept wandering into bow range at times when I didn’t want to make the commotion of a shot. I passed on decent toms on three different hunts in early October, and then hit a stretch of several trips without any encounters with turkeys.
For the past several years my early season whitetail hunting has yielded multiple opportunities to shoot at gobblers. If the situation was right I would shoot, but most often there were deer in the area or the timing for a commotion was bad. So I have some nice pictures of mature birds and some great memories of most of my turkey encounters while hunting whitetail.
This year would test me beyond my limits. It was one of those mornings when weather conditions could not be better – light breeze, misty fog in the air from an all night drizzle, dawn creeping up to reveal a sky dotted with feathery clouds. I had planned to make my way to a blind I had cut out of an oak that had fallen during the spring, but conditions were too good for still hunting. I would ease through the woods from the northeast to a stream trail in the middle, stay a while, and then slowly exit to the south. The wind was right, and deer movement should be coming from crop fields on the north and west of the woods.
At about 6:30, two gobblers showed up and the smaller of the two crossed within ten yards of me. He had a 9-10 inch beard, but was noticeably smaller in body size than the other bird. After they passed out of sight, I continued to the trail I had planned to watch. It was close to 11 o’clock when the two toms showed-up again. They were generally following the trail, headed back north with the smaller one between me and the trail and the big one on the creek bank – I passed again (it took a lot of restraint).
After they moved through, I had a few snacks and reflected on a morning adrenaline rushes – four bucks within shooting range and one of them was a borderline shooter. The one buck I had seen that was clearly a shooter didn’t come in range. So I had seen a spike, two forkhorns, an eight pointer, and an eleven with some stickers. Add in the gobblers, and you have a phenomenal morning.
After lunch I headed back from my morning spot the same general direction I had come because of the change in wind direction. Exiting the woods, I headed around and crossed the stream to re-enter the woods near the southwest corner. My intent was to find a stand near the stream again and watch the trail on this side of the water.
By the time I found a good set-up, it was well into the afternoon. I had seen some doe and a flock of hens on my trek, but nothing with antlers or beards. Deer movement would be starting in about an hour. I was visioning the big buck from this morning stepping into my kill zone when I heard movement behind me that was not a squirrel. I eased my head around and saw the two toms headed toward me from the field.
I took one step to put a tree between us, exchanged my Rage-tipped arrow for a bludgeon headed arrow, and waited for them to reappear. As they say: “Third time’s the charm”. Three is one number higher than my restraint can handle.
The biggest bird was ten yards from me when he appeared. He must have walked a long way in the cover of the tree, and was too close for me to draw unless he turned away. Seconds seemed like minutes for the next several breaths, but he finally turned.
I drew, heard the second turkey’s startled movement, and released. I don’t even remember where the pin was, but the big tom went head over spurs into the underbrush. I ran over and rung his neck to end the flopping and kicking, but I think the commotion was too much for the locals. I stayed till dark and didn’t see another deer or turkey – but I’m not complaining.
(Editor’s Note: John’s spring turkey scored 14-7/16 and was good enough to place as the #2 in the All-Entries Archery category for 2009. By the time fall rolled around John had a birthday and his fall turkey scored 13-12/16. Not only was it #1 in the Senior Archery category but also set the All-Time Senior Archery record).John also took the 2009 #1 Seniors Archery Typical whitetail scoring 151-5/8. To top the season off, John also shot the largest non-typical whitetail taken in Michigan in 2009. It scores 202-0/8 NT setting a new All-Time Seniors Archery Non-Typical Whitetail record and qualifing for the Boone & Corckett records.”