One Day to Hunt
I always try to make at least one trip to central New York for spring turkey. A two day weekend trip is usually best since hunting ends at noon. That way I get in two mornings for the same amount of travel time and fuel and I don’t have to get into the hassle of getting time off from work and figuring out child care plans. But sometimes I have other obligations and commitments that must come first. This year I opted to cut down to one day of hunting. Legal shooting light started at 5 am even, which put the total hunting time at 7 hours. Plenty of time to make the drive worth doing.
I’ve spent enough time on this property to know where the turkeys roost and by 4:30 I was settled in under a large oak waiting. Regrettably, in the predawn darkness it was impossible for me to see what the ground under this tree looked like. At some point in the distant past a large section of the tree broke off at the base, leaving stubby bits of stump sticking up a few inches from the ground. So that’s what I had to sit on, with jagged tree trunk to lean against. This spot was as close to the roosting site as I dared get and by far the best option for visibility. There was no way I was going to get up and look for another tree, no matter how uncomfortable I was. Resigning myself to discomfort was the only option.
At 5 am exactly the boys started gobbling, precisely where I expected. There were at least four different birds talking and I made a soft yelp on my box call a minute or so after a gobble. This went on for about 45 minutes before I concluded that they had flown down. Interestingly, I never heard a single yelp the whole time. It wasn’t until about 6 that the hens started talking, with several yelping and clucking. However, none of these hens were with the toms. They were strung out ranging from far to my right all the way in front of me and going to the left. The toms were well off to my left and, given the lay of the woods, it was highly probably that if they went to the hens (or vice versa) I’d have turkeys walking right in front of me, likely withing gun range. I just hoped I’d get a tom to come in and not just hens!
Visibility to my left was not ideal, but the leaf litter was so dry that if anything came walking from that direction, I was certain to hear it before I saw it. That’s exactly what happened. When the first head popped into view the gun was at my shoulder and I was ready to go. I just needed a good shot. I saw the second bird before I had gotten a good look at the first. They were at about 35 yards.
I know my Remington 870 Magnum Express inside and out and, with the full choke and Remington Nitro Turkey 3 inch shells loaded with 1 7/8th oz of number 5s, 35 yards is just about the limit. I needed them to at least stick around a bit longer if not come closer so I gave a modest yelp with the mouth call I had tucked in my cheek when I first got settled. They stopped and looked around, milling about trying to sort out where this hen had suddenly come from.
When I got a good look at the lead bird there was no doubt he was legal. His beard was eight if not nine inches and I would have been happy to shoot him, but he was walking every time I had a clear shot. Given the range I just didn’t feel comfortable trying a shot while he was moving. When he did give a stationary opportunity he was just a few yards further away than I wanted. So I switched my focus to the second bird, who was standing still, in range and had given me just enough of a look to tell he was legal.
I held the bead on his head and pulled the trigger. I don’t think I have ever seen a turkey hit the ground so fast. The other bird jumped and ran around, confused as to what just happened, before finally flying off. As I stood over my turkey I noticed the beard was not as big as I was hoping, but no matter. It was a younger bird, but still a tom. The beard measured six inches, the spurs one inch and it weighed 22 lbs feathers and all. It was 6:10 when I took the shot. Not bad for only one day to hunt!