Sunday, April 24, 2011

A Two Year Wait for Turkey Season!

Some say that Spring is announced by the arrival of warm weather, spring showers, or flowers. For me, the Spring is officially here when I am in the woods just before sunrise seeing that first light shine on everything fresh and green and hearing the sounds of turkeys gobbling in their roosting trees.  I have had to wait two years to hunt turkeys again since I had missed the 2010 season because of work.  This year I was determined to go!  I called up my hunting buddy, Ron, months in advance and let him know that I had one weekend during the season that I would be available for spring turkey hunting and luckily, his schedule worked out as well.

I decided that this trip was going to be a backpacking turkey hunt so that I could do a "dry run" or test trip for my backpacking equipment.  I am thinking of taking a Colorado elk hunting trip with this equipment in the Fall so I would rather have equipment issue near the pickup instead of miles from civilization in the mountains.  I limited my gear to only what I could bring in my backpack, I used a bivy tent and mummy sleeping bag and brought enough freeze dried backpacking food for three days and the pocket rocket backpacking stove.  I normally bring way to much gear, but having the storage limitation of the backpack really makes you limit yourself to the essentials.

The pack was heavier than I thought!
My Bivy Tent and Backpack

We started the first day around 6:00 AM as we walked into our hunting area.  It was one of those cool mornings when the fog hangs in the air.  It was so still and sound seemed to carry forever making it difficult to judge the distances to a potential tom turkey answering our call.  We didn't know exactly where the turkeys were, but we were approaching a tree row that looked promising.  As we approached a couple toms began to gobble.  Ron and I froze and began to glass with our binoculars, looking for the birds.  We spotted them at the end of the tree row, still perched in the trees.  We quickly whispered our plan of attack and began to sneak into position.  We snuck around the birds through some cover and set up for our first calling session.

For those of you who are not familiar with hunting turkeys, the situation is supposed to happen like this.  The hunter takes position in cover in the general area of a turkey.  The hunter calls softly to the turkey like this....yelp, yelp, yelp with the aid of a call.  This translates to "I am an attractive hen and I would enjoy your company!"  The tom turkey should respond immediately with a bold gobble, gobble and this means, "I hear you and I will be right there!"  Then the tom flies down and heads in the direction of the hunter.  He will gobble a few more times and the hunter responds with few yelps as long as the turkey is not within sight.  Once the turkey is close enough to see the hunter, no more calls are made because the turkey will pin point the hunter's location and realize something is wrong and exit hastily!  Once the bird is within about 30 yards, the hunter aims for the head of the turkey with a shot gun and bam!  This is how it is supposed to happen, but most of the time it doesn't, as you will see from our multiple unsuccessful efforts.

Our first calling session, everything was looking great.  The toms were gobbling, we were yelping, and then nothing.  Turns out they already had hens with them and I think tom turkeys adhere to that old adage, "a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush" because they just wouldn't come our way.  As we were just about to give up, a herd of feral pigs rolled through.  There were a couple adults and several younger pigs.  Feral pigs are different than wild animals.  A deer or turkey will slowly make his way though the brush, carefully studying the surroundings for danger, listening, watching, smelling.  A feral pig on the other hand is constantly in motion.  never stopping more than a second or two.  Head down and traveling like the rabbit in "Alice in Wonderland" as if they are saying "I'm late, I'm late"!  As the pigs passed by, Ron said "I think those smaller ones would fit just right in my smoker"!  He wanted to put a stalk on the pigs and take a detour from turkey hunting.  I didn't mind, but I only had five turkey shells with me (I am traveling light remember) and I wasn't about to waste more than one of them on a pig!  Well we snuck up on the pigs by crawling along through the brush.  Ron and I had just nodded to each other that we were close enough and should shoot when one of them saw us and there was an explosion of pork!  We both tried to pick one out of this fast moving herd and after the shots were fired and the dust settled, we had two pigs down!  We went to collected our prizes and began to hear gobbling to the West again.  We quickly drug our pigs out to the main path and set up for another calling set.  Ron and I were sitting side by side with our backs to a large tree.  We began to call and the tom answered, just like we planned.  He was getting closer!  Then he went silent.  We held still and waited and then out of the corner of my eye, I saw him approaching.  He had circled us to make sure we really were a pair of hens but he was coming in on our right hand side.  Now the problem with having a turkey come in from the right is that a right handed hunter (which both Ron and I are) can not easily turn and shoot to his right.  As the turkey made his way toward us, Ron attempted to turn for a shot, but he saw him move and the jig was up!  

That afternoon we spotted a tom with a few hens strutting in the shade of a tree.  We decided I would try to crawl within range of the birds and Ron would man the video camera.  I crawled through 400 yards of stickers to arrive at the tree where the turkeys had been only to find that they had moved to another tree.  I tried to get closer, but there wasn't enough cover to continue the stalk so I backed out without spooking them.  I still have some of those stickers in my forearms and knees as I write this blog post, ouch!

The second day we set up in the same area as the first day.  There was one tom turkey and he was gobbling non stop.  We were in a perfect position.  He flew down and began to call to us. We called back and he would respond in kind, but there was a problem.  He was getting further away each time he gobbled.  I felt like he was saying "it's not you, it's me" and "I'll call you" to an ex-girl friend.  He was saying the right things, but he was running away!  Later we changed areas and put out our decoys for a mid morning set up.   We called and called, but the wind had kicked up and the turkeys couldn't hear us.  

After a trip back to camp for lunch, Ron decided to build a blind from fallen branches in the area we had seen the toms the last two mornings.  He would just wait to see if they wandered back by and call them in if necessary.  I decided to try a new area so we split up that afternoon.  I had no luck after multiple calling sessions and I was heading back to camp when I heard a shot!  Ron had been patient and seen a pig, several deer and two turkeys!  He said that a jake (that is a young tom) and a big tom were heading his way, but the jake was in the lead.  He wanted to take the mature tom so he had to let the jake get closer.  At the last moment the jake got nervous and began to bolt.  Ron made his shot on the tom just as he was preparing to get the heck out of there.  He was a really nice bird with long spurs and a great beard!  I was really glad that Ron had bagged his bird, but I was a little down in the dumps because it appeared the conditions for our last morning would not be favorable with high winds and we only could hunt a few hours before we would need to leave and return to civilization.   It looked like I might come up empty handed this trip.  That night the wind howled and our tents flapped mercilessly.  I think Ron said he only slept a few hours.  He was in a larger cabin tent that bore the brunt of the wind, but my little bivy tent was so low to the ground that I really didn't notice with wind much.  
Ron built a blind

The next morning the wind had died down and we headed to a new area.  As we walked east toward the sunrise, Ron spotted some turkeys silhouetted in the trees.  They were along the path we intended to walk down so we had to go around them and set up further east so that the sun would be in their eyes and not ours.  We didn't know if these birds were toms or hens, but we decided to give it a try.  We nestled into our spots and I pulled out my crow call.  Crow calls are effective for making tom turkeys gobble if you are trying to locate them.  I gave a quick call "caw caw cawww" and we were answered with a gobble gobble, but the problem was that they were behind us.  We had snuck up on and began to call to a bunch of hens.  We quickly got up and moved closer to the gobblers.  I pointed our a promising spot and we both got set for the calling. 

As I set down,  I was horrified to see that the tom turkeys had already flown down from their trees, they were in the path about 150 yards away, and appeared to be looking right at us!  Ron was still standing and looking for a place to sit down.  I whisper shouted at Ron...."Ron, get down, the turkeys are right there!"  Luckily, they hadn't seen me (due to my stealthy camo) and there was enough brush between the turkeys and Ron that they hadn't seen him either.  I began to call while watching the toms through my binoculars.  It was fun watching their reaction as I called and they gobble back.   Normally the hens will come to the toms, but since hunters can't do that, we had to play "hard to get".  They finally began to move our way.  I signal to Ron to get the video camera up.  They slowly meander our way, but stopped about 60 yards away.  Then they turned to their right and went into the brush.  My heart sank.  There goes my last chance for this season.  I give a few more yelps and they still respond, but I figure they were giving me the same "it's not you, it's me" line I had heard yesterday.  Then Ron whispers to me "turn around, they are coming behind you"!  I slowly shift to my left and see a couple black blobs moving through the brush.  At times they are running in an effort to be first to arrive at my location to meet up with the the lovely hen that I am pretending to be.  I give a few more soft yelps to help bolster their confidence.  As the first tom reaches the clearing, he gave a loud gobble, gobble.   Stretching out his neck and then fluffing his feathers in a magnificent strut.  I am a little unsure of the distance and I hesitate.  I would like him to come just a little closer, but he isn't moving.  I see that the tom is beginning to be suspicious of the situation since the hen he was seeking is not were he thought she was.  The second tome steps into the clearing and looks for the hen.  This is it, he will come no closer.  I think it is about 30 yards.  When I shoot, it will knock him down, but he could jump back up and run off.  If he runs away, I will never find him.  I ready my gun and aim just under his head so that the pattern of shot will strike him in the head and neck.  I squeeze the trigger slowly and the shot rings out.  There is confusion for a moment.  My turkey is down and flopping and the other turkeys are scattering in a cloud of feathers.  I am up in an instant, shucking another shell in the chamber and sprinting toward the tom.  I reach him and place my boot on his neck to ensure he isn't going anywhere.  This turkey is down!  

It was truly a great turkey hunt.  We had seen turkeys each day although not in great numbers, but it was enough.  We had encountered lots of wildlife and experienced several nights under the stars.  My backpacking gear all functioned very well and my backing food was even acceptable for Ron.  I plucked and cleaned my bird later that morning.  I also kept the wing feathers so that I can have arrow fletchings made from them and of course I kept the beard and tail  feathers for an attempt at mounting them (perhaps another blog topic).  I know that the turkey meat will make an excellent meal, but the memories from hunts like these are the real prize.  They will last me for the rest of my life as I reflect on good times, with great friends, in the great outdoors!  

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

REI Rocks!

Ok, I am going to break one of my unwritten rules about my blog!  I am going to put up a post without any pics or video.  I don't like to do it, but I didn't think to take any pictures so let the comments begin.

Anyway, I needed to pick up some freeze dried backpacking meals for an upcoming trip and as you saw from my last post, I am now a big fan of Mountain House meals.  I originally purchased that first test meal and my stove from Cabelas, but I searched the internet for other retailers that also sell this product in hopes of finding a location closer to my work.  Well a quick search of the Mountain House web site revealed that REI also sold these handy meals and the Dallas store was only 17 minutes from my office!  Time for a lunch break errand!

As I have said before, I love Cabelas and if my wife and children didn't tear me away from the store, I would wander there for hours, but REI comes in at a close second.  I know this isn't a new business and they have been around for a long, long time, but I have never stepped foot in one of their stores until today.  That was because Cabelas pretty much provides the best hunting and fishing gear bar none, but they don't have the a great selection of camping and kayaking gear.  That is where REI appears to shine.  They had a great selection of all things camping, backpacking, kayaking, mountain biking, and rock climbing and I was very impressed with their knowledgable staff.  As I paid for my freeze dried food at the counter, I told the grandmotherly looking lady that this is an awesome store!  She was shocked that I had never visited one of their stores and proceeded to tell me how REI is actually a cooperative and if you join (for a small fee of $20 that pays for your lifetime membership) you get dividends back on your purchases annually (I forget the percentage back).  She also handed me a calendar of events for April classes and clinics held at the store and I found a backpacking course that just happened to be tonight!

I arrived at the course that evening to find a room full of like-minded future backpackers, all taking notes and passing around gear that the instructor was discussing.   It was very informative although most of the gear and information was familiar as I have been researching the topic and slowly accumulating my gear over the last year or so, but I did pick up some useful tidbits that will coming in handy for my potential trip to Colorado this summer such as storing your food in a stuff sack in a tree so bears won't get into your tent (I bet that will freak out my Mom when she reads that).  The discussions on water filtration and purification as well as pack and sleeping bag selection were excellent and I learned that they actually rent equipment at reasonable rates which could be really handy as your testing out gear selections or needing specific equipment for an unusual trip.  If you ever find yourself near an REI, I would highly recommend taking a look.  There is just something cool about pulling up to a store and seeing other vehicles with kayak racks!  I felt right at home.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Styrofoam or Beef Stew?

So a few weekends ago was the "girls weekend".  What I mean is that my oldest daughter had a Cheer banquet to attend on Sunday and my youngest daughter had a Dance convention thing all weekend and my wife was attending both events.  My job was to watch whichever daughter was home  and to be available when they were coming back and forth to their activities.  My movements were limited, but I enjoy my time with the girls.  Especially when we have one on one father-daughter time.

On Saturday around Noon it was damp, cold, and windy and there wasn't much else to do except cook lunch.  It was a perfect opportunity to test out my new backpack stove and backpacker dehydrated food!  I tried to convince my oldest daughter that this would be fun, but she gave me one of those looks.  You know the kind that says your "old, weird, and I am not doing that" without her saying anything other than "Dad".  I was not discouraged though.  I proceeded to dig out my new MSR Pocket Rocket stove and a packet of Mountain House beef stew.  I bought this stove for my potential elk hunting trip that I may take this year and other backpacking trips I would like to take in the future, but since I am a planner by nature, I needed to test the equipment and the cuisine under controlled conditions (i.e. if I don't like the food I can get a Whataburger instead).

I started by getting out the stove and reading the instructions.  Amazingly there were about 5 different sets of instructions with various languages.  I had no idea this was such a global product.  It appeared to be easy enough.  I remove the stove from the box and screw it on to the fuel canister, turn the valve and light it.  When the stove lit, it made a satisfying "foom" sound that means we are cooking with gas!  I then place my "all-in-one" cooking pot/cup on top with about 16 ounces of water to be heated to a boil.

On the menu is beef stew.  I am skeptical to say the least.  When I think of beef stew ready made, I think of hungry man soup, full of vegetables and hunks of beef!  I anticipate this being more like styrofoam in brown water.

The instructions say to heat 16 ounces of water to a rolling boil, then pour the water into the packet and reseal.  Wait 8-10 minutes and then enjoy your beef stew!  No I know I didn't have to heat the water on my little stove since I was home, but I wanted the full effect.

After following the directions and waiting the prescribed amount of time, I opened the packet and was pleasantly surprised!  It smelled fantastic and looked good too.  There was nothing styrofoamy about this dish.  I ate nearly the whole thing (with my compact camping spork I might add).  Check this test off as a success for both the stove (it was really easy to use) and the beef stew (this is will hit the spot on a cold night)!

I tried to get my oldest daughter to try a bite and although she was appreciative of my offer, there was no way she was eating stew in a bag.  I think I ruined it when I showed her the bag before I cooked it and demonstrated how dry and crunchy everything sounded inside.

The weekend ended with some time spent with my youngest.  We headed for the indoor rock climbing wall at the gym.  We both love to climb and enjoy encouraging each other as we attempt different routes along the walls.  This is my daughter in the picture below nearly to the top of the wall.

Just to prove that this old man can still climb, here is another photo I took of her while she is climbing after I had already reached the top.  We both climb until our hands and arms are completely weak from exhaustion and we love every minute of it!

The weekend is gone and Turkey season is fast approaching.  I can hear it in the distance now....yelp, yelp, yelp........ gobble, gobble....... BOOM!   Ah, the sounds of spring.