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My First Turkey: The Holiday Oaks Gobbler

About six years ago, I saw my first Utah Wild Turkey Proclamation (Regulations) book.  I thought it might be neat to put in for a turkey tag and maybe try to hunt one of these cool birds. At that time, the cost of one of these tags was about $35.00 if my memory is correct. I decided against this thinking, why I would spend that much money for a tag when I could go to a grocery store and buy at least two turkeys that are already plucked, gutted, and cleaned. After a few years of thinking this way and passing up the opportunities, I started watching and buying some of the Primos TRUTH series on Spring Turkey Hunting. I became very interested and enthralled in turkey hunting as the guys at Primos looked like they were having such a good time pursuing these goofy birds. I started applying for a turkey tag in 2005, and it took me three attempts to draw this tag for the 2007 season.

The BIG Purchase and Long Wait

I have never owned a shotgun in my life, and over the past few years, my wife Maggie has tried to get me to buy a shotgun. She kept telling me that I would need one for a turkey hunt when and if I drew a tag. I put it off for a few years saying that I would be able to take a turkey with my archery equipment. I told her it would be very rewarding to do this because it would be very difficult and challenging to do so. It is difficult enough to take a turkey with a shotgun, but to do it with a bow and arrow would be incredible.

Once again in Nov-Dec 2006 after the Utah deer and elk seasons were over, and I found myself skunked out in the fall, I had put in an application for Maggie and myself as well as keeping in touch with my brother Doug to see if he and his friend Troy were planning on applying for the 2007 turkey hunt, and also to verify the hunt number and area we were going to apply for. All of us got our applications in prior to the deadline. Now comes the agonizing period of time waiting and anticipating the results to be posted by Jan 31st. Maggie eventually did drag me “kicking and screaming” to Sportsman’s Warehouse to put a shotgun on layaway. I just hated to go there, it was horrible pressure. Yea right!

Getting the Good News

One weekend I came home from a military TDY (Temporary Duty) with the Air Force Reserves, and my wife had checked her e-mail earlier in the week and found an “unsuccessful” notice for the draw. She went ahead and checked my e-mail and saw the “successful” notice for the 2007 Rio Grande Turkey Draw here inUtah. She decided not to say anything about it and surprise me with a printed copy of my notice when I got home. After reading this, I instantly got on the phone with my brother to give him the great news and see if he had drawn out. Unfortunately, both he and my wife were unsuccessful, but he said that his friendTroywas “successful” and had drawn a tag for the same area. My hunt dates were 7 May – 31 May 07. I had tried to schedule some extra days off work during May to create a couple of three day weekends and give me a little extra time to hunt.

Not much time for Scouting

From the time I received my notice, I was not able to get any scouting in due to my regular work schedule, military duty obligations and a “Honey Do” list. Two weeks before the weekend I was to start my hunt, while I was at Travis AFB, CA for my annual tour with the Air Force Reserve, three inches of snow fell in the area I was going to be hunting.  I thought conditions were going to be a bit brisk. But things warmed up a lot. By the time I was finally able to start hunting on the weekend of 12-13 May 07 the temperature was a low of about 60 degrees and rising up to about 80 degrees in the afternoon. On that Saturday, I saw two hens or it could have been the same hen twice, but that was it.

The next day, I woke up and got out of camp just as it was getting light. I decided to drive my ATV to the area I saw the hens the previous day. As I drove up the dirt road out of camp, I had only gone about two hundred yards when I saw something moving around the next bend right on the road. I stopped and looked thru the trees and saw a group of about 15-20 turkeys. I was unable to tell if they were Toms or Hens as they were running away from me pretty quickly through a group of trees and into a clearing about 60 yards away. I decided to drive up slowly, pass them up, and continue down the road, stop and try to set up and attempt to call them in. I tried calling with my box call and a triple reed mouth call. Two gobblers sounded off with a pair of simultaneous offset gobbles from about 70 yards away up on the hill. I was able to get them to gobble one other time, but then they went silent. I never could locate them or determine where they went. I hunted that day till lunch time then headed back home to work on my “Honey Do” projects, and go to work on Monday.

Returning to the Turkey Woods

The following Friday evening after work, I arrived at camp on 18 May at 7:30 P.M. Doug was already in camp with his wife Nancy. He excitedly asked me, “Where the heck were you a half hour ago”? I replied I was on my way here. He said “there were nine turkeys that just walked through camp before you got here”. There was one nice gobbler, a Jake, and seven hens. He also said that earlier in the day he saw a really big Tom in the area that he had also seen two other times within the past three weeks. He said he was “huge” and would probably weigh close to 25 pounds, with a beard 10” - 12” long, he wasn’t sure how long his spurs might be but when he picks his head up, he is about 3 ½ feet tall. We did not find or see him again during this hunt. I’m sure this big gobbler made it through the hunting season and is still around for next years hunt. I finished getting camp set up and we sat around the campfire trying to plan a strategy for the next morning.

The next morning, Saturday, 19 May 07, I was up and walking out of camp by5:00 A.M.I decided to leave my bow in camp and just took my new Benelli Nova pump shotgun with me due to this being my firstTurkeytag I wanted to increase my chances of getting a bird. I walked out of camp and hiked about two miles out and around the vicinity, trying locator calls and attempting to make my other calls sound somewhat like a turkey as I went. After about three and a half hours, I wasn’t getting any responses and hadn’t seen or heard anything. At about 0830, I went back to camp. My brother had been up for a while as he is an early riser. I visited with Doug for about fifteen minutes discussing where I had already gone. He walked me over and showed me where the group of turkeys went the previous evening. He said he followed them a bit, but decided to back out, leave them alone and let them roost. I contemplated returning to camp, taking a break, and enjoying a soda. I decided it was still early enough, I would walk up the hillside a ways and zig-zag through the thick, tall scrub oak trees and undergrowth. I was trying to stay in the small clearings that appeared between the tall scrub oaks. It was difficult as the smaller oaks and undergrowth was pretty thick. I went back in the area about two hundred yards till the brush and trees got too thick to move through without making all kinds of noise.

Learning to Speak the Language

As I went, I tried calling again here and there with a variety of slate calls, box calls and a Mini Sonic Dome Triple mouth call. I was actually just kind of practicing or playing with the calls trying to figure out how to make the best or most accurate turkey sounds I could. I didn’t have a lot of experience with “Speaking their Language” though. I was doing my best not to run every turkey, deer, elk, and every other animal out of the county. At one point, I thought I heard a “soft cluck” up ahead of me. I walked a little further, then suddenly out front and through a small narrow opening I spotted a hen about twenty yards out to my left. As soon as she spotted me, she instantly ran off. I followed her to where I saw her disappear, but was unable to continue as it was just too thick. I decided to turn around, back-track my way back to camp, enjoy that soda and get some breakfast.

While meandering my way through the clearings and following the deer trails, I tried yelping and clucking on my Primos Double Play box, the Titan 2000 Slate Call, and using my Mini Sonic Dome Triple mouth call to create the sounds of different hens. I was about a hundred yards from camp when I heard another cluck and short yelp up ahead and to my right. I yelped again with the box call, and received another yelp in reply. Right after that hen stopped saying what ever it was she was telling me, a Tom sent a gobble echoing thru the still morning silence. It was difficult to determine how far away he was, but I estimated it to be about 60 yards. I walked about twenty yards further, stopped and yelped with the box call again. The Tom gobbled once again, but this time he was much closer than before due to us walking toward each other. I quickly stepped over and knelt down next to a group of scrub oak trees which put a small bush approximately fifteen feet in front of me. This bush was about eight feet wide and came up to eye level. This set-up created a natural blind for a small clearing behind it about 50 yards long and 30 yards wide. I tried the box call again and he instantly gobbled back only about 40 yards out. I thought to myself, “man he’s coming in real quick”. I put the box call down on the ground and brought my shotgun to my shoulder and started looking into the clearing.

The Stare Down

I was only there for a moment, and suddenly noticed a hen walking toward me in the clearing just beyond the small bush in front of me. The hen turned left and walked out from behind the right side of the bush just five yards from me and suddenly stopped and started starring at this big glob of goop sitting next to the trees, which happened to be me. She was stretching her neck out, moving it back and forth and turning her head to gander at me with her other eye trying to figure out what I was. Needless to say, I was barely breathing trying not to move for fear of spooking them away. Seeing as how the wild turkey has the best eyesight in the woods, I’m sure she could see my shirt moving from my heart beating. Even though she was unable to figure out what I was, she knew something was just not right, and she didn’t like it. All this time, I was able to see the Tom about thirty yards out behind her through the bush strutting around with his tail out in a full fan. He was strutting back and forth and in circles. He wouldn’t venture too far out into the clearing though.

The hen that was looking at me turned around and started walking back toward the Gobbler. I thought to myself, “Oh No! She is going to bust him out of the area”, but she only went ten yards, curved around further to my right about twenty yards and walked down past me. She started giving out an alerted cluck along with some short yelping. The Tom then gobbled once again but held up behind the bush. This seemed to be lasting for minutes, but after less than a minute of this, I turned my head slowly to the right in the direction of the departing hen, and made three soft subtle yelps with a Mini Sonic Dome mouth call trying to make it sound like the hen was off in the trees and leaving him behind. I looked back toward the Tom, he let out another gobble and made another strutting circle and walked out from behind the bush with his head up, and his neck stretched out looking for the hen that was “Speaking his Language”. I put the red bead on his neck area and squeezed the trigger sharing a Remington 3”, 12 ga. NitroTurkey#6 shot with him. He went down instantly right in his tracks.

I watched him for a few seconds as he was flapping around. I think I was in a state of shock as to what I had just experienced. I then remembered where I was and decided to go up and get him under control just in case he was able to get up and run or fly away. I guess I just wasn’t sure how well I had hit him. While walking up to him, I saw two other hens behind him and to his right that I had not seen or heard. They must have been the reason he was held up behind the bush.

Enjoying the Moment
I sat there just soaking up the experience for a few minutes and admiring the beauty and stature of this amazing bird that I had just had the privilege of finding in his world and coaxing him into my location. I walked back to camp where my brother was getting ready to head into town for more water and some supplies but decided he’d better stick around a while after he heard the shot. As I came out of the trees, Doug was near the entrance of the camp and was very happy and excited for me. He asked me where the turkey was, and I told him he was back at the scene of the crash. I just came back to get my camera and a photographer.

He walked with me back to retrieve the turkey and to take some pictures. I stood where I was positioned behind the bush and he stood next to the turkey so I could measure the distance of the shot. It turned out being a thirty two yard shot. We estimated the turkey to weigh about twenty pounds with an 8 ¼” beard and the spurs were ¾” long. Four of his feathers on the right side of the fan were broken off about 3” up from the base.  After cleaning the bird and waiting about two hours, I went back up to the scene of the crash to look for the feathers and make sure I hadn’t shot them off. I couldn’t locate any of the tail feathers, but there were at least ten turkeys in the same clearing looking for their buddy. While writing this story, I have referred to the Wild Turkey using a few different terms, i.e. “cool”, “goofy”, “huge”, “beautiful” and “amazing”. Some people even consider them as being “ugly”. All of these really can be used to describe this bird. But, the entire make-up makes them very exciting and fun to watch and hunt. They also taste pretty good too.

My only regret is that I was not able to share it with my wife who is so incredibly supportive of my passion for hunting, she does go hunting with me occasionally and really shares my passion and love for the outdoors. I also regret leaving my bow back at camp. Not to take anything away from the hunt, it was an incredible experience that I will cherish for the rest of my life, but I would have liked to take him with archery equipment. I will try it with a bow the next time I am fortunate enough to pursue a Wild Turkey again.

Finally, I would like to thank Doug and Nancy for taking such great photos and also for sharing their camp with me. As young boys, Doug and I use to go rabbit hunting all the time, and made a special trip to the rabbit woods every Easter for many years which always made our sister a bit angry. She accused us of hunting the Easter Bunny. I am so thankful to have been able to share this experience with him.

Updated Note

Before I finished writing this story and was able to get it out, the Utah Department of Wildlife Resources had been doing such a great job managing the turkey populations here that they were able to increase the number of tags allowing more hunters the opportunity to hunt turkeys inUtah. They have also done away with the three year waiting period allowing those who have drawn a tag within the past two years to apply again for the 2008 season. Also, hunters no longer have to specify which species of turkey they are going to hunt. We have the Merriam’s andRio Grandeturkeys here and hunters can take one male bearded turkey of their choice.

All burned up by Natures Cleansing

Just two months after I took my turkey, we had a series of wildfires inUtah. One of the fires happened to be inNephiCanyonin the same area I hunted. The Salt Creek fire destroyed over 80 thousand acres, but fortunately spared some of our hunt area. We were pretty scared for a while. Two weeks after the fire was contained and under control, Doug said he saw about fourteen turkeys in the trees near his camp. Therefore, I am very excited to maybe get another chance to hunt the “Holiday Oaks Gobblers” again this spring. Doug and Maggie each have three bonus points so I feel very confident in their chances at a tag this spring. If I am not successful in the draw for the 2008 season, I’m sure I will be out there anyway trying to call a Gobbler in to their location. I wish them lots of luck.

DAVE’S GEAR LIST

  1. Benelli Nova Pump 12 ga. Shotgun – Loaded with Remington 3” NitroTurkey#6 shot and capped with a Primos Jelly Head Choke Tube.
  2. Camelback Striker Pack.
  3. Nikon Monarch’s 10X42 ATB Binoculars.
  4. Primos Gobbler Vest.
  5. Primos B-MobileTurkeyDecoy.
  6. Primos – The Gobbler Call.
  7. Primos Double Play - Box Call.
  8. Primos Wet - Box Call.
  9. Primos Freak – Crystal Friction Call.
  10. Primos Titan 2000 – Crystal Slate Friction Call.
  11. Primos Sonic Dome Mini – Triple Reed Mouth Call.
  12. Primos “Old Crow” Locator Call.
  13. Camo:  Mossy Oak APX Vapor Tec base layers with military BDU pants.

About the Author: Dave, 51, lives in Layton, Utah with his wife Maggie and their two dogs, Tulie and Abbie. He has been a Correctional Officer with the Salt Lake County Sheriff’s Office for ten years.  He has also been in the U.S. Air Force for 26 years and plans on retiring in 2013 with 31 years of service, ten of which was on active duty. He enjoys hunting, camping, snowshoeing, and riding his ATV and had been involved in competitive archery since age 12 till he joined the Air Force at age 24. He loves to talk about hunting with his friends and hunting partners at work. It’s a constant competition.

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