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Jackpine Rob

Jr.'s Redemption

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[April 2006. Same general location as this story. Last day of a 4 day hunt. We belly crawl through water and CRP to head off two gobblers. Beat them to the spot. They respond to the call. Strutting and displaying at about 50 yards, when a shot goes off… a turkey falls, then gets up and runs…. We pursue….. No dice…… It is the infamous 50 yard incident.

We walk back to the truck as Jr. tears up his tag, staying far enough in front of me to hide his anguish. I grab a couple of Diet Cokes from the cooler, give him a few more minutes, and then climb into the truck and fire it up. The song “Had a Bad Day” from American Idol comes over the radio. We refer to that song for the next 12 months as “The Turkey Song.”]

2007

Thursday morning we rolled out after roughly 3 hours of sleep, the result of a late start from home the night before and a loooong drive across the prairies to my buddy’s house. Jr. and I barely talked as we munched our microwaved breakfast sandwiches and washed them back with Vault while I drove even further west. The stars were bright, and the hills loomed ahead of us as we bounced and skidded down the potholes and loose gravel of the township roads.

We stopped twice in known locations, and I got out and yelped a couple of times – finally getting a response at the third spot. We hopped out of the truck, grabbed our gear and took off trotting down the ditch and into the flooded field. An abandoned farmstead surrounded by gnarled trees was our goal, but we were stopped short when Jr. made out the forms of three birds in one of the trees ahead of us. Further advance was impossible. Carefully I crawled out through the grass to a slightly higher spot, where I stuck the decoy in the ground and retreated to the brush. Jr. had donned his facemask and gloves, and propped his gun over his knees.

I gave a soft tree yelp, and the gobbling was thunderous! Then, just as our excitement reached fever pitch, the tree yelps of real hens broke in. Interlopers!!

The hens sailed down first, landing just beyond our decoys – within range, but without beards and spurs. The gobbler followed a few seconds later, and out of the corner of my eye I watched Jr.’s gun barrel track him from the tree to the ground - - - just out of range. A few minutes of waiting, a little game of calling, and the gobbler followed the hens as they quickly moved away.

The rest of that day we saw more turkeys, chased a few, called to a few more, and couldn’t quite solve the problem. Our day ended in a rainstorm, as darkness descended and the approaching gobbler took off when the neighboring rancher and his hired hand came along on horseback checking fencelines. We were tired and bit discouraged. Most of the gobblers were henned up, and some of the turkeys were still in their large winter groups, and not susceptible to calling.

The second day was a mix of excitement and heartbreak, as we got tantalizingly close a couple of times, only to have the gobblers break off at the last moment, leaving us shaking our heads and wondering what the heck we had to do. Stalking, calling, ambushing and even an improvised turkey drive had all proven unsuccessful. It was always ‘close but no cigar.’

At our final spot of the second day, an ambush planned along the route leading to the roost of a large group we had spotted that morning, we were treated to a violent thunderstorm. Huddled against some trees halfway down the steep valley, with our hoods pulled up and our heads down, I heard a noise. Over the sound of the rain and the booms of thunder – came the snoring of Jr., who had fallen asleep sitting with his back to a tree. Chuckling a bit, I settled back to listen and watch. Jr. woke up about an hour later - in plenty of time to witness the turkeys go on roost 200 yards further up the valley. We slogged the two miles back to the truck tired, demoralized, and more than a little wet.

The rain continued all night, and after a total of 7 hours of sleep in the previous two nights, I decided we needed a strategic break. We slept in! My buddy finally rousted us out around 9:00 a.m. with coffee and a breakfast pizza, as Jr. and I pulled our dried gear off of curtain racks, chair backs, cupboard handles and anywhere else we had hung it the night before. “Some turkey hunters!” quipped my friend, giving us the needle for being lazy slugs.

It felt strange driving the roads up towards the hills in daylight, and we sipped our cans of pop and discussed our options – which sure looked bleak. We finally decided to take a run at the gobbler that had been scared off by the ranchers on horseback two days earlier, and also check out the area we had started our first morning at.

As we drove along the rutted little secondary road, I kept glancing across the pastures to the breaks and coulees in the hills, and finally spotted a dark blob about a mile out. Glassing, saw the turkey working across the hills, following a fenceline towards an area I had hunted some 20 years earlier. I quickly consulted my plat book to make sure land ownership was the same as I remembered – it was – and we parked the truck and took off at a run. I knew that bird was heading for a stock pond hidden from the road, and with plenty of cover nearby. Unfortunately, he beat us there….

CURSES!! FOILED AGAIN!!!

Back at the truck we picked off dozens of ticks, and sprayed our clothes with Permethrin. The ticks had come out in full force overnight, and it was pretty nasty.

“We’re taking a little drive” I announced, and we headed back towards what I refer to as The Flatlands, an area of long-abandoned farmsteads and scattered CRP and flooded fields. It was the area we had started our first morning in.

As we approached our target zone, we were crestfallen to see a couple of stray dogs chasing ducks and pheasants and generally raising Cain. The dogs eventually trotted right past us, stopping only to sniff the truck tires as they continued with their mayhem.

“That tears that!” said Jr. bitterly. “No way those turkeys are still here after that crap!”

Looking over things I kept thinking to myself that the turkeys had to have gone somewhere - - and if I was a turkey which way would I have gone?

As we glassed another abandoned farmstead a bit over a mile away, I couldn’t shake the thought that the turkeys had gone thataway…. Pulling the truck off the road, we grabbed our gear and headed across the CRP, picked up the fenceline and followed it down to the old farmstead.

Jr. looked at me in faint disgust – with a slight shake of his head.

“Dude, they’re close, less than a hundred yards” I whispered. My reward was Jr. looking at me as if I were a mental patient – not dangerous, but a bit off my rocker.

I looked around again, placed the decoy in the mowed grass, and motioned Jr. over the tumbled-down chicken coop. As he cleared a spot and settled in with his back to the coop, I slid in a few feet away. Whispering, I pointed out distances to nearby objects, Jr. listened intently – after the infamous 50 yard incident of the year before, he is particularly sensitive to judging distance in the heat of battle… He noted each “safe zone” landmark, and settled in, preparing to be bored.

My initial yelp had barely ended when a gobble came from the grove in front of us. I answered, got a double-gobble back, and winked when Jr. turned and smiled at me, with his eyes wide.

The gobbler stepped to the edge of the brushy grove, and was soon followed by another – and another – and yet another! Four gobblers stopped just outside of range and mostly obscured by brush, as the leader craned his head and spotted the decoy. The foam decoy was weathervaning in the breeze, and gobblers dropped all hesitation and trotted out into range.

The little 20 gauge sounded like artillery going off next to me, as the first gobbler dropped in a heap. The other three stood up straight, and Jr. shot again, drawing a spray of feathers from the next nearest bird. That bird took off, flew right in the branches of the nearest tree, and fell backwards to the ground.

After the trials of the previous days (not to mention the year) Jr. had filled both of his tags in the span of a few short seconds. “I have REDEEMED myself” he crowed, as we high-fived and pranced around like a couple of idiots, laughing and trying to catch our breaths.

Say what you want about the hunt, but no one can deny the rush that comes with success.

Turkey07001.jpg

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Jackpine,

The smile states the story better than the words........tho the words are terrific.

WD

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It feels great when a plan comes together! Congrats, two nice birds!!!

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Congrats to you and Jr and thanks for the story.

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Congrats guys!

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What a great story! I truly enjoyed reading it, congratulations!

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awsome story and hunt CONCRATS JR. sounds like you earned a double how cool for you Jackpine. My boy didnt draw tag this year but were hoping he'll get one next year he can't wait and after seeing JR's pics he's even more fired up.

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Very cool happenings and a great read. Thanks for sharing!

Joel

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What do they say Joel? Better to be lucky than good?

The prologue to the story was the haunting refrain following our every move this year. Jr. really put in his dues last year and the first three days of this year. This year he was able to put a few ghosts to bed.

Sometimes we actually convince ourselves we know what we're doing in the turkey game, and foolishly believe ourselves to be somewhat competent. In the end, perserverence or dumb luck usually wins the day.

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Quote:

What do they say Joel? Better to be lucky than good?


That's usually what I say after I've been lucky. Then when it happens the way we'd like it to, like our second hunt this year, you chalk it up to woodsmanship, fine calling, and excellent turkey hunting skills.......all the things which make it that much harder on you mentally when the turkeys make you look like an (Contact Us Please) the very next time you go out there.

My favorite turkey hunting partner and mentor has killed well over a 100 gobblers himself, and guided hundreds more to their death over the years.....to see the turkeys humble an expert like that, well, it's sobering to say the least.

The emotional roller-coaster these birds put you through as a hunter is unlike anything else I've ever hunted or fished for. I love it.

Again, congrats to you and Jr. for another fine season.

Joel

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