What an exciting turkey season Daniel and I had! As always, it was full of ups and downs and unexpected twists and turns as many hunting adventures often are.
We began planning our trip to the northeast corner of Wyoming about one week out from opening day. We had been talking about what gear would be needed and coming up with a game plan on what tactics to try and where to start on the property. It never fails, the truck was loaded down. We packed everything but the kitchen sink. We were ready! Tomorrow, we would be in the shadow of Devil's Tower hunting Merriam gobblers on opening day in Wyoming!
I sat anxiously awaiting the time I was supposed to meet Daniel and we would actually hit the road. I knew it was going to be an awesome few days ahead of us. By the time I reached my home, Daniel was already there waiting. I couldn't get loaded fast enough! It was time! Fresh air, time away from the city, hanging out with my friend and big birds gobbling on the mountain. We piled in the truck and headed east. I think we spun the tires getting out of the driveway. We had some time during our drive so I pulled up the weather on my phone just to double check the conditions. It quickly became evident that Mother Nature was going to make it a tough hunt. The forecast called for rain, rain and more rain. We didn't let the weather discourage us. We would be hunting out of ground blinds and planned to stay nice and dry despite the weather predictions.
Daniel and I were excited to make the drive through the Black Hills of eastern Wyoming. It is absolutely beautiful scenery, and it is also loaded with turkeys! Every time we make this drive, there are birds strutting just off the road in the valleys and creek bottoms.This time, however, we did not see a single bird on the way to the ranch. NO TURKEYS! Daniel and I were completely discouraged at the lack of bird activity in the hills. We hoped that the birds would be more active in the morning before the rain set in for the next several days.
We arrived at the ranch mid-afternoon. We unloaded our stuff at the guest house that we would call home for the next few days and set out to locate some birds. Hopefully, we could put a big longbeard or two to bed tonight. After roaming around on the ranch for about 30 minutes or so, we found a decent sized flock of birds heading for a thick wooded ridge. It was getting late in the afternoon. We glassed the birds for about 45 minutes as they made their way up the hillside and into the thick pines. We hoped this would be where they would roost for the evening. The unmistakable sound of big wing tips hitting the trees and the occasional cackle and gobble let us know, the birds had settled in for the night.
After darkness swept the countryside, Daniel and I grabbed our blind and bag of decoys and made our way up the hill close to where the birds roosted. We did our best to place the blind in a position where we thought the gobbler would be able to see the decoys but we still had enough cover to be concealed. After a few small adjustments in the dark, the blind was set and shooting lanes were cleared. We felt we were in a good position to have a clear shot opportunity in the morning before the rain set in.
We were like kids on Christmas Eve that night. The anticipation made for a restless night. We finally settled in about 11:00 p.m. and had set our alarm for 4:30 in the morning to get us in the blind in total darkness. The next morning, we flipped a coin to see who was going to be hunting first. Daniel won the coin toss and would be up to bat while I prepared to run the camera for what I felt was going to be a slam dunk of a turkey hunt.
What happened next couldn't have been scripted any better. The birds flew down from their pine roosts and immediately began working our direction. One particular gobbler almost flew right into our decoy spread. He hit the ground and immediately began to strut and gobble. He worked his way around the blind from the left and Daniel came to full draw. You could feel the deep sounds as the big bird "drummed" right next to the blind. This gobbler was literally 3 feet in front of the blind. It was as intense as a turkey hunt could get. My heart was pounding and I knew Daniel was about to fall apart. He waited for the bird to clear the support hub of the blind and let an arrow fly! The bird flipped backwards, kicked up dust, and the feathers flew. We celebrated with high fives and a couple of big smiles.
Daniel got out to recover his arrow and check on his bird. The look on his face said it all...the arrow was clean, no blood, no bird! A full strut turkey has a huge profile. With a shot of 3 feet, Daniel saw nothing but bird when looking through his peep sight. If you have never practiced a shot that close, the arrow does not hit where you think it will hit. Unfortunately, Daniel harvested a few feathers of this old Tom and nothing more. The gobbler was in the valley below the ridge strutting with his hens as if nothing had ever happened.
We decided to check out some other parts of the property and regroup. We hoped that those same birds would return to roost on that same ridge later that evening. After an uneventful day, we returned to the exact same set up that we snuck into that morning. It was my turn to hunt and I was hoping for a slightly different outcome. As luck would have it, after a brief time in the blind and a few series of yelps, we heard a gobble about 200 yards behind the blind. This Tom was HOT!! He was cutting us off and was getting closer by the second. The gobbler sounded like he was going to make his appearance from the right side of the blind. Daniel and I made a quick adjustment with the camera and switched positions.
The bird read the script! He showed up just to the right of the blind and spotted the decoys and immediately went into strut. I was already at full draw waiting on the right opportunity to release an arrow. Daniel confirmed that he was "on him" with the camera and I touched the release. I watched as my arrow hit at the base of the wing butt. I knew the shot was right where it needed to be and watched as the Tom flopped over a small rise just out of sight. I made a quick walk out to recover my bird and found him basically in the last place we were able to see him. The shot was 23 yards and the big gobbler had only made it another 10 before expiring.
What a hunt! Mother Nature did her best with periods of rain to keep our spirits and the turkeys beat down but we were able to make it happen anyway. I couldn't be happier with how my hunt turned out. At the same time, I share in Daniel's grief at the one that got away. It was a great time with a great friend. We made some memories together that will last a lifetime.