Sunday, May 4, 2008

Our last turkey hunt of the spring

After last weekend's surreal turkey hunt in Napa Valley, Boyfriend and I decided to head out to Amador County Saturday for one last hunt before the spring turkey season ends.

Boyfriend still hadn't gotten a turkey, and even though I had finally gotten my first, you can never have too much turkey in the freezer. Besides, my boss - an avid fly fisherman - had told me that turkey feathers are fabulous for fly-tying, and I wanted to help him out.

But while last weekend's hunt was perfection from start to finish, yesterday's excursion served as a vivid reminder: hunting is hard. All those people who think having a shotgun somehow means you can kill everything in sight are nuts.

We met our friend Evan at o'dark-thirty to head out to an area ranch where turkeys were known to hang out. Evan had been out of town for a few months, though, so none of us had actually scouted this land. So there we were, crammed into the cab of his beat-up black Ford Ranger, cruising up and down a dirt road half an hour before sunrise looking for a spot his brother had described to him. As the truck crawled, we scoured the trees for the silhouettes of roosting turkeys and found nothing.

It was getting close to wake-up time for turkeys, so we really needed to get out and set up. We looked for a place that looked "good" for turkeys - eyeballing the terrain as if we were scouting for a picnic spot - stopped, and broke out the shotguns and decoys.

Then we heard it.


Good spot, then!

Boyfriend and I crept into positions at the base of two oak trees while Evan set up decoys, then hit his box call to see if he could interest the gobblers in checking out some of our plastic hens.

Evan called. The turkeys gobbled. Evan called. The turkeys gobbled. Evan called. The turkeys stopped gobbling. Twenty minutes passed and we heard nothing. Clearly, plastic hens and the sound of a little box with a squeaky lid were not too attractive to these boys.

So we decided to switch things up: I'd head down the hill closer to where we'd heard turkeys before in hopes they'd come back; Evan and boyfriend would head out and scout for more. I sat pressed against a tree, ready for anything. At one point, I swear I could smell turkeys. But I never saw a thing, and finally Boyfriend came back and said they'd had no luck. We were moving.

We piled into Evan's truck and moved back up the dirt road, and it wasn't 30 seconds before we saw the turkeys about 100 yards ahead. We stopped. Boyfriend crept under a tree. I crouched beside the truck. Evan hit the call. The turkeys wandered off.

Oh, so that's what it's going to be like, eh?


Boyfriend and I stalked through the oak forest for a while, occasionally seeing turkeys at some unshootable distance and pushing them farther away from us before we finally had to concede this wasn't working. So we unloaded our guns, got into the truck and moved to another ranch. All we saw there was a huge pack of cottontails, which aren't in season.

OK, fine, turkeys. If you want to be like that, screw you - we'll just go get breakfast.

We stopped at a cafe in Ione, fueled up on eggs, toast and coffee and headed back to the truck. As we moved our guns and decoys from the cab to the bed of the truck, a passerby peeked in.

"Get any turkeys?" he asked.

"No," we said morosely.

Our last effort of the day would be at the very ranch where Evan and I had seen a huge flock of turkeys last fall. Having just spent a bunch of time on foot pushing turkeys away from me, I didn't feel like doing that again, so I proposed positioning myself under an oak near a creek and letting the boys head uphill to see what they could find.

It was perfect. Just like last weekend, I found an oak tree with multiple trunks, something I could sit against and blend into. I had a good view of a hillside up to my right, the creek down below me, and a cow path heading along the creek.

I sat with my shotgun ready. There was enough cover that if anything approached, I would be able to mount my gun and aim it without being detected. A breeze washed through the oaks, carrying the spicy smell of already-dry native grasses, filling me with a dreamy, peaceful feeling. All the stresses of work and life evaporated because, unlike the rest of my waking hours, my job this hour was to sit still and observe. When you move all the time, it's easy to forget how hungry for stillness you really are.

But the only turkey sounds I ever heard were Evan hitting that box call somewhere up the hill. After a while, he and Boyfriend approached on the path below. I heard them before I saw them, and I sat still, waiting for them to notice me. I'm invisible!

Evan finally saw me. "Good spot!" he said.

Good spot indeed.

We walked around for a while after that and never did see anything, so we decided to head to a saloon in Sutter Creek for some beer. As we sat at the bar, a small herd of weekend wine tasters moved in, standing behind us as they waited to be seated.

"Are you turkey hunters?" one woman asked, eyeballing our camo.


"Did you get anything?"


"You should come to our house - they're right outside our front door!"

Awwww, hell, that was just mean.

"Give us your address!" I said hopefully. But she lived in Chico, about three hours away. Oh well.

You always want to end a hunt with game in hand. But the truth is, you never end a hunt empty-handed. In this case, we left with a little more knowledge about turkeys and scouting and positioning. And I came out of it with a sense of relaxation I hadn't felt for months. Can't complain about that.

© Holly A. Heyser 2008


Othmar Vohringer said...

Sometimes turkey hunting is easy and other times it’s though as you have experienced on your last hunt of the season. But as you said so pointedly we never walk away empty handed from a hunt. The experiences we take home and the knowledge we gain are as much worth as the trophy on the wall if not more. And of course, there is alway the next hunting season too.

Blessed said...

Why is it that when you've been "skunked" you always end up talking to someone who knows just where you could have shot what you've been after?

Oh Well, a day spent out in the woods or the marsh or on the lake is never wasted!

Holly Heyser said...


And it was funny how everywhere we went, people immediately identified us as turkey hunters. When I wear camo in the metropolitan area where I live, most people probably assume it's a fashion statement. In Amador, though, everyone knew exactly what we were doing. And they kept looking in the back of Evan's truck to see if we'd had any luck. Wah!

But we had a great time. And besides, we went home after that and ate some ducks from hunts I remembered vividly. We are blessed with a full freezer, so we can't complain.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like you had a good time, and that's definitely worth something.

I had to laugh when I read this, because I almost took out turkeys with my car three different times this weekend. Suddenly they're everywhere up here.

I would guess Michigan might be a bit too far for your guys to go just for a hunt though.

Holly Heyser said...

Yeah, a bit too far. But school's out for me in a few weeks. How long of a drive is that?

Wait - between airfare hikes and high gas prices, I'd be better off walking. See you this fall...

SimplyOutdoors said...

I still have yet to shoot a gobbler so I can relate to the frustration.

A hunt is always a positive thing though, no matter how frustrating it gets sometimes.

I always hate the "you should have been at my house" phrase. People use it all the time and it drives me nuts. Don't they know it is just torture, and that animals know when they're being hunted and when they're not?

Tom Sorenson said...

Well, it's good to be able to look back on an empty handed hunt and still be able to see the time was not wasted. It's been so dang long since I've killed anything, I'm starting to really notice all that I love about hunting. Would sure be nice to have some meat in the freezer, though!