Sunday, April 4, 2010

Getting lucky: Sarah Connor, decoy love and money shots

I didn't have much of anything planned for this weekend until my phone rang Friday morning. Caller ID told me it was my friend Evan, so I didn't hit the "ignore" button like I usually do. Whenever Evan calls, guns, beer and good times are usually just around the corner.

"What are you doing tomorrow? Wanna go turkey hunting?"

Hell yes, I wanted to go turkey hunting! Ever since duck season ended, I hadn't put one damn thing in the freezer. I'd gone on one total dud of a pig hunt, and my long-awaited turkey hunt with a serious expert had been canceled. Here I was with my brand-new 12 gauge Sarah Connor and I hadn't fired her at anything more exciting than clays.

I needed some action.

"OK, we're going with my friend Ricky," Evan said. "Meet me at the Chevron Station in Ione at 5:30."

"See you then," I said.
I arrived at the Chevron station at 5:20 a.m. Evan pulled in at 5:40. Ricky showed up at 5:50 and we all proceeded to talk for another 15-20 minutes. Boy was I glad I'd gotten up at 4 a.m.

The gas station was doing a ridiculously bustling business for that hour of the day. "Shift change at the prison," Evan explained.

Ricky pulled something out of his truck and cradled it lovingly. It was a turkey hen decoy. "Check out the paint," he said, pointing out the sheen under the dull glare of the gas station lights. "It's from DSD. It's hand painted. Expensive but good."

I had to admit it was nice. Way nicer than my decoys, which warped easily and didn't seem to fool anything. I hoped I wouldn't accidentally shoot it. That would suck.

Ricky talked a little bit about his business, Gamehog Outdoors. He makes hunting videos, and people gobble 'em up. He'd been shooting turkey hunts since the season had opened the weekend before, and while he'd gotten some good footage, due to a series of snafus he hadn't gotten a money shot yet.

I glanced up at the sky and saw it was beginning to get light. The shift-change traffic had died down. It was like a signal. "We should get going," Ricky said.

Evan hopped in Ricky's truck and I followed them to a cattle ranch just outside of town. Lights off, we drove through the gate and down a dirt road, then pulled off to the side and shut off our engines.

The second I opened my car door, I heard gobbling. Gobbling to the left. Gobbling out front. Gobbling to the right. The oak trees that dotted these rolling hills were filled with turkeys.

You wanted action, Holly? Looks like you're going to get it.

Ricky grabbed his decoy, tripod and camera and started walking. Evan and I grabbed our shotguns and followed him under the lightening sky.

We came to a cattle guard and Ricky stopped. Should we go for the turkeys on the left or on the right? Left, he decided, and we made our way across a small creek and set up under some trees at the edge of a pasture. It was just like I'd seen on the TV shows - a classic setup. But would it work like TV, or was that just a fantasy world?

Evan and I sat close to one another and stared out into the field as Ricky began calling behind us.

Good Lord, this boy could call! I'd read about all the different sounds turkeys make, but I had never heard anyone call like he did, using so much of the turkey vocabulary so beautifully. It was a freakin' love song.

But it quickly became apparent that the turkeys in front of us had stopped responding. They were all out in the field about 300 yards from us, and Ricky could see jakes chasing each other around, not paying a bit of attention to his serenade.

The turkeys behind us, though, were gobbling every time Ricky purred. A few whispers later, we picked up and moved back across the creek, carefully avoiding all the fresh cow pies in our path.

Then the responses stopped. We saw a turkey on the ground to our left and ducked back where he couldn't see us. Ricky glassed that bird, assessed the situation again and determined we needed to go back where we started.

Was this going to be one of those hunts? In my mind, I could see all my other turkey hunts with Evan, where we always seemed to be 100 yards away from turkeys that knew all too well the limited range of our shotguns.

This time when we sat back down, though, Ricky could see a lone turkey off in the distance:

Without the distractions of the flock, Ricky was sure his song would work this time. So he started calling again.

"OK, he's going to head this way," I heard Ricky whisper behind me.

I had never seen a turkey get called in except on TV. The one turkey I'd killed two years earlier had just wandered by where I was sitting, so I hadn't yet experienced that spine-tingling call-and-response scenario, with a tom swaggering ever closer.

Evan had told me that the shot would be mine, so I got ready. A mask covered my face and a hood blurred my outline. I pulled Sarah Connor's stock toward my left shoulder. My right hand, propped up by my knees, cradled the foreend. My head was scrunched low so I wouldn't have to move much to take the shot. I was ready.

Ricky called. I squinted into the distance. The turkey moved all right. To the left:

We watched in disbelief as the bird made his way back to the thick woods at the edge of the pasture. Run run run, stop. Run run run, stop. You've got to be kidding.

I tracked him with my muzzle anyway, but I knew it was futile.

Ricky, though, kept calling, and the bird stopped just short of the woods. Then he sprinted straight toward us. Run run run, stop.

My heart started thumping, and I struggled to breathe slowly.

Run run run, stop.

My heart thumped harder. I gulped and tried to hold the muzzle steady.

Run run run, stop.

Was this really happening?

I watched him as he poofed up his chest and fanned out his tail, then took a nibble from the grass at his feet, acting disinterested in the presence of that immaculate plastic hen.

I thought he was close enough, but I'm a terrible judge of distance. Was that 20 yards?

If I waited until he got too close, I'd run the risk being seen. Or if he didn't see us and just kept coming in, my shot might pattern so tight that I'd miss him.

Or he might hear my heart fixing to thump right out of my chest.

Do it, Holly.

I centered the bead on his neck and pulled the trigger.

The recoil threw my shoulder back hard. So that's what a magnum load feels like, eh?

The bird went down and stayed down. Textbook.

Now I was trembling uncontrollably.

I threw back my hood, pulled down my face mask and turned to Evan and Ricky, stunned.

"That was awesome!"

Ricky was happy too, because he'd gotten his first money shot of the season.

We walked over to the bird.

Not a huge old tom, just a jake with a five-inch beard. But the experience had been amazing, and now he was mine.

We all took photos. Evan sent one to the person who had bailed on hunting with him that day, creating the opening for me. Nyah nyah, look what you missed!

And me, I felt like I'd broken in Sarah Connor in fine form - one shot at a game animal, one kill.

We all went out to breakfast at the Ione Cafe, my treat. Ricky, sitting across the table from me, pulled one hand to his face and inhaled deeply. "My hand smells like turkey," he said.

I'd done the same thing on the drive to the cafe. "I know! Mine too!"

It'd almost seemed too easy. No struggle. No sweat.

But I guess sometimes we all get lucky.

Harlequin surveys a bird that's bigger than she can handle.

This bird has especially fluffy down.

Boyfriend breaks him down...

...and tonight we feasted on Turkey Marsala.

© Holly A. Heyser 2010


Tovar@AMindfulCarnivore said...

Congrats, Holly!

Shewee woman said...

Holly, what a great story, my heart was pounding right along. You are one up on me girl, I hope to go on a Turkey hunt this year, my son is going for the first time with a friend of mine, but no girls are allowed. That sucks! Also, way to break in that new shotgun!

Barbara Baird said...

Congrats, Holly! And, hey, Shewee Woman .... are you really up at 4:15 a.m. and not out turkey hunting?

benedict1 said...


Sent you an email on some ideas.

Great article, unreal graphics and a spectacular result. You and Sarah are a force to be reckoned with. I heard that the head duck of The Pacific Flyway has called a meeting about you to plan duck strategy for the fall. They may have to fly well inland, or out over the Pacific, to avoid Sarah's long reach. Giggle.

Good for you!


The Hunter's Wife said...

Congrats Holly! And love the drawings.

Holly Heyser said...

Tovar and Shewee Woman: Thanks!

Babbs: I think all times on this blog are stamped in Pacific time and Shewee Woman is in Pennsylvania.

Walter: The ducks can stand down - hitting a stationary object with a shotgun is not that spectacular an achievement (though I know full well that people can miss, especially with full chokes and close birds). The real star of this show - and probably any successful turkey hunt - was the caller, Ricky. I was just lucky to be along for the ride.

Jody: Thanks! I briefly considered animating the drawings, but I'm just not that good :-)

David Demola said...

I'm so proud of Sarah Connor. She's living up to her namesake so well.

And I absolutely love the drawings that went with this! It reminds me of an ollllld computer game I played as a kid, back in the glory days of ASCII :-)

suzee said...

Awesome! I hope I can connect this year... went Turkey hunting last year for the first time... sure could have used an experienced Turkey hunter along... half the time I didn't know what I should be doing!Thanks for the Great story, and congrats on the great results!It looks Yummy on the plate!!

Anonymous said...

I love it when things just "Fall Together"!

Great story Holly and a great start for you and Sarah Connor.

I anticipate that you two are going to become endearing partners this season.

Bill C.-Orygun

Greg Damitz said...

Congrats on the bird. Turkey hunting is severely addicting. That's a great eater bird and a trophy for anyone.

SimplyOutdoors said...

That is awesome. The call/respond portion of turkey hunting is so unique and so addicting.

And what a great looking bird. Congrats, Holly.

Carolina Rig said...

I'll take lucky with a filled tag any day! Congrats on the jake. Perfect eating size. I hope to get lucky soon...opening day in NC is this Saturday.

Dawn (KitchenTravels) said...

Holly - about all I know of hunting is that you wear camos, aim steady, and hope for the best. But I really enjoyed this post!

I find it funny that turkey hunting season is in the spring, when most of us non-hunters think of turkey as a fall or winter meal. Associations with Thanksgiving and Christmas are hard to break, I guess.

Bpaul said...

Woohoo! Congrats! Turkey are on my list of 'to learn's' in Oregon. Haven't gone yet but I will, mark my words.


Josh said...

Well, happy Easter that! Woo hoo, congratulations!

I'm more than happy to take some of those fluffy feathers off your hands for flies, too.

hooter said...

I thought I heard you "guys" at the station. I only live a couple of blocks from there.

jryoung said...

Awesome story. I went on my first turkey hunt on Saturday too. We were in the same neighborhood (relatively speaking) just south of Camanche Res.

We spent a little more time in the truck than I would have preferred, and I have no idea if my calls (purchased 24 hours prior) helped or hurt me, but I had a blast.

Three times we drove up on some toms and put on a stalk on them, and three times they gave us the slip.

Hopefully next time we'll do a little more sitting and a little less driving.

Holly Heyser said...

Suzee: "Yummy" doesn't even half describe how good that dish was last night. It was amazing. Normally I think the breast is the worst part of all upland birds, but if that was the worst part of this one, the rest of him is going to be stunning. Now I can't wait to make Mexican mole (pronounced MO-lay) with the broth Hank made overnight. Rich and lovely.

Bill C.: I love my new girl!

Simply: I'm just glad I finally got to see call and response in action!

Dawn: Spring turkey season is common among all the states, but it is about the only spring season on any game animal. We can hunt them in fall too, but they taste much better in spring when they're eating yummy fresh green things. And they are, of course, much more vulnerable during mating season. (And in case anyone's wondering, we can't kill hens in the spring.)

Hooter: I had no idea you lived so close!

JR: I've tried stalking turkeys many times and it just doesn't work. Or at least it hasn't for me. It'll sure give you a healthy respect for their smarts, though!

Unknown said...

You had my heart pounding and palms sweaty just reading about your hunt! And loved the pictures too!

I'm really hoping to get my first bird in a couple weeks, this will be my third year turkey hunting. Turkeys have become my white whale. lol.

Phillip said...

Nice job, Holly. Could've sworn I commented on this thread before... but anyway.

Wanted to throw a note of caution out to JR, by the way. Stalking turkeys is not only an excercise in frustration, it's also a fairly dangerous prospect...especially on public land. Remember that both you and any other turkey hunters are in full camo out there. You never know who may be calling those birds you're trying to sneak up on, and it's hard to tell who's downrange of your shot, or who may be aiming toward you.

I'm not saying never do it, just be damned careful. Best to do on private land that is well controlled.

Holly Heyser said...

Since Phillip didn't do it, I will: Here's a link to a post he wrote about a recent fatal turkey hunting accident up in the far north reaches of the state.

For what it's worth, correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't think there's any public land where JR was hunting - there are just a lot of cattle ranches and vineyards. But the accident Phillip wrote about highlights the dangers out there even when only your friends are around.

LuckHunter said...

Thanks for sharing this useful information.
Thankyou and good luck for the upcoming Blogs.