What’s better?

What’s better than finding a shed elk antler while turkey hunting?

 Finding an entire elk skull!

And what’s better than that?

 Finally killing a turkey!

Thanks to Cally and Annetta Morris for asking me to come along with them to the Vermejo Park Ranch in New Mexico. And a special thanks to Pro Guide Jimmy Wright for hanging with us and working his bahonkus off!

A turkey hunting love story

Spring turkey season isn’t about love. It’s a series of hookups between love-‘em-and-leave-‘em toms and hens stepping up to their motherly duties.

But this week, while hunting at the Vermejo Park Ranch in the mountains of New Mexico, I witnessed a real life turkey hunting love story.

Cally and Annetta Morris invited me to hunt with them at the ranch, all of us guests at the property owned by Ted Turner. And from what I’d heard about the place, the beautiful scenery, the abundant wildlife, I jumped at the chance to be a third wheel.

I’ve hunted with Cally and Annetta of Hazel Creek Taxidermy/Decoys before, and I knew it would be a pleasure (and not the least bit uncomfortable). It seems to me the only thing they love more than hunting is each other. And I’m drawn to that kind of warm fuzziness.

Cally and Annetta Morris LOVE to hunt (and they think each other is pretty special too).

Their relationship is about as far from a turkey courtship as you can get. They’ve been together since before their senior prom, and will celebrate their 23th wedding anniversary this year.

What makes this couple so special is that they’re together all the time — and they like it. They’ll log about 8,000 miles going to about 7 states this spring alone, hunting and filming for promotional DVDs for the company, giving seminars and spreading general goodwill.

With all that togetherness, surely they know each other inside and out. I decided to put them to the test and have them answer a few Newlywed Game-style questions. Of course, they had to answer them separately. No cheating here.

Let’s see how they stacked up.

What is the exact date of your wedding anniversary?
Annetta: May 18, 1989
Cally: May 18, 1989

(That’s a promising start.)

What was the first game species each of you killed?
Annetta: Cally’s was probably a deer in Missouri, perhaps a doe, since I remember his first buck. And he probably took it with a gun, since he would’ve been pretty young at the time.
          He said: My first kill was a cottontail rabbit when I was 9. That was the first year I was allowed to have a .22 rifle.
Cally: Hers was a turkey. It was the most wonderful day of my life, and I’m not talking about the turkey hunting… (wink, wink). She was 17. We started dating in May, and she killed it that October.
          She said: A fall turkey in Missouri. But he should remember, because he took me on that first hunt.

What would you be doing if you weren’t traveling the county hunting all the time?
Annetta: He would probably want to spend time at the beach.
          He said: I can’t even fathom not hunting, but I would probably be working on our farm and taking Annetta to the beach.
Cally: She would be training her horses and doing girl stuff.
          She said: I would hang out at the beach for a month.

What’s the one song you crank up on the radio when you hear it riding down the highway?
Annetta: He always turns up “Good Girl” by Carrie Underwood (because he knows I can’t stand it).
          He said: “Shotgun Rider” by Dallas Davidson. I crank that one to the roof!
Cally: She’d crank up “Texas Was You” by Jason Aldean.
         She said: “Springsteen” by Eric Church. But he’d probably pick a Miranda Lambert or Lee Brice song for me.

What would be your dream hunt?
Annetta: If money were no object, Cally would get his desert ram, because that would finish his slam.
          He said: I’d want to shoot a 400-inch bull elk with my bow. A close second would be a 190-inch big horn ram.
Cally: Anything by Prada. Just kidding. She’d want to shoot a 40-inch Dall sheep.
          She said: A Dall sheep in the Northwest Territories.

If you were keeping score, Cally had the most right. But it goes to show that if you spend every waking hour together (and those hours start before sunrise), there’s still so much to learn about the love of your life.

But I think Cally and Annetta would agree that’s part of the fun.

How to decoy the right way

If you follow me on Facebook, you already know I’m at the Vermejo Park Ranch in New Mexico, hunting turkeys with Cally and Annetta Morris, owners of Hazel Creek Taxidermy and Decoys. Of course, we’re hunting over their lifelike creations, hoping to draw a gobbler or two into gun range.

Cally and Annetta have been in the business of preserving hunting memories for more than 20 years. Cally started mounting birds in high school to make extra money, and Annetta jumped into the biz as soon as they said I do in 1989.

Decoys are a more recent offshoot of the Hazel Creek brand, having been around for a decade or so. For Cally, decoys add to the fun of hunting.

Cally Morris of Hazel Creek Taxidermy/Decoys gave a seminar on calling and decoy placement for the turkey hunters at Vermejo Park Ranch in New Mexico. How will his rules change your decoy setup?

“There’s nothing like the challenge of bringing in a gobbler to within 10 steps and shooting him with a bow,” he said. But to be successful when hunting with decoys you have to know how to use them the right way.

Here are five rules from Cally on proper decoy set up whether you tote a bow or a gun:

  1. Toms most always approach a gobbler or jake decoy from behind, sizing him up to see if he can take him. When shotgun hunting, I set them up facing me for that reason, or broadside, but never facing away. If I’m an archery hunting, I set them up quartering away from me, which presents a good quarter shot.
  2. Don’t place decoys straight out in front of you. Place them at 10 o’clock or 2 o’clock from your setup, especially when hunting the edge of a field or food plot. The goal is for him to reach the decoy setup first, within gun range. He’ll be more preoccupied with the decoys, which will allow you to move on him without getting spooked.
  3. If you only take one decoy out, make it a hen. But be prepared to romance her. You’re in for a slow show. Add a jake to the setup for more of a high-action hunt. It’s like a high school dance. The gobbler is a jock and sees a pretty girl standing alone across the room. He’s wondering if he should go talk to her. Then you put a dweeb (jake) into the mix. It’s going to challenge that jock to swoop in and take her.
  4. Turkeys are claustrophobic. You can’t get a turkey to walk between two turkeys. Instead, it will circumnavigate a setup. Don’t place decoys too close together. Put the gobbler in your kill zone, but keep the hen in your sights.
  5. Shooting sticks are essential when bringing in turkeys close with decoys. They keep your gun steady, at the ready and you from spooking the game. They’re critical for new hunters but still a good idea for experienced hunters who like to bring ‘em in close.

So the next time you carry decoys to your setup, try these tips from Cally. And Cally hopes you give his Hazel Creeks a try. Click here to learn more.

The odd couple of turkey hunting

It’s the makings of good entertainment — with the likes of Sonny and Cher, Dharma and Greg — but how does it stack up in the turkey woods?

On the second day of my Oklahoma turkey hunt, after taking down a longbeard the day before, I was matched up to hunt with David Schluckebier of Remington. Dave is an engineer, serving as a manager for new product development on the ammunition side.

If you’ve kept up with me at all (or know me just because), well, I’m a certifiable goof wad. A creative type. With an imagination that sometimes makes for good writing, and a sense of humor you either get or you don’t.

Dave and I are total opposites. He rides bicycles with his wife; I cruise around the countryside on the back of my husband’s Harley. He’s methodical, and my mind tends to wander without warning. He has kids in college and roundabouts; mine won’t graduate high school until 2025 (Lord willing).

But Dave and I found our unlikely pairing works when turkey hunting. We began our gobbler chasing careers around the same time (roughly 12 years ago), and our skill sets seemed to compliment each other while hunting in Cheyenne this April.

We spent our first morning and early afternoon together team calling, only to bring in jakes and hens by the bucketful. (I’m pretty sure Dave could tell you exactly how many of each from each setup.)

Our afternoon hunt culminated in a gobbler traipsing by us, eyeing our decoys, then choosing to stick with the three or so ladies he had with him, never coming within 50 yards. That’s still a good hunt in my book.

Dave and I stuck together the final morning, not seeing anything broke about our turkey hunting team. We’d found a busy crossroads for turkeys and wanted to see if it would take us down a path to success.

Remington’s Dave Schluckebier and I may not walk similar paths in life, but when it comes to turkey hunt, we’re on the same track.

We set out across a shrubby shallow bowl to our hot spot on a wooded ridge. Or at least that was the plan. We walked until we hit a fence, a literal barbed wire fence, one we hadn’t noticed the day before.

Then I realized Dave and I had at least two things in common: 1. We were lost.
2. We had healthy doses of determination.

After about 15 more minutes of walking, Dave said he’d found our sacred setup spot. I had my doubts but also carried enough respect for Dave to go along without too much argument.

As the rising sun softly lit the sky, I could see we were nestled among the wind-weathered trees, just like the day before. However I still wasn’t convinced we were in the right place.

Wasn’t there more canopy in the forest yesterday?

I didn’t remember that brush to my left.

And I’m pretty sure we were a good 100 yards further away from the ridge’s edge than we were the day before.

But I remained silent, as I watched the fan attached to our strutting decoy wave around like a Southern belle who’s had one too many mint juleps.

I kept quiet, listening to the wind turbines looming over our setup. They seemed to have to work extra hard to cut through the dense, damp air.

I struggled to find a familiar landmark to shout: THIS IS THE AWESOME SPOT YOU WERE IN YESTERDAY!

No matter. If our hunt was to happen here, now was the time.

We kept our chorus of yelps, clucks and a few purrs going. And we called in the same army of jakes that seemed to not want to leave us alone.

After about an hour, we realized it wasn’t going to happen here. I peeled myself off the tree trunk with a slight tinge of smugness. I was right, this wasn’t THE place.

But just as I began to gloat internally, Dave pointed out the matted grass from where he’d sat the day before. Then he pointed out the fallen log where he’d staked the decoy not 15 hours ago.

And I learned a lesson.

Opposite personalities make for good TV and turkey hunting teams, especially when one of the pair knows when to keep her mouth shut.

The stuff of turkey hunting success

My first turkey hunt of the 2012 spring season is what’s known in the industry as a “media hunt.” It’s kind of poor grammar and slightly misleading, since it’s not as if a bunch of writers are let loose in the woods all Hunger Games-like, with the last one standing is the victor.

In reality, hunting product representatives take a group of us media types on hunt and let us use their stuff in the field in hopes we write about it in magazines, blogs, on websites and such. And, darn it, the formula works, because I’m about to tell you what gear helped me kill a turkey in Oklahoma.

Knight & Hale
www.knightandhale.com
If you’ve read at lest a handful of my posts, you know I’m a music buff. And that’s why it was love at first sight with this year’s line of Knight & Hale turkey calls. With names like Witchy Woman (The Eagles!), Bad Medicine (Bon Jovi!) and Metal Yell (sort of like Billy Idol’s “Rebel Yell”) I knew these calls had to rock.

Since I haven’t yet mastered the mouth call, the mint-flavored Bad Medicine series serves as not much more than a breath freshener for me. But the other two made their way to my turkey vest. I found the push-pull Witchy Woman easy to use and great for soft calling, but not much of a match for Oklahoma’s gusty afternoons. The Metal Yell, however, with its aluminum face, screamed out yelps and clucks that had the turkeys crying more…more…more…

Knight & Hale’s Witchy Woman and Metal Yell are music to a wild turkey’s ear holes.

Under Armour
www.underarmour.com/hunting
This one’s for all you women who can’t find camo that fits and is functional. I say dress like a dude (or at least give the men’s line from Under Armour a try). I was decked out in head to ankle UA — Evolution Heatgear Longsleeve T-shirt, Utility Field Pants and Hurlock Fleece Pullover — and the best compliment I could give it is that once I put it on I never thought about it again. I wore men’s smalls and didn’t even have to have the pants altered for length. For reference, I’m just shy of 5’2” and got a booty (if you know what I mean), and the fit was spot on, even with a base layer underneath. And I stayed out of sight in Realtree AP (www.realtree.com) — a great mix of browns and greens, perfect for a wet Oklahoma spring.

If the fit of the men’s line doesn’t suit your curves, Under Armour Senior Product Line Manager Mark Estrada says they are launching a women’s line of turkey hunting wear in 2013.

Remington
www.remington.com
Remington’s Versa Max was the gun of the week. Its claim to fame is that with its Versaport system it’s as close to a self-cleaning shotgun as you can get. Well, the beauty of a media hunt is that you shoot it for a week, then hand it back for someone else to deal with. The Versa Max’s shortest length of pull is 14.25 inches, about 2 inches too long for my Tyrannosaurs Rex arms, but it got the job done. Paired with Remington’s 3-inch Nitro Turkey load, it blasted the silhouette target on the range at 20 yards and took down an Oklahoma longbeard at just under 40.

Trijicon
www.trijicon.com
I’m all about stuff that makes me as accurate as possible. I feel I owe that to my quarry. Trijicon’s RMR series of sights goes beyond accuracy and could even be considered dummy proof. Simply aim the red dot at where you want to hit and pull the trigger. A lithium battery keeps it lit for 17,000 hours, so there’s no forgetting to turn it on or off. It’s the point-and-shoot of gun sites!

ATSKO
www.atsko.com
One product I didn’t use but wish I had: WATER-GUARD by ATSKO. It drizzled the last day of the hunt, and I ended my morning hunt with waterlogged boots. Have you ever replaced your boot inserts with soggy pancakes? Me neither, but I think I knew what it would feel like that day. Had I not been lazy and treated my boots before I left, my feel would’ve been dry, warm and not spit water as I walked. FYI, three days after the hunt, they’re still drying out in my garage, cursing my name.

So gear up and get out there, my hunting people! Here’s to the folks that make us look good, sound good, as well as stay warm and accurate while chasing turkeys. Cheers!

Huntin’ for food

Nothing tops off the end of a hard day of hunting than a stick-to-your-ribs meal.

(A hot shower comes in a close second for me, but that has nothing to do with this blog post.)

I’m talking ranch beans, some kind of meat with sauce on it, pies with crusts made from lard. You know, the kind of food you’d feel guilty eating at home. But for some reason, after a full day of quietly walking, sitting, calling and possibly shooting, you’ve earned a 2,000-calorie meal.

Can I get an AMEN?

Hunt camp food is traditionally hardy, simple, designed to feed a crowd who wants seconds. In a single word — yummy.

Joni Sanderford (right) and I toast her yummy garlic cheddar biscuits.

Here’s a recipe from Joni Sanderford, who operates Croton Creek Ranch in Cheyenne, Okla., with her husband, Scott. Joni keeps the kitchen fires burning and hundreds of bellies full each year with tasty treats like her …

Garlic Cheddar Biscuits

Dough ingredients:
2½ cups of Bisquick
4 tablespoons of cold butter
1 heaping cup of grated cheddar
¾ cups of cold milk
¼ teaspoon of garlic powder

Topping ingredients:
2 tablespoons of butter, melted
¼ teaspoon of parsley flakes
½ teaspoon of garlic powder
pinch of salt

Directions:
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Combine the Bisquick and butter, without mixing it too well. (There should be chunks of butter in the mixture.) Add cheese, milk and garlic powder. Mix by hand until all ingredients are combined. Using an ice cream scoop, drop ¼-cup mounds of the dough on an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake 15 to 17 minutes. Brush each biscuit with the topping mixture as soon as they’re out of the oven.

Every hunt camp cook has a favorite, go-to recipe. Your mission this spring is to yank it out of them and send it to me for my NWTF cookbook project. Be sure to give credit where it’s due and tell me a little about who made the dish and where you had it.

Having trouble convincing the cook to fork over the 411 on his or her prized dish? Just tell them they may very well be immortalized along with Joni in the MOST. AWESOME. NWTF. COOKBOOK. EVER.

Until the next camp meal is served, please pass the Tums. I’m going to take a nap on a full stomach, happy as a tick on a hound dog.

 

An outdoorsy playlist

I’ve heard hunting is the great equalizer.

It doesn’t matter how fast you are, how much you can bench press or even your gender; with the right equipment and mental fortitude you can successfully take game. Hunting brings people together.

And so does music.

I love talking music in hunt camp. You learn so much about folks while discussing first concerts, chance meetings with musicians and favorite albums.

Which ones were hippies in a past life? Who will openly admit they don’t like the Beatles? (For shame…) Who might still be suppressing a little bit of teen angst?

I knew the group of outdoor media and hunting manufacturers at this week’s camp at Croton Creek Ranch in Cheyenne, Okla., was up for a little Karen music questionnaire. As soon as I plopped my rear in the rental car at the airport in Oklahoma City, Realtree’s Dodd Clifton and I toggled between 70s and 80s rock during our two-hour drive to the ranch.

And the first night in camp, Gary Sefton, one of the hunt hosts, gave us a mini concert of original songs he’s written about hunting dogs, armadillos and catfishing outlaws.

Gary Sefton’s smooth singing on a Knight & Hale pot call brought in my first Oklahoma Rio.

So after dinner one evening, I forced several of the guys to give me their quintessential outdoors song — one that gets them in the mood to hunt or fish, a tune that brings back a favorite outdoor memory.

It’s only fair to volunteer your answer first when asking such a personal question. The one song that gets me pumped to put a hurtin’ on a turkey: The Warrior by Scandal featuring Patty Smyth.

Oh yeah, I’m shooting down the walls of heartache when I pull the trigger of my shotgun.

Check out the turkey I killed at Croton Creek Ranch in Cheyenne, OK. Bang! Bang! I am a warrior!

Here’s what some of the other guys listen to:

Dave Maas, managing editor of North American Hunter, claims “Fishin’ in the Dark” by Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. It’s not only his all-time favorite song; it actually makes him want to fish. Want to know a little secret about Dave? He likes fishing more than hunting. (Let’s just keep that between us, OK?)

Steve Hickoff, Realtree.com Turkey Hunting Editor, loves some Travis Tritt, especially the song, “It’s Great Day to Be Alive.” It gives him the same vibe as hunting does, makes him feel good, upbeat, content.

Brian Lovett, editor of Turkey & Turkey Hunting, is a bit more hardcore. He has a fond memory of “No Breaks” by The Offspring. He remembers playing it early one morning as he drove three hours to hunt with a friend. It represents how he can’t “put the breaks” on his turkey addiction. Brian actually wrote a magazine story about it.

Back to my boy, Dodd Clifton, public relations director for Realtree: He threw down the Grand Funk Railroad’s “I’m Your Captain/Closer to Home” as his top feel good song. He says it puts him in his place, centers him. When he hears it, he feels like fishing. Good pick, matey!

PRADCO Public Relations Manager Mike Mattly identifies with “A Country Boy Can Survive” by Hank Williams Jr. That song needs no further explanation.

Mike Lambeth, freelance outdoor communicator, rocks out to “Radar Love” by Golden Earring when he’s driving to a hunting spot. It gets him pumped (and also takes him back to the groovy ‘70s. Righteous!

What song would you pick? Send a comment back to me, and let’s build the ultimate outdoorsy playlist. Then we can groove, head bang and line dance our way through spring.

Ready, set, go!

My bag is packed, the wheels are up and my spring has just begun.

I’m on my way to Oklahoma to share camp with some of my turkey industry cohorts. It’s the first of six trips in the next six weeks — four turkeys hunts, one speaking engagement and a Women in the Outdoors event. I estimate that to be roughly 9,580 miles in the air, 2,490 on the road, not to mention the dozens of miles on America’s back roads by truck or old logging roads on foot.

My bag is packed and so is my spring. Y'all up for the ride?

I hear it all the time: Must be nice to get paid to hunt.

It’s a hardy-har-har statement that’s partly true. I’m about to chase turkeys in four states and I’m on the clock (which is super cool). It’s a blessing … but not a vacation.

Each trip/hunt comes with an expectation. (You didn’t think I was invited simply for my relentless charm, did ya?) I’ve got to deliver a story.

That means when I’m not in the woods, I’m interviewing folks and taking pictures, posing for pictures for the other writers and maybe get interviewed myself.

I’m not saying it’s not fun. ‘Cause it is. But my mind never stops working, even when my back is against a tree and there’s a gun on my knee. I’ll simply whip out the notepad on my iPhone and jot down my thoughts to revisit in detail later.

And just because I’m on a work trip doesn’t mean work back at the office mysteriously stops. No naps for me in between hunts. There are voicemails and e-mails to answer, blog entries to post and magazine articles to edit.

OK, so maybe I tackle all that after a quick nap.

But I think my biggest challenge is the mental tug-of-war of not being at home with my family. There’s a tinge of guilt for being away from my little critter, leaving my husband to shoulder the load. But the tables will turn next week, and I’ll be home while he’s off somewhere. It’s a team effort that sometimes includes bringing in the second string (grandparents) when we’re both gallivanting around the country.

I think about my family a lot when I’m away, but I don’t worry. I pray.

I lift up roughly the same prayer before and during every trip. And last year I found a bracelet that has this Bible verse printed on it:

That you would bless me and enlarge my territory. Let your hand be with me, and keep me from harm so that I will be free from pain. 1 Chronicles 4:10

I think of it as my working mother’s prayer. But it’s really a traveler’s prayer.

I’m grateful for the chance to hunt all over the country, meet new people, connect with friends, for the ability to put my experiences on paper and the means to share them with others.

Every experience enlarges my territory. And I hope your territory grows this spring as well. Perhaps you won’t make several cross-country treks to do so. But maybe your mental territory will expand in some way.

You’ll call in your first turkey yourself. Or maybe you’ll do the same for a new hunter.

Perhaps you’ll keep a journal of your experiences this spring to share with your grandchildren.

Invite a nonhunting friend over for a wild turkey dinner.

Or maybe you’ll simply not carry a gun to the woods one morning and soak in the sights, sounds and smells of spring without an agenda. You’ll only carry a grateful heart. (OK, maybe that’s a bit much to ask.)

No matter how we enjoy this spring season, let’s use it to grow as people. And I pray that God will keep us all safe as we do.

Countdown to turkey season and I’m down for the count

It’s the first week of South Carolina’s turkey season, and all I got is strep throat.

Bummer of a t-shirt slogan, but my current state of being nonetheless.

Yep, my darling little boy shared it with me, no doubt by either handing me a snot-filled tissue or through one of many lessons in covering his mouth when he coughs.

Apparently, I fell victim to the .01 percent the anti-bacterial hand soaps can’t kill.

So here I am…at home…looking at other people’s dead turkeys on Facebook. I’m truly happy for them, even though I can’t seem to muster up more than a measly like.

Heck, even yesterday as my immune system came crashing down during work, I was a horrible friend when Turkey Country Photo Editor Matt Lindler showed me a pic of his older boy’s first turkey.

“That’s awesome,” I croaked, not even asking the specifics. I’m sure I’ll like them on Facebook later.

Right now, I’m armed with the heavyweight champion of antibiotics and a new love of fruit smoothies, willing my way back to health.

I've got a fever, and the only cure is turkey hunting...and a week's worth of antibiotic (and maybe a little more cow bell).

It’s funny how many of the things we use to comfort ourselves when we’re sick come from nature.

Got cold chills? Wrap yourself in a down blanket.

Random sounds keeping you awake? Click on a noisemaker to fill the room with crashing waves or chirping crickets.

Stuffy nose? Ramp up the humidifier and pretend the mist is coming from a mountain waterfall.

Sore throat? Only a mixture of honey and lemon will do.

For outdoors enthusiasts like us, it’s no wonder. Nature is therapeutic, no matter how we choose to enjoy it.

For me, it’s hunting turkeys. Breathing dew-laden morning air. Feeling the sun’s rays hit my face. Gingerly strolling through the woods. Enjoying a good laugh with a friend.

But, for now, my reality is a couch, a can of Lysol and small, bland meals.

I just thank God this sickness happened now.

Starting Monday, my spring is packed with hunting trips to Oklahoma (with a bunch of turkey hunting industry friends), New Mexico (with top-notch taxidermist Cally Morris and his lovely wife, Annetta), North Carolina (with calling champ Mitchell Johnston) and Virginia (for some R and R turkey hunting with my hubby). I’m also giving a presentation at the North Eastern Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies conference in West Virginia. And I’ll head to California early May for the Bakersfield Women in the Outdoors event.

I’ll be blogging along the way. I hope you’ll join me as my life’s adventures will surely ramp up several times in the next few weeks.

Let me know how your springs are going too. Share your successes on my Facebook page or shoot over a Tweet when you can.

In the meantime, let’s collectively pray my antibodies work overtime. And that we all have a safe, healthy spring.

Take care out there.