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.