Becoming a Hunter — Part 4: The Hunt

Two months. That's the amount of time between when the idea of hunting for the first time sparked into existence and the first day of spring turkey season in Montana. Two months of research, practice, scouting, gearing up and more research. In the end I feel like all of that, all those hours spent preparing were just the tippiest tip of the iceberg that followed.

OPENING DAY

"It started like any other day" does not apply for me. Opening day started a completely new, bleary-eyed, stumbling around in the dark at 5AM, chapter in my life. The night before opening day, we scouted, found where the birds were roosted and plunged through, rather than over, an embarrassingly small stream to find the perfect setup spot. It was a 5 or 6 foot tall thicket with a dried up stream bed behind it and a meadow in front. The turkeys roosted in some large pines just on the other side of the thicket and crossed the meadow every morning to reach the fields they feed and strut in.

6:15am, we arrived and set up our decoy in the middle of the meadow, 20 yards from our position.

6:19am, we were settled in and waiting. I looked at the clock every single minute. According to the sunrise/sunset charts, legal shooting and calling time started at 6:29. It was the longest 10 minutes of my life. Every minute took an hour.

6:24am, we heard our first round of gobbling from the toms, and then every minute started taking 2 hours. I didn't even notice the cold, or my soaking wet left leg. Around that time a pair of whitetails came over to check us out, not even a stone's throw away. It was incredible, I've never been so close to a deer that wasn't in my yard. They eyeballed my brother and I for a few seconds and decided to check out our decoy. They snorted at it, stamped at it and finally got close enough to touch it with their noses. When it wobbled a bit they bounded off into the woods.

6:29am, we started calling. The first call was a short series of hen yelps, which drove the gobblers nuts. Four of them called out right back to us. My brother interrupted their gobbling with a gobble of his own, sending them into fits of what I can only imagine as righteous indignation.

We kept like this for about an hour, calling back and forth, as they crept closer and closer. It was thrilling, I trembled with excitement. And possibly cold. Mostly excitement though. When they got close, our concentration was broken by the thunder of a shotgun a little further away from us. We were not alone in the forest. No more than 20 yards away we could hear hens squawking in alarm. So close. The turkeys disappeared into the morning without a sound for the rest of the hunt. I didn't get a turkey that day, but it was impossible to be disappointed with the experience.

DAY TWO, FLYING SOLO

My brother is an amazing and experienced hunter. His help on opening day is the main reason we heard turkeys at all, even though we didn't get a shot. The next day he was too busy to go out though, so I had to fly solo. The day before the season opener we set up a blind using a horse-feeder in a portion of pasture owned by my aunt. The turkeys feed in the field and I see them in the mornings when I ride. I considered this a perfect beginner spot.

It was late in the morning when they showed up, about 9:30. I thought they might have been spooked by the shooting opening day, normally they are feeding by 8:00 sharp every morning. Out in the field, the turkeys didn't respond as readily to being called, and the big toms were all too busy chasing each other to notice anything good or bad.

Far across the field I finally spotted some movement. I mentally cursed that I couldn't stretch my budget and buy a pair of binoculars. It turned out the movement was just a couple deer. I was just about ready to call it a day when I barely spotted a black half-circle peeping above the grasses across the field….

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