Thursday, April 26, 2012

Turkey Hunting - Part 2

The turkey-less hunter had his share of troubles early in the morning of opening weekend.  Last week started the story of how I had birds show up to stop just short of range.  Then, after calling, the birds made one more approach, turning from 100 yards out to get within range.  At the moment of truth, the birds took to the air and the bewildered hunter sat there with bow drawn for only a couple of seconds before the reason was revealed.  A black bear just a couple of dozen yards away stepped out of the woods where the gobblers had been.
Most days this would have been enough excitement.  But remembering past hunts for this elusive bearded bird, I was determined to stay patient and hope for the best.  The clock continued to tick as the mosquitoes tested my will power.  As the sun rose in the sky, the temperature also increased.  Little breeze was available and the blind coupled with the long sleeved shirt and long pants caused the sweat to start pouring.  Luckily turkeys cannot smell.  If they could, they would be impossible to kill.  Their eyesight is keen and their hearing is more than adequate.  But I would not have to worry able scent control on this day.
The rest of the morning allowed me the opportunity to spot a couple more black bears.  These were much further away than the first.  I have hunted this area before for bear, and I marked the spot on the gps application on my cell phone.
About mid-morning, the next big surprise occurred.  I was somewhat relaxing as nothing was going on nearby.  Virtual silence made for a peaceful time period, and if this would have continued much longer, I am sure a nap would have ensued.  I sensed something to my right, but never saw anything.  I would take an occasional glance down the lane but nothing appeared.  After several minutes I nearly jumped out of my seat.  In my peripheral vision a small black object had made its way into the blind.  Though it startled me, I did not make much movement or noise.  It flared a couple of times and pulled back out of the window.  Then, stepping forward, a small buck whitetail stepped in front of the window and stretched his neck downward and to the side to see what he smelled.  Yes, I had a deer within 3 feet of me sniffing in the window of my blind.  Once he saw me in the blind, he jumped away into the woods.  This was enough to wake me up for the rest of the day.
Shortly after noon, a couple of toms worked their way into the lane in front of me.  They were several hundred yards away, but there was promise.  After coming down the lane about 50 yards or so, they walked off to the right into the high grass and woods.  I clucked a few times with the call and waited.  They exited the grass and looked my way.  They continued toward me in a steady and brisk walk.  My heartbeat sped up once again.  Even though a bear ruined the first real chance of the day, this would be a great opportunity.  There was nothing slowing the gobblers down.
Then, when 25 yards away, the birds stopped.  They were nervous about something.  I glanced toward my left and saw nothing.   I checked behind me to see if something appeared in the lane there.  Again, nothing.  I looked to my right.  There it was. 
As soon as I saw it, the birds ran in full stride back down the path from where they had come.  I took turns looking at them and back to my right.  It took cover in the high grass beside the path.  I could see its shoulders and muscular build as it slowly crept through the grass my way.  Every once and a while, I would lose sight, but the grass folding out of the way indicated its position.
About 15 yards out it stepped back out of the grass.  It was confused.  A bobcat had caught sight of my decoys and had started it sneak and pounce tactic.  But once it was close enough, it realized that even though they looked like turkeys, they did not quite behave like turkeys.  Something was definitely amiss.  The bobcat turned and walked down the middle of the path away from the blind.  It continued to turn and look at the decoys over his shoulder.  I could only imagine what he was thinking.
He had no idea what I was thinking.  On one hand there was excitement as I was witnessing nature in its truest form.  Predator coming upon prey.  The other part of me was again disappointed, as nature had pulled together two predators, human and bobcat, thus allowing the real prey to dart away.
I sat there, reviewing video of the bear, turkeys, bobcat, and deer.  At least I had a story to tell.  Then I noticed two small black objects nearly 500 yards away.  I pulled out my monocular scope.  Both were toms.  Nice ones, as I could see their beards dragging the ground.  I clucked.  I clucked again.  They started my way.  Three more turkeys flew down from the left of the path just behind the two toms.  Now there were five.  This could be beneficial or a detriment.  One outlook is there were five opportunities.  The other outlook is there were now five sets of eyes and ears.
I worked the birds for two hours, alternating between a gobbler call and a hen cluck.  At one point a gust of wind blew down a hen decoy and I snuck out the bottom of the blind.  The birds were still far away, so I felt like I could put it back up.  Crawling on my belly, I was successful.  The birds stopped about 30 yards away as one of the big toms walked into the high grass to the right.  There was a dip in the earth there, and I prepared myself to ‘see the head of the gobbler come over the ridge’ just in front of me.  One of the smaller birds, walked off to the left into the woods.  All were picking and pecking.  The big tom came back up to the path, but about 15 yards further away than where he went in.  He had turned.  This was not good.
I was not in a position to call any longer as the birds were too close.  But, they were still too far for a bow shot, and the one big tom had all of them nervous.  I had positioned myself when the birds began getting close in the most comfortable shooting position I could attain.  But this position had lasted for over 30 minutes, and I was beginning to feel the fatigue on my back and legs.  The stance was similar to the catching position of baseball great Benito Santiago.  My left leg was outstretched to my left, my right leg bent.  I did not know how much longer I could go like this.
At one point, I drew back an arrow.  The thought was there, but the shot was not.  I could not take the shot at the small kill zone from so far away and feel good about it.  It just was not meant to be.  Patience, maybe they will again come closer.
It did not happen.  The birds actually split up with the two big toms exiting into the woods to the right about 50 yards away.  The three smaller ones entered the tree line just 30 yards away to my left.  I waited for a bit to see if they may come out on the path to the left, but they never did.
In the end, the rule of three came into play.  Bear, bobcat, and time were my undoing.  Then again, they also made the hunt that much more memorable.   An appreciation washed over me on the drive home that evening.  I had witnessed some great things on this day, and had successfully put myself in position several times to take my first turkey.  And though I did not have the feathers in hand, I did have video and this story to share.  After all, it is called hunting and not killing.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Turkey Hunting - Part 1

My hand and Chuck Norris' hand.
It is called hunting and not killing for a reason.  Chuck Norris may go killing, but the only thing I have in common with Chuck is our hand size.  Hunting has a number of variables that you may never think will come into play.  Through scouting, patterning, and general species education and knowledge, you can put yourself in the best situation, but one moment of something completely unexpected can alter the outcome completely.

For the last few years I have sought the elusive Eastern Wild Turkey with the bow.  Up until last year, I had been the general proximity of a tom, but not nearly close enough to take one.  Then last year, I learned a valuable lesson while hunting the bearded bird.  Patience is a virtue.  If you have read my columns in the past, you may remember the story of my lack of patience causing me to miss getting a shot at turkeys on three different occasions.  I was determined it would not happen that way this year.
I usually miss opening weekend of turkey season.  My wife and my daughter celebrate their birthday that same weekend, so I usually will schedule a hunt the next weekend.  Of course, the birds a little more seasoned by that time, as they have dodged shotgun blasts and arrows for a week up to that point.  This season, my female family members headed to the coast leaving me to watch the boys.  It also gave me a chance to go out on a Sunday bowhunt.  Not opening day, but close enough.
Now the story that follows may at times seem far-fetched.  Much like the old fisherman that swears he had a 10 pound bass hooked until he tried to pull it in the boat, the story could easily qualify as an exaggeration, if it were not completely true.  By the way, when you hear the fish tale, the question is always asked “how do you know it was 10 pounds?”  The response is always the same…"Cause it has scales!"
The hunt began as planned.  I re-fletched some arrows earlier in the week and practiced with them through the week.  Groups were tight for 40 yards in my practice sessions, even after doing some long hikes before the sessions.  From distances of 50 to 70 yards, groups were not as tight, but were falling in a 6 inch circle steadily.  This is great for elk hunting, but I would never take that shot at the minute vitals of a turkey.  A turkey has two kill spots with a bow.  The first is the heart / lung shot.  The second is the neck.  The neck shot is usually done with a broadhead called a Guillotine.  The Guillotine is designed with extra long blades made for cutting the neck.  The heart / lung shot is performed with a regular broadhead used for any big game hunting.  I was using a regular broadhead.
Saturday I put my gear together, checking everything to make sure it was ready.  I cleaned my decoys consisting of two hens and a jake (a young male).  I made sure I had extras of my vital gear such as arrows, broadheads, bow release, and batteries.  I charged my cell phone and my two cameras I was carrying with me.  I sprayed my hunting clothes with permethrin to barricade my body from ticks, chiggers, and other insects.  I made a packed breakfast and lunch.  I would be there for the duration for this hunt.
Sunday morning I was on the road at 3:30am.  The hunting destination was several hours away and I wanted to be there before sun-up.   I met the land owner at the gate.  We drove about one mile into the area and he unlocked a second gate.  The path was well worn with numerous mud holes and wallows.  About 500 yards in was a box deer blind at a path crossroad.  He advised me to set up with the box blind to my back.  He had seen the turkeys use the crossroad in their routes from their roost to the fields.  He also informed me of a small path about 200 yards away from the blind where I could park the truck after dropping off my gear.  Both were good information.
After dropping everything at the blind and parking, I set up the 3 decoys.  I tried to set them up so 2 would be seen from each of the paths at all times.  The decoys were all set between 10 and 15 yards from my Ameristep Doghouse blind I had positioned next to the tower box blind.
Just after sitting, I hit the mouth call with two series of clucks.  I listened and watched.  No gobbles anywhere.  I glanced behind me down the path and watched a large tom flew down from his roost on the left to the path about 150 yards away.  This was going to be a good hunt!
Not 30 seconds later, a small jake joined in behind the big gobbler.  Both were making a steady walk my way.  They were not running, but they were keeping pace.  Two hens then exited the woods from the right about 30 yards behind them.  My first thought was the hens would likely turn my birds around.  Fortunately they did not.  I kept quiet and patient.  I would have a shot soon enough.
My blind was positioned where I could shoot to my left, front and right.  My rear had a sight window but would not offer a shot due to the box blind.  After videoing the birds, I set my chair to the right rear corner of the blind.  I moved into position on the right front corner allowing me to draw my bow and take an angled shot through the window opening as the bird came into range.  I counted the pace of the big gobbler, and so I figured he would be near the window around the count of 15.  I drew the bow at 10.  He never appeared.  I let off the bow and checked his location.  He had turned and headed back down the path.  After he and the group were about 100 yards away, I proceeded to hit the call once more.  They turned, and began their second approach.  This time, they turned about 20 yards behind me into the woods to the left.  I was not worried.
I figured with the turn they would likely come out to the right side of the blind.  I backed against the left wall and waited.  After about a minute the big one showed himself.  I took a deep breath, released about half the air, and drew back the 70 pounds of death.  Then they flew.  In an instant it was over.  The birds were gone.  In a millisecond I had several thoughts run through my mind.  Did they spot me?  Did they hear me?  What could have spooked th…e…m…
5 yards from where they were standing a large black bear made his way out of the woods.   This was only 20 yards from me.  I never thought about any danger from a bear / human episode.  All I thought about was this bear just blew my best chance I have ever had at a turkey with the bow.
It was ok though.  I had just witnessed 4 turkeys and a black bear in the first 10 minutes of a hunt.  There is nothing like nature.  This hunt was far from over!  And next week, we will cover the rest…

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Youth Only Days - A Tradition, A Necessity

Wes entered the field Saturday morning at an early 6 am.  The previous evening, he had scouted the fields for signs of his game.  On one field, he heard the familiar sounds of a lonely Tom.  This would be the place.  Wes set out two decoys, one jake and one hen, and then backed into the edge of the woods.  Sporting his Stoeger 2000 12 gauge shotgun, and loaded with 4 shot Winchester shells, Wes felt good about this morning.  Within 10 minutes of sitting, the gobbles started.  Wes has been hunting turkey for the last few years, even had one come within a few yards of him on occasion.  Wes had scouted the land many times, learning where every tree and thicket was located.  He had studied the paths the different animals would take to get from field to forest to field.  And for his work, this year, if the Tom were to appear before his decoys, he would pull the trigger.

In 2009 the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission proposed doing away with Youth Turkey day.  Youth Turkey day is historically the Saturday before opening day of turkey season, in which hunters under the age of 16 are allowed to go in the field in pursuit of gobblers.  The hunters of North Carolina were upset with the notion of losing the youth only hunt and their voices were loud.
Youth only days represent a way to have an adult work with a youth in the pursuit of the game through cooperation.  In the book “The Hunter: Developmental Stages and Ethics,” Dr. Bob Norton challenges the reader to get the youth involved with the outdoors first.  As the youth becomes more acquainted with nature, then the passion of the hunt will follow.  Once the youth has worked toward the goal, through learning the appreciation of nature and the outdoors, the hunt would be more satisfying without setting uncommon expectations.
Many of us believe if we can just get the new hunter their first ‘kill’ they will be hooked.  Contrary to these beliefs, the first kill is not the beginning stage.  The first kill is just one of the stages.  After the work, the consideration and appreciation, the kill helps influence the young hunter for the future.  Ethics are instilled.
Wes Beamon with his birthday turkey.
 9 ¼ inch beard and 1 inch spurs.
Now, all work and no reward do not bode well for a long term hunter either.  The pursuit of the game needs to have an end goal.   Often the sight of the animal is enough, but even that needs to be prodded further eventually.  This is where the youth only days have become beneficial.  Well before the shotguns start firing on opening day, before the turkey become accustomed to the ‘fake’ hens and jakes calling for them, the youth get their chance at one shot.
As Wes sat in the edge of the woods on the field line, he kept hearing the gobbles getting closer.  Soon, he could almost feel the bird nearby.  A great flutter occurred just to his back, and a great dark object landed just in front of him.   The Tom perked up as he met the decoys set in front of Wes.  Wes pulled the trigger on the 12 gauge.  He had no time to be nervous or anxious.  Wes was the hunter and instinct grabbed hold of him.  With the blast the turkey stumbled about.  Wes’ hard work and several years of hunting the elusive and wary bird had finally paid off, just as he felt it would.  This was Wes’ last opportunity to hunt on any youth only day.  Two days later Wes turned 16 (April 9).  Nature had provided an early birthday gift.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Stick and String Magazine - Spring 2012

If you like archery and bowhunting, especially traditional, here is the latest edition of Stick and String.  Of course, you'll see a short story in the magazine from me as well.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

BowAmerica April 2012

Special Moments to Last a Lifetime

I was having a conversation with someone a few months ago who was planning what I would call a dream hunt.  He is on the young side, mid to late 20’s, but was forgoing some of the common extras in life to make the hunt possible.  When I mentioned the particular hunt he was scheduling is usually something someone much older usually takes, he told me of a saying his father had taught him.  “Do the special things young, that way you have the rest of your life to enjoy the memories.”
Haley Price is a 19 year old student at North Carolina State University, majoring in agricultural business management.  She seems to be your typical county girl.  Her father got her involved in hunting back when she was 12 years old.  Through her teenage years, her passion for hunting remained.  When she was 16, she decided to try bowhunting, even though her father is not a bowhunter himself.  She enjoys bowhunting so much; she hardly ever uses her rifle any longer.
When she was 17 years old, she was hunting some land in South Carolina near the North Carolina border.  She did not live far from the border, so she frequently hunted in both states.  She took her first deer with her bow there.  A clean 26 yard shot.  The same day she took her first deer, a feral hog appeared.  From 17 yards, she was able to take a nice double.  Things like that make memories of a lifetime.
But Haley was not done.  Opening day of bow season here in North Carolina brought some excitement to the young lady.  Haley had gained access to land in Forsyth County a year ago.  She immediately set trail cameras on the land to start the scouting.  One particular location on the land showed many bucks, and as the season opener drew near, she decided this would be the place to hunt.

Haley Price with her 120 1/8 inch Velvet Buck taken.
The deer showed movement after 3:00pm on the cameras each day, and Haley would be ready.  She set up in her stand at 12:40pm.  This would allow a couple of hours of quiet before the deer started moving.  Patiently she sat, and just as her scouting had revealed, a nice buck came out in the open shortly after 3:00pm.  She readied her Hoyt Trykon compound.  She released the arrow as the deer stood 24 yards away.  And down he went.  Haley had scored a huge 5 by 5 buck in velvet.
This particular buck had not shown up on any of Haley’s cameras.  He just happened to be at the right place at the right time for Haley to take the shot.  The buck scored 120 1/8 inches net.  This was big enough to take the North Carolina State record for typical velvet by a female.  Her work had paid off regardless if the deer had been seen before or not.
Haley is a fan of rocker and hunter Ted Nugent.  She is capable of pulling 60 pounds draw weight, but has her Hoyt set to 54 pounds.  Nugent was stated anything over 55 pounds is wasted.  Following Nugent’s philosophy, Haley showed that 54 pounds is enough to bring down a monster.  She dreams of one day landing her own hunting television show, and next year she will appear on a local show called HuntFX.
Haley certainly has done some special things at a young age, and now she has memories she can enjoy for the rest of her life.