On Friday, April 10th I loaded up the jeep and headed to southern Illinois. After a wait of a year it was finally time to head south to hunt for turkeys. I was sure there was an ol’ tom waiting for me!
I arrived at my cousins’ cabin in the early afternoon on Friday. Bruce and Bill Jr and Uncle Bill were all there already. It felt good to settle in for the week and before long we were visiting and talking about the approaching hunt.
After dinner I organized all my camo and hunting gear in anticipation of the pre-dawn departure for our blinds. The last thing a hunter wants to do is to head out without everything he/she needs for the hunt. When I was sure that I was ready for the next morning, I headed out to the evening campfire for some BSin’ and a good cigar. After a great evening we headed into the cabin to hit the sack – 4:45 am was going to come awfully early in the morning.
Bruce always has the coffee pot set to start percolating when we’re supposed to get up. And when you get up at 0’dark thirty you’re pretty conflicted….there’s the feeling of really wanting/needing to sleep a while longer…. against the excitement you’re feeling for the hunt you’ve been waiting a year for. Of course, the excitement wins the struggle and we were quickly out of bed and up to get ready to leave.
After some coffee, and a light breakfast, Bruce loaded our thermoses, we pulled on our camo and headed for our ATV’s. The ATV’s started quickly and Bruce and I headed our separate ways in the pre-dawn darkness….me towards the bottoms of the Little Wabash River and Bruce to the uplands area a short distance from the river bottoms.
I quickly put out my feeding hen decoy and settled in to my ground blind. The area was quiet until the woods began to wake up – then the birds began to sing and turkeys began to talk! In the distance I could hear toms gobbling and hens calling. It was really fun to watch the approaching dawn lighten up the field I was watching. I called several times and could hear gobbling in the near area.
A hen turkey came into view and meandered across the open field, slowly moving in to my decoy. It was interesting to watch her feeding. Suddenly I caught movement out of the corner of my eye. There came a huge tom, fully fanned and strutting, heading towards the hen and my hen decoy. He strutted across the field and at one point was moving sideways as he came in to me – just like he was dancing – no doubt trying to impress the hen and the decoy. What a magnificent bird!
He continued to strut and move my direction until he was in between the live hen and my decoy. He moved all the way across the area in front of me but at the farthest reach of my 12 gauge. I just wasn’t comfortable taking a shot. Out of the corner of my eye I caught more movement and saw that there were another 6 or 8 turkeys coming in to the hen and decoy as well. How exciting! My focus though was still on the strutting turkey in front of me. Soon he was to the far right of my blind and I was concerned that he might strut out of range. So, I decided that I needed to take a shot. I steadied the dot of the RedDot scope on the upper part of his neck and squeezed the trigger. The huge kaboom of the shotgun blast shattered the stillness of the late dawn.
The turkey jumped up and I thought for sure that he was going to come down and stay down. But that wasn’t to be. He started running across the field in front of me. I took a shot at him as he was running. And then I took a third shot at him while he continued to run! He obviously was not going to fill my tag! While my first shot was definitely a long one, how could I have missed! I decided that I needed to check to see if I had mortally wounded the turkey even though it had managed to run. So I got out of my blind and walked the woods at the edge of the open field. There was no bird to be found. Clearly I had not delivered a good shot. Wow! Needless to say I was disappointed.
After searching for the bird with no success I headed back to my blind to sit and wait for other opportunities. Based on a text exchange with Bruce I decided to sit where I was and see if I could call more birds in to the area. After about an hour, low and behold, a couple of nice big jakes slipped in to my decoy. I took a shot and hit one of the jakes. It ran. I shot again. It flew. And with the third shot I dropped him. My tag was filled by 9:00 am! While I had filled my tag, I was concerned why I didn’t get a clean, one shot kill on either of the two birds that I had opportunity to shoot at. More later on that….. In the meantime, here’s a picture of my bird right after I dropped him. He was a beautiful bird and I am truly thankful that I had the opportunity to hunt him. At 19 pounds, he will make three good meals for me and my family!
Once back at the cabin, as I dismounted my ATV, I began to share my story. Of course everyone shared in my excitement. Below is a picture of my Uncle Bill and his son Bill jr. as I talked about my morning hunt.
Uncle Bill (below) has hunted for many years. He is a true wealth of knowledge. I enjoy and take to heart all the hunting information and knowledge he shares with me.
He was a nice heavy jake with a 4 to 5 inch beard.
I quickly began to butcher the turkey. It’s not the most pleasant task to complete but is a part of the hunt. I plucked the bird (appreciated help from Uncle Bill), burned off the pin feathers, gutted, and cleaned it. I decided to split it up into two packages – one package were the legs and thighs, and the other package was the body/breast. Splitting it into two packages allowed for easier storage and separated the bird into parts that will cook more evenly.
After the bird was cleaned, wrapped in freezer paper, and put in the freezer, we visited and enjoyed a good cigar to celebrate the successful hunt. It was good to see Chris who had arrived while I was out hunting.
After discussion with my uncle, I decided that I needed to pattern my shotgun. There was no reason that I should have missed the two turkeys that I shot at. So I set up targets and took shots. As suspected, my scope was off and it was off by about 6 inches – shooting 6 inches too low! It’s no surprise that I didn’t have single shot kills. It took 11 clicks of the scope to adjust the scope back to accuracy. I have no idea how it got so far off of on target but I’m glad I patterned it and found the problem. I leave next Wednesday to hunt the fourth season – I’m glad the gun is now on target – watch out Mr. Tom!
For the remaining three days of the hunt, I went out with Bruce (below) in the mornings – of course without a gun though since my tag was already filled. Bruce was hunting in the uplands of the bottoms and was in amongst a lot of toms. He got a shot but the distance was too far, the pattern had spread enough that the bird escaped unharmed. Bruce is a knowledgeable hunter and has taught me so much about both turkey hunting and hunting in general. I really enjoy hunting with him.
My next season hunt starts on the 23rd of April. So I’ll be heading south back down to Illinois on the 22nd. Can’t wait! More to come as I head into the next season!