Hay Bales & Hail Mary’s – Spot And Stalk Turkey
When spring turkey season rolls around every year I find myself buried with work, family obligations and getting ready for bear season. This means that my turkey hunting dreams usually fall to the wayside as I think about refilling the freezer with bear hams, sausage, burger and steaks stacked neatly and ready for the grill. This year would prove to be different. I’m fascinated with wild turkeys and have been dreaming about killing one with the bow for years so when opportunity knocked I was ready to go. Just before turkey opener I received a message from my good buddy Warren, a cattle farmer in Southern MB – “Gobblers are here, you wanna hunt?” followed by a video of a pair of toms strutting their stuff on his driveway. Seconds later I received a message from my other good buddy Jay which simply read – “Birds at Warren’s, you in?”. Heck yes I was in. Turkey hunting was on! The week dragged, but the following Friday we met at Warrens farm with a plan in place.
Locating Birds and Scouting
First we needed to locate the birds. On the first evening of our hunting weekend we grabbed a barred owl call and a crow call, both of which are extremely effective on eliciting a “shock gobble” from a turkey. The barred owl call was a bust. No matter what I tried I was met with silence. Jay had better luck with the crow call. After a short burst the flock responded loudly with a volley of gobbles. This is where taking time to scout plays such an important role. Finding the birds is one thing, but knowing their movements and where they roost allows one to formulate a hunting plan.
We were lucky in that our friend is an avid turkey hunter and the flock we were hunting had been on his land in some form since the early 1980’s when they were first introduced to that particular part of the Province. Warren was able to give us a rundown of where the birds roosted in the evenings and a general idea of how they move on his land. This is a great lesson in talking with landowners about turkey sightings and bird movements when asking permission to hunt. The intel provided to us by the landowner saved us enumerable hours wandering around thousands of acres of land looking for birds and while we still had our work cut out for us, we were able to start to formulate a plan and begin to pattern the birds.
Patterning Turkey Movements
The following morning with binoculars in hand, we began to watch the birds, learning their movements and how they used the land. The turkeys we were hunting seemed to follow a similar pattern every day. At dawn they’d fly down from their roost and head South into a nearby field which we named the Turkey Pasture, that provided prime turkey feeding as well as several standing copses of trees mid – field. The field itself was bordered by Bur Oak and Poplar. This gave the birds easy access to food and fantastic cover in which to cool off during the heat of the day and protection from predators. By midday the birds worked their way towards the far Eastern edge of the field, before heading North to the adjacent pasture and working their way West towards their roost at twilight.
Spot and Stalk
Most Spring Turkey hunting is accomplished with the aid of decoys, blind and then mastering turkey calling to fool amorous toms into thinking a hen is ready for some sweet turkey lovin’. Hen calls used with a hen and jake decoy can send a dominant tom into jealous fits as he rushes in angry and ready to fight. At least that’s how spring turkey is supposed to go down. I’ve been hunting multiple species a long enough time to know that every rule has an exception and a hunter has to be ready to change their plan at a moment’s notice if plan “A” is not going to work. This hunt was a perfect example of why having a plan “A”, and “B” is so important.
After setting up our blind in the dark the previous evening we set out before dawn to get to the blind and get the decoys set up, waiting patiently for first light. As soon as the birds made their way into the field we noticed something was off immediately. The birds seemed jumpy and hyper aware that something was amiss. While smaller groups of hens were feeding their way towards us, jakes and toms would be at full alert, soon the entire flock and stragglers veered West and worked their way towards the other side of the field, across the drainage ditch and into a neighbouring pasture.
Unsure what had spooked the birds, we examined our setup concluding that either the flock had spotted the decoys and made them out to be fake or they saw the blind and were having none of it. This would be a great time to mention that turkeys, while not the smartest animal in the food chain, are suspicious and have unbelievably sharp eyesight so good camo and even better concealment is absolutely key. We decided to change tactics and attempt a spot and stalk. This meant we would need to spend the evening patterning the birds again in the hopes that the following morning we could get ourselves into position for an ambush using natural cover.
Dawn came on clear and cool with little wind to cover the sounds of birds flying down from their roost. We set out into the Turkey Pasture using rock piles, hay bales, and trees for cover to close the massive gap between us and the birds. We managed to stay out of sight and not spook the birds this time, deciding that a group of hay bales midway through the pasture and about 100 yards from the birds would be a perfect spot for an ambush.
Eventually the birds worked their way within shooting distance – about 30 yards. I needed to be patient and let the hens work their way past us and give the toms time to get around the final bale before I would be able to draw, aim and shoot without getting busted.
After what felt like an eternity of adrenaline pounding, paranoid thoughts of getting caught at full draw, two toms finally past but there was a problem. The toms were so close together I wasn’t sure I had an ethical shot so I decided to hold on until they separated. A full minute passed as the toms worked their way past us and moved far enough apart that I had a clean shot.
I ranged my tom one final time and decided that it was time to shoot. I’m a competent archer, especially with a compound bow and a 60 yard shot, while never a chip shot is a comfortable shot for me. My tom was moving away from me completely unaware of my presence when at about 55 yards, I settled my pin, went through my shooting mantra (“draw, breath, elbow, aim”) before squeezing the release and letting fly.
Success! While my arrow hit about 6 inches lower than I would have liked, the mechanical broadhead worked flawlessly and I’m excited to say I’ve got a bird in the freezer this year after a lot of hard work and with thanks to my buddy Jason Dyck for his mentorship.
I learned a lot about hunting turkeys this weekend and next spring I’ll be back in the turkey woods again once again ready for that spring thunder to roll!
By Noel Linsey