Last fall I went on my first deer hunt and killed two deer in about three hours. This spring, I got to go on my first turkey hunt with some of the guys from Outdoor Life and learned something very valuable: my first deer hunt was pure luck.
Here’s how my rookie turkey season went down.
First Day of the Hunt 5:00 a.m. My duck quack alarm screeches into my dream reality. I drink coffee and wish I were still asleep.
6:00 a.m. We go around to different spots trying to find roosted birds. At the first field we get no response to our calls except for a lone coyote. At the second spot we try, we hear a bird way off. When we get to the spot where my hunting mentor Gerry Bethge thinks the turkey might be, he calls. Three turkeys immediately respond. Gerry wants to hunt these birds later in the morning because he’d had a few bad experiences with the same birds earlier in the season, but some of his buddies ended up busting them and blew our chances.
I am about to realize that turkeys make absolutely no sense, and are one of the most frustrating creatures I have experienced thus far.
7:01 a.m. We go continue on our merry way and spot two big toms strutting. We get our gear and stealthily book it through a small marshy patch into the woods 50 yards from the road and the birds. We setup under a tree, and I get a feel for the gun, heavy on my knee, while my hands shake and I hyperventilate a bit. Gerry calls -- he’s hyperventilating, too -- and after each shrill, eardrum throbbing hen yelp, a thunderous gobble shakes the woods around me. That sound, which I had never experienced before, makes my pulse quicken and any residual sleepiness abruptly dissipates. I’m hoping the turkeys will come to us, but at the same time I’m terrified.
7:25 a.m. The turkeys go mute.
7:35 a.m. Gerry and I figure it‘s time to try a different setup, and walk – me feeling slightly deflated– back to the road. 7:38 a.m. We see the two toms are sitting in the road, in the same damn spot.
7:41 a.m. Back to the setup we just left, we try a few calls and the birds finally respond. However, each response is less enthusiastic and sound farther away. When we eventually give up and walk back, we see that the toms crossed the road and have a hen with them. Why don’t they think our hen is as attractive sounding as the one they’ve got? I have run the gamut when it comes to rejection, from colleges to guys in bars, and I think that this is hands down the worst kind.
7:45 a.m. We give up on that spot, and go back to check a few others with a vow to come back later in the morning.
8:15 a.m. Coming back toward the road where we first spotted the two toms, we stumble upon them again 50 yards from their original spot with the same hen.
8:20 a.m. Pinned down behind a hillock, Gerry calls to no avail. The toms are having their way with the hen and ignore us.
8:35 a.m. We set up across the woods road, hoping that when they are done with the hen they will come our way. I am over my trembling, and am ready to shoot. I whisper, “Come to mamma,” just quiet enough so that Gerry can't hear it ... What's happening to me?
8:45 a.m. They don’t come, and mamma is heated.
9:00-12:00 a.m. Gerry and I connect with Alex Robinson, who’s another OL guy, and the three of us hit all the spots we can think of, coming up empty handed every time. My disappointment grows; the energy I had retained from the first setup dwindles. I have trouble keeping my eyes open.
12:30 a.m. Sitting at Gerry’s camp, Gerry and Alex convince me what a great hunt it was because we setup so many times on birds. Apparently, a lot of the time people won’t hear or see birds at all. This being my first time, I assumed I would kill something that day -- or at least maybe the next day, since I would be hunting the next whole week in a different camp in New York. Boy was I wrong…
I got on birds every day over the next week. We stayed in the same spot for four days, without getting any good shots.. I finally got the opportunity to take a perfectly good shot but my arms became jell-o and my mind went to mush. I completely choked.
We spooked birds, but each day they came back, and each day something else went wrong. One day in particular, a raccoon chased a big beautiful tom right out of range. I have never seen anything so ridiculous in my life, and have never disliked raccoons more.
By the end of the week I couldn’t have been more tired. My first deer hunt—that was pure luck, but this turkey hunt was the real deal. It was infuriating. It was frustrating and tiring, but if I could go back and do it again I would in a heartbeat. Now I’m waiting for the next turkey season, when I’ll get a chance to redeem myself. In the meantime, I’ll continue practicing my turkey calls for all my Brooklyn neighbors.