Operation Thunder Chicken: Feel the Thunder

The Engineer and I had the opportunity to hunt a gorgeous, heavily wooded piece of private farm land last weekend that belongs to family friends.  We had never been to the property before, so we went Saturday afternoon to get a feel for the lay of the land.  It was miserably hot out, the ticks were swarming, and we heard not a single cluck, gobble, or yelp.

We were feeling rather defeated about the whole situation when on the way out we spotted a turkey across a dried up creek bed.  Too far away to take a shot, especially with my backpack on and an awkward bag of decoys falling all over the place.  The difference between public land, heavily hunted turkeys and mostly left to themselves private land turkeys became very clear when instead of sounding alarms and sprinting off…..this turkey just sorta wandered into a thicker wooded area all while continuing to pick for snacks along the way.

A hot and sweaty trudge up a hillside lead us back to the farmhouse on the property.  Just as I crested the top, I turned South to look out over the view of the valley and the Missouri River in the distance.  My picturesque view was jolted back to reality when 3 turkeys went flying out of a cedar tree probably 50 yards away.  The birds were clearly in the area, we just needed a better plan and some luck!

I’m not a morning person, and 4:30 comes real early.  Small consolation is that it’s no longer freezing outside, so you can actually sit around comfortably, even when it’s dark outside.  We drove out to the farm and wandered down to the place we had seen the turkeys the afternoon before.  Mostly unbeknownst to us, we set up right in the middle of the turkeys roosting lair!  Do you know what it’s like to listen to a far off group of roosted birds gobble in the distance, and then to hear  deafeningly loud gobbles that can only mean you’re almost directly below the flock?!?!  It’s amazing!  It will send chills of excitement all down your spine, and you will finally understand why they call it “Spring Thunder”!  Imagine the video below, but with more gobbles and much closer…..up in a tree and slightly to your left about 40 yards away!

Ugh, I so wish The Engineer and I were the kind of people who filmed our hunts.  But we aren’t, and mostly we are still trying to learn how to hunt turkeys.  I just wish I even had some audio to share about how amazing the gobbling was the other morning.  Alright….back to the turkeys.

Loud flapping sounds  and rapid clucks soon signaled the descent of the birds from their nighttime roosts.  The Engineer was sitting to my left, and had a clear view of the flock as they regrouped near the top of a small hill.  I looked out the blind to my right in time to see a single bird fly down about 40 yards away from the blind.  We called and waited as two hens from the left and the single bird from the right joined up together straight out from the blind about 30 yards.  I have sat in the blind with an arrow nocked every time we’ve been out, but I’ve never had a reason to clip my release onto my string, but these birds were finally giving me a reason!  The lone bird ended up being a jake, or young male bird, and he would have been legal to shoot.  The problem was, he was so small…..even smaller than the two hens, that by the time we could 100% tell he was a jake…..I didn’t have a clear shot.

At the time we didn’t worry too much about not taking a shot at the jake……there were 4 large, puffed up tom turkeys on the crest of the hill, and we were determined to move them towards us!  No reason to shoot a young, small bird when there are bigger and better options on the hill!  We were sure that our calling and our decoys would bring the big guys down the hill.  After all, we could hear them drumming, which research has told me is a good sign.  It’s breeding time after all, and no self respecting tom is gonna let his ladies get stolen by another bird.

We didn’t budget the toms down the hill, but we did aggravate the lead hen.  Slowly, a group of at least half a dozen hens pecked and walked past the blind out at about 30 yards.  Taking up the rear end of the train was the lead hen….I think.  In any case, she was the only bird to acknowledge our decoys, and she was none to pleased about it.  She trotted on over to our hen decoy and proceeded to get all up in her face, and annoyed with our decoys general presence.  If it was fall and hens were in season…..she would have been an awesome hen to take.  8 yard easy, straight on shot.  However fall it is not.  Honestly I could have taken several hens that morning, but hens aren’t what we were after…..especially with the promise of big toms!

Now after sitting down and going over everything that happened that morning it occurs to me that the turkeys around here maybe haven’t started breeding yet.  If they had, I just can’t fathom that all those toms would have just let all those ladies walk away from them.  It had all seemed to promising.  My research had told me that it was almost always fine if you attracted the hens towards you, as the toms were almost certain to follow……not these South Dakota toms I guess!  It might have eventually come together for us, but a distant, yet all together too close for turkey comfort, shotgun blast sent the toms running up and over the hill crest away from us.  The private farm land abuts a large area of public hunting land, so I’m hoping that our morning was at least ruined by someone else’s success! The hens had already disappeared up into the thicker timber, and it would have been worthless to chase them anyway.

We sat in the blind and called, hearing gobbles off from behind the hill, but the birds never did reappear into our view.  Knowing the the shotgun had probably ruined the hope of the birds moving back out into the open for several hours, we decided to leave the blind and do a bit of walking.  We could always hear gobbles, but for every yard we closed, the toms moved away at least a yard.  In the end, we packed up our gear and headed back to town with nothing more than a few large turkey feathers and a story of our first real encounter with a flock.  I won’t soon forget the feeling of listening to birds all around me and feeling potential and hope like I’ve never felt while sitting in the blind.  It was worth all the icky ticks to watch the level of sass displayed by that hen while she was investigating our decoy.  It seems like every time The Engineer and I head out to the fields, we get a little bit closer to filling my tag.  However, the end of the season is looming, so I’m hoping all the pieces fall together for us soon!

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