April 21, 2014
Easter weekend wasn’t about hunting or the outdoors, so in lieu of new post content today, I’m just gonna share this video that Robb posted in the comments last week.
One of the side effects of the popularity of outdoors television has been a surge in the number of hunting and fishing songs. A few of them have come from bigger artists (Rhett Atkins, Blake Shelton, etc.), but there are a lot of new artists out there putting in their two cents’ worth. This is Tony Young from a couple of years back…
April 17, 2014
Turkey season is still well underway around here, and while the activity appears to have climaxed early, there are still a handful of hardy toms, gobbling away as if to say, “wait, I’ve got more!”
Here at the Hillside Manor, turkey sightings have been on the wane since the early part of the season. There’s one old, grandmotherly hen who occasionally comes pecking around the pasture. I don’t really know turkey biology that well, but my assumption is that she’s past the age where mating season means much anymore. Even though there are at least three toms in this part of the canyon, I haven’t seen any of them on her trail. Either that, or maybe she’s just sworn off men. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
The toms are staying off on the neighbors’ places for the most part, and I haven’t had the energy to try to coax them up the hill. I hear them most mornings, shock gobbling in response to the peacocks’ screams. I did find my gobble call the other day, and engaged in a little back and forth across the canyon with a scrappy bird. He moved a little closer, but he either had a little harem to defend, or he was more chicken than turkey. Either way, he wasn’t going to get any closer and I eventually got tired of the game.
But then, yesterday afternoon I caught movement across the road from the horse pasture. The movement became two turkeys, intent on crossing over my fence. I ran to the office and grabbed the binoculars for a better look. Both birds were toms, sporting eight or nine-inch beards. I watched for a couple of minutes as they searched for a way over or under the fence (turkeys can be pretty stupid sometimes), and then it clicked… this could be an opportunity (I’m not too bright sometimes either).
I grabbed the Benjamin Marauder from its dusty perch in the corner, donned a camo coat and hat, and took off at a trot. I figured if they came up like they used to, the birds would work across the pasture, following the little draw that cuts from the hills to my dry pond. The thicket of pinion pine and persimmon at the head of the draw would provide good cover for an ambush, as long as I could make it before they did.
Iggy the Wonder Dog, and bane of the successful sneak, saw the gun and went berserk. I struggled to keep him at heel as I half-jogged, half-ran the two hundred yards to the thicket. I was almost there when I saw the red head bobbing along, just at the top edge of the draw. They’d beaten me to the spot, but it looked like some miracle had kept them from noticing me. I crouched down in a little patch of scrub and popped out the bipod on the Benjamin.
The first bird popped out of the draw at about 4o yards, but was still partially obscured by brush. That would be a tricky shot for the air rifle. I needed them closer. Then the second bird came up at about 30 yards and froze, looking dead at me. I flipped the safety off and leveled the crosshairs at the place where the bird’s neck joined his body. At 6x magnification, the target looked huge. I took up the slack on the first stage of the trigger, and then squeezed through.
Instead of the sharp pop of the air rifle, the shot resulted in more of a “piffff”. I could actually see the .25 caliber pellet fly through the air and bounce off of the bird’s keel bone, about an inch below where I’d been aiming. I kept staring through the scope, not willing to believe what I’d just seen.
Of course the bird hopped up and flew a few yards before running into the brush. The second bird putted in panic, but didn’t appear to understand what was going on. I rammed another pellet into the chamber, all the while remembering that I’d failed to recharge the rifle’s air chamber after shooting jackrabbits a couple of weeks ago. In my rush to get into the field, I had failed to check the air gauge.
I stayed still for a moment, hoping the birds would settle down. Unfortunately, Iggy couldn’t contain himself at the shot. He bolted for the birds, and even though I was able to call him back fairly quickly, the damage was done. Both birds scurried up the hill and out of sight. I started back to the barn, but had to keep yelling at the damned dog to leave the birds. He’d walk with me a few steps and then turn and try to sprint back to the pasture.
By the time I got to the barn, I figured the two toms would be halfway down the canyon, but when I looked back I could see them milling around below a brush pile at the top of the pasture. Would I get another chance? I ran into the shop and grabbed the 12 gauge and a couple of #4 Bismuth. At the sight of the shotgun, Iggy’s antics went into overdrive. I could barely restrain him, and finally tied him to the hitching post with the horse’s lead rope.
I looped around the pasture, hoping to come up on the far side where I thought the birds might be headed. There’s a trail along the fenceline that the birds usually followed after feeding in the pasture, and since it was pretty well covered, I figured it would offer the kind of secure escape these two toms would be looking for. All I had to do was get there before they did, maybe call a little bit, then whack them as they tried to slip by.
I got into place and scratched out a gentle cluck on the slate call. Almost immediately, one of the birds gobbled from just above me. I tensed up, eased the double barrel into position, and waited. And waited. And waited. My eyes scanned the open ground at the base of the cedars for the movement of turkey feet or tail feathers, but nothing.
I waited some more. Across the canyon, a distant tom gobbled. The bird up hill from me gobbled again, in response. Was he still in the same spot? I clucked and purred on the call. Nothing happened. I craned my neck, trying to see through the thick branches. Impossible.
Last fall, I had cut a clearing in the cedar thicket about 50 yards uphill from where I was sitting. Maybe the birds were hung up there? I clucked again. The immediate gobble was still right where it had been before. There was a deer trail leading up from my spot, and I thought it might be big enough to slip myself up to the clearing. Or should I wait them out? This really wasn’t the kind of chase I’d been planning when I ran out the back door.
I clucked one more time on the call. No response. I eased up out of the brush, intent on sneaking up that deer trail. As I cleared the cover, a blur of wings and excited putts exploded ten yards away. All I could do was watch the bronze, feathered backs dart through the cedar branches and then take wing out of my pasture and across the road… to safety.
Patience kills turkeys.
March 17, 2014
Saturday morning dawned, and I was up to see it. But I was up because I’m neck deep in a pretty hot deadline in the day job with unprecedented pressure to perform. I know it was unprecedented, because I actually blew off hunting. That is something that hasn’t happened very often in my career.
It’s just as well, because Kat had an appointment and wouldn’t have been able to spend much time in the field. With the time change, it’s hard to remember that it’s still pretty dark at 07:00, and turkey time is relatively late in the morning.
So we blew it off.
I managed to get a lot of stuff done on Saturday, but there was a lot more to be done on Sunday. Two days into the season, and I haven’t even loaded the gun (or pulled down the bow)… that’s not good.
But the season is long, and so is my patience (well, my patience for the day job is running a little slim…). The turkeys are around, so it’s really a matter of making the time to get after them.
And I’ll do it soon, one way or the other.
March 14, 2014
Tomorrow morning’s dawn brings the opening day of turkey season out here in the Hill Country. Along with it, of course, will come a good chance of scattered thunderstorms. We can use the rain. But I don’t much care for sitting out in the pasture with lightning in the air. I have learned the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.
I haven’t really had a chance to get out and pattern the shotgun like I should. It’s a good practice, by the way, for you other folks who might not be the procrastinators that I am. Hunters are often surprised by the performance of their scatterguns when the purpose shifts from slinging wide patterns into the air at flying fowl to making precision placement on a (semi) stationary target. Spending a few minutes and a few shells on a cardboard backstop can tell you a lot about what to expect. It may even reduce that surprise to a mild shock when, in spite of all your preparations you still manage to miss that turkey inside of 20 yards.
It’s happened to me. More than once. It sucked.
The point is… preparation. It’s really not the same as anticipation. Waiting eagerly for opening day isn’t the same as preparing for it. There’s a moral in there somewhere, probably, but the truth is I wasn’t going for sublime. Just making the point.
I’ve got some decoys out in the barn. Somewhere. I’ve been meaning to dig them out. The full-body foam decoys are probably smashed and crinkled, and packed underneath a bunch of other gear. They’re probably not going to want to stand up properly after being folded and crushed for over a year. They’re 10 years old. I probably should have replaced them by now.
The silhouette dekes should be in better shape. If I can find them. I saw the box they’re supposed to be in a few days ago, but there was nothing in it. I’ve got a bunch of lumber in the corner of the barn. I may have stacked it on top of the decoys. If not there, then they’re somewhere else.
My favorite box call and slate are in my bedside table. That probably seems a strange place for them. I guess it is. But at least they’ll be easy to find when morning comes.
The diaphragm calls were pretty much shot when I pulled them out last year, desiccated and torn from the abuse and poor storage. It’s just as well, I suppose, since I haven’t practiced mouth calling in ages. I wasn’t very good at it. I ought to throw them away. Maybe I will, the next time I see them.
My other calls are out in my turkey pack, hanging in a dark corner of the barn. There should be a few slate calls, extra strikers, some chalk for the box call, and stuff like that. There should also be some fat, shiny black spiders in the pack. Maybe scorpions. I should probably be careful when I reach in there tomorrow morning as I rush to beat the turkeys into the field.
It’s Friday and tomorrow morning is turkey season. Outside my office window I can hear the distant gobble as the birds are coming off the roost. I’m not prepared. But I’m ready.
March 9, 2014
Oh yeah! After hearing them in the distance last week, I heard them much closer Saturday morning. I ran back in and grabbed the box call and offered up a couple of gentle yelps, and was immediately rewarded with at least two very loud gobbles. Then there was clucking and yelping…
I stood on the porch for a few more minutes and listened as it sounded like an army of birds was working their way up the canyon toward me. In a few minutes, I could see them through the junipers on my neighbor’s place. I watched for a little while, and then went back inside for more coffee.
About an hour later, I caught movement out in the barn pasture. Two toms and four or five hens were poking through the new grass, moving contentedly… as if they’d been living here all year.
Turkey season opens on Saturday the 15th. I think I’m ready. How about ya’ll?
March 3, 2014
It was the perfect kind of early spring morning. A drizzling rain had been falling since well before sunrise, and the air was still and wet and cool. It was the kind of Sunday morning where you just want to sit out on the porch with a hot cup of coffee and let the day begin.
And that’s what I did.
The rain from the gutters trickled musically down the rain chains, and then pattered with a percussive “thunk” on the lids of the over-full barrels. A pair of woodpeckers chattered and fluttered around the dying branch of one of my red oaks. White wing and Eurasian collared doves were cooing and hooting from their roosts in the cedars, loathe to come out in the rain. Blue-grey nuthatches, red-faced English house sparrows, tiny Inca doves, and any number of ordinary LBBs (Little Brown Birds) covered the yard and barn pasture. They were far less concerned about the misty drops of rain than with the last of the millet and cracked corn from the bird feeders, and the grass seed I’d just broadcast over the acre of rocky ground by the barn. Their spirited chirps and songs provided a happy sort of background music to the rainy morning.
Some people talk about how quiet the country life is, but it’s pretty clear that “quiet” really isn’t the right word. Peaceful, yes… but not quiet. It’s downright cacophonous at times like this.
Down the canyon from me, about a quarter mile or so, my neighbor has collected something of a menagerie. His herd includes goats, donkeys, geese, ducks, dogs, and a roving band of peacocks. These beasts make up the farm animal section of the canyon orchestra, and theirs is not exactly a mellifluous contribution to the overall concerto. Fortunately, they were resting their instruments as I tipped back the last drops of coffee.
But then, as I stepped to the porch rail to gaze out across the pastures for wildlife, I heard the first bleats and ba-ahs, and I recognized the signal that feeding time was near. When the wind is right in the canyon, some small sounds carry right to me, and sure enough, I heard the creak of a screen door opening and a barely discernible voice. The door creaked louder, and then slammed with a bang.
And on the damp breeze I caught it… for the first time all year… the distant shock-gobble of a tom turkey!
Feeding progressed, and occasionally over the braying of the jackass and the honking of geese, I heard again and again that wonderful sound. Then the peacocks joined in, and soon there was a sort of call-and-response chorus of the peacock’s mewling screech, followed by the rattling gobbles that indicated not one, but a whole group of toms in the near distance.
I’ve been wondering all winter where those birds had gone, and now look forward to their steady migration back up the canyon. The season here in Edwards County opens in less than two weeks, and I look forward to breaking out the slate and decoys and getting after the “feathered elk” again this year!
March 21, 2013
So the turkey season opened on Saturday, and I found myself sitting around in the early morning after Kat had to go to San Antonio. What to do?
The rattling gobble of a jake turkey answered that question soon enough. I tossed on a camo shirt, and dug around until I found my old box call. The bow, as always, was right by the back door and away I went, headed to the big pasture where we’d been seeing the birds almost every day for the last couple of weeks.
Now it only made sense to me that I’d leave Iggy in the fence, just like I do when I go deer hunting. A bouncy labrador isn’t exactly conducive to getting close enough to stick an arrow in a skittish prey animal. I explained the facts of life to him as I shut the gate, and he seemed dejected but consigned to his role as yard dawg for the morning. And all went well for about… oh, 30 seconds after I started walking away.
Iggy has a couple of different barks. There’s little, yelping bark he does once in awhile as he’s playing. There’s the throaty, growling bark he makes when something comes close to the fence in the dark (deer, jackrabbits, armadillos, people… it doesn’t matter). And there’s a bellowing, mournful,godawful, howling noise he makes when I walk off into the woods without him.
I ignored the dog’s noisy complaining and stalked off, out of his sight, and slipped into the pasture. I dug into a brush pile, with my Montana Decoys, “Teaser Hen” set up about 20 yards away. After a few minutes, Iggy finally seemed to give up and it got quiet for a bit. I pulled out the box call, chalked the edge a little bit, and readied myself for action. Thus ensued an interesting, yet cacophonous concert.
I would scratch out a sexy, come-hither yelp. Iggy would respond with his barbaric yawp. And a pair of toms would gobble their heads off from the property across the road. Lather, rinse, repeat… so to speak. And never once did those birds come toward me.
Finally, during a lull in the dog’s racket, I caught the sound of hens yelping and clucking from the far side of the canyon. My neighbor has a feeder over there, and it must have recently gone off. The toms gobbled another time or two, each time getting closer to those hens and further from me. Realizing that competition would be futile, I packed up and went back to the house where I was greeted by an ecstatic black blur. You’d think I’d been gone for a year!
I let Sunday pass. My back was acting up, and I just didn’t have the gumption to go tramping out in the field.
Monday brought way too much work, so I stayed in the house and focused on earning my paycheck. From time to time, through the open window, I could hear the gobbling toms and jakes. It sounded like the season was really starting to get underway, and sure enough, I glanced across the canyon to see a big tom all puffed up and strutting around a big cluster of hens.
Tuesday morning I had the farrier coming at 09:00, so I went out to catch up the horses before he came in. As I strolled across the pasture, I was shocked by a pair of gobbles from the fenceline. Dang birds! No time to deal with them, though, as the farrier’s old Dodge rattled up the drive. They gobbled once more while we were working on the horses, a little further away but still on my property.
The horses all trimmed and the farrier paid, I went back to the house to get to work. I jammed out some stuff, answered some emails, and suddenly it was lunch time. I puttered around the kitchen, and decided I needed to thaw something for dinner. I keep the big freezer out in the barn, so I went out to see what I could find. Hanging on the barn wall next to the freezer is a bunch of hunting gear, including my “turkey pack”. I poked around and dug out a slate call and striker. After a touch of sandpaper, I figured I’d see how the old thing sounded.
I scratched once. Not bad. I scratched again. A booming gobble blasted back at me from the far edge of the pasture. “Really?” I replied.
I walked out to the fence and scratched at the call again. The gobble was much closer, and as I peered through the branches of a cedar I could see a red head bobbing straight to me! “Well, hell!”
I trotted back to the barn office and opened the gun safe to dig out my old Savage SxS and a couple of Bismuth duck loads (I used my last two “turkey shells” when I shot those birds back in January), then slunk back to hide beside the water trough. I started to hit the call again, when I heard the purr and cluck of turkeys… really close. A moment later, two jakes appeared around the pinon tree, less than 30 yards away.
Now, I’ll add that I wasn’t exactly camo’ed out. I was wearing my work pants and an orange t-shirt. I also had Iggy the hyper-dawg with me, although at the moment he was in hunt mode and crouched beside me (you would almost think he was a hunting dog). We were situated pretty much in the open, with no cover at all between us and the birds. I was pretty sure I could get the gun up and kill one of these guys if I wanted to, but instead I just waited to see what they’d do. I figured I’d hear that tell-tale, “dork!” any second now, but instead the birds looked around for the “hen” they’d been chasing, and then, when she didn’t appear, proceeded to wander up the fenceline toward the woods.
I thought about it for a second. If they were that willing to come to the call, I could get Kat out there and call one in for her. I went back to the house. We were both pretty busy with work the rest of the day, but at some point around three or four in the afternoon, Kat came back into the living room with a funny look on her face. “Where’s the gun?”
I couldn’t figure out the joke. “What gun?”
She pointed out across the yard. Out in the barn pasture three turkeys poked around, pecking at grasshoppers or ants or something and oblivious to the bloodthirsty thoughts of the two humans in the house. I happened to have another double barrel in the closet, and some 3″ magnum, #2 steel shot close at hand. She grabbed the gun while I grabbed the box call and we slipped out the back door.
The three of us (Iggy was not about to be left behind again) snuck around the corner until we could see the birds. I purred with the box call. No reaction. I clucked a few gentle clucks. They didn’t even raise their heads. I tossed out a couple of soft yelps. Now I had their attention. If I could coax them across the pasture they’d be in range for Kat to try a shot. It wasn’t exactly a scene from the Outdoor Channel, but hey, I’m all about taking opportunity where it comes.
For a moment, it looked like the two jakes (probably the same ones from earlier) were going to come up the hill. But the third bird was a hen, and she wandered off in the wrong direction. I called again, and while the horny, young birds seemed to think it over, I guess the real hen in front of them was more tempting than the unseen floozy behind that black Dodge truck. In a few moments they were gone.
Wednesday morning dawned grey and cool. Wednesday is trash day, so at first light I tossed our garbage in the truck and carried it down to the county road for pick-up. The birds usually roost along a dry creek over on the neighbor’s place, and sure enough, as I put the bags by the road I could hear the fly-down cackles as they came down to start their day. A little later, several gobbles echoed down the canyon. I finished off-loading the trash and boogied back to the house.
I gave the birds a little time to regroup, then went out to the edge of the pasture with the slate call. I scratched out some soft clucks. No response. Gentle yelps got no answer. Louder, more plaintive yelps went unanswered. I sat silently, waiting to hear any turkey sounds. I heard cardinals. There was the song of a canyon wren. A jay squawked from the cedars. But no turkeys could be heard. No hens. No toms. Not even those silly little jakes.
I thought we’d give it another go this morning, but Kat had too many other things to deal with. Truth be told, I did too, so I don’t know if the birds have disappeared from the face of the earth, or if they’re out there gamboling in the pasture even as I type this post.
Danged ol’ turkey burds.
March 14, 2013
When I go out to feed Iggy, the wonder dawg in the morning, we hear them. I stroll out to check the fences, and I hear them. Celebrating the sunset out on the porch, we hear them.
The turkeys are getting fired up, and even though everyone out here is praying for rain, the big birds are starting to really strut and preen in the fields and pastures. I’ve been watching our local flock, and it looks like the big boys are just now getting into the swing of things. There’s been a little posturing and some sparring as the hormones and instincts start to meld together into that big, orgy of idiocy that marks the turkey breeding season. At this rate, it won’t be more than a few days before the all-out battles are joined, toms are driven off by bigger toms, and the birds lose almost all their common sense.
Fortunately, it looks like the madness will correspond to the turkey season opener here in Edwards County, on March 16. I’ve already got one picked out, although Kat is making noise like she’d like to shoot one this year too. I think she still wants vengeance after that California tom called her a “dork” right to her face, before flying off across a ravine and out of sight.
My fingers are crossed that the birds don’t disappear into thin air like they did on the season opener last year.
January 3, 2013
So, after a couple of years of waiting, yesterday finally brought my first opportunity to take a turkey with my Benjamin Marauder, .25 caliber air rifle. On my cameras, I saw where the birds had been passing through the past few days, and yesterday when I looked out, I could see a few in the barn pasture. I quickly aired up the rifle and dove into the woods to circle around.
About halfway to where I’d seen the three birds, I heard a rustling in the brush ahead. I froze and squatted down. On a well-worn deer trail, about 25 yards away, I spotted a feathery breast. The bird came right up the trail, and as she did, I realized there were several more in line behind her. I quickly took a sitting rest, leveled the scope on an opening in the branches, and waited for a shot. I decided I’d aim for the base of the neck, which should make a killing shot with this rifle. A head shot was out of the question due to the movement of the birds and the level of the brush that kept obscuring them when they’d stop and look around.
The first two birds slipped through without stopping, but then a big hen stepped into the opening and stopped. The two-stage trigger seemed to take forever to engage, but then the pellet was away! Unfortunately, the bird had started to walk again at almost the same instant. I heard the “thwack”, and realized I’d managed to hit the bird flat on the wing… about two inches from where I’d been aiming. The bird flapped and ran over a little rise, while about 15 other turkeys suddenly started racing around in chaos. When all was quiet, I went to see the damage.
Turkey wings are pretty damned tough. I’ve heard more than one story of .22 magnums bouncing off without any damage. I know, first hand, that a shotgun won’t penetrate. And after yesterday, I now know that a .25 caliber pellet, fired from my Marauder won’t penetrate a turkey’s wings either.
I’ll have another go with the air rifle, as soon as I get the chance. But I will definitely have to be a lot more careful about my shot selection.
April 16, 2012
Here’s my brother’s 5 year-old grandson, Damien, and his North Carolina gobbler from this year… and his first ever. Look at that boy smile!
So now, of course, the pressure’s on. Can “Uncle Phillip” get off his butt and get a bird on the ground this season? Heck, can Uncle Phillip get off his butt and attempt to get a bird on the ground?
Well, I certainly intend to… but the road to hell and all that, right?
Talk is cheap.
There is no try, there is only do.
But I don’t think anything I can shoot this year is going to be nearly as rewarding as this bird was to Damien.
Congrats, boy! You done good!