Each year after I am through guiding turkey hunts for Mellon Creek Outfitters, I take off on what I call my annual turkey tour. I have set a goal for myself to harvest a turkey in each state. There are few things on this earth that I enjoy more than spring turkey hunting, so I am always excited for this annual trip. This year my original plan was to hunt North Carolina, Virginia, Kentucky, Ohio, Wyoming, and Oregon.
North Carolina has been one of those states where I seem to have a curse. Before this year, I had hunted it twice and, on both trips, I had failed to get a bird. Last year was the most frustrating due to the fact that I called in 12 jakes without ever seeing a mature tom. When I arrived at the farm that I was supposed to hunt on this year’s trip, I had high hopes of success. The first day looked much like all of my previous days in North Carolina, I spent the day listening and glassing with zero success. The one thing that bothered me on day one was that I not only didn’t hear or see any turkeys, I didn’t see any sign either. On the last day, I did call a bird in off of the roost but he hung up at around eighty yards and refused to come a step closer. As he was about to walk into the brush I tried a shot that I knew wasn’t going to work and I was right, it didn’t. Virginia would have to wait for next season as I had used up all of my allotted time in North Carolina. If I ever do get a gobbler in N.C., I am going to mount it.
From North Carolina, I drove to Kentucky to a small community called Gravel Switch. As I drove into this very rural area, I couldn’t help but notice that Kentucky is without question the most beautiful state in this country. Huge expanses of green hills mixed with gorgeous hardwood bottoms made the drive far more than pleasant. As I got within ten miles of my destination, I started seeing toms strutting out in the fields, which caused my expectations and excitement to go sky high. Upon arrival at the farm, I noticed the lodge we were staying in was one of the most unique buildings that I had ever seen. The owners of the property had found three Civil War era houses and joined them to make one lodge. Furthermore, they had done nothing to make the homes look new thus the house took antique to new levels. At first walk through, I was not impressed but after being there for a little while I began to realize just how unique and historical this place truly was. The wood used in the construction of these homes was vastly different than material used today. Every piece of wood used was huge and strong, the mortar between the giant timbers was just pushed in between the wood and left to drip down the sides. Nothing in the house as far as furniture was a day younger then a century which when combined with the house was remarkable. My first morning hunting, I was set up on the top of a high gorgeous hill over looking a hardwood creek. Right as the sun started changing the horizon’s color, I heard a gobble that I estimated to be around two hundred yards away. Within a half an hour, I had six different toms hammering away on their roost. At fly down, all but one of them had stopped gobbling and the one that still was, was around 150 yards away. I made some soft yelps at him and he answered. Just about that time, I heard a hen start cutting and yelping just below the hill but in the same direction as the tom. I cut back at her and she came running into my decoys. Once she saw my hen decoy, she started going crazy. She would cut at my decoy and purr loudly. This drove the tom insane and he gobbled every two seconds as he got closer. When the tom was about 60 or 70 yards away, the hen putted and flew away. I wondered what had happened and then I noticed some weekend warrior walking on top of a mowed hay field on the neighboring property. So much for my morning hunt. That afternoon, I elected to hunt the same area but further down the hill closer to where the five toms I had heard that morning. I sat in a pop-up with a jake and hen decoy out. Calling every thirty minutes or so everything was quiet until about 5:30PM. I heard a tom gobble at what I thought was about 100 yards away in the trees below my set up. I called again, and he answered so I just went totally silent. Five minutes passed when two hens walked into the field and came to my decoys. One of the hens was obviously a dominant old girl because she pecked and purred at my hen decoy for ten minutes straight. Finally, the tom poked his head up over the rise and walked in at full strut. I shot him at 32 yards as he turned to walk back down the hill. The lighting was perfect and made for some gorgeous colors as the sun reflected off of his iridescent breast feathers. This turned out to be the second longest spurs I had ever taken. He weighed 23.5 lbs., his beard was 11.5 inches long, and both spurs measured a remarkable 1.75 inches.
From Kentucky I drove straight to Ohio and met up with the outfitter that I was hunting with. In talking to him, I got directions on where to park my truck and how to walk to the area I was supposed to hunt. I looked the area over on Google Earth and saw that it was a field about four hundred yards across and roughly the same distance wide. I easily found the parking area and walked in well before daylight. As it started to get daylight, I had seven or more toms gobbling from 150 yards to almost out of hearing in every direction. The field was split by a narrow group of trees that I could easily see through. At fly down, nine hens and two jakes flew down into the field that I was in but a long way from where I was set up. The toms stayed back in the trees and gobbled their heads off for an hour or better before they decided to come into the field. By this time, there must have been twenty hens feeding in the field and the toms wanted to be right with them. I figured that around ten o’clock the hens would get tired of their love-struck company, so I sat tight and called sparingly. About 9:45, I started a series of excited cuts and yelps and watched four toms leave the group and start my way. It was a gorgeous sight watching them strut the entire way to me of about three hundred yards. When they arrived at the decoys, they slowly circled my jake and slapped it with their wings. I picked out the longest beard and he fell and never flopped. The other three toms took turns beating up on my gobbler until I had to stand up and run them away from it.
It took me two days to drive from Ohio to Wyoming where my next hunt would take place. I don’t know if you’ve ever been to Sheridan, WY during the springtime but if you haven’t you really should. The high distant mountains are still covered in snow and the lowlands are beautiful green. I spent a day before my hunt started driving around the Big Horn National Forest taking photographs. On my first morning, I rode with an old friend, Kelsey Gonzales, who knew the property that I had permission to be on. By 7AM, we hadn’t heard a gobble but found a flock of turkeys with one tom mixed in with jakes and hens. We moved into position and called to them, but the hens had their attention. Once again, we moved and called and this time the jakes walked by at a remarkably close range. The tom carried on up the hill with his hens. We tried several different set ups, but he wasn’t leaving his girls. As a last resort, Kelsey stayed back, and I followed them sneaking closer with cedar trees as cover. I got to within eighty yards and decided it was now or never. I aimed my shotgun a foot above the toms head and pulled the trigger. At first, I thought that I had missed because the bird took off running. He went at the most ten feet and fell dead. It is next to impossible to pull a tom like him off of his hens and that is especially true with so many jakes around.
North Carolina and Oregon won this year, but I will be back. It is always sad when the turkey tour ends because I truly love it so much. But, I have a ton of memories that’ll last a lifetime and great expectations for next year.