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I’m obsessed with my trail cameras and run them year ‘round, catching everything from rutting bucks to sneaky coyotes and hungry bears. Turkey season keeps me busy in the spring and I buy tags for as many weeks as possible to keep an excuse to be out there! My favorite part of the hunt is calling, and I enjoy calling turkey in the spring, coyotes in the winter, and deer in the rut. I recently started a trapline and have snares set for fox and coyotes.

Blizzard Ghost Bird

The Blizzard Ghost Bird
By: Skye Goode

May???? REALLY!

May???? REALLY!

The fourth week of the 2013 spring turkey season proved to be tougher than I imagined. A May blizzard blew through the Midwest, dumping eight inches of snow on the ground. Strut marks were now seen in the white instead of the mud. Temperatures dropped to single digits and I had already packed away my cold weather gear. Turkey hunting was very new to me, as my family had not brought me up on it, but I had picked up a few tips from just being in the outdoors all my life. I conversed with the best turkey hunter I’ve come to know, Bill, who suggested that I buy turkey loads for my season. I told Bill that “I don’t buy into the hype of it all” and my coffee can full of random shotgun shells, mostly target loads, would do just fine for bagging my birds this year. He rolled his eyes, knowing that you can’t infiltrate stubbornness.

1456581_10151804833797881_978342171_nMy time was limited to fill a tag, so I headed out into the woods one cold morning, not expecting to have any action with the heavy snowfall. I had killed one bird the week before, a Jake, in a different county, and had been with my cousin who was calling for me. This time, I went out on my own, and decided to give it a try solo. I sat in my favorite spot in these woods; a depression in the earth next to a huge fallen pine that created a natural blind and shooting rest. The spot was nestled just below an oak ridge and cornfield, and was the main runway for birds and deer headed down below to the creek bottom for water. I put out a single hen decoy about 15 yards in front of me, and hunkered down behind the pine. I sat for just a few minutes and began yelping on my mouth call; very simple calls for a novice turkey hunter. Within minutes, a dominate hen began responding to my calls but was not on the move. She sounded just below the ridgeline, and I had pinpointed that she was already down in the creek bottom, just out of sight from where I was sitting. As I continued yelling and purring, I heard thunder strike! A mature gobbler answered me back, and was closer than I thought the hen originally was. I looked towards the creek bottom and sprinting up from the hill was a puffed out mature Tom, laboring to make it up the ridge in the deep snow, while trying to keep his composure and strutting form to impress my hen decoy. Once he arrived at the top of the ridgeline, he was about 60 yards out. He was still barreling towards my hen decoy, (15 yards in front of me remember), and did not have any hesitation in his step.

I have hunted all my life. Before this hunt, I had spent countless hours in the woods hunting deer. The fall before, I took a black bear with my bow. I considered myself the greatest hunter to ever set foot in the woods of Wisconsin. My ego was bigger than this bird’s strut. Even though this gobbler was b-lining straight for my decoy, I panicked and put the 12 gauge bead right on his neck, and pulled the trigger. For a split second, I had hunter’s adrenaline pump through my veins thinking, “I nailed him!” I then watched the gobbler stop dead in his tracks and stand there, still in full strut. As if in slow motion, I watched the wad, the load of lead, and the smoke from the gun pour out. BB’s seemed to bounce right off his chest and he didn’t do the flop I was expecting. I pumped another round into the chamber and fired again. Nothing. But this bird did not fly off. Much like a rutting buck, he was so focused on the hen that he did not acknowledge he was being shot at. I fired my last shell at him, at which time he retreated back down the ridge.

164915_10151467591427881_1769779455_nI sat there confused. All the turkey kills I’ve witnessed before, there was floppage. I didn’t expect to have to do a track job on a turkey. I walked over to the sight, empty gun, and checked out the spot, evident by feathers and strut marks. There were feathers, tracks, some blood spots, but no bird. I was baffled. I walked a little farther off the ridge and looked down into the creek bottom below.

There was my gobbler. Standing, with one leg tucked into his body, seemingly asleep already. He was surrounded by three other Toms, a few Jakes, and five hens. The whole flock was resting in the creek bottom and had not spooked, even with my three rounds fired off right above their heads. Was it the heavy snow and cold temps that was keeping them there? I wasn’t sure at that moment. All I knew is I still had a tag burning a hole in my pocket, and several hours of hunting light left. But no bird was going to die today if I didn’t go get more ammunition. So I snuck back up the ridge and scurried off to the truck, trying to run as fast as I could in hunting boots, deep snow, and wielding a heavy shotgun. After spanning 40 acres downhill, retrieving another handful of 7-shot sport loads, I repeated the course, this time uphill, back to the waiting flock.

934608_10151469751857881_298198829_nHuffing and puffing and drenched in sweat, I finally made it back to the ridgeline and belly-crawled over the edge to see the flock still waiting for me below. They were on a steep decline, and I estimated the range to be about 45 yards. I shook my head knowing that Bill was right; I should have been hunting with turkey loads. I knew that the edge was the closest I was going to get to the flock, so I whistled two more rounds my big gobbler, knowing I wouldn’t watch him flop. This time my shots spooked the flock and they all busted into flight towards the swamp.I knew I had made a huge mistake. I felt humbled and defeated. At the time, all I could do was swear and curse and kicked myself for acting like a 12 year old out for their first hunt. I hung my head low and walked back to the truck, empty tag still in my pocket, and my gun hot and smoking from firing more rounds in that hour than it had in the last year.

229697_10151469835692881_1712520133_nThe next day, I was able to sneak out for a few hours in the afternoon before the fly up. The snow had melted by a few inches, but there was still a white layer covering the woods. Before this outing though, I went to the local sporting goods store and bought myself a box of heavy turkey loads. I sat in the same spot that my ghost bird conquered me at the morning before. Setting up my feeder hen decoy in the same area, I began yelping. Within a half hour, more dominate hens started responding and eventually I saw them walking my way from the North, about 125 yards. Once they got closer, within 40 yards, I had to remain frozen, as I was simply laying up against a tree without much cover. Hens and Jakes circled behind me, and all I could do was listen and watched through my peripheral vision.

I saw two lone Toms hanging back over 100 yards, hunkered over like gargoyles, not interested in coming close at all. The lead hen walked right up to my decoy and began putt-purring hard, now within 8 yards. She was nervous and alarmed, checking out this blob of camouflage then going back to the decoy. Behind me, there were a few other birds, all within 10 yards, directly at my backside. Suddenly, I heard wing feathers hit the ground and the spit and drum of a strutting bird on my shoulders.

At this point, the curious hen was staring directly at me and turning to put a bead on the bird behind me seemed impossible. I decided it was do or die, so I took my safety off, spun around on one knee, and the flock took flight! I put my bead on the last male bird I spotted and pulled the trigger. I knocked down a heavy Jake and dropped him at 12 yards in flight.

229643_10151469835427881_1104300501_nI learned a lot about myself in that turkey season. I was not the Annie Oakley I had thought myself to be. I had made a crucial mistake while hunting; I ignored the advice of a seasoned hunter and thought I knew best. I missed out on bagging a trophy limbhanger, all because I was too stubborn to admit I was wrong. Though I was fortunate enough to fill a tag that week, a feat that most turkey hunters in Wisconsin were not able to complete due to the blizzard, I still fell short on getting a longbeard that season.

This year, I have stocked up on turkey loads, replaced my factory choke with a turkey choke, and plan to wait until a bird is practically fornicating with my decoy to take the shot. Lessons learned often shape future opportunities, and that May blizzard turkey hunt is one to never be forgotten.


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