On Wednesday morning I was guided on my first wild turkey hunt by wildlife biologist, professor and my African travel partner Dr. Harold Prince, and his son Dan, who's a MDNR Conservation Officer. Dan and Hal had both harvested their turkeys for the spring on Monday morning. Hal commented that the spot he was taking me to was one that he hadn't hunted for spring gobblers in a couple years and that there should be some big birds around.
Wednesday morning was rainy overcast morning. I met Hal and Dan at 4:45 am and we drove just a couple miles south of Okemos, MI (near Lansing) to a local farm that Hal has exclusive hunting rights to. Hal commented that he really liked hunting turkeys in the kind of weather we were experiencing that morning. After parking and loading-up our gear, we headed south out across an open unplowed field. We walked about 300-400 yds until we came to a tree line. We stopped for a second. Hal said that the turkeys in the area roosted throughout the woodlot and that we needed to be as quite as possible and walk in single file. We then continued south into the woodlot another couple hundred yards, crossing a small ankle-deep stream, having to climb about 10 feet up the south-side stream bank, and followed deer trails until we came to a small opening in the woods. Hal commented that he and Dan had killed a couple hens from this spot the previous fall. There were several deer trails that crossed this area.
While Hal put out 2 sets of hen and jake decoys, Dan set up a pop-up blind. The blind was set on the western edge of the opening with the back against a large tree, facing the decoys to the east. All 3 of us set up our little camp chairs in the blind and got set, Hal sat to my right and Dan to my left. The blind was open to the east facing the decoys, as well as to the north and south. I believe everything was set up and were in the blind and ready by 5:30 am.
Because of the rainy overcast morning, the morning light was very slow coming up. The rain was fairly steady and made a lot of noise on the blind. At about 6:15 Dan started puttin' and purrin' on a slate call. The air was moist enough that it made using the slate call difficult, and he switched to a push-button box call after a while. At times Hal and Dan, called in tandem with their push-button box calls. I was eagerly waiting for a Tom to start gobbling from the roost, but we heard nothing. Every ten minutes or so Dan or Hal and Dan would call, but we heard nothing but the rain hitting the blind. Unfortunately, with no activity my need for sleep kicked in and I nodded off a couple times.
7:00 am came and the only thing we'd heard were a few robins. By this time on Monday, Hal and Dan had both harvested their double and were on their way home. Dan was getting a bit ancy. We checked around the blind and saw nothing, so Dan stepped out drained his bladder and Hal and I stretched. Dan adjusted the decoys and we got back in the blind. Hal said that we were going to give it another hour or so. The weather was really crappy and we were all starting to loose hope.
Again, Hal and Dan continued to call every 10 minutes or so. Hal had unzipped the blind flap to our backs just a bit and kept checking the area behind us. I tried to sit there quietly and scan from left to right. 7:30 am came and went. We continued our routine of calling and scanning. And we still had not heard a putt, pir, gobble, nothing!
At about 7:45 am, I remember Hal was straining to his right to look through the little unzipped opening behind us (over my left shoulder). I just happened to scan to my left past Hal and right in the middle of blind window to the north was largest fricken TOM turkey I had ever seen. I think the first thing I said to myself was HOLY SHIT!!! He was no more than 10 yards from the blind. His head was absolutely white and he was all puffed up. He seemed to fill up nearly half of the blind window. He was an AWESOME sight. It appears that he came down a deer trail from the northwest. From the direction he came, he'd had a long unobstructed view of the decoys and he was bee-lining for the jakes. All the calling that Hal and Dan had done must have gotten his attention, but he came in silent. We never ever heard him. I tapped Hal on the leg and whispered "don't move - he's right there" pointing to the left. Dan said he remembers his dad saying "ut-oh" just after I said don't move, which I guess is Hal's standard phrase for "here we go boys"! As I said, the TOM was really fixated on the decoys. I had hoped to get the full show with gobbling, tails fanned and wings scraping on the ground, but got none of that. He wanted to kick the shit out the jakes and was headed their way at a pretty fast walk. When Mr. TOM walked behind the northeast corner of the blind where my view was obstructed and I couldn't see him and I hoped he couldn't see me, I raised my new Benelli M2 12 ga to my shoulder behind the obstructed view, pointing it towards where Mr. TOM should be and took the safety off. I leaned slightly to my right and peered around the corner of the blind and Mr. TOM was preoccupied with the decoys. We probably could have danced around in the blind and he wouldn't have realized we were there. He was now about 15 yards from the blind. I moved the Benelli about 6 inches to the right from behind the corner of the blind and put the bead right on Mr. TOM's noggin. I really wanted to watch him for a while and see what he was going to do, but I wasn't about to muck this up. I didn't wait long and pulled the trigger, letting him have a load of 3" 12 ga. #5 shot Winchester Supreme High Velocity Turkey Loads. The full choke patterned true and Mr. TOM dropped in his tracks. It was all over in a flash. From the point in time when I first saw Mr. TOM in the blind window to the time the Benelli did it's job, was all of about 1 minute.
We unzipped the blind and high-fived, and I think I must have said several very excited swear words. Dan was the first person to the bird and was absolutely gitty. "This bird is huge!" "It's a Godzilla bird!" "Oh my god it's a double bearded bird!" "NO IT'S GOT 3, NO FOUR BEARDS" "HOLY SHIT ITS GOT FOUR BEARDS!!!" "THIS IS A GODZILLA BIRD!!" "I think this is a record book turkey!!" I thought he was over exaggerating, but I really should have taken him more seriously. We stood around for a while in the rain, just in awe of this awesome bird. I think Dan called a couple of his buddies to tell them about our prize. We then packed everything up and headed back to the car. The bird was really heavy and it took two hands on the legs with the bird over my shoulder to carry it out.
We took some pics at the vehicle and headed for Cracker Barrel for breakfast. After breakfast Dan headed home and Hal and I headed back to his house to process the bird. Unfortunately, Hal isn't much into trophy turkeys and I didn't realize what we had. We really should have gone to a certified scale and got the bird weighed, but we didn't. We weighed the bird in Hal's garage using one of his research scales. I held the scale and bird up, and Hal read the scale. 11.5 kg he said, which equated to 25.35 lbs. A HUGE bird! We processed the bird and it now resides in my freezer.
Dan called Hal later and wanted to know what the beard lengths and spur lengths were. He thought we could get this bird recorded. Measurements were: beard 1 - 10 1/16", beard 2 - 9 3/8", beard 3 - 9 1/16", beard 4 - 6 15/16", and both spurs were 1 1/8" long. Turns out a 4 bearded bird is fairly rare. NO Path Walker there are no feathers splitting a beard, making it seem like separate beards. There are FOUR separate beard follicles and FOUR distinct beards. Well after checking out the turkey records on the NWTF web site and plugging in all these measurements, my turkey would score 118.6875. Turns out that this is 3rd highest score for a turkey EVER harvested in Michigan!! HOLY SHIT - my first turkey is a record book turkey. My Benelli's first kill is a record book turkey!! The #3 bird in Michigan!! Unbelievable!!
Well the weight issue has come back to haunt us a bit. For the records books, NWTF requires that any bird over 22 lbs must be weighed on a certified scale. Since my bird weighed over 22 pounds and we didn't a have certified scale, it looked like no one but Hal, Dan and I would know what we took that day. But, after talking with the folks at NWTF about the situation it sounds like they will accept the measurements since the weight was taken on a research scale, Dan and Hal are both willing to sign their names in blood vouching for the measurements, and the fact that Hal is a wildlife biologist and Dan is a Conservation Officer. It's going to take a month or so, a fair bit of paperwork and $50, but we should be able to get this bird officially recorded as the #3 turkey ever taken in Michigan. Not that I'm a huge trophy game guy, it's still pretty damn cool!!
So there's the tale. I look forward to eating my first turkey later on this summer. And, I hope we'll all be able to see this bird receive the record status it deserves with the NWTF. I'll keep you posted.