Green Grass and Gobblers mean Springtime Sport for Turkey Hunters
By Gary Lewis
Pointing the truck west we raced dawn's blush toward the Umpqua River valley. It would be the first turkey hunt for my friend Dana and myself.
With no experience hunting these birds we needed all the help we could get. I bought a call that I could operate without enrolling in a turkey as a second language course. It was a spring loaded box with which I could imitate the essential turkey sounds: hen putts, purrs, yelps, clucks and cutting.
Conventional wisdom says that wild turkeys are a difficult hunt and a chance at taking a hard-hunted gobbler is about as tall as a two-day pullet.
But we spotted one as soon as we pulled off the paved road.
In fact, they were all around us. A quick gobble-obble-obble had them talking back. We could see a turkey in the far pasture and a flock up in the apple orchard.
It was easy to see why there were so many birds. Choice edge habitat had congregated the turkeys in this spot. There was water here and fruit trees and brushy fence rows. Mossy oak trees on the hillsides and tall-grass pasture.
We stretched our legs, cramped from the long drive. Dana made the introductions and there was talk of family and friends and past hunts. But there were turkeys to hunt and soon we were uncasing long guns and shading our eyes as we looked across the fields.
I thumbed number fours into the steel tubes of my old shotgun and closed the action, checking the safety. We moved down off the hill toward the creekbed and headed toward the edge of the trees. There were birds ahead of us in the tall grass and we could keep track of them as they worked ahead over the uneven ground. Now it was just a matter of closing the distance to under fifty yards.
The birds stopped along the creek where the ground sloped away and using available cover we closed the distance.
From where we crouched, we could see a few birds. I estimated the range and took out my call.
I worked it, sliding the paddle back and forth. Putt, putt, putt. The closest birds were thirty five yards away. They swiveled their heads to look. Putt, putt, putt. A gobbler puffed out his chest and fanned his tail, strutting a few paces. They looked my way and walked back and forth, refusing to come any closer. I decided to take the strutting tom, but there were two more standing with him and I had to wait until they moved.
Just their heads and the tail of the fanned-out tom were visible above the grass. They were too close together for a shot. But turkeys don't stand still for long and soon just the one I wanted was visible, sunlight glistening in his plumage, bringing out the browns, purples and iridescent green in his feathers. I settled the stock of my old double gun into my shoulder, sighted along the barrel, slipped the safety to fire and eased the trigger back, feeling the recoil in my shoulder. My first turkey was down.
Dana followed the retreating flock up the side of a hill through the poison oak and thistles to come out on top on an old logging road. Two went one way while the one he was after went another. I heard the thump of the twelve gauge and waited to see if he'd be carrying one when he came back down.
There was a big smile on his face and a seventeen pound tom turkey hanging by its feet.
We laid them side by side. Mine was a younger bird, a Rio Grande gobbler, with a four inch beard. Dana's had inch long spurs and an eight inch beard.
Turkeys can be hunted locally or hunters can head north to White River, over to Roseburg or east to the Ochocos and the breaks of the John Day. The season runs through the 31st of May. Hunters can take one male turkey a day for a total of two for the season. A third, a bonus tag, is available for hunters in certain counties. Tags can be purchased throughout the season.
There is still a little meat left for sandwiches. I'll have my bird's tailfeathers and wings mounted on the wall above my desk. It will make a nice memento of a warm spring day when the turkeys were gobbling in the tall grass. But I'll treasure most the memory of those hours spent with a good friend and the new friends who were kind enough to grant us the privilege to spend some time on their land.