Birds or Small Game

Outsmarted by a Bird – My Failed Turkey Hunt

They say there is a lesson in every experience.  A silver lining in every cloud.  Well, I’ve learned that I can be outsmarted by a bird!

I attempted my first spring turkey hunt in Colorado this year. I’ve never hunted turkeys before and I was excited to try it out.  However, I must admit I was a bit uncertain going into it.  The combination of not knowing where to hunt and the fact that I had never actually seen a wild turkey in Colorado didn’t bode well for my success.

A little research didn’t make me feel any better.  The average success rate of turkey hunting in Colorado appears to be under 25%.  I was also hunting public land and I did not have the opportunity to do much scouting beforehand.

Turkey Hunting in Colorado
Turkey Hunting in Colorado

Well, in the course of the season from April 9th to May 22nd, I was able to go out in search of the elusive Colorado Merriam Turkey.  My first couple trips got snowed out with your typical April Colorado weather, but then on 6 different occasions I was able to get out into the woods.  In all I hiked about 20 miles at 7 different locations.  The first 5 locations were all very disappointing.  I did find some nice elk sheds at one location (see that story here), but I had yet to even hear a turkey…. much less see one.  I was beginning to think that I wouldn’t even find them this season.

After my 5th try out, I spend some more time looking at maps.  I spent time on google earth looking for national forest land that was fairly remote and wouldn’t have a lot of recreational activity.  Springtime in Colorado brings out the hikers, bikers, and motorcycle enthusiasts. I eventually found a spot that looked a bit interesting and I decided to give it a try.

I headed out Thursday evening and was able to get permission to park my car on some private property at the base of where I wanted to head up.  I spoke with a renter on the property who said I could hike up the mountain, but he warned me that he hadn’t seen any turkeys up that way.  Encouraging I know, but I decided to try it out anyways.

The first 2 miles were pretty typical….no sign, no sound, no turkeys. I had decided to turn around right at 7:00 pm so that I could make it back before dark and, as it happened, right at 7:00 I found myself on a small plateau near the top on the ridge.  I decided I had time to go just a few more minutes before turning around and so I keep going just a bit further.

Not two minutes later a gobble suddenly broke the silence off to my right!  It was the first one I had heard all spring and it was close!  Talk about exciting.

At this point, I’m embarrassed to say that I panicked a bit.  Not in a horrible way, just enough to be stupid.  I took my pack off and quickly put on my face-mask.  It was the kind I had to pull over my head, and so I removed my glasses quickly and set them off to the side and pulled on the mask.  I grabbed my shotgun and hen call and quickly scurried over 20 feet or so to the base of a large tree and settled in.

Well, the next 20 minutes were very exciting.   I would hen call and the turkey would immediately gobble back. I could tell it was getting closer and he was very talkative.  It was rare for him to go longer than a couple of minutes without gobbling.

As I sat there however, my stupidity started to sink in.  In my panicked rush, I had sat down under a tree where my visibility was extremely hindered.   The direction from where the tom was calling was blocked by a number of big trees that gave me very limited visibility.  I didn’t want to move again with not knowing how close he was, but I also was not in the position to see him any time soon.

About 25 minutes after the first gobble, I was caught.  I think the tom spotted me and realized I wasn’t a cute little hen.  I heard a rush of feathers and the tom booked it out of there.  I waited for a bit and called again, but the tom had seen enough and was gone.

I was disappointed, but still excited for my first encounter.  I grabbed my bag and headed back down the hill.

About ½ mile back down, the full weight of my stupidity hit me.  I had left my glasses up at the top of the hill.  In my rush and excitement, I had taken them off and put them aside and completely forgot about them.  I ran back up the hill to the spot and searched till dark.  No glasses.

Searching for Colorado Turkey
Searching for Colorado Turkey

I headed back up to the same area Saturday morning.  It was my last opportunity to hunt, but at least I knew where they were.  Right before light I came to a large open meadow and settled down on the edge.  I had brought a strutting tom decoy that I set out a little into the field.   Suddenly a gobble from just off to my left let me know I was not alone.  I gave a little hen call but nothing else came.

About 10 minutes later I saw my first Colorado turkeys.  They were on the other side of the meadow about 150 yards away.  I could see they were two hens and I heard then yelping away as they moved up the hillside.    Continuing with the bad luck I then heard a gobble….not from where I was at, but from the top of the ridge.  Before I knew it those the two hens join up with a tom at the top of the meadow and walked over the ridge and out of sight.  I never saw them again.

I waited a while in my spot to see if anything showed up, but then I headed over the ridge to try and locate them again.   I looked for my glasses some more…. still no luck.   The rest of the day I didn’t hear a single gobble and never located them again.

They say experience is the best teacher.  I think I learned a lot this season.  I didn’t get a turkey this year, but I wouldn’t say my hunt was a failure.  I learned a lot about turkeys and I enjoyed the opportunity to get out and hunt them.  I look forward to next spring and I feel the experience from this year will help me next time!

I also learned to keep my head when I finally hear that gobble.  Make sure I’m set up in a good place with proper visibility and let them come to me.  I know I have a lot still to learn, but I’m excited for the opportunity.

Oh, and I also learned that I need to keep a hold on my glasses!

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