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.
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.
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!