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Let It Rain
July 2001
Ray Cernansky

"All the fountains of the great abyss burst forth, and the floodgates of the sky were spread."
  Genesis 8:11

It was around 11 AM on Friday April 27, 2001 (opening day), and I had just pulled into the area where I was to meet John Heffelfinger and his son Chip (who is a Flagstaff police officer) for my first spring turkey hunt when the heavens opened up and the rain and hail began. For the next 50 minutes I sat there and wondered why I subjected myself to such abuse. I had never before put in for the spring turkey hunts mainly because of the unpredictability of the weather. But since I am now retired and had no other major commitments, and because the season was a full month long, I assumed that I could get in some hunting time no matter what the weather. This was not, however, an auspicious beginning.

After the rains let up, I looked out the window and there were John and Chip. Even though they were parked not more than 100 yards from me, they were all but invisible to me during the downpour.

John had arrived the day before to do some scouting and Chip met him there for the opening morning hunt. I was a late arrival because the night before was the final night of my Thursday bowling league and, as team captain, I had to be there to pick up the team prize money. The plan was to meet at noon on Friday to pick a campsite and finalize the hunt strategies. While doing some exploring on Thursday, John managed to bury his brand new truck in the mud twice and had to expend $20 in quarters at a Flagstaff car wash to get it cleaned up. Based on John's experience and today's downpour we decided to camp right where we were rather than risking the dirt roads looking for a better campsite.

John and Chip had hunted in the morning and heard some gobbles but had not seen any turkeys. Between getting camp set up and the wet weather, no more hunting got done that day. The serious hunting would start the next day, weather permitting.

In addition to my regular hunting outfit (including full camo), my turkey hunt equipment included a Remington 870 pump action 12-gauge shotgun that my daughter had foolishly stored in one of my gun cabinets. I commandeered it, gave it a camo tape job, installed an H.S. Strut Undertaker Super Full Turkey Choke Tube, Total Super Sling 2 and a set of Tru Glo Magnum Gobble-Dot fiber optic shotgun sights. Ammo was Winchester Supreme XX-Turkey 3 inch shells throwing 2 ounces of #4 shot. This combination put approximately 50% of the pellets in the large (10" diameter) circle on the NWTF official World Wild Turkey Still Target at 30 yards. The bulk of the pellets impacted slightly above the center of the circle. I had a borrowed homemade wingbone call; a M.A.D. Calls slate with multiple strikers and an H.S. Strut push button yelper.

We were hunting in Unit 5B South, just south of Happy Jack. This is the same area we have been archery elk hunting for the last 10 years or so. Last September we found a spot with a lot of droppings and feathers on the ground that we assumed was a roost area. This roost area was to be our starting point for this hunt.

John and I have been hunting together for about 30 years and pretty much know what the other is going to do in the field. We usually let each other know the general area where we intend to hunt and then go off on our own. We are both "still" hunters. That is, we like to slowly pussy foot through the woods as opposed to hunting from stands. We usually hunt hard from early in the AM until mid morning. We then make our way back to camp for lunch and rest/camp chores. Most days we go out again for the late afternoon/evening hunt until shooting light gives out.

Since this was to be my first real turkey hunt (the only other times I had turkey tags were during archery deer or elk hunts) I really didn't know much about the turkey's habits. What time did they get up in the morning? When did they leave the roost? Where did they roost? What did they do in the middle of the day? What time did they go to roost in the evening? Etc., etc. Unfortunately I found that most of the instructional tapes and TV programs tend to deal with calling techniques and assume the watcher knows the basics. Some magazine articles are a little better but still leave a lot to be desired from the tyro's point of view. Oh well, I was here to learn.

SATURDAY
The rain had stopped and we were walking to our hunting spots before the sun came up. Crossing the first ridge out of camp I started hearing some far off gobbles but nothing close and nobody returned my calls. Down in the valley I finally saw a hen. She was on the move about 150 yards out and heading up the hill where I had just come from. That was it for the day. Opening day of the hunt was pretty much of a bust. John and Chip were in the same boat, heard some gobbles but didn't see any birds. Unfortunately this was also Chip's last day for this hunt. He was working the night shift and could not get away for the rest of the week.

SUNDAY
Another early morning. This morning we saw a herd of about a dozen elk feeding on the power line road as we were walking to the place where we entered the woods. (Query - why don't elk feed on the roads during elk season????). Other than these elk, the only animals I saw all day were a couple of does. I did get two turkeys to respond to my calls near the roost area midmorning but I never saw them. I assumed these were what I termed "shock" gobbles i.e. instinctive reactions to a noise which the turkeys made before they had time to think about it. After the initial response, neither turkey made another sound.

MONDAY
Off again at 0 dark hundred. This morning when I got to within 100 yards of where I had seen the hen on Saturday, I heard a coyote yipping and several gobbles. I headed toward the noise and shortly spotted 2 toms break out of the brush in front of me. They were headed up the hill on a dead run. Unfortunately they never got any closer than 75 - 80 yards. I knew I couldn't keep up with them so I decided to continue on to the area where I had heard the coyote. Within 5 minutes, I spotted the coyote which caused the turkey's exodus. The coyote also spotted me and decided it was time to leave the area. While he was watching me he almost ran over John who had also heard the commotion and was approaching from a different direction. As luck would have it, this was the one day that John had elected not to carry his .22 pistol. So much for the morning hunt. That afternoon I sat a tank. Saw a nice pair of mallards and several doe but no more turkey.

TUESDAY
The elk were out again this morning. Today we saw several herds on the power line. One herd had several bulls in it. Tried some new areas behind camp but no luck. Bummer of a day.

WEDNESDAY
This was to be my last day of this hunt because of a previous commitment in Phoenix the next day. I had already decided to go back to the same area where I saw the hen on Saturday and the 2 toms on Monday. My plan was to plant my butt under a pine tree and sit out the morning. No wandering around today. Shortly after sitting down I spotted a herd of elk 150 yards out and was watching them when I saw movement out of the corner of my eye. Looking around I saw a turkey coming down the hill approximately 80 yards to my right. I was sure that I could see a beard but no matter what I tried I could not get a response to my pathetic attempts to sound like a horny hen.

After about 15 minutes he finally wandered out of sight without ever getting any closer than 75 yards. When I started looking around again I saw another herd of elk watching me watch the turkey. (Do elk get a copy of the hunt regulations? Do they know when it's elk season?). Oh well, I was here for the entire morning.

After a while I started calling again. I was using the wingbone call because it had the most volume when I heard a far off response. I kept calling and he kept responding. It was clear that the responses were getting closer. All of a sudden there he was about 150 yards out.

By this time I was on the slate and he was still responding. He would strut, fan his tail, gobble, come forward another 10 yards or so and wait for me to call again. Once I spotted him, I started using the yelper because I only needed one hand to operate it. The shotgun was up on my knee and I was in the perfect position, the bird was walking directly at me.

I called, watched, waited, and called some more until the tom was about 35 yards out. He still hadn't seen me and I thought I could get him closer but decided that he was well within range based on my pre-season sight in. I pulled the trigger and the tom flopped and dropped.

He did not expire immediately but the point of my knife in the back of his skull ended it quickly. I tagged him and hiked back to camp for the field dressing. John got back to camp just as I was finishing the cleaning. After taking some pictures we put the tom in an ice chest and broke camp.

The next stop was Verde Valley Taxidermy in Camp Verde. I left the wings, tail and beard for a shield mount and bundled the rest off to home for butchering. I contemplated plucking the bird for roasting but finally decided that skinning was the way to go. During the skinning/butchering I noticed that all pellets had hit either the head or neck. There were no hits in the breast area or legs. Half of the boned breast went to John and half is still in my freezer. The neck, back, thighs and drumsticks were cooked by various methods and thoroughly enjoyed.

All told it was a good learning experience with a lot of beginners luck thrown in (several people have told me they don't always come to the call so easily). Needless to say I'll be putting in for more spring turkey hunts in the future. Let it rain!

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