While I was on a birding adventure in Arizona with my wife, my friend Harry Vanderweide kept me posted on his turkey hunting adventures. Most of you probably know Harry as one of Maine’s most admired outdoor writers and advocates. For many years he was the editor of The Maine Sportsman, and also has his own TV show, Northeast Outdoors. He also cohosted Wildfire with me for 13 years. And he was one of the founders of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine.
Harry has had a terrible battle with Lyme disease for the past 5 years, but he just doesn’t give up. He’s still hunting and fishing, although not with as much energy as he once had. He’s now hunting with a crossbow and I want to share two of his very entertaining stories with you today.
Harry’s turkey hunts
Started out looking bad at the blueberry farm. Parked over by where the horses live and did some mighty fine owl hooting, even if I have to say so. Not a gobble anywhere, dang it! I spent some time attempting to figure out how to carry both the crossbow and the decoys at same time. Couldn’t make it work, so took just the crossbow. Started walking the road to the farmer’s house, calling as I went. Went a couple hundred yards and got an answer from the hill behind me. Started to backtrack and when I called again the bird on the hill gobbled again. A minute or two later, more gobbles came from the direction of the blueberries.
Determined to try for both, I hustled down the snowmobile trail that starts at the field where we park. Got to where I thought I was between the two birds and hunkered beside a tree for cover. Once I had the crossbow locked and loaded, I settled and started yelping. Lusty replies came from both directions.
Finally, a whopper gobbler stepped into the opening at the start of the snowmobile trail, quickly followed by five more, mostly jakes. I upped the tempo and volume of my calling and Big Bird started slowly toward me, his progress slowed by unruly mob behind him. Apparently the boys were still working on their pecking order, so there was cackling, wing-flapping and jumping at each other.
The birds had only gotten a short distance toward me when two more gobblers, having come down from the hill, popped into the opening at the start of the snowmobile trail. In a trice, the two groups merged and followed their leader toward me. It was looking good because every time I yelped, they answered, sometimes all eight of them. Such a racket!
I teased them to 50 yards or so and they hung. And stayed hung. Prancing and dancing nervously. It’s damned near impossible to fool the visual acuity of 16 turkey eyes. I am however certain that if I had managed to set my decoys, they never would have noticed me. Dang-it-all!
After they departed, I simply sat for a while, drinking in the morning’s gentle breezes and mellow sunshine. Finally I gave some half-hearted yelps and damned if I didn’t get an answer from yet another gobbler. He was fairly close, but wouldn’t come. Probably henned-up.
Then it got quiet, if you don’t count sporadic cawing and twitters. I started walking toward the blueberries. Before I got there two more answered me. One was a walking tom and soon out of hearing. The other no doubt was entranced by a sultry hen and would not come. Once at the berries, two more prowling toms gobbled at me, but only from afar. I discovered I was both weary and ecstatic and that was more than enough for the morning.
Add in the sprouting acorns every few feet, hens digging up acres of leaves and super abundant deer sign and it’s easy to predict many happy hunts ahead.
Walked the trail behind Amanda’s house well before dawn. Happily I figured how to tote both the decoys and the crossbow. Very happy. Hooting efforts were ignored. When the light reached fly-down time, switched to calling. Got all the way to the giant field where there were three deer, but no gobblers.
Finally, I heard a gobble long way off. I called. He answered. Was hot and coming on a straight line. I put out my decoys in the field. I set up my crossbow on a bipod aimed at the direction where turkey answered every yelp. A convenient rock was a comfy seat. The turkey was supposed to come out of the woods into the field to my right, the only direction I could shoot in because of the bipod.
The critter came out about 50 yards to my left. Rats! He was lazered onto my decoys. He shrieked out gobbles and puffed up like a Macy’s parade balloon. He high-stepped and thrummed his breast. His beard thick and long, his white, red and blue head gleamed in the morning sunshine. He was breathtaking and just 20 yards away. It was a gimme shot if he would just move 10 yards to the right. After ten minutes of huffing and puffing, something clicked in his tiny cerebellum. He appeared gob-smacked, but knew enough to slink away to the left.
I was gob-smacked too, as I watched him ease on down the field. It was stupendous and more than made the day. I packed the decoys in their sack and slung the crossbow on my shoulder and headed back down the trail toward my vehicle.
It now was 7:30. Somebody must have rung the turkey bell. Four gobblers in four different locations sounded off. No time for decoys, one bird was close. No time to set the tripod either. I snuggled against a stout pine for cover and worked the call. Turkey Number One, the closest, gobbled plenty, all the while walking away. Number Two, on my right, simply stopped answering. I suspect numbers Three and Four were henned-up and she took them away.
Drat! Silence again. But you never know, so I yelped again. A most convincing reply sounded, less than a hundred yards away. It was Number Two and he was free-gobbling, strutting down the woods road to my right. His noise made it easy to follow his travel line and predict where he would appear through the brush. The crossbow stock went to my shoulder and the scope to my eye.
There he was. A step or two more and I’d have a clear shot. He took them. Blang! went the crossbow. Smack! went the arrow. Down! went the turkey, shot clear through. He couldn’t fly and he couldn’t run, but he could scuttle, so away he went down the hill and along the brook, quickly out of sight.
If a shot tom runs or scuttles off from you there’s only one rule: get up fast and run after him. The problem is that gentlemen of my vintage don’t do anything quickly and, at breathable only a vague notion of what running entails. I searched and searched. Turkeys do not leave blood trails. There’s no doubt Number Two is dead.
You may have noticed these hunts involved a lot of walking. This is due to two wonderful developments: 1. Riding my new splendiforous ebike is significantly improving both my leg strength and stamina; 2. My Lyme is slowly being beaten. There still is a ways to go, but I’m definitely headed that way. – Harry