Friday, April 22, 2011

Time Off

    Second week of the season found us out hunting the east slopes of the Cascade Range again. The weather forecast was still frigid in the morning, around 30 degrees and windy with a light snow. After leaving work a little early that day I arrived at the ranch that we were going to hunt again around 12:30 in the afternoon, the wind was still blowing hard but it had warmed up to about 45 degrees now and the skys were starting to clear. Jim Schill still had work to do around the ranch but would join me later if he could or hunt the next morning. I of course was ready to head out and see if I could find a lonesome gobbler up on the ridges.
    Grabbing my vest and shotgun I headed across the ranch to an area that we had seen and heard several gobblers on previous outings.These particular gobblers have a pretty reliable routine right now of flying down in the morning, chasing the hens around the fields for a couple hours and then start working their way up to the ridges and eventually back to where they roost. Mid afternoon should find them part way up these ridges and/or on top. I started part way up the side of the ridge along an old logging road. About 15 minutes into the hunt I noticed a bright red speck part way up the open hill side. Checking it out further with the binoculars I could see there was a bachelor group of about 5 toms feeding and dusting right there. They were about 80 yards from me and up about 20ft higher, only a couple small pine trees separated us with just the edge of the cat trail for me to hide in, which was only about 2 feet high. I decided I would try and get closer by belly crawling along the edge of the cat trail but as soon as I started to crawl my box call rubbed in my vest and made what was basicly a loud putt! I peeked up over the edge and saw that at least one tom was checking out the sound. I got as low as I could, shed the vest and continued snake crawling for about 10 minutes along the trail and got about 40 or 50 yards closer. I took another look over the edge and saw all 5 birds were slowly working away from me. One bird was about 40 yards from me now and looking, I decided to take the shot, raised up on my knees and fired. A clean miss! Birds gobbled and took flight up the ridge! Twenty five minutes from the truck and already missed my first tom.
    I began to second guess if maybe I should have tried to set up and call them but I kept telling myself they would have busted me getting set up or any number of other excuses but thats hunting, we win or lose by those decisions. That time they won.
   So after notching that situation up to experience I decided to go pick up my vest and head in another direction to where we had seen birds on the opener. About 15 minutes of climbing up the ridge I reached the top of a saddle that faded down to the open meadows where the birds normally flew down to in the morning. As I crested the saddle some movement caught my eye as 2 mature toms hurried up the hill. Right behind them were 4 or 5 more birds, mostly toms again. I drew a bead on a bright red white head and squeezed the trigger. The tom hit the ground and never moved, not a flop, kick, jump, nothing. I had to double take if that was the bird laying in the brush or a log or what, I had seen birds hit the ground and not move like that before but it was usually a dove hit head-on by a load of #7 1/2 's at 15 yards, not a mature tom hit by a load of #5's at 30 yards. But no complaints, I was happy! I had my hands on a nice 23lb mature Merriam's tom with a 9 inch beard and 3/4 spurs, not the biggest by east coast standards but decent for Washington State. A few quick pictures and back to the truck. I couldn't help thinking, this was worth taking off work early today! I should do this more often!
Well I hope you're enjoying this turkey season as much as we are, good hunting to everyone, be safe. And take some time off and go hunting!

Monday, April 18, 2011

Washington State Turkey Opener

    Opening day in Washington was not quite our typical opener that we were used to seeing. Their was  four of us hunting this morning, Jim Haeckel, Jim Schill, my son Brennan and myself. We woke up to freezing temperatures a with a light snow falling. The wind was blowing slightly which made it that much colder. Having slepted very little the night before due to the Christmas(turkey) morning insomnia, we headed out, stopping first for coffee and an energy drink for my son Brennan. Tweny minutes later we arrived at our destination.
    Getting our vests on and loading all our blinds,guns,decoys,chairs,camera gear and backpacks on our backs we headed out. The two Jims one way and Brennan and I in another. It was a short walk for us of maybe 200 yards and we opened up our blind and began setting everything up. It was about 4:30 and the official hunting hours began at 5:31. We located ourselves about 50 yards inside the edge of a large pasture in newly thinned ponderosa pine timber. We had watched several toms on our scouting trips fly down from their roosts and walk the cat trail thru the timber which should have placed them within 25 to 30 yards from where we set up. At about 5:30 the hills behind us began to awaken, beginning first with a few hen yelps and then with the gobblers sounding off along the entire ridgeline behind us. In both directions east and west of us for about a half a mile the toms were gobbling and the hens were yelping. This went on for about 15 minutes and then they started flying down.
    Like the flying monkeys scene from The Wizard of Oz, the turkeys flew down. The adrenaline was pumping as if we were hooked up to an IV. They were landing mostly in the meadows and the toms immediately began to strut their stuff. Gobbling and strutting and trying to impress the hens. Then four toms flew down and landed about 100 yards down from us and began walking the cat trail towards us. Strutting and gobbling as they moved closer. It didnt take them long to get along side of where we were set. Brennan was loaded and ready, I had the video camera rolling. As they got within range and with Brennan ready to shoot, the toms walked in front of a dense section of timber and brush. The early morning light that we had on the clear days scouting was not to be had on this dark wet day in the timber today. The toms that we had scouted just days before walked by the blind about 25 yards away and with only fleeting glimpes of the them as they walked past the openings of some of the trees. Whenever they would stop to gobble or strut, the brush or trees behind them made them disappear in the darkness and offered no visible shot. With no clear shot Brennan reluctantly passed on squeezing the trigger, a difficult decision but the right one. I know some hunters would have shot anyway with the hope of hitting one, it isn't easy to pass on such a situation but its down to basics, Be Sure of Your Target. Even after reviewing the footage on the video it was clear he had made the right decision. No clear shot. Another lesson learned when hunting in turkeys in the timber, make sure its the right spot in sunny or overcast days as well and take into consideration the shooting lanes that are available at these changing conditions.
    The turkeys remained in the fields strutting most of the morning and no amount of calling would detour them from the hens in the fields. After watching them for a couple hours we decided to do some hunting up on the ridges where we knew some of these turkeys would go. An hour later we saw 3 toms strutting on the top of a game trail. We set up next to the trail about 80 yards from them and after a few soft yelps they started our way, they would strut down about 10 yards and strut back up to the top of the trail. This went on for 10 minutes and eventually they strutted over the top and out of sight. We decided to hurry up to the top where they went and see if they were in range when we got there. Boy were they in range, about 15 turkeys, most of  them toms, were right there, maybe 10 to 15 yards away. Brennan  picked one out that was strutting, then another and another, they had seen us and were all bobbing and weaving, he picked one, shot, the flock flushed and exploded in every direction and were gone down the hill and through the timber. Missed. After it all settled down and after he stopped kicking himself in the butt for missing we realized just how much fun it was anyway! Thats what we're here for! I was wondering if we should have switched the choke tubes back out to modified for opening day turkeys. The extra full turkey choke he had in his Benelli works well on many occassions but for close up shots, they're not very forgiving, especially on super close range gobblers and young hunters out hunting for their first gobbler :)
    Well, we're headed back out again, I'll keep you posted on how it works out. Hopefully we'll won't have too many more hard lessons to learn. He's excited to get his first turkey and I'm pretty sure he will. One thing about turkey hunting, you're never too old to learn something new!
Good luck hunting! Send me your stories! Rich

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Wolf News

Wolf News from Ryan Benson at Big Game Forever

Wednesday, April 13th, 2011
It appears that a wolf delisting bill will very likely pass this week in Congress. The wolf delisting language is included in the continuing resolution to keep the government funded. We expect that this bill will pass by the end of this week. The language will be a victory primarily for Idaho and Montana, though portions of Utah, Oregon and Washington are also included in the delisting. Important language was also added yesterday to preserve Wyoming’s court victory in support of important aspects of its wolf management plan.
This bill stops short of returning full state management authority back to these states, including Idaho and Montana. So USFWS remains in a supervisory role. If USFWS does not interfere and allows the states do their job, a wide variety of wolf management activities can be resumed by these states. We are hopeful this would be a step in the right direction for some of these states. This action does very clearly show that Congressional action is not only possible, but also necessary to delist no longer endangered wolf populations.
We could name a long list of names of members of Congress who have worked so diligently to delist wolf populations. Specifically, thanks go out to Senator Hatch and Lee of Utah, Senators Barrasso and Enzi of Wyoming, Senators Crapo and Risch of Idaho, Senators Kyl and McCain of Arizona, Senators Tester and Baucus of Montana, Congressman Rehberg of Montana, Congresswoman Lummis of Wyoming, Congressman Simpson of Idaho, Congressmen Matheson, Bishop and Chaffetz of Utah. We have not always agreed with some of these members, but all played an important role in getting wolves delisted.
Thanks also go to many sportsmen and conservation organizations that have lent their efforts and donations to Big Game Forever and to the wolf delisting efforts. Most importantly, this victory belongs to thousands and thousands of sportsmen from all 50 states who have truly gotten in the fight to protect the future of hunting through Big Game Forever. This week we will win an important victory in Congress that many experts said couldn’t be won. You can’t win a fight, if you are not willing to fight. So thank you to all those who have worked so diligently to make this happen. Your phone calls, emails and ongoing efforts were constantly a major conversation among members of Congress and legislative staff. This was truly a game changer in this fight for the future of wildlife in America.
While this has been an extremely difficult victory, it is hard to celebrate too much when we know that this bill does not delist most Western and Midwestern states. To our friends in Wyoming, Arizona, New Mexico, Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Utah, Nevada, Colorado, California, North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa and many other states: We share your frustration that you were not included in this delisting. While it was not our decision to go with a two state bill, the actions of a few made this a self-fulfilling conclusion. We also worked very hard to make sure the bill did not destroy Wyoming’s court victory in support of the right of states to make important wildlife management decisions. So while we celebrate the fact that Congress has now recognized that they must act to delist wolves. We know this is not good enough to fix the challenges of unmanaged wolves across the country.
We call on all sportsmen and all members of Congress to increase their effort and resolve to finish the fight. Thousands of emails are going to members of Congress to try to slow wolf delisting for the rest of the country. Let’s counter this effort with thousands of emails asking members of Congress to finish the fight. There are some who will use this two-state provision to try to kill the momentum on additional Congressional actions. We cannot let this happen. It is time to delist wolves in all states. Wildlife populations in the Midwest and West have suffered terribly. It is clear that Congress is willing act to address the problems of unmanaged wolves for some states. It is time for members of Congress to engage in the battle to delist wolves in your state and restore the primacy of states to manage their own wildlife.
Help us finish the fight. Ask all of your friends to join the effort at Big Game Forever to engage in this important fight for the future of hunting and wildlife in America. Signing the petition is fast, it’s easy and it’s free. Make a donation to help fund the ongoing efforts.
Let’s finish what we started.

Ryan Benson
National Director, Big Game Forever
Please take a minute and ask your friends to sign the petition at

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Pre-season Scouting

It's time to fine tune the scouting for opening day, particularly if you're going to be hunting on public land. In Washington the toms have been out chasing hens for the last 2-3 weeks and their habits may have change some since you were out scouting last time. Some of the hens may be nesting already and so that means the toms are probably going to be active during the mid-day hours and out looking for hens that are still receptive. More than likely they'll be henned up first thing in the morning and may be difficult to call them in to your location. Getting as close as possible to a tom that gobbles but won't move from his hens may help as well as trying to get ahead of them, if you're familiar with their routes. Most turkeys will feed uphill during the day so try and keep that in mind when trying to cut them off.
If you're hunting on remote or private land, a full strut decoy with a hen decoy can also make the difference in drawing a mature tom into your gun range but use extreme caution when doing so. The new Primos gobbler shaker call is very realistic in reproducing both jake and mature tom gobbles and could be used successfully in conjunction with your full strut decoy and hen set up.
Also don't forget to pattern your shotgun before going afield, particularly if you have switched chokes and are using one of the newer tighter turkey chokes. They will certainly change the way your gun patterns, and not necessarily the way you may have expected. You will want to check it at various distances from 10 yards to 50 yards, you might be amazed at what you discover!
Well good luck and let us know how you did on your scouting and feel free to email any turkey hunting questions you may have. I'll answer them as quickly as I can and to the best of my ability. I look forward to your pics and stories from this turkey season!
Good hunting!