Thursday, December 17, 2009

Beardzilla Lives!

I mentioned in a previous blog that my niece and I video taped, on the opening day of the 2009 Indiana deer firearm season,  a tom turkey with an unusually wide beard.  I won't describe him any further - the video can do all the talking.  Let's just say, in Bill Winke fashion, that this one will be on the "hit list" come April, 2010.

And the follow-up good news is that Ricky (brother) and Brandon (nephew) saw this bird and his running buddy on December 12 while checking muskrat traps.  They let me know about their sighting in a very simple text message - Beardzilla Lives!

I will note, if you listen to the audio, that this bird initially fooled me.  I thought he had multiple beards, but that his overall beard length wasn't exceptionally long.  By the time he left the field I'd come to my senses.  I think he has just one really wide beard, and that it's easily longer than average.  Doesn't really matter - he's a hoss!

video

Head Case!

As mentioned in a previous post, I think there are lots of reasons that a well-constructed full-mount decoy out-performs all other types of deeks.  But it all boils down to realism, and one of the principal components in making a decoy look life-like is the head. 




Thrill Kill Decoys are built using cast heads, as opposed to freeze-dried heads.  We do this simply because we feel the cast heads are more durable and thus last longer.  They're also fairly easy to repair (when your niece puts holes in them while gunning down her spring longbeard).



A finished hen head and an unpainted tom head

Taxidermists that use cast heads can purchase pre-painted heads, or choose to paint their own.  For me, it takes about 90 minutes to complete a paint job, start to finish.  (Full-time taxidermists can probably cut that in half.)  Comparing the value of my time and materials to the added cost of a pre-painted head (about $25 more than an unpainted head), I feel I benefit financially from doing my own painting.  But more than that, using an airbrush to recreate a head color scheme that fools live birds is professionally rewarding, and that's hard to put a price on.



An unpainted head comes to the shop as an essentially white casting, with ultra-realistic glass eyes pre-set.  We prep the head to insure our laquer-based paint will readily stick, and then begin the painting process.  When we've finished, we clean the eyes of overspray and let the head dry before spraying a sealer on it (normally about 24 hours post-painting).  It's amazing how a decoy head "comes to life" once the overspray has been removed from the eyes - another reason why full-mount decoys are so much more realistic than cheap plastic birds.



A wide range of paint colors are needed to paint a turkey head - tom or hen



A small "hobby" compressor will easily drive an airbrush


If you have any artistic ability, you might want to give head painting a try.  If nothing else, you can use an airbrush to repaint the heads on your plastic deeks.  After all, plastic decoys are mass-produced, which means they are "fast-produced", and in the overseas shops that most deeks are made in, quantity, not quality, is the objective.



After all, if you were a wary old gobbler (or hen), which one would most likely fool you?

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

A Turkey Hunter Is Born!

My best turkey hunting buddy (next to my niece, Baleigh), is one Andy Edwards of Pulaski, Tennessee. 




A couple of years back he had the great good fortune of finding a beautiful girl (Audra) with limited vision and even more limited judgement, and eventually convinced her to marry him.  He outkicked his coverage, married up, fell in it.  You get the point.


Well, his life got even better today.  He and Audra welcomed their first child into the world at approximately 7:00 a.m. today.  And Andrew Henry Edwards, at 8 lb 11.8 oz and 22.25 inches long, is a BIG addition to the Edwards' family. 


Congratulations to Andy and Audra, and welcome to Andrew, who I know will grow up lucky to have a daddy that loves the outdoors, and sharing outdoor experiences with those around him.  In that respect, baby Andrew and I are both blessed to have Andy in our lives.

Friday, December 4, 2009

DECOY TIME!

Now that it's starting to get cold out (finally), I'll be stoking the basement wood stove more often and spending nights and weekends putting decoys together. I ordered supplies from Van Dyke's Taxidermy Supply today, and stopped by the local WalMart and Lowe's Home Improvement store for other odds and ends.

Andy Edwards holding a tom I killed in Tennessee in spring, 2009.  His spurs will stay at home, but the rest of the bird will be a decoy available for purchase in the coming weeks!


There are still a few client-killed birds to turn into deeks, but I have several donated birds that will be mounted for sale to whoever wants them. The 2010 pricing will remain $300 for a tom or hen decoy, and $500 for a tom/hen pair. Anyone that's interested is welcome to email me at thrillkilldecoys@live.com

And as always, if you'd like to know more about full-mount decoys than this blog tells you, just drop me a line!  Just don't ask for trade secrets!






2008 Hen Decoy covered with our custom carrying bag



Propper skinning is the first step to any good turkey mount.  Email for tips!



DEER ARE FUN TOO!

I've never been able to decide which I'd pick if I had to choose between spring turkey hunting and fall bowhunting for whitetails. But I'm leaning toward spring turkeys (at least now that the rut is over).

Friends know that I have an itchy trigger finger, so despite hunting some of the best whitetail habitat in northern Indiana, I tend to shoot 120 inch bucks with a bow rather than waiting it out, risking an unnotched tag come season's end. This year was no different!  On November 8 I shot a decent 3.5 year old 6 x 4 buck that will gross around 130 and net around 120.  No great shakes.





But luckily, just like in 2008, my brother upheld family honor in the deer woods.  His 2009 deer, a 6 x 6 with a brow tine sticker, will run in the mid-140's.  But he used a shotgun, so there has to be some "shotgun shrinkage" thrown in!  How 'bout a standard 20 inches?  Or maybe 1 inch for every yard outside of bow range the deer was standing when he got shot (about 50 yards/inches, in this case).  Either way, it was a beautiful animal (and I'm probably just jealous!).




Best of all though is the giant 4 x 4, with between 9 and 11 scoreable stickers, that happened to get himself run over on State Road 14 on the east side of Winamac, Indiana.  This buck died in the yard of my brother's inlaws.  His mom-in-law called him to see if he wanted it, and I was lucky enough to get a text to see if I'd help recover and skin this deer (Ricky and his daughter were on their way out for an afternoon deer hunt).  One road-kill tag from the local police later, we had a goregous European mount prepping in my brother's pole building.  He'll tape out around 170 gross non-typical inches.  It's too bad a brute like this had to meet his fate on the business end of a bumper, but at least he ended up in the hands of a family that will truly appreciate him.






And thanks to deer season, my niece and I were able to get video of a tom turkey on November 14 that we hope sticks around until spring.  In the days to come I'll post video that shows a tom with the widest beard I've ever seen - probably 2.5 inches across at the base.  And since I preach that beards don't really matter, I'll mention he had big-ole spurs, too!


Wednesday, October 7, 2009

WHEN THE MUSIC ENDS...

WHEN THE MUSIC ENDS....

I previously posted some hunting footage of my buddy Wally killing a longbeard during the 2008 Indiana turkey season (Hank Jr. Would Be Proud). At that time I promised to add video showing what happened at our decoy spread after Wally pulled the trigger (and his cell phone quit ringing).


In case you missed it, Wally shot his tom out of a group of 4 longbeards, but a particularly good tom was strutting on the north end of the field about 200 yards away. That bird kept strutting, even after the shot, so I asked Wally if he minded letting that bird clear the field before we picked up. He had no particular place to go, so we settled back.


While we waited, another good tom showed up, and from there I'll let the video do the talking. What you're about to see exemplifies why we've come to love full-mount decoys so much. You just don't get this out of plastic deeks!



video

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

HUNTING FALL BIRDS

Spring turkey hunting in Indiana can scarcely be called a tradition. Our first modern turkey season took place in 1970, so the sport is less than 40 years old today. And it wasn't until the late 1980's that turkey reintroduction work really caught hold in northern Indiana, so exposure to these fabulous birds is even less lengthy for us flatlanders. Consider then that the fall turkey season didn't come about until the past decade and it's easy to see why most Indiana turkey chasers are still feeling their way around a bit where pursuing autumn turkeys is concerned. Most birds in these parts are shot as they amble under a deer hunter with a turkey tag in his/her pocket.

The past few years I've put a fair amount of time into fall turkey hunting, and can say that, although it's different, fall turkey hunts can be every bit as exciting as spring ones. On October 3 I killed a would-be 2-year old tom on a Marshall County farm, and he displayed all the aggressiveness of a spring longbeard. While there was no strutting or gobbling, the video will show that this bird came to the decoy without reservation, pecked the head, and then "flogged" him.

Dominance hierarchies in turkey flocks are constantly changing, so it makes sense that, given the opportunity, a male bird, even in the fall, will pick on a decoy. Slight tactical changes are needed, though, so here's what I've learned in the past few years:

* Turkeys are vocal creatures, even in the fall. You won't hear nearly as much gobbling, but 16 - 18 month old jakes (commonly called super jakes) yelp a ton, as do many true toms, and will often respond to "jake" yelping (a longer, more course and drawn-out version of the hen yelp). Don't expect to call fall toms in with hen calling.

* Young-of-the-year poults are learning to talk, and mimicking their "kee kee" calling is a great way to get their attention. If you can break up a hen/poult flock with a good scatter, don't hesitate to give the woods a few minutes to settle down, then start mimicking lost hen calling and poult kee kee's in an effort to reassemble the flock - hopefully right in your lap. A friend of mine missed a hen with his bow this weekend. When she and her poults scattered he didn't throw in the towel. He just waited a few minutes and started calling. He was rewarded with a fine hen poult that will make great eating at Thanksgiving (if he can wait that long).

* Male birds are grouped up in their own flocks, while hens/poults are in theirs. You'll have more success if you treat them individually, scouting for the type of flock you want to hunt and using male decoys on males and hen decoys on hen/poult groups, even if they're showing up in the same fields to feed. One of the farms I hunt routinely has a male flock exceeding 15 birds. Try to find that many toms in one spot in the spring.

* Food is critical. When scouting flocks, key in on the areas they are feeding. Pattern their comings and goings, then get in their way.

* Tread lightly. Fall turkeys, while still pecking order-oriented, won't typically be as aggressive as they'll be in the spring. Use a single jake decoy when hunting male birds, and a hen or two when hunting hen/poult groups. Realize that you'll normally encounter more birds in the fall than in the spring, which translates into more eyes and ears to catch you with! The smaller the group the more likely it is they'll pay attention to you and your decoys. Get a single bird in your vicinity, as I did in the accompanying video, and the odds really go up.

Still a little confused about fall turkey hunting? Don't sweat it. Most important of all is just getting out in the fall and enjoying being around turkeys. You'll learn so much more about their behavior and biology than you can by spring hunting alone.

NOTE - I self-videoed this hunt, so the quality leaves a bit to be desired. Also, I record my hunts in full HD, but my editing software will only work with standard definition, so I have to convert back before editing. This actually makes for WORSE footage quality than if I just recorded directly in SD. But I routinely watch the raw footage on HD televisions, so am reluctant to change. The raw footage, on a widescreen with stereo surround, is about as close to being there as you can get without getting mud on your boots! Eventually I'll buy software that edits HD footage easily, but for now, this is the best I can come up with. Hope you like it just the same.


video

Friday, September 18, 2009

WHY FULL-MOUNT DECOYS WORK

I try to preface any talk about using full-mount decoys with a disclaimer - I don't think you need full-mount decoys, or any decoys at all for that matter, to kill turkeys with regularity.
So why go to the trouble of mounting a turkey (or buying one) to use as a decoy? Because the interaction between a live turkey and a well-made full-mount gives the hunter a look into turkey behavior that he/she will likely never see otherwise. Full-mounts bring out the dominance behavior inherent in pecking order oriented turkeys - both male and females.




But it's more than that. Full-mounts fool turkeys so completely that turkey-decoy interactions last much longer than the average hunter has ever experienced. For a few years I used a plastic full-strut tom with a real tail fan. He was great at getting toms to come in, but if they touched him the gig was up. They quickly realized the plastic bird as unnatural, and would leave - often without presenting a good shot. Full-mounts don't only have tremendous drawing power, but the all-important holding power.





So why do full-mounts actually work? Well, the most obvious reason is that they look real. But there are a couple of less obvious reasons we should cover. Let's look at the obvious factor first.

No paint scheme on any plastic bird will ever out-mimic real feathers! And real feathers move when the wind blows, giving the bird further realism. Freeze-dried or cast heads (we use cast heads for their durability), when airbrushed correctly, are so realistic that the untrained eye can't tell live birds from decoys captured on video. Combine life-like heads with real capes and the combination is unbeatable.




So what else is involved? The first thing that comes to mind, and has already been briefly mentioned, is feel. When turkeys rub against full-mounts, which happens VERY frequently, they feel what seems to them to be a real turkey pushing back. This doesn't scare them, it encourages them. Our decoys are made in such a way that when they're placed in firm ground, they stay put. When toms peck at the heads of our tom decoys, or flog (wing-beat and spur) our deeks, the decoys hold fast. Think of it as a playground bully pushing on the nerdy kid. He expects the kid to run, and if he doesn't, he gets doubly mad! And when toms do the breeding preparatory chest rub over the back of our hen decoys, the fact that the she stands ready gives him the consent he's looking for.


Shape is also an important factor. Our decoys not only stand their ground, but are built in a way that encourages toms to mount them. Notice our tom decoys aren't full-struts, but tail down semi-strutters instead. Video footage proves time and again that male birds will mount, and attempt to breed, our male decoys. At first we thought this was a fluke. But now we see this behavior so often that we've given it the tongue-in-cheek name, prison whipping.



Finally, our decoys work because they aren't sex-specific. As you'd expect, wild toms are drawn to both hen and tom full-mount decoys. But arguably just as important, live hens rarely pass up a chance to check out a full-mount hen decoy. And when hens come in, they're often towing longbeards along behind them.

And I suppose there are a number of other reasons why full-mounts work so well that I haven't yet thought of. Combine those I've mentioned with those I haven't and one word keeps coming to mind - REALISM. Short of using a live turkey as a stool pigeon, you're probably never going to beat a good full-mount decoy.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

ONCE UPON A TIME.....

Every now and then I get asked why I started building turkey decoys. If this sort of thing interests you, keep reading...............

"Real", or full-mount decoys aren't new to turkey hunting. My brother and a taxidermist friend were building prototypes back in the mid 1990's, and it's not like they came up with the idea all by themselves. Today it's turned into a fairly big business for some, with world champion taxidermist Cally Morris (Hazel Creek Decoys) leading the world in full-mount decoy sales.


My start in decoy building came about from a mistake I made following a short nap on a morning Tennessee turkey hunt in 2004. I was dealing with a sore back, brought on by too many hours sitting against trees in the spring woods. So late in the morning I decided to stretch out on the ground to save my back a little wear-and-tear. Next thing I knew, I was dreaming of turkeys, lots of turkeys, making lots of turkey noises. When my conscious mind reconciled that the noises weren't coming from deep in my sleep-addled memory banks, but from the decoys 20 yards away, I snapped to.

What I saw, through squinted eyes, was a gobbler and about a dozen hens causing a ruckus. I did my best to right myself without spooking turkeys, and when the birds separated enough for me to shoot the one sporting the beard, I pulled the trigger. But when the tom flew away I began to worry that I'd accidentally killed a hen. Well, I had actually, but one with an 8-inch beard!  Tennessee law allows the taking of bearded hens, but it wasn't something I'd have done had I been fully aware - uh, awake.  (Note to self - Don't shoot guns when you're half asleep.)

So during the stern talking to I had with myself on the way back to the truck (it was a 1-sided conversation), I reconciled that this hen was going to become a decoy if I had to mount her myself. Turns out, that's exactly what happened. As soon as I got back to Indiana, and with guidance from local taxidermist Craig Browning, I made a respectable facsimile of a real hen turkey. In 2 weeks I was back in Tennessee, and proceeded to kill my biggest longbeard in years using "Susie".

And it all got rolling from there. Susie only lasted that season and the next, because we revelled in watching hens attack her and jakes and toms attempt to breed her. Admittedly, she wasn't the most durable decoy. But when, in the winter of '05 I tried to find a commercial replacement, I quickly realized that I was either going to have to spend $400 (or more), or do without. Unless...........


Having made 1 effective decoy already, I decided I could make lightning strike twice. So I invested my $400 in taxidermy equipment and domestic hen turkeys. By the time the spring season rolled around in 2006, I had 4 new decoys to field test. And boy did they ever produce!


Now, 4 years later, with the help of family and friends willing to test and comment, we've made some refinements and arrived at a product that can be reproduced consistently, and that works like a charm. I started this venture just to make decoys for me and my brother, but enough friends wanted their own that I had to do something!



So that's where Thrill Kill Decoys got its start. And the name came to me at the end of a successful hunt, when I told myself just how thrilled that particular gobbler was right before he got himself killed. As I now like to say, "Anyone can kill turkeys, but can you Thrill Kill them?".


In an upcoming blog I'll show the decoys in more detail. I won't reveal trade secrets, but I will show you a little about how we build and use them.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

HANK JUNIOR WOULD BE PROUD

During the 2008 Indiana turkey season, my good friend Wally Palmer hinted that he wouldn't turn down a chance to hunt over real decoys. Always looking to make a convert, I was more than willing to take Wally on a hunt. I even pulled out all the stops, taking 4 Thrill Kill decoys along (1 tom, 1 jake, and 2 hens).

When our first-light set-up produced no gobbling and only a couple of hens in the decoys, I offered to take Wally to a field that routinely holds birds at mid-day. It was fairly hot, definitely windy, and the thought of baking ourselves inside a Double Bull blind in a wide-open cut cornfield all afternoon wasn't exactly appealing, but it was turkey season after all, so we agreed to give it a go. We weren't disappointed!

We hadn't been in the blind for 20 minutes when a bruiser longbeard came to the field, but ignored us to go strut on the far north end of the field (you can actually see him in some of the video). And it wasn't another 15 minutes before a group of 4 longbeards, all 2-year olds, stepped out. A little fighting purring was all it took to get them to amble our way, and the video from that point on more or less speaks for itself.

Our hunt was shaping up to be a classic "pick the bird you want" done-deal, but while we were enjoying having multiple longbeards in the decoys at 10 yards, Wally's cell phone started to ring. His ring tone? Hank Jr.'s "A Country Boy Can Survive". Apparently tom turkeys aren't big fans of country music, because they started laying down tracks in a hurry. Watch the video to see how well Wally handles going from spectator to shooter, in about 3 seconds!

And as follow-up, I turned Wally's 2-year old tom into a decoy, and he used it to kill a bearded hen in the spring, 2009. She's now in the freezer, and will ad realism to his Thrill Kill decoy spread for many years to come!

Oh - some might wonder whatever happened to the big tom strutting on the north end of the field? Keep an eye on this blog - in the next few days I'll post the video we took in the minutes following Wally's Thrill Kill! More exciting turkey hunting footage is hard to find!
video

Monday, August 31, 2009

HUNTING - GIRLS CAN PLAY TOO!


My niece (Baleigh) is, by most measures, a girly-girl. She's pretty, a snappy dresser, active in school, church, and 4-H, and is involved in a number of sports. But she also knows how to get serious about shooting stuff, and her stone cold demeanor when she's aiming down the barrel at a would-be target is amazing. Boys at school don't know if they should pursue her for her looks or loathe her because she's a better hunter than they are! Either way, it was my pleasure to be there when she killed her first and second turkeys, and her first deer.

This video is of Baleigh killing her second longbeard. In 2008 she shot her first, in what was probably the most memorable hunt I've ever been on. While the 2008 tom surrendered on opening day, getting a 2009 bird proved not to be nearly as easy. This video, taken on the very last day of Indiana's 2009 general season (Mother's Day) shows that perseverance can pay off!

What the video doesn't show is my sleeping niece, worn out from an all night church or school function the night before - I don't remember which. What I do remember is waking my niece up just in time to have her get her gun pointed out the window of the blind. As the video shows, when Baleigh takes aim, things get serious in a hurry. It's a short video, but remember, we had to be back home in time for a little Mother's Day lunch!

video

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Hide Where You Can!

This past spring, my good friend Andy located a particularly wary longbeard near his home town of Pulaski, in Giles County, Tennessee. The only problem was this tom preferred the neighbor's cattle pasture to the overgrown field Andy had permission to hunt. After trying unsuccessfully a number of times to get this bird to leave his favorite cow-cropped strutting spot, Andy broke down and called the guy that owned that little slice of turkey Heaven.

With new-found permission, Andy offered to let me kill the bird while I was there on vacation, but only if I'd agree to hunt from this old calf creep feeder located in the bottom of the pasture. Andy didn't feel this bird would tolerate a pop-up blind in his spot!

Not being one to argue over details when there's a turkey to be killed, I gladly accepted. So WAY before sun-up, we snuck in, stuck out decoys, cleared privet, and crammed ourselves into the rusty confines of that old feeder. It wasn't comfortable, but it did put us right in the sweet spot.  As the video shows, sometimes hiding out in unusual places can really pay off. Thanks Andy!

And as an interesting aside, the ridgetop you see in the video was held by the Union Army during the Civil War. Cannon emplacements were located there to protect the main east-west road into Pulaski. I wonder what the turkeys thought of cannon fire?.............


video

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Clearing the Cobwebs

It's amazing how much you can forget about turkey hunting from the end of one spring to the beginning of the next. Especially where calling is concerned, I usually find that winter weather has caused a little rust to accumulate on my turkey hunting abilities!
So as spring approaches, I do my best to get in the woods, not only to hear what my admittedly limited calling skills sound like without a roof over my head, but also to start reconnecting with my hibernating hunting instincts.

When Indiana's turkey season opened up on April 22, I was still clearing out the cobwebs and feeling a little unsure of my decisions when this 2-year old longbeared snuck into my full-mount decoy spread. After letting him bully my tom decoy for nearly 9 minutes, I decided to pull the trigger and end his day - and my Indiana turkey season! Boy does it feel good to get that first one under your belt each year!


video