Thursday, November 18, 2010

JAYMIE SCORES!

On October 23, I was fortunate enough to shoot a pretty good buck as the sun was breaking the horizon.  Before that day had really gotten started I was on my way home to get all the supplies I needed to field dress, drag, and photograph my deer.

En route to meet my brother, my girlfriend, Jaymie, sent me a simple text....."we have 2 deer to drag out now."  Jaymie was hunting over a small foodplot we'd created on the edge of a wetland property my dad owns, and she'd just shot her first deer ever - and with her bow! 

My brother and nephew were meeting me at dad's anyway, to ride over to where I'd shot my deer.  So before we ever left dad's, we met Jaymie at her stand, and quickly followed the blood trail out to her first deer - a beautiful 2.5 year old doe. 

I don't think we could have asked for a better day!

Deer Year

It's funny how the deer season works out.  On an early October evening I had a really good 7-pointer step out of the woods and into the corn field I was sitting over.  By the time he followed the ditch bank to where I was waiting it was well past legal shooting light and I passed on the 12-yard shot opportunity.

After that I moved tree stands around, hunted hard, and watched helplessly as the corn was picked and the big 7-pointer became a memory. 

For a few weeks I hunted this farm and others, but never had a sighting of even a decent buck.  Then on October 23rd I hunted a great farm I've seen numerous good bucks on, but never taken one from.  I snuck through a multiflora rose/honeysuckle thicket, down a path I'd cleared in August, to a new stand that I'd never been in.  Before I even had an arrow on my bow I had a buck trail a doe into the thicket in the pre-dawn.  Luckily, that buck stuck around until legal light, and I shot him inside of 10 yards before I even had time to get settled.

Just over a week later I had good friend Sean Collins up from Tennessee to hunt for a few days.  On our first afternoon out we immediately started seeing bucks, and in just over an hour had an encounter with a decent 2.5-year old 8-pointer.  Not 15 minutes later we spotted an even better buck headed our way, and I immediately recognized it at the big 7 I'd seen a month before.  Long story condensed, Sean shot that buck at 25 yards after I grunted and snort-wheezed him in.  It was awesome!

So I got to be part of not only my own bowkill this year, but played a role in Sean's success on the big 7-pointer that I'd spent so many hours thinking about.  Like I said, it's funny how deer season works out.



My October 23 bowkill, taken just after legal light on the first sit in a new stand.





Sean Collins with his November 2 bowkill.  Now that's a big 7-pointer!


Monday, July 5, 2010

PEACHES ARE IN!

Fresh off the successful raspberry jelly venture, I picked up some peaches at the Plymouth Farmers' Market this past weekend.  I peeled a quart, diced them finely, and put together a batch of peach jam. 

There's just something sweet about a quart of diced peaches and 7 1/2 cups of sugar cooking on the stovetop!

The jam actually needed a few more peaches than the recipe called for.  You can see the jars didn't have the best peach:sugar ratio!  But it still tastes great!


While I was waiting to hear the lids on my jam "pop" I made supper!  This was the first cucumber from the garden this year.  I peeled it, sliced it, and then battered it in flour, salt, and pepper, and fried it in bacon grease!  I put a little sour cream on the side, and it made a great late-evening meal.  Then I ate some fresh peach preserves for dessert!

Up next - green pepper jelly!

IT'S PEANUT BUTTER JELLY TIME

I'm new to making jellies and jams, but the older I get the more I like to eat.  And that leads to me tinkering with things like curing, smoking, dehydrating, and even canning.  The wild raspberries are ripe in northern Indiana right now, so I decided this was as good a year as any to learn to make jelly.

After the berries are picked, they need to be "steeped" to release their juice.  A potato masher helps the process a little.

Then the juice is strained off by transferring the pulp into a collander with a couple of cheesecloth layers added.  Letting this happen naturally, without "squeezing" the pulp, keeps the jelly clear.

The juice is measured, returned to the stock pot, with lemon juice and sugar added.

Once the sugar is melted and the mixture brought to a boil, the powdered pectin is added and the stock boiled to a temperature pushing 220 degrees.

Meanwhile, the jars and lids are sterilized.

Jars are then filled, air bubbles removed, and 2-piece lids are placed and centered.  Jars are returned to the hot bath for 10 minutes of processing.

The final product is a terrific tasting wild raspberry jelly that's going to taste darned good on a buttered biscuit sometime this winter when the snow is piling up outside!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

MORE FROM THE ARCHERY SHOP

In the colder months my basement is a makeshift taxidermy shop where I put together full mount turkey deeks.  But when it's warm out, I'd rather be outside shooting my bow.  It's then that my basement gets reogranized into an archery shop.  This past weekend I put my nephew's bow back together after his string mysteriously came off (dry fire maybe?).  I then found a broken serving that needed fixed, adjusted a small cam timing issue, waxed string and cables, and installed new string silencers.  After about an hour of fiddling around, Brandon was back on the range stacking arrows.  I love this stuff!

One of the age-old debates that seems to kick up every now and then when I work on equipment for folks centers around what makes a better hunting arrow - a super fast lightweight arrow, or a slower, heavier projectile.  For my part, statistics show that the vast majority of Midwest whitetails, my chief fall target, are bow-killed from inside 30 yards.  Range estimation isn't extremely critical or difficult at those sub-30 distances, so in my mind, blazing arrow speeds aren't needed.  I'd much rather shoot a mid-weight or heavy shaft at slower speeds, which translates to better transfer of kinetic energy when the broadhead meets the deer.  The deadliest rig I probably ever shot was a 29 inch 2317 aluminum arrow tipped with a 150 grain Snuffer cut-on-contact broadhead.  That thing would shoot through a 55 gallon drum.  Slow, but MEAN!

Here's the simple formula for measuring kinetic energy:



Another often overlooked part of successful bow/arrow set-up is the flight of broadhead tipped arrows.  Broadheads must be spin-tested to the arrow, insuring that the arrow spins perfectly true with the broadhead installed.  If it doesn't, adjustments need to be made to correct the causitive factor (untrue insert face, one slightly longer blade in a replacement-blade broadhead, simple debris on the broadhead ferrule).  I make sure every broadhead arrow I put in my quiver spins on my caloused palm without any wobble of any kind.  I prefer feeling the spin to looking at it in a tester.

And given real-world conditions of poor releases, wind, flinches, twigs/grass in the arrow's path, etc, an arrow that is forward-weighted will perform much better than one that is balanced near its center.  In other words, the arrow should have a front of center balance of no less than about 8%, and somewhere in the 10 - 12% range is generally better (providing the arrow has sufficient spine to accomodate it).  The transition to 100 and 85 grain broadheads has created some FOC issues, since lighter tips reduce FOC, all things being equal.  But the advent of small, Blazer-type vanes has somewhat reversed this trend.  At any rate, anyone putting a bow hunting arrow together should take FOC balance into consideration. 

Here's the simple formula for measuring FOC:



I once had a medical doctor friend that spent nearly $1000 on a new bow, rest, sights and so on.  But when bow season rolled around, he had 3 different shaft types in his quiver, with 2 different broadhead designs (some 125 grain and the others 100 grains) adorning them.  And nothing was overly straight or sharp.  I was dumbfounded, and spent 30 minutes lecturing him and another hour or setting up 4 matching hunting arrow.  If you're serious about shooting animals with a bow, pay attention to more than just your bow.  The arrows and broadheads are the only part that hit the animal, so no matter how pretty/fast/expensive your bow is, performance is measured at the broadhead end of your shot.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

TINKERING

I like to tinker with archery equipment.  I got my first bow before I turned 10 - a Bear Blue Denim compound (I still have it).  I still remember my dad and brother trying to change the draw length for me out in the front yard.  Dad forced the limbs together while Ricky moved the cable ends to holes drilled in the eccentric brackets bolted to the ends of the limbs.  It came from Target in South Bend.  I shot it so much that dad realized I was serious. 

When it became obvious that I'd outgrown the Blue Denim, dad consulted with a cousin, Billy Joe Risner, who had his own basement pro shop, and was notorious for trying out the latest-and-greatest bow gear.  He directed dad in purchasing my first REAL bow, a Martin Cougar Magnum.  That Martin still ranks as one of the top 5 gifts of my life, and I still have it.  The craftmanship is exquisite, and every year I toy with the idea of setting it up and killing another deer with it.

Anyway, I've been hooked on archery since I was a little boy, and my affliction doesn't seem to improve.  I recently bought a new bow press that handles the modern parallel limb bows, and this week built a prototype draw board to help look at cam timing, cam lean issues, nock travel, draw force curve dynamics, and much more.  I'll eventually have my brother help me build a metal (welded) frame instead of the wood variety I'm experimenting with, but the fun is in refinement!

As an example, I put my Hoyt ProTec on the draw board last night, and used the draw lenght/weight data to build this draw force curve table:




It shows the bow has a pretty gradual build to peak, a wide peak top, and a fairly gradual shift down to the wall.  This curve doesn't show it, but the bow has a very narrow valley at full draw.  Taking peak draw weight (44 pounds) and subtracting holding weight (16 pounds) gives the let-off amount of 28 pounds.  Dividing 28 by 44 and multiplying by 100 gives the percent let-off of 63.6%.

I'll compare these numbers with those of my new Maxxis when I get a chance.  Note that I've shortened the ProTec up as much as the cam modules and cable/string twisting will allow, and backed the limb bolts out as far as possible.  I'm setting the bow up for a beginning adult archer that needs low draw length and weight.

Friday, May 14, 2010

THE 2010 LINE-UP


I'm not a "numbers" guy.  Honest.  When someone this spring asked me how many turkeys I've killed in my life, I honestly couldn't give them the number.  I have a strong guess (and it's not that many), but even now at only 39 years old, the events of years-gone-by are beginning to escape me.

So for the sake of posterity, here's the list of 2010 birds that now reside in my freezer, and in all cases but 1, at least 1 picture.

TENNESSEE

April 8 - A jake was the first bird to fall this year.  My trigger finger was itchy, and he was gobbling at a train going through on the next ridge over.  I shot him in the bean while he had his head stretched out.  No picture.

April 10 - Killed a good 3-year old as part of the Governor's One-Shot Turkey Hunt gala.  The hunter I was guiding killed a jake earlier in the day, and was willing to hang in there with me until I got this bird within gun range.  Video to follow!

April 13 - This was a 2-year old that should have been part of a double, but my good friend missed a chip-shot.  I happens to us all.  Chalk it up to tight chokes.  Video to follow!



INDIANA

April 21 - This was a 3-year old that came in silent to whack my tom decoy, and was my only bow kill of the year.  I shot him in the head at 10 yards, but only scratched him.  Well, I didn't know that at the time, but as he walked slowly away following the first shot, I decided to anchor him with a second.  That arrow, delivered at about 28 yards, hit him stern-to-stem.  I'd love to share the video on this one, but I hit the "record" button twice, and have all of 1 second of video.  I was almost physically ill.


KANSAS

April 26 - The first Rio of the year fell as part of a double.  My hunting buddy on this trip was Bob Allen, 4-H agent in Clark County, IN.  Bob and I roosted this pair of 2-year old birds the night before, and got right between them and a longbeard with some hens that roosted on the opposite side of the field.  They strutted so close to one another when they got to the decoys that we almost didn't get to shoot.  Luckily, it eventually worked out.  Cool stuff!  Video to follow.

Bob killed his second Rio that night, within 200 yards of where the morning pair fell.  No picture, but video to follow!

April 27 - The second Rio was a solid 3-year old with good color.  I'm not sure how far he came to get to us, but a jake actually walked him in, and the jake came from nearly 600 yards away - we watched him come every step of the way.  The jake bred the hen decoy, fed around, came back to snuggle with the hen decoy, fed again, went away, came back, then went away again.  I kept him gobbling most of the time, and when he came back for the 3rd time, he was towing this longbeard behind.  Sorry, no video!




So that's it.  Six birds for the year, 5 of them longbeards.  Bob can tell you, when my 2nd Kansas Rio hit the ground, I was fired up.  Shooting turkeys never gets old!

Friday, April 16, 2010

UNSUNG HEROES!

Spring turkey season brings to hunters a natural fixation on those hard-gobbling, long-spurred, thick-bearded male birds.  Gobbler induced wonderlust drives my spring travels across a good part of the Midwest each year, and I know I'm not alone!

But to be perfectly honest, I enjoy watching hens almost as much as toms.  Since you can't shoot them in the spring (unless of course they have beards), there's no anxiety associated with having them in the decoys.  Just like toms, they have a pecking order instinct that often causes them to do mean and nasty things to the decoys.  They can be mouthy, nervous, and in some cases, downright psychotic.  And besides, they're just plain beautiful. 

Here are a few hen shots from my recent trip to Tennessee.  Hen turkeys - the unsung heroes of the spring!








They really are fun to watch!  And almost everything I've learned about calling turkeys I learned from wild hens.  They're great teachers - and entertainers.  So when you head to the turkey woods this spring, rejoice in every hen you see!

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

IF 1 BEARD IS GOOD, 2 MUST BE GREAT!

Here it is, the first confirmed Thrill Kill of the year!  It was made by Greg Thomas, a 2010 decoy buyer from Tennessee.  He bought a TK hen a few weeks ago, then decided he'd like a TK tom deek to round out his spread. 

Well, turns out Greg is a good sport, because when UPS delivered the red-headed longbeard last Thursday, there were a few, um, issues.  The box had been smashed, the wooden base had been forced through the box, the decoy's head was bent way out of place, and the tail was cracked up.  Greg did a little in-home surgery and got the decoy into fighting shape again, and the pictures below show he did a great job. 

So congrats to Greg on this awesome Tennessee double-beard, with a bow (at 14 yards)! 

Thursday, April 1, 2010

PREPARED TO LAUNCH!

Anyone remember the Beggin' Strips commercial where the dog is about to blow a gasket 'cause he smells bacon in the house?  (hint: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CErapf79rqM&feature=related).  I sorta feel like that now that my first turkey hunt vacation of the year is close enough to, well, "sniff".  I've been working overtime in the basement, trying to keep up with decoy orders, plus have enough new stock to use for myself this spring. 

Here are the last 2 mounts I've built.  At the time these pictures were taken they still didn't have legs, but I've since remedied that minor issue and these bad boys are ready to do their thing!  They're very similar, except for slight differences in overall body size and head posture/position.  The one on the bottom will be staying with me!



And I'm currently working with the owner of BagRBuck (http://www.bagrbuck.com/) to incorporate a tail mechanism that goes from down and folded to up and full strut with the pull of a string.  It's going to be slick!  We actually meet near Nashville next Wednesday to finish off a couple of prototype deeks, with hopes of getting some live hunting footage to use in product promotion in the coming year.  I'll definitely blog it, so keep your eyes open.

Best of luck to everyone this spring - those of you that have already started, and those of us that are prepared to launch our 2010 hunts!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

TWRF'S TENNESSEE GOVERNOR'S ONE SHOT TURKEY HUNT

Several years ago fate brought Andy Edwards to the Fulton County (Indiana) Soil & Water Conservation District's annual meeting.  Fate had also directed me there as the guest speaker, to talk about the success of wild turkey reintroduction in northern Indiana.  Andy and I met after the banquet that night, found we had a great deal in common, and have been hunting buddies ever since.

Well, in those early years Andy worked as the Pheasants Forever biologist in Indiana, but he and I would travel to his home town of Pulaski each spring to turkey hunt.  While we were there, we'd normally attend the Tennessee Governor's One Shot Turkey Hunt banquet.  Andy used to joke about how he could take that event to the next level if he was in charge.

Well, this is one of those "be careful what you ask for" moments.  Two years ago Andy signed on with the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Foundation, and these days one of his chief responsibilities is coordinating the Governor's Hunt/Banquet right there in his home town.  Strange, but true!

Last year Andy asked if I'd donate a full-mount decoy for the event, and I glady contributed.  This year I'm donating again, and Andy has been kind enough to add my blogsite link on the website for the Governor's hunt.  So I'm doing likewise.  If you're in Tennessee on April 10, you really should plan to at least attend the banquet.  Years ago it was fun.  Now that Andy's in charge, it's a full-fledged party!

http://www.twrf.net/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=33:turkey-hunt&catid=19:events&Itemid=12

And I can't wait to get to get there to be part of it! 


A good day in Giles County, TN.  Ben Jones, Dennis Edwards, and me!

Monday, February 15, 2010

The Hallelujah Longbeard




If you've hunted turkeys for long, you've probably had at least one very memorable bird strut its way into your life. Whether it strutted back out or not may be part of the overall memory, but I tend to best recall the longbeards I was able to carry out over my shoulder. Here's one that was on the losing end of Devine Intervention. Really. After all, it's my story...

In 2007 my brother accompanied me on a trip to my favorite out-of-state turkey stomping grounds, Pulaski, Tennessee. Early in our trip, Ricky and I each killed respectable longbeards, but then the weather pulled off wet and cool, and the birds got tight-lipped. We spent a couple of days running-and-gunning various parts of Giles County, but to no avail. Late on a Saturday afternoon I took a forced march to a green field about a mile behind the house we were staying in, and retreated deep into my GoreTex as a late-day drizzle turned into something like rain.

Nestled under an old "wolf" oak tree on a pasture fence row, I let the frustrations of the past 2 days soak in. Truth be told, if I'd been back home in Indiana I'd have headed back to the house. But since I was on a turkey hunting trip, after all, and had paid the hefty cost of the out-of-state license, I guilted myself into staying put.

To occupy the time, while I prayed for day to fade to dark post-haste, I did my best to catch a nap. Try as I might, the incessant roll of raindrops off the bill of my camo baseball cap kept me suspended in that melatonin-hazed netherworld, just between wakefulness and full sleep.

After a few neck-jerking exercises, I started to pull hard toward full consciousness. With my eye lids balancing about 50-50 between open and closed, I started to rally around the thought that I was hearing far-off gobbling. Eventually my brain and ears collaborated on that distant noise and concluded that it was indeed gobbling I was hearing. After 2 days of sitting the bench, I was back in the turkey hunting game!

I hit my feet, grabbed my weathered 870 and headed toward the long, narrow-spined wooded ridge that I knew the bird was on. It was 30 minutes before sundown, and I suspected the overcast conditions would bring dark to the Tennessee hills just a little sooner than usual.

Knowing the terrain, I was expecting the gobbler to head right down the spine of the ridge he was on, ending up in a fairly broad and open flat at the ridge's northern terminus. And I knew that if I didn't double-time it I'd never make it there without him seeing me cross the pasture valley between "his" ridge and the one I was currently standing on.

As I stopped to catch my breath, and course the bird, I was encouraged to hear him still gobbling - alot. But it didn't take long to figure out that he was stalled out on the ridge, and already too close to the flat for me to get there. I was going to have to roost him and come back in the morning - or was I?

No sooner than I'd caught my breath, the gobbler turned and headed back south. Both his ridge and mine curved away to the west as they ran south, and I thought there might just be a chance that I could get around him and cut him off in the last 20-odd minutes of the day. I could stay put and roost him from a distance, or go after him and try to get the job done. If I didn't kill him, I'd at least get close enough to him to know which tree he was in for a morning set-up. I started the 1/2 mile end-around.

The first part of the run was easy - mostly down-hill, and all in open fields or on well-worn cattle paths. But getting back up the hogsback ridge that loudmouthed gobbler was on nearly popped the lungs on this Indiana flatlander. But with every gobble I felt more and more like I was being taunted, so on I went.

When I finally reached the top the bird was still gobbling, but it quickly became obvious that in going far enough past him to insure I wouldn't accidentally bump him, I'd blown any chance of killing him before dark. As that reality, like evening darkness, was settling in, the sound of distant wingbeats cut through the heavy, damp Tennessee air. Despite my heaving lungs, I held my breath, hoping I wasn't the cause of those wing sounds I was hearing. A few seconds of waiting allayed my fears - "g-g-g-g-o-o-o-o-o-b-b-b-b-b-b-l-l-l-l-l-l-e-e-e-e-e-e-". He was roosted, and no more than 75 yards from where I stood, panting.

I eased forward, slow and steady. Just a few yards down the old ridge-top logging lane, I spied him, all alone, and still singing his one-word song. Content with my afternoon's progress, I turned around and began the long walk back to my home-away-from-home. It was poker night back at the house, and with a lonley, loud-mouthed tom roosted, I was feeling plenty lucky!

The plan for the morning was simple. I was going right back to where I'd stood at dark the night before, and let my brother have the north end of the ridge in that open hardwood flat toms so enjoy strutting in. We figured that if I didn't kill him at flydown, he'd head back out the ridge, and right into Ricky's lap. Foolproof. Foolproof?

As the eastern horizon slowly brightened, I settled quietly into the fold of a ridgetop oak and waited for the show to start. As expected, the longbeard, still in the same tree - different limb - sounded off only slightly after the neighborhood songbirds started in. There I was, undetected and within 75 yards of a head that begged for jellying.

He didn't wait long to fly down. I somehow managed to keep my diaphragm call in my cheek until he hit the ground. Then I gave a soft series of yelps that was met with an instant, roaring response. I felt almost guilty; this was going to be easy.

This has become a long story, so let me hasten the ending a bit. Instead of walking into my lap, that longbeard "yo-yo'ed" back and forth between my brother and me, always staying just out of shotgun range of either of us. Just as I'd expect to hear my brother's gun break the Sunday morning stillness, I'd hear the gobbles coming back my way. We were being played!

Nearly an hour into the hunt I decided it was time to make a move. After all, I'd only stayed put this long because my brother was on the other end of the ridge. With my anxiety growing I reasoned that even if I bumped the bird he'd still end up in Ricky's vicinity. So as the sound of gobbles became ever-more distant, I made that bent-over shuffle we've all made, from tree to tree, cover to cover. I advanced my position about 75 yards and settled back in.

Sure enough, it wasn't 2 minutes before that darned bird reveresed course and headed right back my way. I gave him a few reassuring yelps, then stuck my call back in my left cheek, while bringing the gun to my right. And sure enough, here he came. I was going to get a shot - but as it turns out, it wasn't going to be easy.

About 50 yards up the ridge the old road split, with an almost undetectable old lane running west, downslope, toward a small pasture field. Instead of walking into my lap, the gobbler veered to his right and proceeded to edge off the ridgetop. I knew the distance was "iffy," but the woods was clean and clear, and I had him dead in my sights. With a squeeze of the trigger I sent a swarm of Federal Heavyweight #6 shot downrange. I was hitting my feet as the old ridgerunner was hitting the leaves.

This is where it get's almost surreal. The bird was flopping, and I didn't want his downhill momentum to give him any chance of escaping. With sleep-tingled legs, I stumbled my way to my feathered prize as fast as I could. I'd no more than gotten my hands around the longbeard's legs than, as loud and clear as if I'd been standing under a church steeple, the sound of the Hallelujah Chorus came spilling in over the south Tennessee hills.

Standing there, hands on turkey legs, I let out a whoop to reassure my brother that he could get up and head my way. Then I simply stood there while Handel's famous overture filled the air. The timing was so perfect that I figured the Good Lord must have willed this turkey into my life. Now I know, sceptics will say that Christ Himself wouldn't do such a thing, but if you'd been there that morning, praying like I was for the chance to put a tag on that longbeard's leg, you'd know Devine Intervention is possible, even in the turkey woods!



This is the church from my story - see the loudspeakers on top?!



To better explain the source of the music, one ridge over from where I was hunting stands a beautiful old country church. In fact, it's the one my friends Andy and Audra were married in. Each Sunday morning their loudspeaker system broadcasts beautiful praise music across the entire neighborhood before the Sunday services start. It just so happens that the first song that Sunday morning coincided with that longbeard singing his last praises; If I hadn't already been a convert, I can promise you I'd have become one that day!





Hallelujah indeed!

Friday, February 12, 2010

JAKE BREAK

I'm not too proud to say I've shot a jake (or 4 or 5) in my turkey hunting career.  In Tennessee a few seasons back I killed 2 on consecutive days.  I'm trigger happy, and make no apologies for it.  But I don't normally try to transfer my blood lust onto others.  I say that as preface to the video you're about to watch, taken on my 2009 trip to Tennessee.

The hunter is Sean Collins, and this hunt took place on his farm in Giles County.  Tennessee regulations allow a hunter to kill 4 spring birds, and at the start of this hunt, Sean had already tagged 3 April longbeards.  That previous trio fell to the miracle of modern smokeless powder; for the 4th, Sean was toting his Hoyt Alpha Max. 

When a gang of jakes showed up in our decoys spread, Sean decided, without any help from me, to thin the juvenile population a little.  But he needed 2 tries!

Hey, sometimes it's nice to take a break from the pressures of chasing limbhangers!

video

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

BLACK HILLS AND WHITE STRIPES

Several years back my brother and I took a May trip to the Black Hills of South Dakota to chase the subspecies of turkey named in honor of the late zoologist, Clinton Hart Merriam.

Meliagris gallopavo meriami, or the Merriam's wild turkey, is one of the 5 subspecies of wild turkeys that compose the slam most turkey hunters aspire to.  Our 2002 trip was the first time either my brother or I efforted to bag this beautiful, white-accented cousin of the Eastern subspecies we routinely chase back home here in Indiana.

While the weather was fickle, and the birds scattered, we did have a great time in the beautiful western hill country of South Dakota.  Ricky managed to tag a nearly-beardless 2-year old tom during a snowstorm, but try as I might, I couldn't connect.  It was an awesome trip, regardless, and I wasn't even back in Indiana yet when I started making plans to go back.

So in 2003 I returned to the Black Hills with another hunting buddy of mine, Andy Edwards.  Just 2 days into our week-long trip, Andy managed to connect on a beautiful bird that I had heard gobbling at dark the night before.  Andy and I spent the next few days driving around the Hills in search of another lonely longbeard, eventually ending up back at our jumping-off point near the town of Lead. 

The last day of the hunt Andy dropped me off, before daylight, in a spot that had proved to hold birds the year before.  His plan was to trout fish most of the day, but check in on me at noon, and every 2 hours after that, in case I killed a bird.  We had a designated meeting spot about 3/4 mile up the access road from where I was hunting, and Andy planned to spend about 15 minutes sitting tight each trip in, giving me a little flexibility for showing up.

At about 2:10 that afternoon, I was surprised to see my white Ford truck coming across the valley bottom I was watching.  I stood up and waved for Andy, and he quickly drove to meet me.  "Man, I was sitting in the truck playing tennis on my cell phone when a longbeard started up within 50 yards of the truck.  I figured I'd better come see if you wanted to go after him."

That's all it took.  By 2:20 I was sliding off the bumper while Andy drove on.  But try as I might, I couldn't seem to strike that bird.  I did a nearly mile-long end-around, covering the entire circumference of the roadside "bowl" Andy had heard him in earlier.  In disgust, I walked back down the logging road and stood at our pre-arranged pick-up spot to wait for Andy to come back.  The only problem was, in our hurry to get back to the bird before he shut up, we hadn't make any plan for exactly when Andy would return.

As it turns out, it didn't matter.  No more than I'd hit the bend in the road where I'd been dropped off, that longbeard lit up all on his own about 1/4 mile east of where I stood.  He was in a big cutover, full of a thick stand of pine regrowth.  I headed up-hill to get above him, hoping I could make him come back toward the road where Andy had heard him earlier.

My first set of yelps got a quick response.  By now the bird had been gobbling just fine on his own, but when I gave him the proper incentive, he started a darned-near maddening series of gobbles that would last until I pulled the trigger nearly 90 minutes later.

The hill I was climbing, now trying to cut him off as he streaked back my way, was the tallest and steepest around.  Try as I might, I couldn't get to the top, or even far enough around the side, to get in front of him.  Gobbling with every breath, that Merriam's longbeard proceeded right around me on the opposite side of the hill, then across the road and back into the bowl he'd been in when Andy first heard him.

I followed.  He gobbled.  I snuck closer.  He moved away.  I followed.  He gobbled.  I snuck closer.  He moved away.  This cat-and-mouse game went on for over an hour, with me worrying all the while that Andy would drive back up the road and bump the bird in the process.

Then, with only about 30 minutes of legal shooting light left, the tom crossed back over the road and started making his way east toward a mature stand of conifers.  I figured he was headed to roost, and I might just as well see where.  If Andy was willing, I could extend our trip by 1 morning, hoping to get a crack at this roosted bird.

So as the longbeard started putting ground between me and him, still gobbling his fool head off, I crossed the road and headed straight back uphill, hoping to get high enough to give him a good listen.  In over 70 minutes of chasing him, I still hadn't layed eyes on him.  For me, just seeing him was going to be a moral victory.

As I dashed toward the crest of the hill, I could tell the bird had changed his course a little.  Slowing down to get a better fix on him, I was stunned to figure out that he was actually getting CLOSER.  And, he wasn't wasting any time in doing it.  I parked my camoed hind end against the nearest pine tree, and heart racing, barrel swaying, pointed upslope toward the approaching turkey.

At about 40 yards that gobbler finally showed himself, strutting down off the edge of an old logging lane.  It took me a second to comprehend that he was actually standing there, in full bloom, with nothing between me and him but the clean cool May air of the Black Hills.  "Never shoot a strutting bird" did enter my mind - for a second - when I centered my sights on his slick, red, strutting head.

I did pay him the courtesy of letting him touch off one last gobble before I snapped that thin clean line between sear and firing pin.  As my payload arrived, feathers flew, and the gobbler started rolling downhill.  I pounced.  Only a couple of hours before I was facing the reality of going home from my second South Dakota trip without tagging a bird.  I wasn't about to let this one get his feet, or wings, under him. 

Post-mortem pictures show that, in my exuberance, that tom lost a few neck feathers.  About 4 days earlier I'd poked fun at Andy for "denuding" the bird he shot as it flopped toward the edge of a pretty deep ravine.  I knew the payback was going to stink, but with a huge "whoop" of relief I threw my partially-plucked longbeard over my shoulder and darn-near floated the 100 yards back to the access road. 

No sooner had my boots hit the gravel then Andy came driving up.  I figured he'd been waiting patiently back at the main road and heard my shot-and-holler.  Turns out, he was just coming back in to check on me.  Had he done so 5 minutes earlier he'd have ruined my hunt for sure.  As it turns out, his timing was perfect.

It was nearly dark before we could start snapping pictures, but I'm not sure there were 2 happier turkey hunters anywhere in the Black Hills that night.  As we drove back into Lead to get a hotel room - and a for-real shower (not just milkjugs of water dumped over our heads), we kept reliving the highlights of our trip.  As we dug deep into the back of the truck for our "going to town" clothes, I asked Andy where he'd put my gun.  Let's just say that Andy got the first shower that night.  I got to drive 30 miles back out to the top of a nice green hillside, complete with scattered, white-tipped feathers, to retrieve my favorite fowling piece.  It's a trip I'd make again in a heartbeat.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

DEER DAZE

It's official - Indiana deer season is now closed.  The late archery season ended on Sunday, January 3.  In an earlier post I shared a few photographs from the 2009 season.  While looking around for some turkey images, I ran across a folder with several deer photos from years past, and thought I'd share a few.  Some day I'll scan in some images from the pre-digital camera era, if for no other reason than to prove that I once had a full head of hair!  Note: The photo comes first, the year/hunter/story after.






2007 - Archery: Randy Dickson (that's me)
This deer doesn't carry the biggest rack, but he did have great mass and was 5.5 years old (by tooth wear and replacement criteria).  He also happened to be HUGE of body.  We didn't have a way to weigh him, but I've killed 3 bucks that dressed over 200 lbs, and this one was far bigger than any of those.  He also had a really cool hole in the back of his right main beam, with the beam being porous way out toward the tip. 





2008 - Archery: Eric Sampson
Eric killed this deer while hunting with me in northern Indiana's Marshall County.  The buck nets right at 140, which is awfully solid for an 8-pointer.  As you can see, the deer had great mass throughout.  While we were taking pictures, my brother called to tell me he'd just shot a buck with his bow......keep reading!







2008 - Archery: Rick Dickson
Ricky shot this deer late in the morning, approaching noon, well after most guys have normally left the woods.  This is proof positive that when you're hunting good habitat in early-November, all-day sits should be the norm.  This deer grossed in the mid-160s.  He was absolutely worn out from chasing does - skin and bones - but his antlers didn't shrink any!





2001 - Archery: Randy Dickson
I killed this buck mid-afternoon on November 7 (my favorite day to be in a stand). He was with a doe that was coming into estrus, but hadn't quite made it yet.  After pushing her around, out of range, for nearly 2 hours, the doe finally walked past my stand.  He wasn't so lucky!  It was nearly 70 degees that day - don't let a little thing like warm weather keep you from hunting (especially when the rut is kicking in).




2005 - Archery: Rick Dickson
A good, clean harvest of a nice 3.5 year old buck.  My brother has since learned to pass these 120 inch bucks up - I'm not quite there yet!






2002 - Shotgun: Wally Palmer
This buck came out of standing corn to a ground blind set-up Wally had on opening day of the 2002 Indiana firearm season.  The buck was approaching Wally's decoy, with bad intentions, when Wally sealed the deal.  This is one of those deer that proves net score doesn't always measure the quality of a buck.





2003 - Archery: Randy Dickson
This is by no means a monster deer.  But that's a monster smile on the face of my nephew, Brandon.  I settled into a fresh stand at 12:30 p.m. on a cool early-November afternoon.  By 1:00 p.m. I was walking out, having heard this buck "crash up" in standing corn boardering the woodlot where I'd just shot him.  Talk about quick!  When I drove to dad's to see if he'd give me a hand, my brother and nephew happened to be there.  It was great to have 3 generations of Dickson deer hunters go make the recovery!





2008 - Shotgun: Baleigh Dickson
And in the air of saving the best for last, this is my niece with her first-ever deer.  She killed it on opening day of the '08 Indiana firearm season.  It was a perfect double-lung shot at 40 yards, and the buck piled up in the thick stuff about 30 yards from where he was standing when Baleigh let fly.  The buck was a heavy-based 2-year old 9-point, and as the smile shows, Baleigh was happy to take him.  And the best part of all (for me) was that I got to be in the tree with her when she pulled the trigger!  The smile behind the camera was as big as the one in front of it!


There you are - a few of the deer that helped make the memories that drive me, my family, and friends back to the deer woods each fall.  If you aren't part of the grand deer hunting fraternity, you probably don't understand why we cherish these moments so much!