Mooselette’s First Fish

Five years ago on Memorial Day Weekend, Team Moose announced that the family was going to be extended into the next generation. That day, I drove to Falmouth and bought a bucket of bluegill and largemouth bass to stock the pond nearest the house. I dedicated the pond to the anticipation of her arrival. Mooselette showed up on schedule the next February.

On Saturday, 4 year old Mooselette came out to the farm. It was rainy and blustery , but my granddaughter managed to snag her first fish with the help of her grandfather.

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Turkey Season 2016 Post-Mortem

The shotguns are back on the rack. The ammo and calls are put away. For all their work, Angus and SuperCore are eating tag soup. However, we all walked away with actionable intelligence. This was a good year overall for us. Everyone had shooting opportunities.

First off, let me talk about the weather and how it affected the turkeys. Coming off a mild winter, this was the most pleasant turkey seasons we’ve had in 15 years at the farm. We had fairly warm mornings in the low-to-mid fifties and highs frequently going into the low 80’s. I think this accelerated things with the turkeys. When we showed up for The Opener, the hens were already sneaking away from the flocks to nest. We saw numerous ones, singly and in pairs, out roaming the fields. However, it seemed the gobblers were still fairly henned up. We heard fewer shots this year overall. That was just our part of the county. Overall the harvest was the best in over a decade in Bracken County. This is at a time when the harvest in the Northeast Region is in a fairly deep hole. The statewide total was at a 3 year high.

There had been a Cicada hatch in 2014. I knew 2016 was going to be a good year when I saw all the jakes running around last year. Unlike the gay turkey herd we had after the last big Cicada invasion, these guys were hot for hens. I took both of mine from the new Honey Hole out of this cohort. Only the gobblers in the center of our property seemed to be active, however. SuperCore and Angus spent their time Opening Week on the east side, mostly hunting around Dead Skunk Hollow and Gobbler’s Knob. For the most part, they came up blank. There were gobblers and hens there, they just did not respond to calls.

The latter part of the season was dominated by more mature birds. I took SuperCore out to the new blind at Westwood on a foggy morning and called up Gobzilla. My back was to the action, so I did not see him. SuperCore said it was the biggest gob he had ever seen. Sadly, SuperCore shot over the gob at 10 yards or so. I told SuperCore later, after his prize had run off, that he had enjoyed the best part of turkey hunting– counting coup on a bird without having to schlep the carcass back to clean it. I do not think SuperCore shared that feeling.

Angus had a similar problem out at the new Honey Hole on the last morning of season. However, his mistake was the same as mine with my first bird. He managed to shoot at a beard-dragging gobbler at the exact same spot as I had, only his wad cut the line holding the blind. His gobbler flew off without a scratch.

What is interesting here is that this kind of reflects back towards what I have been saying about hunting pressure. Both Angus and SuperCore had opportunities at mature birds in the latter half of the season. My guess is these guys had been able to keep hens with them much later than other birds and so had only become lonely enough to come to a call later in the season. This matches what folks say when they talk about hunting pressured birds on public land. The big old smart birds are there, but somehow they know to keep low until later in the season after the hunters leave. I see it a different way, that downplays the human influence. The way I see it, these are the birds that can attract females to them until later in the season. As a result, they have no reason to venture out in search of a strange call. Indeed, the last weekend of season, I sighted mature gobblers out in the field several times. I was tagged out, but I could see them traveling about. SuperCore was able to hook up with one last Saturday. However, the coyotes came out and ran him off. One that I had spied going into Hootin’ Holler was the one Angus shot at.

It dawned on me this season exactly how loud folks’ calling can be. As I was coming out with my first bird, I started hearing a loud hen down in Hootin’ Holler, and I pulled out my Shamanic MK I box call and worked her for a little while, just to see what would happen. After several minutes, it dawned on me that I was trading calls with Angus clear over on Gobbler’s Knob, maybe 800 yards away. I confirmed this via walkie-talkie. Later in the season, I did similar experiments with Angus, and realized that our calling from 600+ yards sounded like a normal hen at 50. I do not know enough to tell you if this is good or bad. My point is that I frequently hear hunters calling from great distances that I know are not real hens.

Let me talk about gear for a moment. First off, I want to amplify what I said about my ammo. I have been flinging 3-inch Federal #4 lead. This year, I trouble, but I will not say it was the ammunition. In the first instance, the wad was upset going through the fabric of the blind, so the turkey did not get a full load. In the second instance, I misjudged the distance. The fix for all this is to rethink the new Honey Hole blind. The blind is larger than normal. I did this to compensate for the exposed position. As a result, it can be hard to gauge how far over the blind you have to shoot to clear it. I have other options, and I have a year to think them out.

In regards to calls and calling, I cannot tell you how happy I am that the Shamanic MK I box call worked. I used it to call in the first gobbler, who was less than 60 yards out when I sat down. That is a lifetime achievement right there– making your own box call using it to bag a bird. I have the fixings for several more. On the other side of the spectrum, I used the box I bought from Al Shoemaker at SS Custom Calls later in the season. It money well spent. That was brought in the herd of 3 gobblers that let me fill my last tag. Mine’s about as crude as you can get. Al’s are works of art. However, they both bag birds.

My new duck bootsAs far as the other stuff, I think I have finally found a good pair of turkey boots. Over the winter I did a search for “duck boot” on Amazon, and found a pair of insulated, rubber bottom boots for $35. I can say that for the first time in my 35 years of turkey hunting, I finished a season without cold wet feet. My demands for a turkey boot are not all that stringent, but I do have a lot of wet grass to cover, and temperatures can get into the mid-30’s, especially on pre-season scouting trips. I’m happy as a clam!

I also want to give a shout out to Plot Spike’s Clover Blend.  I put out a bag of this stuff mixed 50-50 with Ladino clover in the field next to the Honey Hole during the last full moon in February.  It was up and growing by the time season started.  I found the vetch component in the craw of both turkeys I nailed, and I am certain that it was attracting birds.  The field in which I sowed it had been some of the poorest ground on the property, an old play-out tobacco field.  Last fall, I fertilized with a product called Pasture Fertilizer from Tractor Supply, where I got the seed.   It really rejuvenated that old field.

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Last Tag Filled Amid Mortal Combat

In a way, I am somewhat relieved that the digital audio recorder was not working this morning. It saves me having to listen to it all again, to make it into a podcast. Now that it is over, I do not feel like I have achieved a great victory. In fact, I want to say straight off that I screwed up.

Let me back up a bit. Last Saturday was the last chance any of the three of us, had a chance to shoot a bird. Most of the past week, there were no gobblers gobbling on the entire farm. This was despite the warmest temperatures I’ve seen during Opening Week in  15 seasons, and the longest string of perfect turkey hunting weather I’ve ever seen. Morning temperatures have been in the 50’s to low 60’s. The high temperatures have been in the 80’s. This is rare for the Trans-Bluegrass. It is more likely that mornings will be around freezing and the high temperature barely sees 70 all week. Best of all, there was no wind.

Sunday thru Wednesday, I could have been calling in my own living room for all the good it did me. We all saw hens– lots of them. However, there were no gobblers, not even a peep out of them. However, on Thursday evening, just as the shadows were lengthening, the pasture to the south of the house suddenly filled with turkeys. We had an incredible display for the better part of an hour. Problem was, SuperCore and I were both caught in our chairs, sipping an evening cocktail. We could barely move for a half hour or more lest we scare them off. The gobblers were strutting within 100 yards of us. When they withdrew to about 300 yards, I went in the house and snapped some shots, but by then they were just dots on a field of green.  Remember that thought.

Thursday morning saw some excitement. Two hens and a jake showed up at the Honey Hole and were feeding less than 10 feet from my gun barrel. I was having so much fun with them that I did not even think about shooting the jake. Instead I threw angry purrs at them, and they were deuced to figure out where the mad hen was hiding.

We had a thunderstorm on Friday afternoon. That brought the turkeys out again. This time, I snuck out and tried to hunt them. However, I got just a couple of gobbles thrown back, and they were gone. Shortly afterward, Angus showed up for the weekend. He’d been at school all week. It is his senior year.

This morning, it was drab, cloudy, and windy. I sat down at the Honey Hole, and almost immediately had a gobbler gobble from the same roost that had held the bird I had taken on The Opener. I thought at first this was going to be an easy repeat, but that bird hopped down and chased after some hens and it was hours before I heard him again.

Angus was over on Gobbler’s Knob.  Even though he was a good 800 yards away from my position, a fluke in the wind brought his calls over to where I was.  The gobblers were honoring his calling more than they were mine.

About 0800 this morning, I had a gobbler come up within 40 yards of me. At the time, I was sitting at the old Honey Hole, and the bird walked right out of Left Leg Creek and stood at the far end of the old oak that had fallen. I was sitting at the stump end of the old tree. I never saw him. He made a couple of gobbles and then took off after some hens going down The Left Leg. At 0940, I was starting to think about when it would be good to break off and go in. I pulled out the Shamanic MK I box call and did a few last yelps on it.

As you probably know, I have a theory about turkey hunting. Birds are either having an “ON” day or they’re “OFF.” When they’re OFF, which is most of the time, nothing you throw at them works. When they’re turned ON, everything works. All of a sudden, the gobblers turned ON. The gobbler I had been working at first light came back. He was gobbling up a storm near the roost across the pasture to my left. I had the 0800 bird gobbling in Left Leg Hollow, and all of a sudden three gobblers lit up just to my south, around the Midway deer blind. Midway nearly exactly 200 yards from the Honey Hole. Between the two is a fence line filled with ancient oak trees, and a tangle of old fence. The gobblers were coming my way. I just had to wait for them to come.

It took them the better part of a half hour to come to me. They were feeding in the pasture to my right. I had sowed clover there in mid February. I got the recorder working( or so I thought). I got my veil down, gloves on, and put a young hen call in my mouth. I had all three gobblers in view. I had a great shooting lane open that afforded me an optimal shot at 20 yards or so. It was the lane through which I had shot the gobbler on The Opener. This time, I made sure my barrel was pointed over the blind. I had nearly muffed the shot a week ago, by accidentally firing through the burlap blind instead of over it. This time, I took my cheek off the stock to check. No problem.

The first bird showed up and he was feeding. For the whole time he came through the shooting lane his head was down in the weeds. I slewed my shotgun back to the opening and waited, keeping one eye on the scope and the other surveying what was coming next. The first bird had already come through. The third bird was starting to show himself through the trees. The second bird stepped out into the shooting lane.

The mistake I made was thinking that all three birds were walking in a line. There is a track running a down both sides of the fence line. The one on the west side gets more use, and is a bit more obvious. I had just rolled the truck down there on Wednesday. It is about 10 yards away from the side of the blind. My shot was angled back to the south. If I had been right, the gobbler would have been 20 yards out when I fired. There was a cloud of feathers. The bird went over, and then promptly got up again and looked at me. His buddies ran over to see what was going on. When they were clear, I took a second shot. This did very little except blow feathers off the bird. By this time I was muttering about firing blanks. I took a third shot. This one I saw hit a low hanging branch and the wad deflected vertically. The shotgun was now empty.

I reached into my bag and jammed two more rounds into the magazine and took off at a run. All three gobblers had run off, albeit slowly towards the far side of the pasture and headed into Left Leg Hollow. The fence line is somewhat raised from the rest of the territory, so it affords a chance to pass quickly down the east side, out in the pasture, while remaining hidden to everything on the west side of the fence. I traveled over 100 yards in this manner before going through a hole in the fence. I burst out into the field about 75 yards from the far end, where the Midway blind sits. In the very back corner of the field was the gobbler. He was dazed, but erect. Our eyes met at about 50 yards or so. It was a long shot, but I jacked a round in and chanced it. That knocked him down. I ran over and saw he was prostrate, but still very much alive. The last round was inside 20 yards, and that knocked him insensate.

I was not done yet. I had not killed the bird. He was still flopping about and had plenty of life. My first attempt at grabbing his legs failed. He got me with his spurs–nothing serious, but it left some marks. He was almost through the fence. In the process, I had slipped on the wet grass and taken a tumble. I was now down on all fours, and saw him making for the fence. I lept on him and we rolled around on the rocks and sticker bushes at the margin of the grass. I finally got both legs in one hand and struggled to my feet before putting the boot to his neck. By the time I was done, the battle had lasted 5 minutes and gone more than 200 yards down the pasture from the blind.

Dragging the bird back, I was able to see two distinct piles of feathers. After retrieving my gear, I was able to step it off. As I said, I had imagined the birds to be traveling single file, and that would have put the bird in the center at 20 yards when I pulled the trigger. However, there was nothing to judge distance on the bird, in the scope he had appeared surrounded by green grass. The truth? 60 yards. The second pile was 5 yards farther out– this with a gun I had set up to work nicely inside 40 yards.

I cannot fault the gun or the load. I shoot a Mossberg 500 with a Dead Coyote choke. I have been shooting 3 inch Federal #4 lead shells since 1996. Yes, a 3.5″ gun shooting $8/round state-of-the-art alloys would probably have worked better. The point is, that my eyes got fooled by all that green grass in the field, and I took a shot that was too long. If I had waited for the third bird, I am certain he was closer to me. I could hear his feet in the leaves. I have taken nearly 2 dozen birds from this spot. This is the first time the outcome has been decided by hand-to-hand combat.

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PODCAST: The End of the Galloping Gobbler

I’ve been turkey hunting since Reagan’s first term. In all that time, I’ve never seen a gobbler reanimate after being dead for 5 minutes. Normally, when I shoot them, I run out fast and give them the old lift-and-seperate treatment, but the gobbler this morning flopped a couple of times and went toes-up. I thought everything was done. Boy was I wrong, and it nearly lost me a fine gobbler. I am getting ahead of myself.

 

Podcast — The End of the Galloping Gobbler

 

This morning was The Opener of Kentucky’s Spring Gobbler Season. I went out to the New Honey Hole blind to try my luck. I had been out there a couple of times already this spring to scout, and had not been all that impressed with the action. I did, however, run into a really excited gobbler a few weeks ago that came at the run over to the Honey Hole and kept on going. From looks alone, I would say the fellow I encountered this morning might have been the same one: a noisy 2 year old with an 8 inch beard.

 

I got to the blind about 5 minutes before legal hunting. It was still dark enough that I had a deuce of a time getting into the blind. Unlike the old Honey Hole, this one has not had the path fully cleared, and so I kept bumping into things. I made a lot of noise getting there, and as soon as I sat down, a gobbler sounded off from just across the pasture, less than 50 yards away. He was roosted in a tree that was on the other side of a large cedar, otherwise I am sure he would have busted me. I worked him conservatively with tree calls from my new Shamanic MK I box call until he pitched down off the roost and then switched to a glass pot call, my old Heirloom Double Barrel. Other gobblers were honoring the calls as well. This was one of those fantasic “ON” kind of mornings, where everything comes together: hot birds, good weather, and no wind. We may get only a couple of these days a season, and it is seldom on The Opener.

There were hens roosted downhill from him, and I think he pitched down to them first. They came uphill to meet up, and then the hens and the gobbler walked the far fence line and emerged at the far end of the pasture, about 80 yards away. The hens crossed into the next pasture and started coming towards me, angling out into the field to feed. The gobbler stayed close to the treeline that held my blind and soon was making his final approach in full strut. I waited until he crossed behind a large tree and brought my gun up.

There was a hen that had come upon my back side. When I brought the gun up, she threw a serious hiss-fit just over my left shoulder. That made the hens in the field come to attention, and it made the gobbler hold up for what seemed like an eternity, but he eventually came out, still in full strut, and head on towards me. I did not chance the hen behind me messing things up any further, so I took the shot. The Galloping Gobbler got a face full of Federal #4’s at 20 yards.

 

Normally a gobbler should be shot when they have their neck extended and are not all balled up in strutting. I took the risk, because he was so close and I was expecting him to spook. I bowled him over with the shot. He flopped a couple of times and lay stone dead in the field, with his toes up and twitching. I was not expecting a problem, so I took my time getting up to retrieve him. As I was recording all this for a podcast, I sat and explained to my listeners what had just transpired.

About 5 minutes into my bloviation, I was surprised to see the gobbler suddenly reanimate and begin running back towards the treeline. I made a fast dash down the fence and intercepted the gobbler. He had plowed into rust farm fencing and was hung up and seemed spent. However, when I went to grab for his legs, the came alive a second time, made it over the fence and started running for Heartbreak Ridge. I wasted a second shot that probably got buried in a tree trunk. He was moving fast. I ran after him, and found him caved in again about another 20 yards down the hill. This time, I got smart and slewed to my right, so I could catch him from the side. At 10 yards, I put the finisher into his head.

He  was not done yet. I had a devil of time getting his legs and a longer than normal job breaking his neck with my boot heel. By the time I returned to the blind, I was spent.

I hope you enjoy the podcast. This is one of the very few times I have gotten to call a gobbler off the roost, and only the second time I have done it while podcasting. Due to the weather in mid-April here in the Trans-Bluegrass and the timing of the season in Kentucky, the gobblers are seldom ready to pitch down to an unseen hen, and so we usually set up for mid-morning encounters.

Before I go, I want to mention Angus.  He turns 18 tomorrow.  He was out this morning, as well as SuperCore.  This was his first trip driving solo to Turkey Camp. He just got his license this week.  I got some pics of him on the way in this morning, and I just wanted to see what a fine upstanding turkey hunter I’ve raised.

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A Momentous Occasion

When I started turkey hunting, Ronald Reagan was still in his first term. Ohio had a spring season, but you had to apply for a tag months before to get into a lottery. The closest place I could hunt a spring gobbler was 5 counties over. It took a 3 hour drive to get there. It was in Hocking County, one county over from Vinton where the last remaining flocks had been netted for breeding stock.

By 1995, Ohio allowed turkey hunting in Clearmont County. That meant you could now hunt one county over from my house. I was deer hunting that county, but never saw or heard a turkey in five seasons.

For every spring since 2000, I have been going out on my back porch in the spring and calling at sun-up. I live in a northern suburb of Cincinnati about 2 miles from the city limits. I knew one day the turkeys would find their way to me. It was just a matter of patience.

Yesterday I was at the barbershop and folks were talking about turkeys in the city park to my south and the county park just to my north.

I had tried last week with no luck. However, this morning, I went out about 10 minutes before sunrise with the Shamanic MK I boxcall and ripped off some yelps. I got a response. He was less than 100 yards out to my south and east. That would place him in one of my neighbor’s back yards over on the next street.

That puts it less than a month shy of 35 years since I first pulled on a box call and got a response from a gobbler. It still gives me chills.

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The New Honey Hole

I was back at the New Honey Hole today, erecting a blind.  This spot differs in one main way from the original Honey Hole, about 10 yards to the north: it is considerably more exposed.  I took a 5X12′ piece of burlap and split it lengthwise, and surrounded it with a paracord.  Here is the result after it was hung

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A Question About Turkey Ammo

This is a question that is asked more out of ignorance than anything else. I don’t want to be confused with the Old Schoolers that think you have to limit your kit to what your grandfather used. I also do not want to suggest there is an ethical issue here. As far as I am concerned, all I owe the gobbler is a quick death. Period. Mine is a question of practicality and economy more than anything. My question is about the loads we choose to use turkey hunting.

First off, my confession. When I started out, a 2 3/4″ 12 GA Trap gun was considered ideal for turkey hunting. You put a Dixie cup on a stick, walked back 20 yards and shot at the Dixie cup. If you had a pellet or two go through the cup, you were good to go. If you got better than a couple of pellets, you went back a few yards and repeated the procedure until there were only a couple of pellets going through the cup, and that was the working range of that gun and that load. Eight bucks would buy you a box of 25 premium high brass #4. That was extravagant. As I remember, if you worked at it, you get a lead #4 high brass load for a quarter a round. Ronald Regan was President. Life was good. In 1996 I found a Mossberg 500 that shot 3 inch shells and switched to Federal #4 lead, and have been happy with it ever since.

I would be the first to tell you it is overkill. In the intervening 30 years, I have possibly taken only one or two birds that would have been out of reach of my Dad’s Model 12 Trap and Remington Nitro Express Buffered Magnum #4. I still have some of my first box left. I keep threatening to go retro some year and hunt with the Model 12 but alas, I find myself gripped of the same delusions as everyone else.

Nothing in the intervening decades has changed, except the shotguns and the loads. The turkeys are still the same, and the terrain is the same. Calling is still the preferred method of bringing in a turkey. So why are we talking about $8/round 3.5inch loads? Why are we discussing shot alloys that require a Masters degree in Metallurgy to fully comprehend? Why are we worrying about how our round performs at 70 yards? Why are we submitting ourselves to the same recoil as an elephant gun to kill a 20 pound bird?

I have been asking these questions for over a decade. The answers I get are along the lines of:

1) I want to be ready for what comes.
2) I want the very best.
3) I get only a couple shots a year, I want to make it count.
4) I want the winning edge (whatever that is)

When I start hearing guys using a Lead Sled to pattern their guns, I have to take pause. The technology is exceeding the limits of the human body at this point. That tells me something is wrong.

I worked for a while as a Quality Assurance Manager. One of the first things they teach you is the definition of Quality: conforms to a specification. It does not mean the best money can buy. It does not mean the cheapest you can make. Both strategies end up with the company bankrupt. Quality means define a specification and attempt to meet it. If you meet the specification, that’s Quality. My supposition here is that over the decades, as turkey hunting has become more popular we tend to find reasons to make the specification for turkey loads higher and higher with very little increase in actual return.

My question is this: what has changed since the days of having a good trap gun meant you also had a quality turkey gun?

Another question: Back in the early 80’s, I can remember folks being worried about their turkey guns performing adequately. A lot of birds were missed at fairly close range due to open or faulty patterns and inadequate performance. Gobblers seemed a lot better armored back then just because a lot of inadequate hardware was being used. Are we secretly stuck fighting a battle that was won 30 years ago? That is, a good 2 3/4″ 12 GA load fired out of a reasonable gun took a bird at reasonable distances. Where does it end?

 

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