Turkeys

Growing up in Idaho we didn’t have turkeys to hunt until they were introduced in I think the early 80’s. The turkeys have done well in Idaho especially in northern Idaho where I used to hunt whitetails. I never got too excited about hunting turkeys because I was always spending my time big game hunting or chukar hunting. I did some reading about hunting them back east and how they were difficult to hunt. When my brother Travis moved to the Black Hills of South Dakota in the early 90’s he guided turkey hunters and after listening to his hunting stories I thought a turkey is going to be hard animal to be successful tagging.

While we were living in the Black Hills of South Dakota from 2003 until 2007 I should have been doing plenty of turkey hunting, but I always found a reason not to go turkey hunting, deer, antelope, and upland bird hunting was great in South Dakota. The place we lived on in the Black Hills had turkey everywhere, literally. Around one hundred would roost less than two hundred yards from the house and others from the neighbors would wander through all day long. The first winter we lived in the Black Hills, I was feeding the turkeys grain on my doorstep, and I think I could have grabbed one by the neck with my hands. It just didn’t seem like hunting if I shot one of the turkeys I was feeding grain to. These turkeys would stand right outside the dog’s yard and just drive our dog’s nuts. Finally I thought maybe I should use one of the dogs to turkey hunt. I kind of wish I hadn’t thought that after the trip Cruiser and I were going to have chasing turkeys. I did think maybe I can get a point and a picture with the dog and turkey in the same frame. Once again I wish I had not thought that was possible. The following is from an article I wrote in the Wire news magazine in 2007.

Jodi and I were in the process of moving yet again, (this time to Sheridan, WY) and it was spring turkey season so I decided it was my last chance to go turkey hunting. Jodi was already living in Sheridan while Cruiser and I were still in South Dakota. I planned on letting Cruiser go point one of the turkeys that lived on our thirty-five acres. I thought Cruiser or Zoie would be the best chance to point a turkey because turkeys are good runners and a young dog would probably just get them flying. I didn’t have any tracking collars or any collars for that matter and I can’t remember why, but I think they had made the move already. I was a little hesitant to let Cruiser loose without any way to find him. But, Cruiser was getting a little older, and slower, and it had rained the night before so I could follow him around through the mud if I had to.

I got up around daylight and looked out the window. Sure enough the turkeys were all over the place and many toms were strutting around in full fanned tails. I let Cruiser loose and I got ready for a picture with the turkeys and Cruiser in the same frame. Well the tame turkeys aren’t so tame when a dog is loose. The turkeys took off running in every direction and didn’t look back. I got Cruiser headed toward three toms that went to the east and stayed on our property. They didn’t stay around for long and headed up the steep hill leading to the National Forest land to the south of us. I really wasn’t in the mood to go hill climbing with a camera and my gun in the mud. Cruiser wasn’t pushing the turkeys too hard and they didn’t start flying, but they didn’t quit running either. I followed the tracks of Cruiser and the turkeys in the mud and they kept heading up hill. I would see Cruiser once in a while pointing and tracking them, but the turkeys just kept running and didn’t stay around long enough for me to arrive.

I ended up on top of the hill hoping the turkeys were not going south down the steep rocky slope to the National Forest. I was only up high for a short time because I could see Cruiser moving a couple hundred yards back down the hill heading northeast. This had only taken two hours so far, and I was planning on a ten minute hunt. The turkeys were nowhere to be seen, but Cruiser looked like he was still tracking them so I took off to a spot they looked like they might end up back on the southeast corner of our property. This was my favorite spot to sit and wait for the whitetails during the rut. When I got to the cut off spot I didn’t see any turkeys or Cruiser. I started down through the timber that was somewhat more open than the timber up on the hill. After twenty yards I found Cruiser pointing down the hill, but I didn’t see anything in front of him. I just couldn’t believe I couldn’t see a bird the size of a turkey. I just kept quiet and started looking closely in the direction Cruiser was pointing. Then I saw the red head of a big tom turkey. I wasn’t in range so I used some trees to keep the turkeys from seeing me and it was obvious they were looking at Cruiser, but since he was standing still they seemed to be still, as well.

At this point I realized I had no chance of using the camera to get a picture of Cruiser and the toms in the same frame. Wildlife pictures are not as easy to get as you would think, especially when you involve dogs. When I got in range I shot the closest one. Finally—the day Cruiser had been waiting for since he got to South Dakota! He was going to get one of those big turkeys in his mouth! There were two toms and after I shot the one the other one attacked the one I had just shot. I said fetch and Cruiser who was around seventy yards up the hill took off after the large bird. Then I saw I had a problem—the tom that was alive took off running and then flying and of course Cruiser decided to follow him. It took me a few minutes to get Cruiser back to the dead one and he pounced on it with the happiness of a little puppy playing. Another problem for a wirehair fetching turkeys is they are big and even Cruiser’s big mouth couldn’t get around the chest of a turkey, and the feathers seemed slick and sticky. Cruiser was struggling to get a hold on the big bird when he finally grabbed him by the neck and started my way. The bird was big enough it would trip Cruiser up when he tried dragging it and he finally just sat down and looked up at me like come get this thing.

Cruiser fetching a turkey spring 2007 in South Dakota

Cruiser fetching a turkey spring 2007 in South Dakota

He was reluctant to release the bird and I just let him claim it as long as he wanted. He did give up a lot easier than the time I let him fetch a nice five by five whitetail buck Travis had shot about 15 yards from where I shot this turkey. That time it took Travis and I both to pull Cruiser off the neck of the deer. I did manage to get a couple pictures with Cruiser holding the turkey down.

The 1st time I had a chance at a turkey in Wyoming was with a Cruiser daughter named Wanda. It was part of my blog entry for my best day of hunting. She got a point on the way back to the pickup after we had been very successful on other game earlier in the day. We had been on a little game less hike and after about two miles of Wanda running hard not producing anything else to shoot I was looking at the last big hill ahead of us thinking this is going to be a workout. My bird bag was already full, and I was tired. Little did I know the load was going to get much more heavy. Just before Wanda dropped into the creek bottom she locked up real hard with her head and nose up very high, and she was almost standing on her tippy toes indicating to me she had something just over the rise. I come up slowly and peeked over the small ridge, and a couple dozen turkeys were looking back at me. Well YES I did have a turkey tag in my hunting pack that was good for either sex, and the season was open. If I had been smart I would have ground pounded the smallest one, and called it a day, but I jumped them, and shot the biggest tom in flight at fifteen yards. Wanda went up and hopped on the big bird very happily, but then just like her dad Cruiser (in the picture above) had found out, turkeys are hard to pick up. The feathers seem slick, and they are a big bird. She wrestled with it for a while and never did figure out what Cruiser figured out. If you are a Wirehair retrieving a turkey you have to grab it by the neck and drag it. I finally convinced her to let go of her prize and go get a drink of water from the creek since that was the last water until we got to the pickup.

Cruiser holding a turkey by the neck. South Dakota spring 2007

Cruiser holding a turkey by the neck. South Dakota spring 2007

I’m hoping to get a chance to video a turkey shot over point this spring. I have had a few turkey points now in Wyoming and I have some areas figured out where the birds aren’t quite as wild. This spring I’m going to see about a video. . I would not recommend turkey hunting with a GWP unless you have some time to kill, but I think it is possible if you have tame enough turkeys, and enough country to follow them around half a day.

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