Great hunt isn’t just bagging a turkey
Vail, CO Colorado
PARACHUTE CREEK ” In the eerie glow from a natural gas processing plant, clusters of camouflage-clad Colorado Division of Wildlife hunting guides huddled around their pick-ups.
It was 5 a.m., Saturday, and the Division of Wildlife’s third annual women’s turkey hunt was about to start. The women hunters trickled in to the Williams Production mancamp on Parachute Creek and after grabbing a quick cup of coffee and a granola bar we found our guides and squeezed into the pickups for a ride out to the hunting blinds.
I tagged along with Williams land manager Sandy Hotard and her guide Steve Lucero, the Division of Wildlife’s educational coordinator for southeast Colorado. Our blind was on the edge of an irrigated hay field about a quarter-mile north of the mancamp and just a few hundred yards from a “roosting” tree that turkeys fly into at night.
We settled down into the blind, a camouflage fabric structure like a small tent that seats two comfortably and four in a pinch. Lucero had said the birds would begin to wake up as it got light and we would hear them. But I wondered how. Surely we wouldn’t be able to hear them over the steady thrum of machinery from the nearby gas plant.
I pulled the flap away from a gun hole in the blind and peered out into the darkness. The lights from the plant shone bright as day and I could see lighted drilling rigs off in the distance.
As time went on the dark transformed to gray. It had begun to rain and a cold wind blew around the blind. And then we heard it, “Gobble, gobble.” It sounded so close. Every couple minutes it came, “Gobble, gobble,” the male’s mating call to the hens.
As the light grew stronger we could see the turkeys’ outlines on the old cottonwood roost tree, and the big tom, the gobbler, on the highest branch, fanning out his tail.
“Yeah, he’s strutting,” Lucero said.
In early spring the older males, the toms, court the hens, he explained.
Just as the color was coming back into the day ” I could see the green of the grass around the blind now ” the turkeys flared their wings and glided down to the ground.
Lucero had placed two decoys about 20 yards in front of the blind on the edge of the hay meadow, a hen and a young male, called a jake. Using a turkey “call,” he hoped to attract the tom or at least a jake to our “turkeys.”
However, as we were to learn over the four hours we spent in the blind, old Tom was busy elsewhere. Out in the field, surrounded by his hens, Tom put on a display that only the most jaded hen could have resisted. He flared his tail out like a peacock and the bronze feathers of his back fluffed out making him look twice his normal size. His wattle was blood red and hung from above his nose down to his proud breast.
He also had the most peculiar gait. He’d strut around then move in on a hen in a sort of gliding motion that made him look like he was on wheels. At one point he bounded up in the air and pounced among the hens.
“Yeah, he’s doing his thing,” Lucero said.
Hotard and Lucero worked their calls all the while. We’d been given instruction the night before on how to use the call, a rounded piece of slate. A wooden stylus drawn across the slate at various speeds made “the yelp,” “the cackle,” and “the purr,” sounds that only turkeys understand.
We’d also been told by Lucero at the Friday night workshop about the various species of turkeys. Here on the Western Slope there is the Merriam’s turkey.
Lucero had given us a lot of good advice.
“You can’t hunt a turkey from a Barcalounger,” he said. “You’ve got to get out there.”
He said the calls would bring the turkeys in.
“You want to shoot when they’re strutting,” and when they stop and put their heads up to look around, “that’s when you shoot.”
Hotard was yelping her heart out with her slate call and Lucero was plying a wooden box with a hinged top that made a similar sound. The tom continued to strut and chase after hens and made no move in our direction. To give Hotard a good shot Lucero wanted the tom to be about 20 to 30 yards away.
“He knows we’re here,” Lucero said at one point, but after a couple hours acknowledged that Tom had too many hens close by to pay much attention to our decoy birds.
As the morning wore on we watched Tom herd his bevy of hens around the far side of the field. It was now quite cold and I could see snow falling on top of the Battlements south of the river. At nine, Lucero gave the word and we left the blind.
Was it a disappointment that we didn’t get a bird? I didn’t think so. I’d learned so much about the birds and seen their wonderful mating display.
“I didn’t feel disappointed either,” Hotard said. “Sure it would have been great (to shoot one), but being in the blind … Lucero’s love of the sport and listening to him, learning about the characteristics of the birds” made it worthwhile, she said.
In fact, in the two days of hunting, Saturday and Sunday, only one woman shot a turkey.
Rob Courtney, president of the Grand Junction chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation, which hosted the hunt with the Division of Wildlife and Williams, said “our whole idea is to get people involved in the outdoors … who may not have the avenue to do that.”
The Division of Wildlife also stages annual pheasant, deer and elk hunts for women and kids.
For Saturday’s hunt, “our guide’s goal is not to get you a turkey, but to give you a great hunt,” said Stan Johnson, the Division of Wildlife’s educational coordinator for northwest Colorado.
He was right. At least for Hotard and me, and certainly for Lucero, even though we didn’t get our bird, it was a great hunt.