Going to Roost
By Jim Bulger
I hope those of you who enrolled in Turkey School had some success, either in a harvest or the experience of a great time in the field chasing the bearded ones. The articles we wrote were to give the novice a starting point in Colorado. Even after 30 years of spring turkey hunting experience, I still see each season as a new start; an opportunity to see Mother Nature wake the world from its winter slumber with an explosion of green leaves, flowers and the eternal hope of a new beginning.
I have been blessed to run the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Hunter Outreach Program for the past decade. After 26 years of service as an officer in the United States Army, this job was and continues to be an opportunity for me to help so many folks in a very different way: As a guide, mentor and coach.
As I close the doors on Turkey School this year, I thought I would dedicate this lesson to some of the ladies who took to the field this year to experience the challenge of a spring hunt.
Women and Youth Hunt Highlights
The ladies of 2013 Turkey season were special indeed. Some harvested their first birds. Others had hunted before. All were given the opportunity to hunt alongside and learn from CPW’s Huntmasters, who graciously volunteer their time and energy to pass along great hunting techniques and traditions.
Erica and her father came to us on opening day. As a spunky 13 year old who loves pink and the hunt, Erica combined two normally contrasting things in the most memorable way The trip was a unique opportunity to visit the Platte River area and hunt with Mr. Gurnee on his land. Erica, her father and Gurnee were in a perfect position at fly down, when a curious Jake flew into the decoys and allowed Erica to harvest her first turkey. The remarkable part of this hunt actually happened after we took the photos of the two young hunters and their birds. A week or so later, Erica sent me a card that made an old turkey hunter get something in his eyes. It contained a thoughtful, hand-written thank you note.
In late April, Megan, an eager 16 year old, and her dad tagged along with us on a hunt to the historic Purgatoire Ranch youth hunt. An outgoing young lady who captured the hearts of our Huntmaster crew within minutes of meeting her, Megan (with the help of her father, J.R., and Huntmaster Scott), called in an adventurous Jake within the first 30 minutes on the first day of a three day hunt. The next three hours were spent calling in a strutting tom, a dozen hens and sharing a remarkable day. The hunt had ended and everyone was heading home, when J.R. came over and gave Scott and me a big bear hug. With tears in his eyes, he thanked us and spoke of his father, who had recently passed away. His father had always been a major advocate of Meagan participating with the youth hunting program, as he knew it was a valuable learning opportunity for her.
On the same hunt, (only fourteen, but already an avid hunter) came young Katherine. For two days we sat patiently in the blind; Katherine, her father and I. Calling, waiting, quietly talking about turkey hunting tactics… but the toms would not play the spring chess game. On day three, I decided to give Katherine another lesson in turkey hunting: run and gun! Perhaps it was just Katherine’s bad luck to draw me as a guide, but I was going to give her a show.
The next morning found us 100 yards from 20 roosted birds. Daylight came, and the world was full of clucks, yelps and gobble Birds flew down… towards the opposite direction of our setup. Up and running, we hit a drainage near two strutting Toms. Calling and crawling, (Katherine was a real trooper) as we crossed dirt, cactus and more cactus and closed the distance. At 80 yards, three hens decided to answer my clucks and purrs, and come out of the drainage, walking within 5 yards of Katherine and I, as we tried hard to just melt into the earth. No putts or alarms, they fed for over 30 minutes within 30 yards of us; essentially pinning us in place until the toms finished their dance and headed out of the drainage. Katherine is an amazing young lady, and while the payoff of a successful harvest is always appreciated, it was not the most important part of the journey for her. It was the experience of the journey as a whole.
The last of the youth hunts included 13 year old Shelby. Volunteers Barry and Jerry had already had the privilege of taking her and another young hunter to Story Creek Ranch in May of last year. Shelby’s harvest is not the high point of the story; it was Shelby herself. At 13, she cares for a mom with MS, runs her own egg production business with a few dozen hens that require tending early each morning, cares for a younger brother and still finds time to go hunting with her father. Sometimes it is not about the harvest but the remarkable people you find along the journey.
The last two ladies are personal. I had the privilege of taking Amy on her first turkey hunt several years ago when we were shooting some film to make the CPW video about turkey hunting. She was able to harvest a mature tom after a long and challenging hunt. Last year she agreed to become part of my family by marrying my son (maybe because he's a pretty good turkey hunter). Aaron and Amy took off for Kansas this year as neither drew a Colorado tag.
After two days of non-productive hunting, Amy suggested to Aaron that his dad needed to add another element to his mentor program and teach the students more in depth concepts like blind placement, calling techniques, etc. (I think she was just mad that the birds were not playing fair this year).
On the final morning of the hunt, Aaron had her choose the location for the blind, call a bit and the result was not just one mature tom, but two of them from the same blind as a second bird came in to “work over” the first harvested bird. (Kansas allowed multiple tags and Amy had two). I have the honor of calling her daughter in June.
Closing the Doors on Spring Turkey Season
Hunters find other hunters to share their passion and when you can be married to one, the memories are so much better. You get to tell the story of the hunt 24-7 until she tells you to hush and go to sleep. My turkey partner is my wife Mary. She and I spent some great time together in the blind, videoing turkeys on the roost, visiting with the decoys and playing a few games with them using various calls to see what response we got. Deer, squirrels, a pheasant rooster all came by to visit and get their picture taken. The enjoyment of being together and watching the world awaken on a spring morning is an awesome thing to share. If you believe this is not a typical lesson on “How to”, I agree. My intent with this lesson is about the important lesson of treasuring the time you spend in the field; time spent with family and friends and time spent in the greatest place on earth – the woods in spring.
I hope you found value in this year's turkey school efforts. Time to clean up your turkey gear, clean those box calls and muddy boots and maybe read a few books about those majestic birds of Spring. None of us are sure what the next year will bring, but I bet we will find time to be in the woods at fly-down next year.
My sincere thanks to Huntmasters Scott R, Scott S, Keith, Brad, Greg, Barry and Jerry who gave up their valuable personal time to invest in the future of hunting. Special thanks are also in order for Steve W, Gurnee M, Story Creek Ranch, Hidden In Ranch and Doc Wheaton for giving us permission to use their land to create a life time of memories this season.
Thanks for taking the time to enroll in our school, we look forward to next year’s enrollment when the doors open again in March.