As the spring of 2022 ends, I am almost sad to watch it blow away, literally. For if there is one thing to characterize this spring, it has been the crazy winds.
Despite severe allergies to the juniper pollen, this spring was an active one for this retiree. There was the usual crazy busy end to tax season. A wildfire almost derailed the April Becoming an Outdoors-Woman workshop, and I met a bunch of folks at the Payson Wildlife Fair. But this article is all about the spring turkey hunt.
Today, I am roasting the bones of our turkeys for the stock I will make this afternoon. I will turn the dark meat into apple/turkey sausage and the breast meat will become marsala and picada dishes. Maybe, I will roast the breast meat of the smaller bird for a special dinner. Wild turkey resembles their tame cousins, but not in the kitchen. They can run 12 miles an hour, and they do, making for leather-like thighs and legs. However, they are absolutely delicious when cooked properly.
Spring turkey is not an easy tag to draw, but the season is about three weeks long. Getting up at zero dark thirty and late sunsets can make the hunt exhausting for us old folks. It also takes patience. Hours of sitting still, waiting for that tom to come to water or the call. Wild turkeys have superman eyesight. They are extremely wary and even the reflection of your eyeglasses will send them trotting away. Spring turkey rules are that you must take a bearded turkey, and you must use a shotgun shot.
But those early mornings are worth it when at first light, the canyons reverberate with the call of a mature tom. I was lucky this year and could experience it. He was gobbling from the roost and on several windless mornings the sound carried for miles. It gave me goosebumps as I heard him from the blind. Then, he flew to the ground, and the gobble was easier to track. We named this guy Big Foot as his track was a full seven inches long. There were two mornings when I could talk to him, and while he answered my hen call immediately and got closer, I could not bring him in.
On a super windy mid-morning, Mark was waiting for me at the truck. He heard rustling noises above the howl of the wind and looked just in time to see a mature mule deer buck streak by. Directly behind, was a flock of turkeys led by a big tom, traveling as fast as the deer. He named this tom ZZ Top because of his long beard.
Because we were making noises like turkeys sometimes, we would call in predators. I watched a beautiful gray fox as it glided in and out of the trees. Getting a little closer each time. A young coyote was almost close enough to touch when he finally busted me and did a 360 at top speed. The real treat of this hunt was the bobcat. It was almost dark when I saw a graceful shadow come out of the trees, sit, and disappear. The bobcat was not more than 40 yards away. I found him with the binoculars, and we watched each other for about 10 minutes. I could not see him without the binos. He just sat there and stared, like cats do. I could see his eyes blinking. Finally, he decided it was time to go, and nonchalantly stood up and meandered away. This one appeared to be a large tomcat with long, long chocolate brown legs.
It was midafternoon one windy day and Mark and I were together in the blind. He was watching our water source while I looked the other way. Suddenly, in the trees about 100 yards away, about six hens appeared. I pulled up the binoculars just in time to see the big tom. His head and neck flashing a brilliant red. Bright as a nighttime taillight. Suddenly, he flared out his tail feathers and did a full strut for the hens. They did not seem to be impressed and simply continued to scratch at the ground. There was also a jake with a Barbie pink head. He seemed to watch the tom closely.
I was giving a play-by-play to Mark because any movement would send them scattering and ruin the moment.
It took weeks of scouting and eight days in the blind, but we were able to tag out. I took a young jake the day before the strutting show, and with four more long days Mark persevered and tagged Big Foot. He weighed in at 20 pounds. It is great to have turkeys in the freezer, but the eight days in the blind were so much fun. That is, when the wind wasn’t blowing dust and pollen in our faces.