Down But Not Out
The 2020 Pennsylvania Spring turkey season was going to be different than seasons in the past. Because of the COVID 19 virus, all of my daughter's soccer games and tournaments were canceled. That meant that Abby and I were free to spend time together in the Pennsylvania woods. I am not sure who was more excited!
During the 2019 PA Junior hunting day, Abby killed her first turkey. A good friend, Dan Kuzma, had invited us to his property to hunt. By 8:00 am, she had filled her tag. Abby had a smile on her face for a week.
Abby enjoyed turkey hunting so much that she couldn't wait to chase longbeards again this year. Because of the restrictions due to the COVID 19 virus, we had to be careful and follow the social distancing guidelines. The limitations allowed Abby and me to hunt from a blind, but Dan could not join us. Abby was sad about Dan not being able to join us, but I told her I had a backup plan.
On the morning of Saturday, April 25th, I woke Abby up for the Pennsylvania Junior day hunt. The weather could not be more perfect with temps in the high 40's and little to no wind. Abby dressed quickly and grabbed a few snacks for the morning.
Heading out the door, I told Abby that we were going to hunt the 12 acres I had purchased in 2019. She climbed in the car and asked if I had heard any turkeys on our property. Slowly, I pulled into the access road on our property. Abby and I got out of the car and listened intently. I made an owl hoot, and multiple birds erupted through our woods.
In the dark, the two of us methodically walked to a clearing in the woods. I placed Abby at the base of a big cherry tree, and I sat behind her. She set up her tripod and her Mossberg 20 gauge, and we waited patiently for the sun to come up.
As the first orange bursts of sunlight arrived in the east, the turkeys gobbled over and over again. At least eight different birds were gobbling in our woods. I could hear a few hens cackle and fly out of the trees. Soon the gobblers followed and were on the ground. I let out a few soft yelps, and the woods erupted with gobbles. Abby looked at me and smiled!
With my slate call, I gave a few seductive purrs. Three birds broke away from the group and headed our way. Abby watched as the three birds puffed up and strutted for each other. The love-struck birds were still over one hundred yards away, but they were coming to my calls.
The turkeys were coming from behind us, so Abby had to move to the other side of the tree. Slowly she switched positions and was now facing the correct direction. The birds double and triple gobbled and closed to fifty yards.
A few more soft calls brought the three gobblers to thirty yards. All of them were looking for the hen that was making the calls. Abby quietly switched off the safety of her gun. The lead gobbler strutted on the open logging road, and Abby was ready to take her shot.
The 20 gauge broke the morning silence, and all three birds tucked tail and ran. Abby had missed the shot and was not quite sure what had happened. I gave her some words of encouragement and told her we would go to a few more places to check for birds.
Together we walked over to where the gobblers were standing. Abby found a few feathers and decided to pick a few of them up. On our way back to the car Abby found a spike shed antler. With the shed in her hand, a smile came back to her face.
Over the next two hours, Abby and I visited a few other properties we had permission to hunt. We heard a few more gobbles that were in the distance, but nothing seemed to be anywhere near us. Abby suggested that we head home and hunt behind our house.
The clock read 9:30 am when we pulled into our driveway. Abby and I walked together to the property behind our house. I made a few loud yelps, and immediately two gobblers cut me off. Abby and I found the nearest tree and got ready for the birds to come to us. I made a few more calls, and the turkeys gobbled again. I knew the birds were closing fast, and Abby was ready.
Both birds walked the treeline and continued to gobble. Abby was watching the lead bird, and I was watching the second one. Both gobblers were mature birds with long beards. Abby waited for an open shot on the lead bird as the second gobbler stopped between two trees. Abby never saw that bird until the lead bird ducked behind some trees.
I whispered for Abby to shoot the turkey between the trees. She couldn't see the Tom at all. By the time she located the second gobbler, he was on the move. I called softly to the bird, and he stopped. Abby squeezed the trigger, and the gobbler flew away. Abby looked at me with tears in her eyes and asked what had happened.
Abby and I sat there for a few minutes and talked about what happened. She was sure she had made a good shot both times, but that was not the case. As she fought back the tears I promised her that we would head out the following week to chase some more birds.
During the week, I reached out to Dan Kuzma about hunting his property during the first week of the turkey season. Together we formulated a plan to get a blind set up for Abby and me. Dan also said he would bring his full mounted gobbler decoy for us to use. When I broke the news to Abby, she could hardly wait to head to Dan's.
Wednesday, May 6th, looked like the best day to head to Dan's. Abby and I work up at four in the morning to make the thirty-minute drive to meet Dan. When we arrived, Dan was waiting to show us where he had set up the blind. Dan led us down the gas well road to and an opening between two open tracts of woods.
While Abby and I set up in the blind, Dan placed the full mounted decoy about 20 yards in front of the blind. Abby opened the front window of the blind, and then I helped her get the 20 gauge on the Caldwell Field Pod. Dan came to the side of the blind and told us where the birds liked to roost. He wished us luck and headed back to his house until we needed him.
The morning was quiet without one gobble heard. Abby and I talked and watched as the morning grew lighter. Abby giggled and pointed out the window. Tiny flakes of snow were falling from the sky, and I just couldn't believe it was snowing.
Just before 7:45 am, I heard a distant gobble. Abby did not hear the gobble, and she thought I was pulling her leg. I grabbed my slate call and gave a few loud calls, but nothing replied. The snow had stopped falling, but a light mist was now falling on the blind.
Abby looked at me and said she was starting to get cold. I asked if she wanted to head back to Dan's to get warm. She shook her head and looked out the window just as two turkeys walked into the gas well road.
With excitement, in her voice, Abby whispered that the turkeys were heading towards the decoy. I looked out the window, and the birds were running towards the decoy. Abby took the safety off her gun and got ready.
The two jakes eyed up the decoy and began to circle him. The bigger of the two jakes puffed up and attacked the mounted gobbler. Abby was trying to find a good shot, but the jakes continued to circle the decoy. Keeping her cool, Abby followed the aggressive turkey with her gun. The aggressive jake attacked the decoy one more time before Abby had a clear shot.
After circling the decoy one more time, the two jakes separated, and Abby pulled the trigger. The jake hit the ground and never moved. The other jake stopped and wondered what had happened to his friend. Abby was so excited she couldn't wait to get out of the blind.
As Abby went to get her turkey, I called Dan to see if he would come and help us take pictures. Dan arrived a few minutes later, and Abby yelled, Thank you, Dan! Abby told Dan what had happened, and I showed him the video that I took on my phone.