Turkey in the Arikaree Breaks
As we took our first steps down the hillside to the river bottom, I was blown away by what I saw. The land was dotted with cattle, river full of blue-winged teal, and the old farm house- the landscape alone made the trip worth it. Turkey isn't my first choice when it comes to hunting, but Patrick knew exactly what to do. As we crept along the river, we were spotted by a few hen turkeys who quickly made their getaway, alerting the young Jakes of our presence. We slowly made our way to the old farmhouse when we spotted a large flock of turkeys in the corn field on the opposite side of a dry creek bottom.
After a few minutes of deliberation, we chose the best strategy to get the large Tom within range. We belly-crawled for fifteen minutes from the farmhouse to the old wooden fence. I got into a firing position while Patrick planted a single hen decoy and started to hit the turkey call. We watched in anticipation as the old Tom led his flock from the cornfield down into the dry creek bottom. We saw a few hens off to our left and shifted position to wait for the Tom to crest the hillside. After what seemed like a lifetime and no birds, I glanced to my right and saw him. The Tom had snuck to our blind spot and was standing in full strut no more than 50 yards from the fence line.
Turkeys are notoriously tough, and I was not about to take an unethical shot and risk wounding this animal; I had to be sure. Patrick hit the call, and the Tom slowly turned towards us, inching closer into range. It was then that a hen on the opposite side of the dry creek sounded a call, and the Tom turned away. Patrick sounded the call again, but the Tom was called away from us back over the creek bed to the pair of hens on the opposite side. We stayed there for the remainder of the day, out of water and in the sun, watching the turkeys until they headed further down the creek and to roost in the trees. We had been bested and were losing light quickly, so we made the long walk back up the hill to our tuck. We had lost that battle, but any disappointment was quickly forgotten when we were greeted by our string of dogs.
The alarm sounded too quickly the next morning. We were up before the sun, tired and sore from hours of crawling but I was ready. The turkeys were on the opposite end of the 10,000-acre property, and we had a plan to sneak in undetected. We walked the high ground out of view from the field, and spotted a few turkeys in the distance. We sat and watched until we could identify another old Tom, alone with a younger male turkey about 200 yards away in the bottom of the river. The stalk was on! We crawled on hands and knees down the hillside until the land flattened out. A berm to the north provided cover while we hatched a plan. With binoculars, we looked for the pair that had ducked out of site. After a half an hour of looking, we thought we had lost them. Patrick sounded the call, and through the trees we saw movement. The two male turkeys had heard the call and were making a beeline straight for us! With no time to waste, we crawled up another 25 feet to get a better shooting position, but the turkeys were closing in too fast- we were caught out in the open with no cover to hide behind. I was laying with my head uphill and Patrick was just below me with nothing but a hen decoy to hide behind. We sat completely motionless as the curious turkeys came in to the call and decoy.
The turkeys were within 60 yards when they disappeared behind a small hill to our left. When they were out of sight I whispered to Patrick, "Don't move, don't lift your head. When the birds come over the hill, I may be shooting right over you." Patrick laid low and continued to hit the call. Then I saw one turkey's head pop up over the hill, followed by another, within 30 yards of us. My adrenaline surged as I moved my finger to the trigger. Sitting up, I, braced the shotgun on my knee, drew a bead, and fired. The old Tom dropped below the berm, I jumped up and ran over, ready to take another shot in case it was just wounded. It had died instantly, a perfect shot, and the young male was scurrying away with a valuable lesson learned.
There is no way to describe how I felt having successfully harvested this turkey. Patrick and I were jumping up and down, adrenaline still rushing. We had done it. This hunt was not about killing a turkey, it was a story of partnership, conservation, respect, struggle and success. Those are a few of Border to Border's core values. We have never been about killing. For us, it is about the experience, the hunting dogs, and providing the best possible hunt for our clients. That turkey was cooked at a family dinner and enjoyed by everyone, even mom who was initially leery of an animal that did not come from a grocery store. We will have a few more dinners left, likely this year's Thanksgiving feast.