The area I scouted didn't pan out like I had hoped. Little sign and few gobbles had me scratching my head since this area was normally covered in gobblers. After some arguing with myself inside my head, I decided to completely change our plans and head west to the Gila, rather than stay in the steep timbered country of the Lincoln National Forest. I have spent plenty of time in the Gila and knew there were turkeys there, but I had a hard time convincing myself that it was going to be a good idea since turkeys are so prevalent in the Lincoln. Well, it panned out pretty damn good.
My friend and turkey-killer-extraordinaire AHGIII flew in on the opening day of the season. We ate some Mexican food and packed the truck that night and headed out the following morning, making the almost 4hr drive to "my spot" and getting there around 3pm or so.
After setting up camp, we hopped on the 4-wheeler and headed to a stock tank that I presumed would have water after last falls flooding. Before we got there, we passed an elderly lady resting her legs on the side of the road and talked to her for a few minutes. I knew who she was from meeting her husband last year in this same area. She said that he was just down the road a piece, but she was tired of walking for the day and decided to take a load off(they were about 3 miles from their camp). We headed up the road and about 1/4 mile from where we left her, we ran into her husband...the 87 year old Mr. Harold. He asked if I would be willing to pick them up on the way into camp that night and give them a ride, but I told them that I'd be happy to take them right then. We chit-chatted on the way back to camp and they extended an invitation for supper that night, which I gladly accepted.
I had left AHGIII in the woods to have a look around while I gave Mr. and Mrs. Harold a ride to camp and I found him walking a road to the tank we were originally headed to. We headed on to the tank to look for some sign. We found a few young bull elk watering in the tank and once they headed off, we walked around the banks to look for turkey tracks. We only found a couple, but it's hard to find turkey sign around a tank where elk frequent. We decided that we needed to get on a ridge top to listen for some gobbles from the roost, so we headed back to the 4 wheeler to get higher. While we were riding, it was getting colder and we stopped randomly to throw on a jacket. As soon as I cut the 4-wheeler off, we heard a bird gobble. We ran to the top of the ridge and heard about 4 different gobblers in the area, so we made a plan for the morning and headed back to camp.
Once we got back to camp, we headed over to Mr. Harold's RV and had some moose casserole and talked with them for a couple of hours. We learned that he was good friends with Neil Cost, and he showed us some of his box calls that Mr. Cost had made for him. He only had two with him, but said he owned around a dozen. He paid $25 for the first call he got from Mr. Cost back in 1981. It still sounded as good today as ever, and that call is now worth several thousand dollars. Mr. Harold never paid a dime for any of the other calls. Mr. Harold and Cost had hunted all over the country together, including south of the Border. It was very, very cool to see that kind of turkey hunting history and hear Mr. Harold's stories. We also got several pointers from Mr. Harold on hunting the area. We could have sat and talked all night, but we had to get up early to get to our birds, so we thanked them for supper and the visit, and headed to our tent. I can only hope that I'll be lucky enough to run into an 88 year old man in the Gila next April.
Daybreak found us on our ridge top heading to our planned location. Birds started gobbling, but the closest bird that we planned to hunt never said anything. Fly-down was quickly approaching, so we found a good looking spot and set up. We had a bird that sounded real interested about 250-300 yards away across a drainage and he flew down and headed our way. He met up with a hen before he got to us, so his approach slowed considerably, but we were still having success pulling him and her towards us. Once he was about 75-100 yards away, another bird gobbled just across the ridge top from us, less than 50 yards away. We were both facing west down the ridge, but AHGIII quickly turned a 180 in case this bird tried to slip in behind us. The first bird was getting closer and was JUST out of our sight when I heard, "I see him". Just a few minutes later, the hammer was dropped and there was a bird flopping 15 yards behind me. We started cutting really loudly on our calls, and the gobbler in front of me started gobbling his head off. We thought he was going to make it the final 30 yards that he needed to for me to burn some powder too, but his hen pulled him off down the mountain. High-fives and smiles were in order, and we took some pictures of AHGIII's beautiful Merriam's gobbler.
We headed back to camp cleaned the bird, and ate breakfast before hopping on the 4-wheeler to head out for some scouting. We ended up riding about 45 miles that day and didn't see much in the way of turkeys. We did see some awesome scenery, elk, and antelope though.
Once we made it back to camp, we had a beer and headed back to our tank to listen for more roosting longbeards. The wind had picked up though, and we heard nothing that evening. A little disappointed, we headed to camp to get some rest. That morning, there had been one bird gobbling his head off across a drainage several hundred yards to our south, and we decided that our best bet was to hope that he was back in the same general area on Friday morning. He was. Once he started gobbling we headed to him as fast as we could(which isn't very fast in mountain country). We got within a couple hundred yards from him, but had to setup in a less than ideal spot because he had flown down off the tree. We wanted to be above him on the slope, but we had to setup in the bottom of the canyon and hope that we could call him down to us. We got the decoys setup and found a tree and hit the call and he cut us off. A minute or two later, he had already closed the distance, but was above us on a bench on the side of the mountain about 100 yards up-slope from us. He stayed up there for a few minutes gobbling and strutting, and finally peeked his head over the edge of the bench. I guess he saw our decoys and headed down the slope, hopping across the deadfalls on the way down. AHGIII was directly behind me and had a better view of the slope. As the gobbler was coming down, he stopped at about 40 yards and seemed to be looking right at AHGIII(who asked me afterwards why I waited so long to shoot), but after looking at our setup, we think he was actually eyeballing the decoys. I had no shot there, so I had to wait him out. He decided that all was well and headed on down the slope. He was 25 yards out, had to pass one more tree, and then he would be right in front of my gun barrel. When we came out from behind the tree, he was in full strut, so I had to wait for him to poke his head up a bit before the shot. About 5 seconds later, he did, and I had bagged my first Merriam's too. I whooped...I don't think I have ever whooped after killing something, but I whooped like hell. More high fives and smiles came out, and we got some pictures.
He had been strutting pretty hard according to his wingtips.
Back at camp, we added some turkey to our breakfast. Dead less than 2hrs, and he was in our bellies...doesn't get much more fresh and organic than that.
We decided to head in a different direction that afternoon to check out an area that I had in mind. We found gobs and gobs of turkey sign, and after walking about 5 miles that evening(added to the almost 3 miles that morning), we called it a day and headed in.
The boundary to the oldest Wilderness Area in the country. No livestock or motorized vehicles have been past this sign since the 1920's.
We had extremely high expectations for the morning, but the rains came. It rained some Friday night but had eased off overnight. At 4:30am Saturday, it started again and didn't stop until 10:30 or so. We hurried into our area once the rains stopped and got a bird to gobble once at a crow call, but never heard or saw him again. After being setup and cold-calling for a little over an hour, we had another hunter come through, and we decided to back out. We don't like being around people in the turkey woods that we don't know. It can be a fairly dangerous experience sometimes, and a bird just isn't worth it to me.
We knew that we only had a couple of hours to hunt Sunday morning before we had to pack up and leave, so we went to try to roost a gobbler Saturday evening for our last hoorah. We heard 2 birds, made a game plan, and left the woods. Sunday morning came, we climbed the ridge and waited. When the first bird started gobbling, the area came alive. There were 4-6 different birds within earshot, and they were all across the drainage from us. All we could do was buck-up and head down the hill and back up the other side. We got about 50 yards from the top of the other ridge, and I thought I might have to lay down for a few minutes. Desk jobs leave you a little more un-prepared for mountain hunting than I would like to be, and my legs were almost shot. We reached the top though, and found some trees to sit against and started calling. We had a bird headed our way, and he closed the distance to 75-80 yards like an Olympic track star. We were positive that we were about to kill bird #3, but thanks to a hen, he wouldn't come any closer. He stayed there and gobbled for 5 minutes or so before easing off. A different bird that was originally about 300 yards off had cut the distance in half himself, so we stayed put in hopes that he wanted to come check out the new hens on the block. Still no dice. We waited around until about 8:30 but we ran out of time and had to head back to camp.
The new honey hole.
Even with no bird in tow, it was still a great hunt to end on. Besides, 3 mornings and 2 dead gobblers is really tough to beat. Had we been able to hunt Saturday morning too, I think we might have have been able to punch at least one more tag. But that's hunting, and I'm definitely not complaining about the rain(I am in the desert Southwest, remember?).
All in all, it was definitely one for the books(or blog, I guess). It's impossible to beat good hunting with a great friend, and I'm blessed that I've gotten to add this trip to my memory files.