Author: Greg Staggs
It was eerily quiet… yet another morning offering little hope of success. I stared out into the murky grayness of the sky as my surroundings were caught somewhere between darkness and daylight. I should have heard something by now if it was going to happen. Out west, they would have been hammering for a good 20 minutes now...
I thought about how much we’d come to enjoy our annual trips to Kansas and the occasional foray all the way out to Northwest Nebraska. I smiled to myself. It was really hard to believe what this had turned into. In just a few short years, something I really had no interest in previously had come to occupy so much of my time and thoughts now. Before the season began, I cavalierly set a goal of 10 turkeys this spring, tempering the outlandish number by calling it a “stretch goal”. Yet, here I was now, attempting to kill bird number nine, and still sitting on a last remaining Kansas tag.
It hadn’t always been this way. I’m a die-hard bowhunter who chooses to use run-and-gun tactics to chase my beloved whitetails on public land, putting in over 100 sits per year for the last 25 years. Doing so necessitated I picked and chose my battles. When I started that intensive effort, I was newly married. A few years later we had kids. Leaving my wife to do everything on the home front was bad enough for three months out of the year – pursuing another species that would add a couple more months to that equation? Out of the question.
But as the boys got older and more self-sufficient, I looked at taking them with me… using a blind to bow-hunt these birds was the answer. The boys could stuff a backpack full of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, Hot Wheels cars, and whatever else their little minds could think of that would keep them entertained during the slow hours. It worked, too.
I had them in a blind somewhat brushed in against a fencerow during a fall deer hunt once. I was actually hoping for a string of does to walk by that I’d been seeing occasionally move from one side of the farm to the other. One of my boys was sound asleep and the other lost in some make-believe world he’d created when I looked up and saw a large flock of hens walking from my left to right, about 35 yards out in front of us. I let the bulk of the birds walk on by before picking out one of the last hens as my target. Easing my bow back and settling into my anchor, I split the difference of my 30- and 40-yard pins and squeezed off the shot, watching my arrow disappear directly in the middle of the turkey.
Surprisingly, she gained flight… and gained and gained until she was 75 yards in the air and headed to the woods on the east side of the farm. I followed her flight and watched her go down about 30 yards inside the timber edge. I turned and woke my sleeping son, who couldn’t figure out why his brother was so excited about what he’d just seen. We jumped out of the blind and went to the impact site and immediately found blood. What still amazes me to this day though is what else we found: Not only blood at the shot site, but blood heading towards the woods. “Okay,” I thought to myself… “This is where she took off running before getting airborne.” But we continued walking – and we continued finding blood. Lots of it. Fifty yards into our blood trail and I realized she was leaking the entire time she was flying, so much that we were able to stay on her blood trail all the way into the woods.
My son who had been asleep found her, piled up where she had crash-landed. We were excited: it was the first kill we’d all experienced together as “the Staggs men.” We took pictures to commemorate the event. I’m so thankful we did… that time seems so long ago now. Please, take pictures. Lots of them. More than you think you’ll need.
I pulled out my custom glass pot call and pulled hard with the striker against its surface, creating sharp clucks before rounding off with some softer yelps. I wasn’t even sure if the tom could hear me from this distance. I glanced at the time on my phone; it was 5:57 a.m.
We kept playing the game for at least 10 more minutes. I broke out my box call, which could hit audible levels so high it literally hurt my ears inside the blind. I knew he could hear that. Then I shut up for a while. He gobbled, and I could tell he had turned on the branch to face me. I kept quiet. He thundered out once again… still I kept quiet, as tempting as it was to respond. A few minutes later his throaty gobble erupted once again, but this time it sounded different, from another location perhaps. I guessed he had hit the ground. I offered a couple yelps, changed into a hard cutting routine and finished with a last yelp or two.
A minute later and he had cut the distance in half. I yelped softer this time, but I wanted him to know where I was since he’d started from so far away. Another minute and he gave away his presence even with me, but still inside the woods. A light purr would be sufficient. I looked outside a small hole in my blind where two panels came together and spotted his outstretched neck, peering above the pasture grass to survey the scene. His neck disappeared and then all I could see was the tip of his fan above the green grass. He alternated between full strut and stretching out his neck to look everything over before beginning the slow shuffle to my waiting hen and jake decoy about 12 yards in front of my open window.
When he was just 6 yards away, he blew himself up into full strut once again, and literally shook every feather he had as he spit and drummed. His waddles were fiery red, and the dark barring of his huge fan typical of our beautiful Missouri Easterns pivoted towards my decoys with every turn he made. He abandoned showing off for the fake hen, and slid over to my jake deke, brushing against it with his huge chest. He circled and I kept a close watch on his head and eye, and the moment those huge tail feathers hid everything from my view I snapped my bow back to full draw.
I stared at the back end of him, observing how all his tail feathers came to a single point at his butt and thought to myself that if I’d had a fixed-blade broadhead, it would be a simple matter to send it there and end this game. But with my big guillotine-style head, patience was needed. These were head-shot broadheads, not made to penetrate a body. Slowly he turned and exposed his blue face. I waited a bit more until I could see the waddles, burning red with an intense mixture of rage and love. I settled the green 20-yard pin in the middle of them and touched off the release; he dropped in his tracks instantly – the game over less than 30 minutes after it had begun.
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