We weren't about to let an April blizzard put a halt to our plans to pursue the wild turkeys of South Dakota.
Along with Dave Sapletal, Jim Pfaff and Curt Brown, I headed out of town the morning after getting blasted by another April snowstorm.
Perry Bunting was supposed to be our driver. Perry had all of his gear packed and had the camper on the pickup but wasn't able to get out of the driveway - and his power was out. He told us to head west, not knowing when he would be able to get out of town.
So without much more thought, I backed my truck up to the fish house ("the roost") and we started on our way west. Hunters and fisherman don't usually let much get in their way, and I figured if we had to drive 30 mph the whole way, that's what we would have to do. Bottom line: We were going turkey hunting and planned on being in the woods the following morning.
It turned out that the roads were a bit sketchy in spots, and we passed a number of vehicles (including semis) in the ditch. We kept on keeping on and made it to camp just before dark on Friday. It was windy, and we didn't hear or see any birds.
Dave had been out to this land with me last year (along with Perry), but Jim and Curt had not. And both were archery hunting - that was the only weapon they had brought along.
I was still confident they would shoot a bird or two because both are experienced hunters (in general), and all they needed to do was execute (easier said than done sometimes). So after a short rest in the "roost," it was time to power down a breakfast snack, slam some juice and get the stuff packed up for the first day's hunt.
We had a plan of attack on where each of us would start the morning. I headed to the east, Dave headed to the west and Curt and Jim - hunting out of the same blind - headed to the northwest, not too far from Dave. I heard some gobbles as the sun was starting to rise, but they sounded a long way off.
The morning moved on, and as I was trying to figure out where the birds were, I spotted a hunter - I thought it was Dave - not far from our camp. I watched him with my binoculars, and then noticed a bird 200 yards away from him. Soon, the rest of the flock appeared - there were approximately 70 turkeys in the flock. It was the largest flock I had ever seen.
I then spotted another guy sneaking up on them and watched him pull up and shoot one. The flock scattered - a good thing. In order to call birds into range, you are better off working individual birds or at least smaller flocks. My confidence, all of a sudden, was at a higher level.
Some of the birds flew in my direction, and I figured I better get myself situated. I pulled up a seat at the base of a tree near the top of a valley and started yelping. About an hour and a half later, I spotted a bird working up the side of the valley. I took the safety off and positioned my gun. It was a hen.
The hen worked past me to my right side and was a goner. About 45 minutes later, as I was yelping and dozing off at the same time, a turkey let out a series of three sharp putts - an alarm call. I wheeled and turned, saw that it was a longbeard, and shot three times as it took flight.
Missed him. It would have been too good to be true to bag gobblers two years in a row on the fly in South Dakota.
I was a bit bummed out and headed back toward camp. I met up with Dave and discovered he wasn't the one who shot the bird by camp. There were four other hunters from Minnesota hunting the same property. It was one of them. No sign of Jim and Curt, and I figured they were hunkered down for the day.
Dave and I headed out for an hour or so in the pickup to try and hook up with another rancher who had offered his land to us to hunt. We couldn't round him up, so we headed back to our camp.
We got our act together and figured we would both head to the west. That changed quickly as I spotted a strutting tom, and then another - along with a couple of hens - back to the east. I asked Dave if he wanted to head out after them and he told me to go for it.
I snuck down the line, set up behind a piece of farm equipment and started calling. No gobbles. I called and called, then spotted the birds working their way a bit closer. But an hour had gone by and I hadn't heard a thing. I peaked over the top of the machinery every so often, but still nothing.
I peaked again, and one of the bids must have spotted my big melon and ended up flying away. I was bummed but realized that there should be another tom in the neighborhood. I decided to cut down into the valley, where I would have a better look at things.
I started yelping and immediately got a gobbler to sound off. Here we go. I yelped some more with my mouth call and he gobbled again. I spotted him, and he started working his way up the valley to the right of me. He got up to the top and started walking along the edge. My back was to the bird and I could not move without him seeing me. I was nervous but waited for him to cross behind me, then I spun around, picked him out and lowered the boom. Got him.
I was shaking with excitement, and it turned out that I was 60 yards from "the roost." It was 4 p.m., my spirits were high, and as far as I was concerned, my hunt was a major success already - and I could still shoot another bird.
I gutted my bird and took a load off for a couple of hours. Two of the hunters from the other party stopped by. One was the hunter I watched shoot the bird earlier in the a.m.
Jim and Curt didn't get any shots, but had a great time and will be back to do it again.
Dave hunted hard, too, and ended up getting a crack or two at a jake (young male turkey). He also had another jake fly into his decoys but was unable to pull the trigger. Then he had left his blind the last morning to check out things on the other side of the ridge, and when he peaked back at his blind and decoys, there was a flock of 14 birds between his blind and his decoys.
Like he said, it just wasn't meant to be. But it certainly was a trip full of fun, good stories, good laughs and not much sleep. We all had a blast and already are planning future hunts together.
WALLEYEDAN Eigen may be reached at (218) 839-5598, firstname.lastname@example.org or www.walleyedan.com
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