The original “Snood Dudes,” plus one, made it back to the turkey woods of Eastern Oregon for what would be another banner season chasing high mountain thunder chickens in eastern Oregon. Jeff, Steve, Jason and I , plus the addition of friend Tim, were looking forward to opening morning of the 2014 spring turkey season with a little more optimism than last year’s tough hunt. Even though we normally do quite well in good times and hard times, the outlook for turkey numbers and weather during the opening week of this season in eastern Oregon was very promising. The birds we hunt are migratory, travelling large expanses of steep mountainous terrain---areas that are nearly inaccessible most seasons due to lingering spring snows in the high country.
This season the birds wintered very well and the early, warm spring left all our turkey hot spots exposed and easily accessed by vehicle and by foot. It just becomes a matter of timing the migration and finding the birds along their route. And there lies the secret to what makes my four amigos so special in the outdoors, not just as good friends, but as great hunting companions---very hard working, intelligent and just plain fun to be around. You see, they are all fish and wildlife biologists; masters in their fields with many years of experience and know-how. I’m very fortunate to have known and learned from them for so many years.
We hunted for four days, up at 3:30 am every morning so we could be in the turkey mountains before daylight while the gobblers were still in the roost. At daybreak we would bust out the locator calls and each morning we were answered with a chorus of gobbles that sometimes came at us from five different locations---amazing. We were almost baffled as to what direction and which gobbler we should approach. Sounds easy, but it was still tough to close the distance and get the birds to cooperate. Jason, Steve and Jeff are great callers and can talk turkey, but time after time the birds would travel and disappear over the opposite rise never to be seen. We would strategize and then hike for miles trying to outwit a bird with a brain the size of a pea, but more times than not we were the ones left pea-brained. Patience, perseverance and hard work pays off in the end.
On one of our first sets of day one we set up quickly as a close gobbler responded to our locator call. We set out decoys, formed a skirmish line along the hillside of junipers and ponderosa and began calling. Before we knew it five longbeards came into view and I had a front row seat. Jason was off to my immediate left and he would get the first crack at the lead gobbler. After the shots the birds disappeared in a flash as they often do, but not before Steve, who was on my right, nailed another of the fleeing longbeards. Just like that, two mature toms were in the bag. The rest of the day we played cat and mouse with numerous birds, but to no avail.
One set up brought in two strutting toms that instilled a lasting memory even though none were harvested. Two hens responded to our calls and made a beeline into our decoy spread. The two mature toms followed in full strutting display just out of range, but the contrast of their huge fluffed-out black iridescent bodies in striking contrast to their bright blue-and-white heads with engorged blood-red waddles was a sight to behold. They escaped unscathed, but that was one of the best moments of the entire hunt.
The next day started out with more of the same---lots of gobbles but hard getting the birds to come to the call. Finally by late morning, as I was set up at the steep downhill end of our skirmish line and gobblers in the distance were sounding off, the woods suddenly went quiet. As is often the case, I thought the toms may have been “henned up” and lost interest in our calls. But I kept my eyes peeled through the brush and timber---you never know. I saw nothing, but was suddenly startled by shotgun blasts uphill and to my immediate right. Tim and Steve had a set of five jakes come running in a tight single file formation, right into their laps (Tim had one tag, the rest of us always purchase two tags). Two jakes were down and now a total of four birds were tagged. In the middle afternoon, we had a lone gobble answer our calls from below on a gently sloped hillside. We cautiously made our way down to a beautiful lush open meadow with large ponderosa pine and deadfalls interspersed throughout, surrounded by reprod. Jeff and I were placed out front while the rest of the dudes hung back in the reprod to call. The tom was closing in, belting out his own thunderous gobbles. He came into sight at over 100 yards in full strut working his way to our decoys. I was off to the side and had to wait for him to pass a sapling at 28 yards before I could move my barrel without being seen by his ultra-keen eyesight. Jeff was positioned so the bird was coming into him head-on the whole time. Jeff took the huge gobbler at 44 yards with a perfect head shot. What a beautiful bird.
Day three called for afternoon rains and wind. Tim was done hunting and had other obligations and Jeff had to work that day, so that left Steve, Jason and myself to explore new ground. Numerous gobbles later found us on a very steep hillside trying to coax a set of toms around a sharp bend in the hillside. We were hoping they would side-hill below our position onto a small grassy bench. The next thing we hear is a gobble and putting directly above and behind us. One putted so close behind me I thought I would be able to grab him with my hand as he passed by. The next thing I hear is Jason’s shotgun blast as he bagged a jake less than 20 yards above him. I stood and turned behind the tree that I was leaning against and took a peek. Another jake was pecking and trying to stomp on the dead tom, so I took him out as well. Another double, and turkeys number six and seven were in the bag.
We were actually planning on heading home the next day, but Jeff had the morning off. With Jeff and I still having and extra tag burning a hole in our pockets we decided a morning hunt was in order before our trip home. After another high mountain hunt with numerous first-light gobbles and no takers, we headed down to lower elevations to see if the turkeys had finally migrated towards the valley. Sure enough a lone gobble had us scrambling to set up, but he ended up having a couple hens with him and he wasn’t interested in what we had to offer.
A couple miles further we had another lone response and we quickly cut the distance setting up in another beautiful opening with tall trees, deadfalls and thick stands of brush and reprod to our right. The gobbler held his ground out of sight at first, but then committed to a slow approach. Instead of coming out into the open directly ahead of our position, he flanked us on the right and walked right past me in the reprod. We thought the gig was up as we started hearing his warning putts and gobbles walking away. With persistent soft calling from all three of us he turned and headed back in the direction he had come but made a left hand turn into the opening 40 yards directly in front of me. What luck. Steve and Jeff were behind me trying to coax him in a little further, but you could see by the longbeard’s demeanor he wasn’t about to come closer and was even getting ready to walk away for good. I had the bead of my shotgun on the sweet spot so I let er’ rip. The mature tom folded like a cheap suit and our eighth and final bird for the trip was another great memory. Jeff has other outings planned with other friends and I have no doubt we will hear another exciting story. Another fantastic season with great friends in absolutely beautiful country. Life is good.
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