I finally filled a turkey tag.
When I lived in Oregon, I hated turkeys. I owned property in the woods and a local flock of 30 to 40 birds would weekly come through the property eating everything and leaving swaths of turkey scat behind them.
In hindsight, I’d have filled a tag a lot sooner in life had I hunted them in Oregon before I moved to Arizona and attempted to draw a tag on a limited population in the Southwest.
In 2021, I had finally drawn a tag. The way the season worked for this specific spring tag, the hunt would open, and you’d have 7 days. Then the hunt would close, and another hunt would open for a new set of tag holders and their hunt would last 21 days. After 7 days, the first set of tag holder’s hunts would open back up and end 14 days later.
2021 sucked. We heard birds daily. They just never cooperated. The other reason it sucked is that during that first 7 days I was pregnant. During that last 14 days, I had miscarried. But I went. I fought through the physical and mental pain to sit quietly in the woods at dawn with my husband just so I wasn’t at home alone and to take my mind off things.
Over the winter, we moved. This move put us smack in the middle of a new unit where we both applied for spring turkey tags. A unit that didn’t have as many turkeys but was an easy drive in the wee hours of the mornings that go along with coaxing these birds.
My husband drew a tag, and I didn’t. I tried a few times to scout with no luck in finding a bird for him. He was either working or golfing and did not put a whole lot of effort into preseason scouting. But then a week before the hunt opened, the Game and Fish department called me and said that someone had turned in their tag and I was the next in line to receive it should I want it.
After confirming the tag was in the same unit as my husband’s, and a flood of emotions, I said yes and quickly paid for the tag. The emotions came as a flood of memories, but I was also pregnant again and much farther along this time. But I wanted to create a better memory for a spring season.
The weather had been absolutely gross this spring. The winds have been in the teens daily with lengthy gusts and fire season started early. Locating birds in a low-density unit was proving difficult.
We had a lead on a bird, but so did two or three other hunters for opening morning. And while we made an attempt to do things right, driving straight up to the roost tree is not something some others felt bad about doing. We moved on.
The next day my husband had a golf tournament that he was not missing. I went out to scout. And in the 14 mph wind, with two dogs panting and thundering through the dry pine needles, I heard a gobble. It was early enough that I knew the bird wasn’t in a tree and late enough that I knew he’d be in the same cut the next morning.
Long story short, we were not able to make it happen the following morning. And the morning after that, the Tom was on a different hill just over a mile south of where I first found him. The wind had also shifted from NE to the traditional SW heading which no doubt made him move. We were unable to outsmart the bird over the next few days and then had to resign to waiting for the second set of hunters hoping no one would find him even though he was the most talkative bird I’ve heard in a long time.
Seven days passed and we went back out and crept up to that same spot in the road and hesitantly got out of the side-by-side to listen at dusk in the 14 mph wind. And I heard him.
The next morning, now two weeks further into earlier sunrise and two weeks further into pregnancy, we started walking at 3:50 am, uphill, to try and set up on the ridge above this bird. This time we hoped it would work.
At the top, he gobbled and we realized we were close. We set up a decoy that at 10 yards we had a hard time seeing and about 30 yards out, the ridge fell away from us. We settled with my shotgun pointed west and Jason’s pointed north not knowing which way the bird might come down. Then we made a soft call and sat.
It was roughly 20 minutes ahead of the time this bird had been leaving the roost and about an hour ahead of what we had heard from other parts of the state but down he came. Legal shooting light but hard to see. A couple of minutes of silence and just over the ridge against the dark timber, I saw his head.
Like a kid on Christmas morning, my pulse quickened. Would he come up the ridge my way or pass in front of my husband? A quick whisper between us and he said, “he’s your bird, you found him.”
Then I saw his snoot and wattle. He was coming up the ridge my direction.
I waited until he was behind a line of three trees and pulled my shotgun up. He never made a sound. We don’t even think he saw the decoy in the dawn light. I however saw some flames as I fired and the single shot at 16 yards yielded my first wild turkey.
At 32 and a half weeks pregnant and on the Friday of Mother’s Day weekend, it all came together. My legs were asleep and my husband had to help me stand up. I couldn’t help but laugh.
We waited about 20 minutes for sun up and then took some photos, gathered our things, and headed back down the hill.
I definitely felt the ache of waddling through the woods that morning and I gave it my best effort to carry all things out plus the bird, but ended up letting my husband carry him.
By 10:00 am the bird was dressed and one of the breasts was in brine for dinner and I logged into work.
It’s not lost on me how special this spring ended up being. Bittersweet and humbling. And a beautiful tail, set of spurs, and beard are now on display as a reminder.
A moment to cherish for certain.
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