A Newbie Hunting Adventure
By Laura Douglas
Al and I met Steve and Jacquie Shore at the 2017 Toronto Sportsman Show and after about 30 minutes of chatting they invited us down for the spring turkey hunt. We’re incredibly charming people obviously!!! Seriously though, the Shores are just about the nicest, most down to earth people we have met. Steve and Jacquie are such positive people to be around and are 100% willing to work with people (rather than compete with those in the industry) and they’re both hilarious. They extended an invitation for us to share in their household and to teach us everything they knew about turkey hunting after having just met us. Steve and Al worked it out in early May and we would head down the following weekend.
Little disclaimer here, this is my second year of hunting and so far, I’ve only bagged myself a few grouse (my first ever spotted bird was downed in a single shot that I still brag about!!). I’ve been on bear, deer and other small game hunts but I was behind the camera and/or mostly there to observe. This was my first real hunt where I was on camera, up to bat and had a good chance of getting something. I may be a newbie but I was stoked and we were headed down south in less than a week.
Last Minute Prep
Let’s start with the prep work, everything in our household is last minute so don’t judge. Canadian Tire is always our best friend and luckily, we have 4 within 30 mins of our house!! Days before leaving we went to CT to pick up our tags and shot. We selected new chokes from a local outdoors store and hit the pit to do some patterning Thursday and at again at 6 am Friday morning, right before we left on our trip. This season, after repeatedly punching myself in the nose last year, I borrowed my brothers full size 20 gauge (we only have a youth/lady’s model) so I wasn’t satisfied with one day of practice. I nailed down a tight spread at 30 ft which is pretty good for a 20 guage and 1oz high brass game load – we couldn’t find any turkey shot for me. So, with confidence and a bruised shoulder we headed on our way.
The drive to Steve and Jacquie’s is about 6 hrs away. Luckily, our much-needed Canadian Tire stop resulted in a new gem for our trip... a diaphragm call! It was $3.00 and brought hours of entertainment (and annoyance). We started off barely able to make noise and by the end of the trip we resembled something like a turkey/velociraptor. Myself being the aforementioned dinosaur! Turkey’s unfortunately have good hearing so we weren’t passing for any kind of bird.
Turkey’s also have impeccable eyesight so our last-minute adventure required a on route stop for some last-minute camo. We ordered our Game Gear way too late so there was no way it make it in time. Camouflage for Al wasn’t an issue (the man has a room full of it) but for me, I have one suit which is meant for winter and is accented in neon pink!! Not ideal for turkey. We used the liner of my jacket, took off all the zipper pulls and hid the pink logo with a combo of face paint and camo tape. For pants, we made a stop in at Bass Pro (be proud, it only took an hour) and I picked up a new bib and camo jeans. Annnnd another top because well a girl can never have enough camouflage.
After several hours, too many caffeinated drinks and one phone call we arrived. I’m going to add in here that since we were learning there are not many photos taken on our first weekend. The remainder of Friday was a scouting day and since we honestly didn’t know much about the Shores it was a chance to get to know them. We drove around for a few hours, checking out private lands where the shores had permission to hunt. We saw a handful of birds here and there but one area was the jackpot – a series of adjacent fields, half a dozen jakes, 3-4 toms and 2-3 hens. We marked out a plan to set up one team on the SE and one on the SW so they could only escape if they went north across the river.
Saturday Al and I woke up at 4 am, grabbed our camera, our guns and our camo and hopped in the truck. The morning was foggy and cool and by 5:30 am Steve, Al and I were settled in along the field’s edge. Nothing beats the anticipation of the sunrise until you’ve sat amongst the brush and hear the call of an animal pierce through the morning calm. Turkeys are no exception, the gobblers start slow with the first to rise letting out a strong but lonesome call. Soon enough the entire forest is resonating with the bassy, guttural calls of a big tom mixed in with the unsure, sometimes unfinished gobble of a young jake. Al and I exchanged glances and in this moment, we both knew we’d be turkey fans for life.
It was my turn that morning and my heart would pound each time a gobble got close enough. I’d see Steve nod or Al whisper that they’re coming up on my right. I’m the shortest one of the group and sitting down in the grass I didn’t get to see much in advance. We had groups of toms and jakes edge closer but then leave well before they got within shooting range; they seemed to be enjoying the company of the 2 hens amongst them. Around 7am, a large Tom approached from the right I brought my gun up and took my safety off waiting for him to clear the bush blocking my shot and for the camera to pick him up. Then suddenly he turned and walked off, I assumed he had spotted one of us and we blew our cover. After that, not one bird came near us. A field of 8 gobblers wanted nothing to do with us or our hen decoy. We sat for a few more hours and then called it a morning.
We made it back to the house early and due to some chaotic circumstances, we never did make it back out to the field that day. We did however get to meet some new friends thanks to the Shores. Fellow pro-hunter Anthony Dickson, a champion turkey caller had come to join in the hunt (Anthony and Jacquie went out, separate from us, to grab his second gobbler) and we got a chance to chat with him before he left. We ogled his bird, soaked up some turkey knowledge and enjoy the footage of that day’s bird and the one from weeks before (a beauty of having friends in film). He showed us how he made certain calls and when the he would use them. The next friend was a bigger surprise; we went down to a local organic, asparagus farm to pick up dinner and got a quick tour. The couple that runs Mazak Farms is so sweet and definitely love their community and love what they do. We learned all their secrets (you can too on YouTube!!), got some gardening tips and played with some chickens.
Sunday, we were up again at 4 am and out in the field for 5 am but today we opted to split up. Al took our camera and headed off into the dawn with Jacquie; Steve got stuck with me! Creeping along the edge, staying as quiet as we could Steve and I headed into the same field as yesterday, selecting a new spot. Half-way to our spot we heard a ruckus in the tree above and off took 2 birds. Steve and I had both scanned the trees but it was still too dark. The rest of our travels went off without a hitch and as the sun started to rise we realized our spook may have worked out well, Steve was certain we startled the only 2 hens in the field! We heard the gobbles boom all around us as the light came up but not a single peep out of any hens. Once the birds flew down, we confirmed our thoughts. 4 toms and 3 jakes were across the field from us, about 150 ft. Steve would call and they would puff and strut around, let out a few gobbles but wouldn’t close the distance. At one point, the “herd” (let’s be honest, they don’t really resemble a flock) came within 50-60 ft and we caught glimpses of their heads just below the ridge in front of us. A flash of blue and red between last year’s corn stalks. I could have taken a shot but I really couldn’t get a lock on any heads, each time I was a little too slow.
An anticlimactic start to our hunt for sure but Steve is a great teacher and gave me pointers the entire morning – why he did each type of call, pros/cons of our location, tips of gun placement and shooting distance. Plus, if you ever get a chance to meet Steve, he has a story for everything and man can he tell a story!!!! He and Al would sit around the table at night swapping animated tales of tagged animals, close calls and console one another on lost game. Jacquie and I would add our tales, revamp an exaggerated detail or a forgotten slip up (what are partners for) – like the missing sleeping bag on a moose hunt or a lake trout that seemed to grow with each re-telling.
Around 9am, Steve declared that our birds were decoy shy (likely why my tom had run off the day before), call shy or Steve really sounded nothing like a turkey. With a record of having never missed a bird and the fact that he and Jacquie fill their spring tags fairly easily, I’d say the first 2 were the likely culprits. We pulled from our spot and headed to a dense brush area 10 minutes away to do some walk/call (Steve was the packhorse), maybe flush something out. Within 20mis we heard a faint gobble in response to our box call. We sat right down amongst the thorns, scrub brush all around and only 2 turkey sized opening, we called again and heard nothing for a minute or so (at this point I’m thinking maybe I’d imagined the first gobble) and then again, a gobble surprisingly closer than he was the last time. He was moving fast but wasn’t calling continuously. I slowly placed my gun into shooting position and waited with heart pounding and arms shaking (an unfortunate side-effect of forgetting your bi-pod).
The next gobble came and it sounded right on top of us, Steve responded with a ‘yelp’ and our gobbler responded with silence!!!! With adrenaline pumping, I scanned the thorns around us as we attempted to determine if the gobbler would come down the fence line or pop out through the brush. About a minute later I heard Steve whisper “There” (the bugger had appeared along the fence line to my left where I had just looked) - the camera came on, I swung my gun to the left, Steve let out “SHOOT!” and in a heartbeat my jake was 15 ft in the air and gone. I had moved too fast and was picked up instantly and the jake took off. My heart dropped. The one bird that weekend that was in a good spot and I moved too fast. Our jake had flown off and another jake quickly followed, Steve got up and spotted a tom running off in the distant field startled by the jakes commotion. Steve chatted with me, letting me know the brush was very thick here and they likely didn’t go far so we quickly called Al and Jacquie and let them know to head up to our area (by this point they had finished their morning sit); we’d continue back along our path and call, they would cut them off from the other side of the creek and maybe get a shot. We quietly worked our way back through the forest calling but they were gone.
It’s about the Hunt
I’m sure everyone has been there, when you miss an opportunity you were sure you could’ve gotten. You question yourself, you kick yourself but you can’t accept. Not yet. I felt like a failure and was rather hard on myself in those moments, mentally kicking myself for every wrong move I thought I made. By 12:30 we made it back to the truck and we were all laughing and regaling our frustrations of the morning. Steve went over our jake adventure and made sure everyone knew (especially me) that it all happened so quickly. The jake likely only sensed something not right (we had no decoy out) and probably didn’t truly see us. Looking back at the footage, the camera didn’t even have a time to process the record command between when Steve spotted the bird to its take-off. It picks up a quick “SHOOT” and the bird is gone – 10 seconds of footage and the flash of a bird.
We climbed in our truck and headed home chatting every hour (when Al was awake) about the stubborn birds, the “failures” and the thrills. By the time we were home it felt as though my failures were all in my head – Likely I had moved to fast but even if I was slow and purposeful in my movements there was honestly no way I would have made that shot in that moment. My adrenaline was flowing, my muscles ready but my brain was about as fast as the camera was at registering the bird. A quick ‘there’, the flash of a red head, ‘shoot’ and then feathers, maybe just maybe if I had my sights trained on that fence line I might have tagged out but why dwell on it when I can’t change it.
A failure after all is nothing but a chance to improve yourself; how can you really fail when you don’t know what you’re doing? I knew nothing about turkey hunting when we showed up on Friday, I could not have expected myself to have mastered it by Sunday. I may have downed the first grouse I spotted in a single shot (told you I’d brag) - I have since had to take 2 shots: completely missed or scared them off before I even got a step down the path. The hunt is about the experience and not about the tag out – that’s why it’s called hunting. I got this reminder from Al, my dad and my mom and just about any person I talked to.... oh and it was reiterated during one of the Meat Eater Podcasts we listened to on the way home.
I learned so much this weekend and while neither Al nor I managed a bird, Al had found a pristine turkey wing feather. He had carried it for hours as he and Jacquie pushed through the brush helping track my spooked birds. Bold striping with slightly mangled edges it still felt perfect when he presented it to me at the truck - This feather was the weekend prize! This hunt was just the start! Al and I had already planned to head back down south to some crown land the next weekend.