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7-11 Gets Whacked

The turkeys are gobbling and I am not in the office much.  I do however have time to tell you some stories about recent success. . . .

My family and I spent some time “back home” over Easter weekend.  We did all the family activities, and then spent as much time as possible in the field with the birds.  I am not going to tell you that we punched a bunch of tags, but my son Daniel did take one bird that I will tell you about.

Daniel and my nephew spent most of the first morning we hunted trying to coax in a particular gobbler.  This gobbler quickly developed a character and a name because it was easily recognizable–it had most of its tail feathers missing.  Now I have seen several toms in the spring that had a few feathers missing from their fans, and those birds usually are branded with the name “Notchy”.  But in terms of missing tail feathers this bird was in a class by itself.  I will leave it to your imagination as to several of the names suggested for this particular bird, but we settled on “7-11″.  I will tell you why later. . . .

The evening of the first day we hunted, my son and nephew again worked the same bird.  He was with hens all that first morning and would not come to a call.  That evening he was by himself and the boys called him close a couple of times, but he was just a little too far to shoot.  In the process they got to look the bird over really well and my son told me he had a really nice set of “hooks”.  (Editor’s Note:  For you non-turkey hunters, “hooks” is turkey hunting slang for the spurs on the back of a male turkey’s legs.  As the toms get older, the spurs get longer.  Big toms, trophy birds, have a nice set of hooks.)  When Daniel told me that, I knew he was locked-in on that bird, that he was not going to quit until he got him.

The second morning Daniel did not find that particular bird, where they go at those times I have no idea, but that evening Daniel was right back after “7-11″, and he had a plan.

We have invested in a full-strut tom decoy; have even outfitted it with one of our old tail fans taken from a previous year’s turkey.  However, I have to tell you we are very selective as to when we use the full-strut decoy.  I have not and likely will never use it on public land.  I have seen way too many idiots do way too many stupid things to take a chance on that.  In fact, I get nervous using “Major Tom” (our nickname for our full strut decoy, as in “Ground Control to Major Tom”) on private land during spring turkey season and we had another incident this weekend which confirmed that.  Another reason we are very picky about the use of tom decoys during the spring is they can bring toms in, or they can scare them away.  It is very important to know the particular bird you are working.  If you have the boss Tom, king of the block, a tom decoy can bring him a-runnin’ in for a fight.  On the other hand, a sub-dominant bird, even though it may be a mature tom, may head just as fast the other direction.  With turkeys it is all about the pecking order.

Knowing that “7-11″ was often by himself strutting with hens, and that there were no other toms with him, Daniel figured the full-strut tom decoy might just do the trick.  He sat that decoy in the same flat where he had frequently seen the bird and settled in to see what would happen.  It did not take long before a tom sounded off a little to the north and some calling brought him into the neighborhood.  Less than half a tail fan, Yep, it was ole “7-11″.  Now if you have watched the marketing videos, you have seen big toms come running to full-strut tom decoys.  That did not happen with “7-11″, but he did see the decoy and he slowly, but surely, strutted and worked his way over.  The first evening he hung up just a little out of range; with Major Tom in play, ole “7-11″ closed the distance and Daniel rolled him over at 25 yards.

That’s my boy!

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You can see that half of a tail fan came in really handy at picture-taking time.  Ha.

A 9-inch beard, and I told you he had a set of hooks on him, over an inch and a quarter:

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Now here is the rest of the story, here is what we discovered when we cleaned the bird (by the way, here is how we clean all of our turkeys, Turkey Musings).  There are 18 feathers in the tail fan of a turkey.  Daniel’s bird had 7 feathers left, 11 feathers missing–“7-11″.  It is rare that we clean a spring tom and find a bird that has no scars, injuries, busted toes, etc.  It is a tough life out there in “the wild” and “Mother Nature” is a cruel witch.  Ole “7-11″ had seen more than his fair share of scrapes, and in fact had wounds between his left thigh and tail butt.  It looked to me like a couple of teeth punctures.  The wounds had scabbed over and started to heal, but I am betting a coyote or bobcat, maybe even a mountain loin if your imagination is more exotic, had tried to snatch that turkey from behind and ended up with mostly a mouth full of tail feathers.  Somewhere out in those canyons there are 11 tail feathers blowing in the wind.

We love spending time in the field chasing spring gobblers.  You might think that harvesting a big Tom is all we are after, but it is much more than that.  Being a hunter, spending time in the field, lots of time, allows us to learn about those critters, deepen our appreciation for them, and even develop characters for some of them.  Ole “7-11″ is no longer gobbling, but he had character and we will never forget him.  Every time we hunt those ridge tops and bottoms we will think of him.  Some of the gobbles we hear in the future will come from his offspring.  May they live long and prosper!

If you have not followed your hunting instincts, you may not understand.  If you are a spring turkey hunter, you will know exactly what I am talking about.

Sometimes I wonder if I get so wrapped up in the experience that I forget to hunt.  On our second morning, I got off on a wild gobbler chase–a dominant tom that was “trolling for chicks”, walking and gobbling.  I could get close enough for him to gobble back at me, but he had his circuit and I could never get in front of him.  The way things really work in the spring turkey “woods” is the toms gobble and the hens go to them.  Big, dominant toms at times follow that routine so closely that unless you can beat them to one of their “strut zones”, he ain’t coming to your call.  After a couple hours of always being behind, I sat on a ridge top and watched him gobble and strut another two ridges away.  Finally, a couple of hens thought he was pretty sexy and came to him.  One hen was a particular “flirt” and would get in front of him, stop and crouch to the ground, and then when that big tom would approach her she would get up, move 90 degrees to his side and do it again.  Ole Tom was in full strut all the time, angling his tail fan at her so she could get a good look, and every time she would move he would spin, clockwise in the northern hemisphere.  I watched them spin round and round doing that dance of spring for more than twenty minutes.  She never did sit still for him.

Besides that we have watched two and then three cottontail rabbits race each other along the same racetrack in the bottom of a canyon, lap after lap.  The third rabbit had not trained well and dropped out after a lap or two.

Then there was the barn owl nesting cavity the boys discovered, and the redtail hawk that screamed at us from above its nest.

Two fox dens.

Mule deer and whitetails.

Cardinals, robins and mourning doves calling.

Crows, cannot forget the crows in the spring turkey woods.  I pause and listen for them to get a tom to shock-gobble every time I hear them.

So many coyotes howling one evening that I wondered if I could make it back to the pickup before the pack got me.

Squirrels making a racket chasing each other in the leaves.

Wild plums just getting ready to blossom.

Time with my kids.

Oh, wait, was that a turkey that just gobbled?  That’s right, we are hunting them and still have a couple of tags to fill. . . .gotta go!

 

About Daryl Bauer

Daryl is a lifelong resident of Nebraska (except for a couple of years spent going to graduate school in South Dakota). He has been employed as a fisheries biologist for the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission for 25 years, and his current tour of duty is as the fisheries outreach program manager. Daryl loves to share his educational knowledge and is an avid multi-species angler. He holds more than 120 Nebraska Master Angler Awards for 14 different species and holds more than 30 In-Fisherman Master Angler Awards for eight different species. He loves to talk fishing and answer questions about fishing in Nebraska, be sure to check out his blog at outdoornebraska.org.

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