Spring Turkey Season March 26th

IMG_1065-1 Brett with gobler resized

Son-in-law, Brett Kelly with his first gobbler – three seasons ago.

There’s a lot to talk about this spring. Rutty deer meat, the arrival of my full body wolf mount, planning my trophy room and purchase of an Open Zone tag are popular topics. But mostly the big news is that spring turkey season opens in 11 days.

We have about 12 to 15 turkeys living on our ranch. I see a few of them each time I go there, but they are not always the same birds. Of the turkeys, my best guess is that about half are adults and the rest poults.

Of the six or seven adults, I think two are mature toms and the rest are hens. Of the poults, probably half of them are Jakes, but I don’t want to shoot a Jake this year as the overall population is down. However, bagging a mature gobbler would be a satisfying feat.

Based upon past experience, the best day of the season to bag a mature Tom is on opening day. With a shotgun it is almost no contest. But, I’ve proven that that’s not the case with bow and arrow. In fact, I’m zero for forever on gobblers with my bow.

On he other hand I’ve got loads of experience (failure) and it’s almost a sure thing that I’ll get a shot opportunity on opening day.

The best tactic will be to set up my Double Bull blind in one of the known turkey hangouts with Jake and hen decoys about 15 yards away. Once a gobbler responds to my hen yelps, it’s almost a lock that he’ll come in strutting. Typically the gobbler will go eyeball to eyeball with the Jake decoy or maybe even knock it down.

At 15 yards, you’d think the shot would be a slam dunk, but turkeys are constructed differently from  anything else you can hunt with bow and arrow. Their vitals are low and back – nothing like deer. And, about half of the target is feathers. It’s easy to draw feathers without drawing blood. It’s also easy to poke a hole through a turkey and not recover the bird.

I’ve done this the wrong way before, but I plan to do it right this year.

I’ll be shooting a bunch of 15 yard practice shots during the next ten days.





Tom’s Tom

We had hunted the morning, in a location about two miles to the north, but nothing showed. About 11:30 AM we shifted to a spot where a gobbler had been hanging out. After about 30 minutes of sparse calling, a gobbler sounded off from behind us. I suggested to Tom that he turn to prepare for an approach from that direction.

Within a minute, a second gobbler appeared and fanned out about 150 yards away in the opposite direction from the first gobble. Tom managed to scoot around just as a hen turkey passed by at ten yards. The strutting bird couldn’t resist following the hen and soon Tom had his chance.


My heart sank after the gobbler took off at a fast walk. Fortunately he didn’t last long, and Tom caught up with him as he dropped and rolled down the hillside a few yards before coming to rest on a level spot.

It was a great ending to turkey season.

Looking for a Place to Hunt Spring Gobblers?


Here are a few suggestions.

You can hunt one of the many public hunting areas in California. I’ve posted info about several of them on my blog. Check the archives for Cache Creek Wildlife Area and Daugherty Hill Wildlife Area. I’ve been on several successful turkey hunts on these state-owned lands.

Rob bagged this gobbler at Cache Creek. Not sure what year, but about fifteen years ago.


The Wilson Valley is an attractive place to hunt, but a bit of a hike.

The first turkey we ever called in was on a Cache Creek hunt, we were shocked and he strutted in to 15 yards from Rob, who never quite drew his bow. Yes we were archery hunting for turkeys before we ever came close to killing one. Finally, we came to our senses and began hunting with shotguns.

If you’re serious about turkey hunting, you must also check out Fort Hunter-Liggett and Spenceville. I’ve also had success on these public areas. In fact, I believe I bagged the first spring gobbler ever recorded at Fort Hunter-Liggett.

I wrote about this a long time ago in California Hunter Magazine. Here’s how it went.

In April of 1988, I made a call to the check station at Fort Hunter-Liggett. The following weekend would be the first turkey hunt of the season. A voice on the phone told me that there were only two spaces left and asked which area I wanted to hunt. I responded that I didn’t know any of the areas, so it really didn’t matter. He suggested Area 2 and I said, “fine, thanks.”

Fort Hunter-Liggett is beautiful in the springtime.

Leaving home, I was pessimistic about my chances for turkeys. No birds had been killed at Fort Hunter-Liggett during the previous season. That ment forever as the previous season had been the first turkey season ever at Fort Hunter-Liggett. The report I received was: turkey hunters – 28, kills 0.

However, as I left the check station I felt a twinge of optimism. As I drove to the hunting area to look around, the habitat was impressive. There was plenty of good cover and food. I also knew that Fort Hunter-Liggett harbored large populations of quail, deer, wild pigs, dove and band-tailed pigeons. Why not turkeys as well?

It was about 5:30 AM when I climbed a ridge overlooking the center of the area. I found turkeys and also two hunters, but after the hunters became disenchanted and left for parts unknown, I decided to pursue the same birds which they had been harassing.

Stopping at a nearby flat, I sat down and made a couple of calls with my mouth diaphragm. A gobbler responded from about 300 to 400 yards to the east. I placed my single hen decoy in the open about 20 yards from a brush patch in which I hid. The remainder of the story was textbook. 

I sat still for only a few minutes before the bird walked in straight towards my decoy. As he stood next to it, completely involved, I fired a load of #5 buffered shot at him from my old Winchester Model 12. I don’t know if I hit him, but he flew skyward as I blasted again and again.

On the third shot he fell and landed with a thump, about 35 yards away. According to the check station attendant, this was the first turkey  ever taken at Fort Hunter-Liggett. It is still a prized memory and it involved a great deal of luck.

By the way, it was also my first turkey  – killed after many unsuccessful hunts.

Now if you want to hunt in the East Bay, you can attend the Central Coast Chapter of MDF’s banquet tomorrow night (3-36-2011) in San Jose. They will be selling a one-day turkey hunt on a private ranch located near Livermore donated/guided by your’s truly. We’ve had pretty good success on that property, but every year is different.

For tickets and information: http://www.muledeer-ccc.org/index.html

Two Exciting Turkey Hunts Near Livermore Last Week

At the Livermore-Pleasanton MDF banquet/auction, Marty Sexton purchased a turkey hunt for him and his 14-year old son, Nickolas. We finally scheduled the hunt for Saturday April 26th and started early in an attempt to call a gobbler in at daylight.


The early-morning approach meant getting up at 3:00 AM to be exact. We met on Highway 84 near Sunol at 4:10 AM and made it to the ranch before first light. When we arrived at the target location we were greeted by multiple gobbles from at least three sets of roosting gobblers. Good news.


It didn’t take long to find a good set-up and within a few minutes we were settled in and ready to call. As the first rays of light lit up the canyon and improved visibility, I drew the paddle across the box call making a few soft yelps. It was immediately clear that the birds were eager as gobbles returned from seemingly all directions.


A couple hens yelped from the oak trees nearby, adding to the drama.


Not wanting to call too much, I reassured Marty and Nickolas that the birds would come when they were ready. At about 6:15, we were startled by the sound of air rushing over wings. Swooping in from the roost, a gobbler slammed on the airbrakes over our decoys and landed about 45 yards from Nickolas.


As the gobbler walked up the hill headed towards the jake decoy, Nickolas cut loose. The bird was hit, but not fatally. Expecting another blast right away, I was shocked as the bird began to walk away.


“Shoot, shoot,” I whisper-yelled.


Finally Marty joined in, hitting the bird again, but only motivating it to go airborne. As the big bird lifted off, Nickolas fired again and the bird was down for good.


The gobbler was a two year old, with a 7 inch beard, a nice trophy. Landing right in the decoys is not typical, but it was exciting.


We spent the rest of the day attempting to find another willing gobbler, but the early action seemed to make the birds nervous and unwilling to come to the call. I guess I can’t blame them.


It was the second hunt of the week. On the previous Thursday, I joined my turkey-hunting friend Tom Billingsley for the day. The plan was for me to attempt to shoot a gobbler with my bow with Tom at the ready to kill the bird if I missed.


Amazingly three different gobbler groups came in to our calling. As Tom made sweet turkey music on his box call, the gobblers strutted and fanned within five yards of me. I cut loose with a couple of  shots. I couldn’t believe I didn’t bring one of them home, twice knocking feathers from the big birds, but drawing no blood.


Tom passed up more shot opportunities than I could count, but he said it was too much fun watching me, so he didn’t want to shoot and end the day.


Now I’m 0 for 6 on shots for the season, two of the last three were at 20 yards. I may have to break out the shotgun for the last weekend of the season. We’ll see.