By Emily Baumker
My husband Adam and I arrived the afternoon before opening day on 20 acres of land we were generously allowed to hunt by a family member. With never setting foot on this dirt before, and hunting game that was also completely foreign, I knew to not expect much.
It was around 4 o’clock when it happened; along the ridge running parallel to us, the first gobble grabbed our attention. As the sun set deeper over the hills, the choir of gobbling had grown around us, and my thoughts of an uneventful trip had shifted. I was going to shoot a turkey.
At first light we headed to a clearing north of camp, bordered on one side by a slope leading down to a creek. I set up my hen decoy to mark 20 yards shooting distance, and hustled back to the brushy berm we had set up on. The gobbles had woken us up before dawn, and the birds were on the move. I squeaked out a gentle yelp on my box call, not thinking much would come of it. A passionate gobble called back from just below the clearing.
“That sounded really close,” Adam whispered. My heart began racing.
With sudden speed and silence, I saw the ivory tips of a tail fan peak over the edge of the slope. My heart jolted and was shaking my body like an unbalanced washing machine. Before I could compose myself the tom had popped his head up and glanced over to the decoy. He quickly dropped his strut and hesitantly disappeared back down over the edge.
Over the next few days we realized we had landed in turkey paradise. We had many opportunities to shoot a tom standing feet from our truck, but it felt too unfair. Eventually, I let a shot off at a tom walking in a group of four. They all popped up and flapped away, disappearing into the thick timber over the property line. I found five breast feathers on the ground, and began furiously searching for any sign him. Two hours later, I was standing in a patch of waist-high snowberry bushes, gasping and sobbing to the quiet forest.
Fortunately it wasn’t long before I saw the four toms again, one now with a noticeable new haircut on his breast. They were walking the ridge along our campsite, and I began slowly stalking my way up the trail, ducking and weaving between trees and patches of shadow as best I could. I had gone as far as I dared, about 50 yards down a slope from them, before I sat under a large fir and waited. I could hear them closing the gap with every gobble. I readied my shotgun, waiting to see them appear over the crest of the slope. In the midst of their gobbling, now 40 yards away, a shot rang out. And then another. The turkeys scrambled and in the confusion I tried to see if one would end up in my shooting lane, while simultaneously moving uphill towards camp trying to also not be shot at. As I came over the crest, Adam saw me with an expression of shock and shame.
“I thought you were napping in the tent!” he exclaimed, the tom now flopping on the ground before him.
Many apologies were given for jumping the birds I was working. But in reality, I had experienced so many exciting encounters with these curious animals that I didn’t care who shot what. We went home with full coolers and a lifetime of memories.