BY TIM HOVEY
Due to prior commitments this year, I haven’t been able to get out as much as I would like to hunt during the general California spring turkey season. With the end of the season fast approaching, I decided to head out for a quickly planned trip to try my luck.
Having had only limited time to scout, I relied on my good friend Derek Fong and his son Chris to help me out. We had scouted a likely area before the season and had encountered birds, but Derek had been back to the spot during the season and the birds had been pushed somewhere else. However, during his hunt, he had located a recently used roost tree. With time running out and limited opportunities, we decided to go all in the next morning at the roost tree.
We parked several hundred yards from the tree and discussed a game plan 90-minutes before sunup. We decided to split up, with Derek and Chris setting up near the edge of a meadow within sight of the roost tree. They both suggested I head up the hill and set up at a different angle to the group of trees still unseen in the dark.
Following the dull red beam of my headlamp, I quietly hiked up
the hill that was supposedly facing the roost tree. With no real reference, I found a large sage bush facing the general tree line direction that would be perfect to break up my outline. I quietly dropped my gear and set up my camo exclusion fence. I removed my outdated decoys, a feeding hen and a persistent jake, and set them up fifteen yards in front of me. With everything in place, I adjusted my seat pad and waited for sunup still an hour away.
While I waited, I thought about my experience hunting turkeys late in the season. I’ve always been of the opinion that as the season wears on, adult toms become a bit call shy. In fact, I had told Derek and Chris that I believed if roosted birds could see your decoys, calling was unnecessary. I was so committed to this theory that I hadn’t added a call to my pack. However, as a last re- sort, if I needed to call, I could always make hen clucks with just my voice.
I heard roosted birds before I saw them. Ruffling feathers and some audible turkey noises told all three of us that birds were in the roost tree. A few minutes later the slight outline of the dead tree with dark objects littered throughout made my hear skip a beat for a number of reasons. I was excited that we had located birds, but as the terrain started to light up, I realized that I was set up too high and landing birds would never be able to see my decoys.
Even though I was risking being seen, a quick peak through the binoculars showed that the birds were still sleeping, heads tuck away. I grabbed my camo fence and pack and quietly moved downhill about fifty yards. I found another large sage bush and quickly set up my gear. I repositioned my decoys below my new position, convinced now that when the birds lit down from their roost, they’d easily spot my decoys.
The roosted birds became more audible as the day began to light up. I could hear Chris using his box call on the other side of the hill, sending out subtle hen clucks. Occasionally, one of the birds would respond with an enthusiastic gobble. From behind my camo fence, I was able to count seventeen birds in the tree. Of the few that were awake, all of them were craning their necks checking out my decoys.
At about 6:30 AM a satellite bird roosted in an adjacent tree, lit off its perch and landed within thirty yards of my decoys. Thirty seconds later the rest of the birds lifted off and flew straight at me, landing twenty yards in front of my decoys. Their behavior clearly demonstrated that they were curious and they moved back and forth, weaving through the brush.
My shotgun was up over the camo fence as I followed the blue heads of a couple males. They’d appear, looking towards the decoys and then disappear within a few seconds as they repositioned to get a better look. As the seconds passed, I could tell that my time was running out. They had approached to within 35-yards of where I was positioned, but they were not getting any closer.
I spotted a blue head moving through the brush. I moved my barrel to an opening a few feet in front of the moving turkey. The blue head and neck appeared briefly and stopped, craning for one last look. My mind screamed ‘NOW’ and I held the bead on his neck and squeezed the trigger. At the shot, the remainder of the birds scattered up the drainage. Flapping wings and a growing dust cloud below told me I had connected. My late season spring turkey was on the ground and I hadn’t made a sound.
Derek and Chris came over a short time later and we took some photos. We discussed the hunt and now in daylight, we realized that my set up looked to be the preferred spot for the roost tree.
We spent the rest of the day attempting to find birds. Despite some sightings, no other turkeys were harvested. We had an amazing time enjoying the outdoors and hunting hard. At the end of the day, the 2021 California spring turkey season came to a close with one last minute tom in the cooler. While I’ve always believed I am a lucky hunter, I strongly believe that luck favors the prepared — and those willing to risk being seen to make a last-minute adjustment.