By: Tim Murphy
Turkey season opened up this weekend and I was lucky to have drawn a tag for the Jefferson Valley. My wife Beth, and two daughters Samantha (age 9) and Meghan (age 6) love the outdoors, and we saw this as a great opportunity to take a family outing.
Preparations began with nightly practice on the turkey calls after dinner and watching a couple of turkey hunting shows on the outdoor channel. Our good friends at Beartooth Capital were gracious enough to allow us not only to hunt their Jefferson Island Ranch, but also to spend the night in the guest house.
Spring weather was in the air as temperatures rose to the mid-60’s, and the area landscape began to take on greenish hue. One of my favorite quotes was from Mark Twain who once said, “don’t let education get in the way of learning”. So, we pulled the girls out of school at noon and traveled to the 1500 acre ranch an hour west of Bozeman in anticipation of scouting and putting a bird to roost that evening.
After arriving we were not disappointed to discover that a good sized flock of birds were using the fields near the residence to strut prior to roosting in the tall cottonwoods 300 yards from the front porch. We settled in and took advantage of the nice weather to warm up the girls fly-casting skills on the stocked pond. With this nice weather, fishing season is also upon us! Later that afternoon we took a drive through the ranch to see if we could spot the flocks ending up back at the house just in time to watch the birds come out into the fields and display prior to flying to roost at dark. Of the 20 or more birds, at least 15 of them were tom’s. We made the call on where to set up in the morning and settled in for the night.
At 5am I roused the family. We slid into some camo, painted our faces to match and headed out into the darkness to set up prior to daylight. As dawn approached, the silhouettes of the birds became apparent and they had been raucously gobbling on the roost from the moment we left the house in the pitch black. I stuck the decoy in the ground 25 yards into the field, began to give some soft calls and soon the birds began to bail off the roost. Beth and the girls were set up behind me in a dark snag of junipers and I could hear them anxiously whispering, “here they come!” As I continued to call, both girls would mimic my calls, and soon we were starting to sound like our own little flock. I thought to myself, “hmmm, they actually sound pretty good,” as they stroked the box and slate calls in exact repetition to my mouth call.
Almost immediately a jake hit the ground off the roost and literally ran right at us. He took the time to give us the full display complimented by a whole lot of gobbling within 15 yards of our hide. I could hear whispering behind me as the girls wondered why I wasn’t shooting it. A hen approached and the two eventually walked off and rejoined the larger flock. I then took a moment to explain to the girls why we don’t shoot the young birds.
An hour into it, the birds continued to go nuts displaying, gobbling and feeding. The kids had no idea what this was going to be like and were fully absorbed by it as they continued to call. I did however notice that only one of them was calling after a while as one adult bird broke from the flock and began to slowly make its way towards us. I whispered over my shoulder, “this bird is going to come in” and positioned my shotgun in anticipation. And sure enough, he did come but instead of taking the direct route across the open field, he came down to the treeline where we were positioned and worked his way towards the hen decoy.
He was 12 yards off my right shoulder when I started to realize he was going to walk on top of me. Fortunately he turned around a large cottonwood and started to move into my field of view gobbling and strutting as he came in. He cleared the tree and I popped off the safety of my gun. I thought about letting him do his thing for a while but also gave some thought to the fact that this might be the last chance to bag one and I didn’t want to screw it up as he was in clear view of the family. At 18 yards I pulled the trigger and the gun roared as the bird tipped over hard. I turned to look at the family and noticed that Meghan had fallen asleep and as she bolted straight up at the blast she had a classic surprised look on her face with a crooked hat and dazed eyes. Huh? She blurted out! At six years old she is still young enough to fall asleep anytime, anywhere but she was with us in her dreams I am sure.
Quick check of the watch was 7:30 am. We watched the flock move off as we took the time to look closely at the bird observing the beard, spurs and colorful feathers while recalling the mornings events. They were a part of the whole process and were pretty darn proud of it. A short walk back to the house, a few photos and we were off to find Mickey Mouse pancakes at breakfast in town. I don’t think I could have scripted it better and it was one of those memorable times that we will all remember forever.