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2017 Ohio Turkey – Hunting the Roost

After having success at Dad’s farm in Indiana on April 28th, I was eager to get home and see if I could end my Ohio Turkey drought. It had been 3 years since I had last tagged a bird in my home state, and I had no intention of going another year without doing so. I had recently acquired permission to hunt a portion of my neighbor’s property; a long bottom field adjacent to a wood lot where at least 2 toms roosted almost every night. For 2 weeks I spent every possible morning doing my best to coax one or more of these toms into my decoy spread, but nothing I tried worked. They had no intention of breaking their morning routine, which included flying down and immediately heading to some big agriculture fields to the south. On May 16, with just under a week left in the season, I decided to see if I could get permission to hunt the remainder of my neighbor’s property. After a quick conversation, permission was granted, and my hope was restored.

Though this was the first year I had permission to turkey hunt on this property, I had shed hunted on it the last two years, so I was already familiar with the lay of the land. Based on the location the birds were roosting and what I already knew about the property, I figured that they were using an old logging road to get in and out of the river bottom. From there, they would cross a large hardwood flat and make their way to the fields they spent the rest of their day in before returning to the roost each night. But this knowledge was all for not if I were to spook these birds before even getting started. So the first thing I did before setting up my blind was take a quick drive and try to locate the flock prior to making any moves. As expected, I located them a short distance from where I would be hunting, and based on previous information gained in the days prior, I knew these birds would not leave this field and the larger field to the south until close to sunset. Quickly, I returned home and gathered all my gear, returned to the property and got set up for the next morning.

The next few days played out very similar to one another. I saw birds on the roost, heard plenty of gobbling, but they slipped past me no matter what I tried. I moved my blind a few times in an effort to narrow the distance between myself and where they were roosting, but as close as I came, I just couldn’t get the job done. These turkeys were very practiced in their morning habits, and even the sight of a DSD Upright Hen wasn’t going to slow them down. On the morning of May 20, my 7-year-old daughter went with me, and we had a great hunt. I thought we might get it done when we had the two toms within 40 yards of the blind, but a group of 4 jakes came in a busted up the party. I think she was a little bummed that we didn’t put a tag on one of the jakes, but I used it as a great opportunity to explain to her that harvesting an animal was only a small part of the experience we get from hunting.

May 21st was the last day of the Ohio season, and the weather was calling for storms all day. It was time to pull out my backup plan and get aggressive.  At around 4:30 PM that afternoon I made my way down the old logging road for the last time. My plan was simple. I knew where these birds were, and I knew where they were going; My blind was getting setup directly in between the two locations. I would be approximately 55 yards from their roost trees, and there would be no getting out undetected. I had no decoys and no calls. It was just me, my blind, and my bow. It was officially deer season for turkeys, as I like to call it.

Swing and a Miss

The first hour was quiet. I wasn’t 100% sure what time these turkeys made their way into the timber, but I was sure the storms moving in would speed things up a little. Around 5:30, thunder boomed and a shock gobble immediately followed. Moments later, another thunderous boom from the heavens, and another shock gobble.  This time much closer! By my estimation, the bird was only 100 yards from me now. I grabbed my bow and got ready. Less than 10 minutes later a lone tom popped out from behind a large beech tree. I had played this out in my mind countless time, but it still caught me completely off guard. I tried to range him a few times, and then realized how silly that was knowing full well he couldn’t be more than 10 yards. I drew back my bow, steadied the pin on my Hogg Father, and for the second time this season sailed my arrow well above my intended target. I was in complete disbelief. I had set my pin to 30 yards expecting a further shot. In all the excitement, I never even thought to adjust it. That was it, I had waited all this time just to screw up. I watched as the big tom slipped down the logging road, and moments later he flew up into one of the big sycamores below me. My plan had worked flawlessly, but I had failed to execute. I could not believe I had put in all this time, and my season was going to come down to a miss.

A Second Chance

As I sat quietly in my blind, frustrated and angry with myself, a gobble caught my attention. In the moments leading up to my miss, I thought to myself it was odd that this bird had come in alone. Never since I first laid eyes on the pair of toms I was after had I seen one of them without the other. Maybe my season was not over yet. Perhaps I would get another chance. Another gobble, still in the same place as before. I hurried to nock another arrow and ready myself for a second opportunity. 10 minutes later, the two toms popped up over the ridge. They were about 60 yards away, just on the other side of the property line, but they were slowly making their way towards me. As they crossed the fence line I adjusted my sight and came to full draw. I attempted to take aim, but I could not make out my pin. It was too dark due to the cloud cover and thick foliage above. I tried to convince myself I could make the shot, but I knew it would not be ethical. I let my bow down and watched as the two toms disappeared down the ridge towards the river bottom. Seconds later, the two toms emerged side by side, in a small grassy meadow. Out from under the cover of the trees, there was more than enough light to take a shot. I quickly ranged the closest bird, adjusted my pin and let my arrow fly. The unmistakable thud of my arrow impacting its target followed! The tom furthest away took flight while the bird I had shot hobbled out of sight further into the bottom. I knew I had made a fatal shot, but it looked like it might be just a little far back. With more storms approaching, I wasted little time getting out of my blind and taking up the trail.

A Swimming Recovery

When I got to where the bird was standing when I shot, I found a few small drops of blood but nothing more. He had made his way along a deer trail into endless amounts of waist-high stinging nettles. Now I was worried. There was a good chance if this bird got off the trail, I would not find him. I tried not to let that discourage me and began my search. I weaved back and forth along the width of the grown up river bottom but I could not find any sign of my bird. I continued on a few yards further when I came upon the downed tom. At first he seemed hesitant to flee, but then he took off at a slow run. I gave chase, and was instantly thankful I had never had to run down a turkey before. Even fatally wounded, he was quicker than I, and it was all I could do to keep up. As I started to close the distance, he suddenly disappeared. I approached the location I had last seen him, though I failed to notice we had come to the edge of the river. Before I had time to react, I was sliding down an 8 foot embankment straight into the water. Luckily, it was only about 2 feet deep, and I was not hurt in the fall. I continued my pursuit, and as I started catching up to the bird I could tell he did not have much left in him. Half way across the river, I was finally able to reach out and grab him. I was completely out of breath and soaked to the bone. I was tired and barely able to make it back up the river bank. As I sat there with my first Ohio turkey in 3 years, it dawned on me I had dropped my bow in the river when I fell. All I could do was laugh. My bird was a mess, I had no idea where my bow was, but I was happy!

He was a great bird, with 7/8″ and 1″ spurs, a 9 1/2″ beard and coming in right at 23 lbs, I could not be more than happy.

Never have I had such a wild ending to a turkey hunt. Although it was certainly memorable, I hope that was the last time I go swimming for a turkey. I owe this turkey in part to my wife and good friend Brett Bueltel, as they both encouraged me to stay on these birds long after I was ready to give up on them. Persistence was key as was the ability to adapt and try a new approach. This was the first time I have hunted birds near the roost, and I learned a few valuable lessons for the next time.

Bird Stats:

  • 23 lbs.
  • 9.5″ beard
  • 7/8″ and 1″ spurs

Rich’s Gear:

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