Hunting Western Gobblers

Plopping down onto a large camp cooler was relief to my tired feet. After a full day of trekking the rolling hills that surrounded our camp, we were physically drained. Only the scenery, along with the chance of encountering one of the plentiful gobblers, kept us in good spirits. This was enough reward to offer up the drive to continue.

Our rest was too short as we noticed the quickly sinking sun. This signal of approaching nightfall was prompting us to scurry to a nearby vantage point and listen for any gobbler willing to divulge his presence.

Slowly walking the roadbed that snaked by our home away from home was cause for contentment — no more hills! The road coursed along a barren ridge dotted with the occasional pine that overlooked a wooded creek bottom. It was an ideal spot for any bird in the area to roost to avoid the many predators that inhabit the West.

Gives A Coyote Call
Just prior to daylight finally relenting to darkness, I gave a loud, sharp coyote howl that would have yanked a response from even the tightest-lipped gobbler. A large grin came across my face as my coyote imitation was cut short by several very eager birds. The ravine sounded nearly full as one group after another would sound off, each proclaiming their superiority. On the short walk back to camp, we speculated on what the morning would bring. We knew the birds were there, we just had to make them come to us.

The cool, early spring air mixed well with the yips and howls of the occasional lonely coyote. This was the setting of a perfect evening with charcoaled to perfection 1-inch thick ribeyes with potatoes, good company, good weather, no cares, no worries — just birds and lots of ’em. We drifted off that night talking about — what else, longbeards. A perfect ending to a perfect day.

Preparing For A Reservation Hunt
With all of the opportunity that lay before us, one might surmise that we were hunting a costly, private lease, or were on a very expensive guided hunt, but that was not the case. Although we had access to thousands of acres of land and encountered no other hunters during our five days there, the only cost involved was that of a couple turkey permits and a small guide fee. This turkey haven was within the borders of a Native American Reservation in South Dakota. Our location was one of the many reservations in the West that offers plenty of land for the turkey hunter to roam.

The wide open spaces of the West can offer the hunter the option of glassing for birds then closing the distance to within a gobbler’s comfort zone before calling.

Western reservations are ideal for the turkey-hunting enthusiast. As each reservation is separate from the state when dealing with wildlife issues, it is easily possible to harvest several birds during only one trip — it can be likened to hunting several states within a state. By the same token, because each reservation has separate regulations, the hunters should familiarize themselves thoroughly with each area to avoid problems later.

Recognizes Tribal Regulations
A misconception about hunting a reservation is that the surrounding state doesn’t recognize tribal regulations. The origin of this fallacy is the fact that, on some reservations there are state lands that are interspersed within the reservations borders. While on these state lands, a hunter must follow state seasons and possess a state hunting license. Again, to avoid any problems, it is of utmost importance to familiarize yourself with land boundaries. Do this by obtaining the most recent, quality map available for the area, and if a boundary is questionable, find another area to hunt.

Or, the hunter can also hire a guide. Guides are required on some reservations and most times their services are invaluable, as they will quickly put their hunters in productive areas. In addition to being knowledgeable, most tribal guides have very reasonable rates. Even on reservations that do not require guides, hiring one will quickly cut down the familiarization process. This allows the hunter to concentrate on what he does best.

While on this hunt we saw no other hunters; this may be because our hunt was early in the season. At the time of our hunt, the weather ranged from sunny in the 60s to snowing in the 30s. Turkey hunters well know this type of weather can play havoc with a turkey’s mood — and it did. Many of our encounters were with flocks, but with considerable walking, several lonely birds were found. Although a later hunt may have found more birds eager to work, the solitude we encountered was priceless. Choosing a time to hunt is purely personal preference, but after numerous hunts there I have found that no bad time exists.

Contact State DNR
When choosing a reservation it is best to contact the wildlife division of that area long before going. Most game populations are tightly managed because some reservations offer only drawings for permits while others are first come, first served. Because hunters who have previously hunted a reservation may purchase their permits as soon as they are made available, it may be wise to purchase a permit before leaving home. Doing this will help to avoid the, “sorry, we’re sold out” remark after making a long drive.

After choosing a destination, go with high expectations, but understand that nothing is a sure bet. During one of my hunts on a reservation, I heard many birds while they gobbled from the roost as well as many other times of the day. After encountering numerous birds at long distances, I witnessed for the first time, gobblers fighting among themselves — what a treat!

If these few guidelines are adhered to, hunting Western reservations can become addictive.

Success At Sunrise
After six hours of sleep, we were awakened by the annoying sound that can only come from a travel alarm clock. We quickly sucked down breakfast, then pulled on our camo gear.

We grabbed our scatterguns and vests, and wasted no time getting on our way. We scurried along the dirt road while the sky in the east began to lighten. Getting closer to our chosen area, our pace slowed, trying to approach undetected. Only seconds after leaving the roads dusty surface, a group of birds sounded off, then another, then another.

We quietly found our way to the creekbottom. Once there, we took watch along a small meadow. While listening to the anxious birds, some up the creek and some down, we whispered our plans. Because we had never doubled on birds, we decided if the opportunity presented itself we would graciously take it, no matter the size.

We found a perfect, comfortable shooting position, and then got still. Several minutes passed before I began my plea for some company: “Yelp, Yelp, Gobble, Gobble!”

Upon our birds voicing their opinion of forming some type of long lasting relationship, I shifted my black powder shotgun, a Knight TK-2000, in their direction. Once again as I made my plea, the overzealous birds cut me off. Things were fixin’ to get good!

Plays Hard To Get
Several minutes and numerous gobbles passed while the birds made their way up the narrow creekbottom. I remained silent, playing hard to get, but soon heard footsteps in the leaves.

All of our attention was directed toward the crunching leaves. Then ever so cautiously, like a prowler would enter a home, one, then two, then two more redheads crested a small knoll within shooting distance. The four jakes had traveled a small gully to within 25 yards of us. Once the arrogant juveniles could see the distance of the small meadow, they once again called for their lady. But the only response heard was, an inquisitive Yelp, then three seconds elapsed before our shotguns bellowed.

The satisfaction every turkey hunter loves to feel the weight of bird on his shoulder.

At the sound of the blast, two of the would-be suitors made a hasty getaway leaving their two siblings flapping on the ground. We ran to grab our prizes, high-fiveing, hugging and back slapping on the way.

We took time field dressing our trophies, simply enjoying God’s creation and the company of one another. When our chore was complete, the good weight only a turkey hunter knows, was draped across our shoulders and we headed back to camp.

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