Only One First Turkey

Shot placement knowledge is critical -- but only when you can apply it.

Kenny Satra (left) and I are pretty pleased with our turkey setup -- and the results.

"I've got Friday off," my friend Rocky said over the phone. "Why don't you come over and we'll give the turkeys a go?"

I had never hunted turkeys before, so I drove to Rocky's house the next Thursday afternoon and found him and his wife, Rene, fixing a dinner of marinated whitetail. They had invited some other hunting buddies as well. These boys -- Tony, Phil, Kenny, Tom, and Rocky -- are all members of the Montana Bowhunters Association, and as the editor of the MBA newsletter, I knew them all. They are like an extended family, related by the love of bowhunting and the outdoor lifestyle.

Hunting stories were flying, and when talk turned to turkeys, I paid especially close attention to remarks about shot placement.

"If you get a close shot at a gobbler tomorrow, you might as well shoot at his head," Tom suggested. "The head is just as big as the chest vital area, and if you miss, you don't have a wounded turkey on your hands."

Most of the guys had to work the next day, but Kenny joined Rocky and me at 4:30 the next morning. Apparently we had miscalculated when it gets light, and before we knew it we were driving like madmen, trying to beat the sun. Fortunately, a thick morning fog gave us some cover, and we set up two Primos Double Bull blinds without spooking anything. Kenny and I occupied one blind while Rocky set up about 400 yards away.

Kenny and I spent the next two hours calling, telling hunting stories, and laughing. While two bowhunters can have fun anywhere, sharing good stories in the great outdoors only enhances the experience.

Kenny used a box call for a while and then switched to a slate, making a series of yelps, cutts, and purrs. A few minutes later, I peeked out of a small slit in the blind toward the field and saw that three geese had landed 70 yards out. Leaning over to Kenny, I whispered, "There are three birds in the field!"

His eyes got big. "Gobblers?" he asked.

"No," I said. "Ganders!"

Kenny was not impressed with my intellect and wit, but a few minutes later he couldn't stand it and had to look. Taking a quick peek, he said, "One of them is a turkey." I thought he was joking, but I'll be darned if one of the geese hadn't turned into a hen turkey.

Just then I looked out another window and saw two toms in full strut, 200 yards away.

When they noticed the hen, they sprinted at her, meeting about 100 yards away. When the hen ignored them, the toms heard Kenny's sexy calling and spotted our two decoys and came right for us.

Things were heating up in a hurry, but some cars passing by on a nearby road caused the toms to veer off out of sight of my shooting port. Then Kenny noticed them coming from the back side of the blind, 14 yards away.

"Get ready!" he said. "I'm going to lower the flap. Take the first one you see!"

Opening the window had two immediate effects: One, my heart rate tripled. Two, both turkeys stopped strutting and stood tall to get a good look at the new dark spot in the big brown clump. Quickly I drew Thumper, my 67-pound Plainsman recurve, to full draw and released.

The arrow zipped by the turkey's head about an inch to the left -- a clean miss. As it thunked into a tree six yards beyond the tom, both birds galloped off, looking for all the world like two miniature T-Rex's.

"That's too bad, Steve," Kenny said, eyes cast downward. Actually, I was tickled with my first turkey hunting experience. And since I'd followed Tom's advice and shot at the head, we didn't have to contend with a wounded turkey.

"Now it's your turn to shoot," I said.

"No," Kenny responded. "I live in turkey country and you don't. Pick up your bow. We're not done yet."

We could still see the toms, five of them, in the woods, chasing hens, 75 yards away.

Kenny continued to work his slate, and all at once, two of the toms decided the hens they were after weren't quite as attractive as our decoys and suddenly came running straight toward us.

"Get ready!" Kenny hissed, although even for a greenhorn like me, his saying that wasn't necessary.

As they came straight at us, they in essence presented a moving target that was standing still, and as they closed within 15 yards, I locked in on the base of the neck of the one on the right and drew my bow.

At full draw, my physique finally reacted to the adrenaline overload of the last five minutes, and my entire body shook in a huge twitch as if I'd got zapped with a cattle prod. It was an incredible case of the yips, and unfortunately, I let go of the bowstring at that exact moment.

The arrow slid past the turkey, taking three feathers off his left side but missing the body completely. Without thinking, I grabbed another arrow. Now I was calm; the massive flinch that comes with built-up adrenaline always cures the yips for me.

Kenny was still yelping away excitedly, and as I put the arrow on the bowstring, I heard a turkey gobble -- right outside the blind!

Looking out the shooting port, I was treated to the sight of two toms strutting right beside the decoys, eight yards away. I picked my spot, found my anchor, and nailed the closer one, hitting him at the base of the wing, taking out the lungs and breaking the back.

Down he went.

My turkey was a jake, and an older bird probably wouldn't have put up with getting shot at twice. I didn't know any better, but I did know I couldn't have been more thankful or happier.

For a first-time turkey hunter, not only to see turkeys within bow range but to get three shots'¦ Well, that was over the top, the perfect script. The way I see it, you get only one first turkey, so you might as well make it last. And I milked this experience for all it was worth.

The author, a resident of Glasgow, Montana, is the editor of the Montana Bowhunters Association's newsletter.

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