It’s only 4:30 am, but my daughter Lillian and I are running late. Our friend Dylan is already at our rendezvous point at the St. Joseph Island turn-off. We roll in a half-hour later, transfer our gear to Dylan’s truck, and continue on to the hardwood stands, cedar swamps, and broad swaths of agricultural lands of unit 45. We park in darkness and gather decoys, blinds, firearms, and bow and arrow, and head into the woods.
It’s a calm, still morning in mid-May, and the three of us step gingerly amongst the crisp leaves, wild leeks, and dry branches of the open hardwoods. The sun is just starting to pour over the treetops as we reach a series of multi-terraced and rolling fields.
The Plan That Doesn’t Unfold
When I first met 25-year-old Dylan Jollineau less than a year ago, it was clear we spoke the same language. When conversation moved from angling to hunting, I mentioned that my daughter, Lillian, was interested in hunting spring turkey with her bow, and Dylan graciously agreed to try and make that happen.
Wild turkey are extremely sensitive to movement, so shooting one with a bow and arrow is particularly difficult. To help shield our movements Dylan is toting a three-man ground blind which we’d hoped to set up in a nearby field. However, by the time we reach the first field edge, the birds have flown down from their roosts and there is no time to set up the blind. Adjusting our plan, Dylan hastily plops a decoy in a grassy clearing and we sit in the open along an old fence line.
This is Lillian’s first time pursuing giant wildfowl, and it’s exciting to hear the distant gobbling of Toms on the move. The only problem is they don’t seem to be moving any closer. After being shunned for an hour Dylan points to a narrow strip of trees and whispers, “I think I know where they are.” We dart across the field and into the woods to look out over an adjacent field. Standing, Dylan conceals himself behind a Jake decoy and makes a series of hen yelps with a mouth call, punctuated by the spitting and drumming sounds of a bird in strut.
The adaptability and expertise of this Gobblestalker Calls pro staffer is clearly illustrated when a group of four Jakes comes running in from 50 yards out. Distance and lack of cover for Lillian make it a difficult shot for a bow, but my shotgun is leveled and when one of the Jakes appears within a break in the trees, I pull the trigger, and the bird folds.
A Classic Hunt
We’re thankful for the tasty young bird, but with the goal of giving Lillian a chance to launch an arrow, we set up the ground blind on a wooded point in preparation for the next morning’s hunt. After a very short night, we are back in the field and climbing into the blind well before dawn. Dylan pulls out a selection of a Gobblestalker mouth calls and a copper pot call, while Lillian envisions the anticipated shot, close to a pair of decoys 10 yards out.
It’s another still morning, and Dylan’s initial calls are answered by drowsy gobbles from the still-dark forest. But as the glow of sunlight fills the morning, gobbles are more pronounced, and soon we hear the staccato wing beats of several birds flying down from the roost.
Anyone who’s had birds in play, answering calls with thundering gobbles, knows just how exciting it can be, and I’m happy to see my daughter in the thick of it on her first hunt. It’s also a pleasure to hear Dylan orchestrating this classic unfolding of a turkey hunt with everything from yelps to purrs to gobbles to wing beats. With vocal and receptive birds working their way towards us, the moment of engagement seems imminent.
From our vantage point, we can see into a distant field where a trio of big black birds are moving in. They disappear into the woods and we fully expect them to reappear from the bush line and strut in on our decoys. Lillian has an arrow nocked, waiting with palpable intensity. We are all immersed in this intriguing juncture in time when everything is unfolding as it should. Suddenly I see Lillian’s eyes squint and neck crane. “Yote,” she whispers. Dylan and I look out to where the turkeys were and see a coyote trotting with purpose across the field.
Although we give it another hour, gobbling has ceased and there’s an air of finality circulating the open fields in the wake of the four-legged intruder. “Well, that was interesting,” says Lillian when we finally pull the plug. Having the perfect morning turn sideways in an instant is pretty typical when hunting these wary birds. Disappointment is overshadowed by the experience of a nearly perfect hunt. And it’s a potent appetizer for the next time father and daughter head out into the turkey woods.