Roll With the Punches
Do you recall a time when you were out hunting and everything went exactly as planned? In my 11 years of hunting, I can think of only a handful of times that everything fell into place perfectly. That doesn't mean that my other hunting experiences were bad. On the contrary. It's the unexpected moments in the woods that keeps things interesting and makes you evolve as a hunter. On opening weekend of the 2017 Missouri Turkey season, something unexpected happened during my hunt. It wasn't the turkeys that threw me for a loop. They showed up in the area I wanted them to, at the time I expected them to based on my Browning Trail Camera photos. Sure, they ignored my decoy and followed the real hens, staying out of shooting range for a while, before moving even further down the field. That didn’t really surprise me, though if I had my way they would have come right to my decoy and my calling and ended up on my dinner plate later that evening. No, it wasn’t the turkey’s behavior that surprised me, it was mine. At around 9:30, two toms were strutting in the middle of our 5 acre field 200 yards away from me and were ignoring my calls. They had already checked out my decoy setup earlier that morning but were led away by real hens. I was out of ideas, but I just couldn't give up, knowing the turkeys were right there in plain sight.
I've noticed over the years that during turkey season I tend to get stuck in a rut. I usually use the same decoy spread, hunt the same location, and use the same tactics without changing it up much. Well, this season I made a decision on the spot that history wasn't going to repeat itself. Whether it worked or not, I was determined to get outside of my comfort zone and try something new. So I sent a message to my buddy Justin from high school who is a great turkey hunter and he suggested belly crawling to them. For a second I just kind of laughed and thought, " There's no way I'm trying that." I knew it would be tiring crawling that far, (not to mention there was plenty of standing water), and I didn't have a fan to use in front of me so I was worried I'd get busted. "Trust me", he said. "Just stay low and go slow." After contemplating it for a lot longer than I should have, I finally decided to give it a try. "Here goes nothing", I thought to myself as I removed my turkey vest, grabbed my Browning Maxus and started crawling.
My eyes were locked on the two strutting toms 200 yards away and to my surprise they had no clue I was there, moving closer and closer to them with every passing second. My heart was racing now, from both excitement and exertion. I made it about 150 yards when I spotted a hen moving towards me. She was about 20 yards in front of me when the Tom's spotted her and started coming our way. "Yes, this is actually going to work!", I thought. But, just as soon as that thought crossed my mind the hen took a detour and went into the woods, bringing the Tom's with her before they were within shooting distance. Feeling a little defeated, I watched them walk off into the woods in the opposite direction. I felt I had no good way to get to them without spooking them and they were still ignoring my calls so I gave it a little while and then snuck back around to my original setup. To my surprise, I spotted a Jake strutting around my hen decoy in the distance. Once again I started belly crawling, but as soon as I did he jumped on my decoy, realizing then that she was an imposter, and ran off in the opposite direction.
That was one of my most exhilarating turkey hunts to date. I didn't care at that point that I didn't get a turkey, I was just happy that I got outside of my comfort zone, tested my limits, and almost succeeded. A turkey would have just been a bonus. To all of you like me that are often afraid to change it up a little, don't be! If I hadn't tried something new, I would have went home feeling so defeated and disappointed. I encourage you to just roll with the punches and make the best out of every situation that arises on your hunts, even if that means belly crawling 150 yards through standing water. You may come home with a turkey and you may not. Whatever the outcome, I promise that you'll feel much better knowing you did your best and tried everything you could.
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