After 30 consecutive yearly seasons, I am comfortable stating that I am a turkey hunter.
In those 30 years or so, I have hunted the wild turkey both in the fall and in the spring here at home as well as in several states across this great land.
If I had to sum up what I like about hunting wild turkeys in a single sentence for both fall and spring seasons, it would be vocalizing with the bird and, for a moment in time, speaking its language and becoming entrenched in its world.
That is what gets me up in the middle of the night each day of our spring season and makes me stay out all day long during the fall season — the chance to hear one gobble or to hear a flock of turkeys gathering with the sounds of calls like yelps and kee-kee runs after the flock has been scattered.
I am afflicted by the sounds of the wild turkey, and I hope to be my entire hunting life.
On a recent hunt in the Rocky Mountains this past week, I had the same feeling sink into my consciousness that I get when hunting a gobbling turkey here at home. Only this particular hunt, the targeted species was a mature bull elk, one that announced to the world his presence by bugling often and loudly.
We awoke at 3 a.m. and hopped in the truck to bounce around old logging access roads to the high back country, hopefully to reach our destination right at first light. We were hurrying and the daylight clock was clicking fast.
At what seemed like the top of the world, our GPS reported that we were at just over 9,500 feet of elevation, and we jumped out of the truck and suited up for the day. Backpacks, water, food, wet-weather gear and our rifles were secured for a long hike in the dark.
Our destination was a high mountain meadow that we suspected was being used by elk at first light and again just before sunset. As we walked and I tried to control my breathing in the thin mountain air, we stopped right above the meadow to collect ourselves in the dark.
As the sun’s rays began to lighten the sky, he bugled. He wasn’t close, but he was in our ZIP code.
Just like spring turkey hunting, we scrambled to get close enough to call back to him without getting too close in fear of spooking him with our sounds of walking or our scent.
We stopped at the edge of the meadow to listen and rest our lungs. He bugled again. He was at the bottom of the field, and we were at the top. We called, he answered. We tucked in along some pines to camouflage ourselves and then waited and listened.
The next time he bugled he was close — close enough to see his massive body and vast antlers. Just like mature turkeys will often do, he knew something wasn’t right (maybe he didn’t see the calling female) as he simply turned and left our world unannounced. The game was up.
We spent the entire day on top of the world hiking and looking for elk signs. At lunch, we discussed our evening plan over cold cuts from a cooler, and I took a much-needed nap dreaming of him bulging again.
In the early afternoon, we decided to split up and cover several meadows in hopes a mature elk would grace our presence once again.
I sat on the same meadow as the first light set up. With plenty of water and a few snacks to help pass the time, I was prepared to stick it out until dark, knowing that the long hunt, and the long drive back to our cabin, would mean little to no sleep for us that night.
With maybe an hour of light remaining, the meadow lit up with the sounds of elk. Most of the bugles came from the forests surrounding the opening and I tried to convince myself they were close and getting closer, but that was not the case.
I was running out of daylight and the elk weren’t in any hurry to show up to my hunting party. With a splash of luck and my determination to sit it out and wait patiently, a mature elk bugled to my left. He was close and coming the way the morning bull exited.
Like a ghost, he appeared out of nowhere in my line of sight and was walking quickly across the opening. He was heading to the other elk sounds in the forested mountainside.
I made a call; he stopped long enough for me to raise my rifle. The report of my rifle echoed across the meadow and was absorbed by the aspen and pines in the steep hills surrounding the meadow. As I touched his antlers, I wondered if I am now lucky enough to be considered an elk hunter as well as a turkey hunter.
Time will tell, and I cherish the thought of it.