Days after returning from our hunt on the other side of the world, we embarked on a memorable turkey hunt. Each year we donate a hunt to a good cause. This year we chose to share a turkey hunt with an Olympic hopeful.
I spoke with USA Shooting’s director of public relations, Kevin Neuendorf, to inquire as to whether a member may consider a turkey hunt prior to competition season. He assured me there were many team members who would enjoy the break and so, we began making plans. I sent out dates, gear lists, licensing requirements and so forth … and then headed off to New Zealand with no idea whom we would meet for the turkey hunt when we returned.
A couple of days after our return, I was delighted to learn Team USA’s Janessa Beaman would be joining us to pursue Merriam’s turkeys. Janessa is a highly decorated International and American Trap shooter. She had an outstanding 2014, and after the hunt she will dive full swing into this year’s season. The Krieghoff-wielding trap competitor has her sights set on Rio; she is one of the top 4 Olympic hopefuls for 2016.
Judging by her accomplishments in shooting, we knew Janessa was a worldly woman. What we wanted to know before we set out is what she’s hunted, and if she’d ever hunted turkeys.
We learned she is indeed a hunter. She’s bagged whitetails, elk and numerous varmints. And yet the elite markswoman never pursued a drumming redhead. She expressed concern about shooting a hen instead of a tom. She would know the difference, we assured her. She couldn’t believe it when we told her that Merriam’s tom turkeys have large red heads. “Red? Really?”
Pursuing a rumbling, thundering gobbler
To call our hunt memorable is an understatement. As Janessa put it, she went through all 4 seasons in just 4 mid-May days. We set out with wind and rain. It later progressed to frost, hail and snow. For 2 days the turkeys evaded us.
It’s not as though turkeys aren’t there during the cold, wet weather. It’s more that they curl up in the deepest, thickest oak brush they can find. They’re a bit smarter than we are, because they weren’t out in that muck; they weren’t even talking about it. Finally, the weather gave us a break with a day of sunshine. That’s when things began happening.
Toms spent their time with hens on a quiet, mountain morning. We sat in silence and waited. At mid-morning, the hens headed toward their nests, and the toms sought out other companionship. A loud gobble pierced the silence; Janessa’s eyes grew wide. She’d never heard a tom’s gobble before, and there was no mistaking it. We scrambled to a position near a tree. I sat beside her and called. Hank called from several yards behind us.
The tom gobbled again.
I leaned in and whispered, “Be ready. He’s going to be right in front of us before you know it.”
Janessa nodded. She was ready. The tom gobbled again, a bit closer this time. Then silence.
After several moments we heard a Tichk! and then drumming.
He appeared directly in front of us, about 30 yards away in the brush. “He’s right there,” I whispered. “When you see his head and have a clear shot, take it.”
Janessa nodded again; she had excitement written all over her face.
We heard a few more ticks and drums. From my position I could see feathers through the brush at about 15 yards. A sideways glance toward Janessa told me she saw him, too.
I waited, and whispered, “Do you have a shot?” She sat frozen in awe. It took but a few seconds for Mr. Romeo to see her and he high-tailed it out of there. Janessa’s giant smile turned into a frown, as though she were thinking, Wait! Come back!
After we caught our breath, I asked her if she saw him. “Oh, my gosh!” she exclaimed. “His head was red!”
These priceless hunting moments are what keep us coming back. Janessa got a taste of romance, up close and personal that sunny morning. The mesmerizing strut of a beautiful tom is incomparable to just about anything else in nature. Although we brought some more toms in, we never did get another bird to come out of the brush to dance for her. I’m certain it’s because the birds sensed how powerful and perfect of a shooter she is.
The gobblers in our turkey woods are safe … until next year. You see, Janessa plans on coming back to settle a score.