I love turkey hunting. The call and response, the woods in the spring, the taste of bacon-wrapped turkey meatloaf … Excuse me, I had to wipe the drool off my keyboard. That’s a Pavlovian response to the phrase “turkey meatloaf.” Now back to turkey hunting.
The past several spring gobbler seasons I tried with no avail to fill my turkey tags in my home state of New Hampshire. I covered miles of ground on former logging roads to different spots I looked up on Google Maps. Several wonderful friends showed me where the turkeys tended to hang out on their property and let me set up a blind to try my luck. According to New Hampshire Fish and Game, the wild turkey population is thriving. So… where were those birds?
For several spring seasons in a row, no matter how many different sites I hunted, I had bumpkiss to show for it. No bird sightings, let alone birds tagged.
Thankfully, my luck changed for the better when my friend Barb invited a few ladies out to her Ozark ranch to hunt gobblers in the Missouri spring season. As fate would have it, I happened to be pregnant when I got the invite, but that did not stop me from immediately telling Barb, “Yes please!” I love trying new things, and I love turkey hunting. Hunting in the Ozarks and being 7 months pregnant were both new things that I was *game* to do (pun intended).
My hunting hostess was incredibly gracious, so I did not have to pack much gear for this hunt. I showed up with camo that fit over my baby bump, and Barb provided the rest. That included essential turkey gear like gloves, boots, a vest, turkey calls and a shotgun.
Finding comfortable camouflage clothing for hunting while pregnant turned out to be less of an issue than I thought it would be. While I did not end up with anything close to “performance” hunting gear, the Mossy Oak sweatpants I ended up purchasing served me well. They were stretchy enough to not push on my already-compressed bladder, and long enough to tuck into the Muck boots I borrowed from Barb. The lack of a water-resistant coating did not end up being a problem, as either the weather or the turkey blinds kept the rain away.
We got up and at ’em early on the first day of the hunt. It was rainy, but we perched ourselves (pun intended, again) inside a raised blind. This gave us a great view of 2 different fields, but unfortunately we didn’t see or hear a single bird that morning. That first morning was a great warm up for keeping our eyes and ears open to turkey sign.
After trudging back to the truck and driving back to the ranch for an early lunch, I started to relax out of that “always watching” turkey hunting mindset. Just when I was sitting back for an afternoon inside, we spotted a big tom moseying down the driveway. He walked right toward us. My jaw hit the floor and I scooted as quickly as my pregnant self could move to get my gear back on; in Missouri, we can hunt till 1 p.m., and I still had some time on the clock. My goal was to stalk that bird as he moved away from the house. The best case would result in me getting a shot opportunity. The worst case would let me see if the tom was walking along a path that I could set up on the next day.
Unfortunately almost as soon as I got outside the bird spotted me. He took off running before I could get within 75 yards of him, and I was not fast or stealthy enough to track him beyond the line of trees he ran into. Even though he was “the one that got away,” I was psyched. Seeing a big tom like that was more turkey action than I had in several seasons in New Hampshire!
Day two saw another early start. I met Darren Jones, the head of the local chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF), over coffee in Barb’s kitchen at Oh-Dark-30. He volunteered to guide me through a different part of the property that day. Darren turned out to be a ton of fun, as well as an incredibly experienced hunter and guide. He used several different calls throughout the day, based on the terrain and time of day. One of my favorite calls he used was a homemade box call. Darren made it in middle school shop class out of wood from an old bench at his school. Thirty years later, it has several rows of tally marks indicating the turkeys taken as a result of that call. How cool is that?
We ended up walking 5 miles across the property in search of toms. We saw quite a lot of wildlife, including salamanders and a doe. Turkeys? Not so much. That is, until we startled a tom who flew across a fence, not to be seen again. Then we saw another tom, who was chasing after a hen. Darren tried his hardest to call that tom back toward us, but to no avail. By lunchtime, I was one tired pregnant lady, so we called it a day.
Once again, though I did not get a shot opportunity, now I had seen birds 2 days in a row. This hunt was exceeding the expectations set during my solo New Hampshire hunts. And it turns out that while Darren and I were “walking and stalking,” a friend of his shot a potential record-breaking tom. The bird his friend tagged had 5 beards. Wow!
It turned out that a tom, perhaps the same one as on Day 1, had walked by the house again on Day 2. So on the third and last day of the hunt we set up close by the house in the hopes that we had pinned down the typical walking path of that tom. Over the past 2 days the tom was spotted around lunchtime, so we slept in on the third day. That rest was welcomed! Barb loyally served as my guide on that last day. She helped me set up a less-strenuous spot for a mid-morning hunt.
We tucked ourselves behind brush with our backs to trees that looked out over the driveway and the front of the ranch property. In New Hampshire, April is still cold. That was not the case in Missouri. With my many camo layers, and being warm anyway (what pregnant lady isn’t?), I sweated in that brush blind. And unfortunately, no luck! Maybe the tom spotted us, or maybe he figured he would not tempt fate a third time walking up the driveway.
I flew out that evening, so that was all, folks. The last day was the only day I didn’t see turkeys. Still, my Ozark turkey hunt was amazing. I got to experience several different styles of turkey hunting. I got to hear expert turkey callers do their thing. I got to see multiple big toms. And I got to do it all in a beautiful part of the country, with a good friend and my soon-to-be-born son. Not all hunts end with turkey meatloaf, but this one still had a happy ending.
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