Six gobblers. Half a mile away.
I put the binocular down and lifted my box call.
When I made soft hen yelps, they lifted their heads. That’s when a real hen started to call from the ridge.
She was my competitor for the gobbler’s attention.
Instead of working against her, I tried to pinpoint her location, then drove up the ridge and got behind her. When I called, she called. Sometimes a tom gobbled back.
Soon the hen was quiet.
Rather than raise the call volume, I called quieter.
Fifteen minutes after I heard the last gobble, five shiny toms came into view.
As soon as the first bright red head cleared a fallen tree, I centered the Weatherby’s bead and squeezed the trigger.
With that lonely hen’s help, I’d worked the flock for an hour and 20 minutes.
At first it seemed like the hen was my competitor for the toms’ attentions, but her charms helped lure them into my trap.
I’d say the boss gobbler got the girl, but there was no doubt his wingman got to be guest of honor at my dinner table.
These are the good old days of turkey hunting in Oregon.
Since the first introductions in the 1960s, turkeys have filled in prime habitat in every county. It isn’t difficult for a youngster to get started.
In Oregon, there is no minimum age for hunting. If a child can pass hunter education, they can hunt turkeys, rabbits, squirrels, coyotes and birds. To hunt big game, a hunter must be at least 12 years old, unless they are enrolled in Oregon’s Mentored Youth Hunter Program. The MYHP allows youth between the ages of 9 and 15 to hunt while closely supervised by a licensed adult. Only one firearm or bow may be carried between the two hunters. Young hunters in the MYHP can bank preference points that can be applied to big game tag drawings after they have passed a hunter education class.
Outside of the MYHP, hunter education is mandatory for anyone under the age of 18 that intends to hunt anywhere other than on family land.
In Harney County, the next opportunity for kids to take hunter education is March 12. In Crook County, classes start April 3. In Deschutes County, the next classes start April 3 in Redmond and April 23 in Bend and La Pine.
Special youth turkey hunting clinics are offered at the White River Wildlife Area in Tygh Valley and also in Central Point on March 31. Tuition is $10 and includes lunch and raffles. Visit the Department of Fish and Wildlife website at www.myodfw.com to register.
Oregon’s turkey hunt runs April 15 through May 31. A special statewide youth season is offered April 7-8. The daily bag limit is one bearded turkey. Hunters are allowed three for the season.
Experience builds upon experience. It takes time to be a successful turkey hunter, but it’s worth it.
Go into the blind before daylight, and as sunlight starts to chase the shadows out, start calling.
Use a box call or diaphragm to make soft hen yelps and clucks. Switch from a box to slate and back again. At this time of day, it’s easy to get a tom to gobble back. Try to pinpoint its location and imagine the route he will take. Remember, he is on his own schedule. A tom can show up in five minutes or it might work a four-hour circuit on its way to a willing hen.
In any case, if the gobbler quits answering calls, don’t give up. They don’t all gobble all the way in. Less talkative birds are just as eager to breed hens, just as fun to hunt and just as good to eat.
A hunter can make use of almost every part of the turkey. Build a call out of the wing bone. Put spurs on a necklace. Glue the beard inside a spent shotgun hull for a trophy and use the feathers for fly-tying or decoration. Make a wreath out of the large and small tail feathers of three turkeys. To my way of thinking, the best trophy is a dinner made from that healthy meat. In our family, we prefer a wild bird to a grocery store gobbler every time.
With a liberal limit and birds in every county, there has never been a better time to become a turkey hunter.
— Gary Lewis is the host of “Frontier Unlimited TV” and author of “Fishing Central Oregon,” “Fishing Mount Hood Country,” “Hunting Oregon” and other titles. Contact Lewis at www.GaryLewisOutdoors.com.