By: Tom Lounsbury.
For a long time, hunting especially was pretty much a “men only” pastime, although there were certainly exceptions, women who ignored status quo and went hunting. Annie Oakley is a prime example, who ventured into this atmosphere at an early age when her father died, leaving her mother and large family destitute. She would start hunting, first to feed her family, and then to provide an income (market hunting was legal in her era). Annie would sell game to a growing list of customers and because ammunition cost money, she learned to make each shot count, causing her to become one of the most remarkable shooters in history. She would pay off the mortgage on her family farm when she was only 15 years old and go on to become famous in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show.
Thanks to my late mother, I was introduced to hunting at the wee age of three when I was her “pooch” for pheasant hunting. She was a crack shot with her singleshot Iver Johnson 20 ga, having been taught to shoot by older brothers and hunting for her family larder during the Great Depression. Mom learned to make each shot count, because ammunition cost money, an attitude she passed on to me when she taught me to shoot. She also could care less about any status quo stuff about “men only” pastimes, and she passed that attitude on to me as well.
Needless to say, when Ron Sting of the DNR asked if I would help with a wild turkey seminar/hunt for a Becoming an Outdoors-Woman (BOW) it was a no-brainer for me to jump right in. BOW was first created in 1991 and is now found in 44 states (including Michigan) and 9 Canadian Provinces. The recent BOW program took place at the Cass City DNR Field Office, starting with a wild turkey seminar there on Friday, May 12th, and a hunt with mentors on Saturday, May 13th. Ron Sting did an outstanding job arranging everything and the seminar involved every aspect of turkey hunting, with knowledgeable speakers oneach topic. This was followed by actual shooting at “turkey” targets.
Since I have a backyard shooting range and my home is only a couple miles from the Cass City DNR Field Office, the shooting portion was performed there. Some ladies had their own shotguns and some did not, and Ron Sting made sure all were fitted out and comfortable with shooting and putting an accurate pattern centered on the turkey target, entailing the all important head/neck shot.
One (13 year old) young lady was totally unaccustomed to firearms and very nervous, and DNR Conservation Officer Seth Rhodea (who had earlier given a talk on turkey hunting ethics and safety) spent some one-on-one time with the young lady, off to the side and performing dryfiring exercises with an empty shotgun. As a result, the young lady was soon confidently hammering targets with a 20 ga and thoroughly enjoying it. In fact I could see all the ladies were enjoying it,and it was a real pleasure watching them all take their turn at eagerly shooting away at their targets, followed by examining the results of the shot, and the obvious confidence this created. There was no doubt in my mind, if a turkey hunting opportunity happened for any of these ladies, a gobbler was going down. Ron Sting had put the BOW information out with a cap for 10 ladies to participate, and in only two days he had an overwhelming response and it becamea first come, first serve situation, with 11 attending, and some from as far away asGrand Rapids. Each woman had a mentor to take them turkey hunting and matters would begin with breakfast at 4:30 AM on Saturday morning at the Cass City DNR Field Office, immediately followed by hunters and their mentors heading out to pre-selected areas, some on state land and some on private land.
I had two ladies riding with me in my Jeep; Debra Robinson of Macomb and Pam Walton of Lapeer, and we were heading out to meet with Bob Walker of Kingston. Bob had very generously agreed to lend a hand and had arranged a perfect spot for the two ladies to hunt. Bob would mentor Pam and I would mentor Debra and in no time we were all headed our separate ways into the woods. Deb and I would be in a wooden ground blind literally constructed into a hillside, which reminds me of a bunker with a shooting window. While Deb got situated in the blind, I set out two hen decoys with one at 15 yards and the other at 20 yards for a known range reference. I then quickly got back into the blind, because the gray light of dawn was fast approaching. Deb was sitting to the left and I to the right, and I told her to load her gun at he get go. She had purchased it used and it was dandy vintage Winchester pump 20 ga with an adjustable Poly-Choke at the muzzle, which she had cranked to the “full” position. We had learned the evening before that this shotgun was a great performer with #6, 3 inch Magnum turkey loads, which Deb had a great time shooting. I knew she and her gun were a perfect fit and she would do her part if I could do mine.
To keep matters simple, I only had two turkey calls which were my “Ben Lee” box call (which I purchased in the early 1980’s and is a collector’s item) and a simple to use Quaker Boy “Easy Yelper” which only requires holding in one hand and pushing a wooden rod. I wanted Deb to see things could get done without a whole bag-full of gadgets and calls. My long recommendation to new turkey hunters is to only start with one call and learn to use it well before moving on to another call. I generally only take two calls out when I’m turkey hunting as it is, and I prefer only friction types including the pan/slate calls. I’ve found the mouth diaphragms don’t blend well at all with my chewing tobacco. After almost 50 years of turkey hunting I’ve developed some instincts which are purely gut-feelings which come out of nowhere and I can’t quite put it into words. All I can say is that when the woods lightened up and starting time was on I went to (hen) purring mixed in with an occasional cadence of (hen) yelps on my box call. I’ve heard it said that too much calling isn’t a good thing, but I’ve seen the occasion when you really can’t talk too much turkey, and my gut feeling let me know this was an occasion to really lay it on.
We got an immediate response from left to right of 3 gobblers, and in a matter of seconds Deb and I knew the far right gobbler was incoming and closing the gap. That is when a fourth gobbler cut loose directly behind us less than 10 yards away. I immediately stuck my hand out the window (which the gobbler couldn’t see from behind us) and I let out a long drawn and very whining purr with the Easy Yelper to give the gobbler the idea a hen directly downhill was real interested in his advances. I was sitting with my back to the door when I felt the vibration a gobbler can send out as it drums, and I knew the bird was standing right next to the door while it looked over our blind’s roof at the hen decoys below. I whispered to Deb to freeze and not to even blink, and then the gobbler suddenly appeared at point blank range on Deb’s side of the window as it eased down the hill toward the decoys. He was one of the largest gobblers I have ever called in, with a long and thick beard. With its head up and moving around, this sharp-eyed bird had a 360 degree pan of its surroundings (turkeys have 3 times the vision and color perception than we humans have). Deb and I were frozen in position as the bird eased down the hill and when he hit the bottom about 10 yards away, he fanned for the closest (15 yard) hen. With the gobbler’s head out of sight behind its tail-fan I whispered for Deb to shoulder her gun, but before this could happen the gobbler dropped his fan and panned his surroundings (we obviously weren’t his first rodeo), which he would do three more times, and it was the third time and he was directly next to the (15 yd) hen that Deb was able to shoulder her gun and take the safety off, all in one fluid motion. However I saw the gobbler’s head suddenly poking out below the fan, near he ground when this occurred and he obviously saw the twitch of the gun barrel out the blind’s window. The gobbler immediately slicked down his fluffed-up plumage and started to bank a hard left when I let out a long yelp from my throat which caused the gobbler to briefly hesitate and lift his head straight up and I hissed “take him”, followed by the bark of Deb’s 20 ga. The headshot big gobbler immediately dropped on the spot and was definitely down for the count in what I call the “spurs-up” position, and Deb and I were doing a “high 5”.
Deb Robinson had performed flawlessly under pressure with a point blank gobbler and did an outstanding job on the trigger. Like a sniper team, Deb was the shooter and I was the spotter, and she did everything on cue and without hesitation. She can be my hunting buddy anytime. Her bruiser bird was DNR-aged at being a 4 year old gobbler, which is a definite trophy in my book.
It turns out that Deb and I were lucky (and I’ll take luck over being good anytime) with our gobbler response that morning, because the gobblers elsewhere were all “henned-up” with hens leading gobblers away from various calling set-ups. Bob Walker called in gobblers for Pam Walton, but each time the gobbler was almost in range a hen would appear and lead it away (Pam said afterward she would not have traded the experience for anything, because thanks to Bob she now knows how to hunt turkeys). Only one other gobbler was taken, by Jeanette Rousseaux of Port Austin, who was mentored by Ron Sting.
It was quite obvious all the women had a great time attending the BOW program for turkey hunting
By: Tom Lounsbury.