By: Tom Lounsbury.
In the spring of 2015, I had achieved 7 points per applying for a fall Michigan black bear tag, and I thought it best to contact a professional guide/outfitter in the event I got lucky on the draw. I needed to know what bear management unit to apply for, and I also knew a guide/outfitter would be the best way to go per hunting black bears over bait, because knowledge of specific area bears as well as an ongoing baiting program would up the odds towards success.
After some research, I contacted Gary Morgan of Wild Game Dynasty who has three bear camps, two of which are within the Newberry Bear Management Unit, to get matters settled in the event I got drawn. During the conversation, I discovered that Morgan also guided spring turkey hunters from a hunting camp he had in Montmorency County, near Atlanta, and he invited me to give it a try.
My first 25 years of spring turkey hunting was performed in a northern Michigan environment, an atmosphere of “running and gunning”, with plenty of (public land) elbowroom in forested rolling hills that I much enjoyed. However due to a very successful statewide turkey management program, I would spend the next 20 years spring turkey hunting closer to home in the Thumb, and with no complaints, either.
Admittedly, upon Morgan’s invitation, I became a bit whimsical, and decided to take him up on it. It just so happened that I had just purchased a 0234 turkey tag which allowed hunting gobblers on private land only in southern Michigan during the month of May, but it also allowed for hunting on public lands in northern Michigan. I was set to go!
The hunt involved both private and public land in the typical wooded and rolling topography found near Atlanta. We called from ground blinds and also did some roving for birds. At that point, I had been an avid turkey hunter for more than 45 years, and one thing I know for sure, is that it is a continual learning experience. I let Gary do all the calling, as I’ve found it is best to keep quiet, watch and listen to professional guides per any outdoor pastime in order to learn from them. Gary is real good at “turkey talk” and combine this with his knowledge of the area and its birds, I was quite confident the pieces would all come together, but then hunting is hunting, and with no guarantees.
My turkey shotgun (which still remains to be my favorite) was a camouflage-painted Remington Spartan over/under 12 ga that is choked full and full. During preseason patterning practice (which is critical per turkey hunting), both barrels performed a beautiful duet with Fiocchi “Golden Pheasant” 3 inch magnum, nickel plated number sixes, so that is the only ammo I carried. I appreciate the fact the over/under offers two quick shots and is easy to load and unload in the field, and the tang safety is real handy if I ever have to “switch hit” (from right hand to left hand) when a gobbler suddenly comes in at an awkward angle (and I do practice this).
Although there were plenty of turkeys around, the weather had suddenly warmed, and the gobblers didn’t seem interested in our calling efforts. That is when Gary mentioned a favorite spot of his which featured what he called “Mountaintop Gobblers”. We did an afternoon scout of the spot while the turkeys were gone, and by the time we got to the top of that steep, tall terrain (similar to what is offered for a ski-jump), I dubbed it “Heartbreak Hill”, because of my being a bit long in the tooth, combined with some definite rough mileage. According to all the “roosting” turkey sign, it was truly a dandy spot.
We went back later at dusk to “roost” the birds that had gone up into the hilltop trees for the night. They immediately responded readily to an owl hoot, and we knew things possibly could work out in the morning. That is when we saw the stranger step out of the darkening brush. He was walking his dog and had obviously been out picking morels, but by his garb, it was clear to see he was also a turkey hunter, and besides looking for mushrooms, he was listening to turkeys sounding off from the roost too. This was public ground and open to anyone, whether for morels or wild turkeys. When the dog (a beautiful German shorthair named “Joe”) spotted us, he immediately started barking to alert his master of our presence, and that is when I discovered a dog barking makes a great “locater call”, because the whole hilltop lit up with the gobbling of multiple turkeys. Yep, folks, it went from being a dandy to a definitely fantastic location.
When it comes to turkey hunting, especially on public land, it always pays to have a plan A, B and C to fall back on in the event matters become askew at a selected site, and it never hurts to be sociable with strangers listening to the same (public land) gobblers in the roost that you have just “put to bed” for the night. To make a long story short, being friendly and courteous to a total stranger turned out to be quite a fortuitous occasion I will never forget. John Jones lived not far away and had been planning on taking his sister turkey hunting but she had canceled, and he really wanted to call in some wild turkeys, especially the ones we all had just been listening to, and he wished to join us at this location the following morning. That readily worked for Gary and me, because we thought we might have had to go to plan B, when we really liked plan A.
It turns out John Jones is a genuine “Pied Piper” on a slate call. The following morning he was set up 40 yards to my right and back a bit and Gary Morgan had set out his decoys just behind both of us on a slight rise. The mountaintop gobblers loved John’s sweet talking, and came out of their roosts right at daybreak and began their way down the hill, and became a literal choir featuring a whole bunch of “gobbling” talk which thrilled me clean to the bone. It was then up to me, the “designated hitter” in this game, to pull it off.
Six gobblers hung up as a group when a jealous, real hen turkey off to left began frustrated calling in an effort to pull them away from the “hussies” calling down below. That is when I heard John make scratching noises in the leaves with his hand, and this pulled one of the birds down, and as the puffed-up and strutting turkey passed the tree I had previously marked as my 30 yard kill point, I went into the “lock-on” mode with my shotgun that was already resting on my knee. This required an ever slight motion which the sharp-eyed bird picked right up on. He quickly turned and went from the puffed-up mode to lifting his head straight up and making the alarm “putt-putt-putt” call, which was his final mistake.
His colorful head was resting right on top of my green fiber-optic front bead when I touched the trigger, and the shot drove him breast down and “spurs up” on the ground for the count. Yep, he was only a 4 inch “Jake”, but he was the bird in the hand on “Heart Break Hill”, and it was a moment shared with new friends that I in no way was about to turn down. I was plenty happy and no doubt so were Gary Morgan and John Jones. They had devotedly done their parts, and thankfully, I had followed through with mine.
Due to our brief introduction the evening before, we all got better acquainted after the hunt. It turns out John Jones of Atlanta is also an outfitter who guides professionally for elk, bear and of course spring turkeys in Montmorency County (firstname.lastname@example.org). Go figure, folks, I ended up with two outfitter/guides who didn’t know each other and graciously pulled things together on this hunt. I’m sure glad I didn’t miss the shot! We’ve all been great friends ever since.
I did end up drawing a (first season in September) Newberry Unit bear tag for the following fall, and hunted with Gary Morgan (www.wildgamedynasty.com), which was a great choice. I’m presently hoping to have enough “bear points” to join him again this fall.
As fate would have it, I finally drew (after 36 years of trying) an antlerless Michigan elk tag last year, and of course John Jones was my very skilled guide, with him assisting me in bagging a dandy cow elk.
That 2015 turkey hunt proved to be way more successful than just bagging a bird. Meeting new friends and sharing the field with them was both a distinct honor and real pleasure.