It started as something of a whim. Enamored by the novelty of crossbows and their growing popularity, I began looking for new ways to incorporate them into my hunting arsenal. They seemed an ideal weapon for turkeys. Crossbows bring the added challenge and thrill of bowhunting without the common spoiler: drawing the bow at the last possible second.
With an increasing number of states allowing the use of crossbows, the idea of travel spawned another idea. Iâ€™d long wanted to complete a National Wild Turkey Federation Grand Slam â€” an Osceola, Rio Grande, Merriamâ€™s and Eastern turkey. And in doing my research I discovered no one had ever done so with a crossbow!
My quest was defined.
My good friend Scott Underhill of Extreme Dimension Wildlife Calls would accompany me and film the hunts for a DVD, Extreme Turkey Hunting. He would also prove to be a valuable asset and hunting companion.
THE SHOW BEGINS
Our first stop was at TRL Exotics in Wellington, Florida, about an hour and a half south of Orlando. By the luck of the draw, we were paired up with Brandon Storey, who manages the TRL properties and knows them better than anyone. Storey had carefully prepared a ground blind out of natural vegetation ahead of our arrival, which was where our quest would begin.
There is one major difference between turkey hunting with a crossbow and turkey hunting with a compound bow. With a crossbow, you can draw the bow before the turkey gets near. Thatâ€™s a huge help because turkeys have some of the keenest eyes in the animal kingdom.
Itâ€™s still a close-range game. You need to give extra attention to your choice of camouflage and your concealment. I prefer to hunt from a blind. Pop-ups are ideal, but a well-built blind covered in natural materials will be a close second. We settled into our blind, fashioned mostly from palmettos fronds, and awaited the dawn symphony.
It began in somewhat typical fashion. Barred owls made up the bass section, eliciting tenor gobbles from the treetops. A raucous chorus of woodwind clucks and yelps from the numerous hens followed.
Already my heart was racing.
Before the turkeys pitched down, a pair of sandhill cranes landed in center stage and belted out a raucous bout of trumpeting. This evoked odd sounds from exotic ungulates in the area.
The crescendo built to a fever pitch. It sounded like feeding time at the zoo.
Despite the risk of spooking birds, I couldnâ€™t resist adding my very best jungle bird calls, which brought muffled snickers from my companions.
I didnâ€™t realize it at the time, but the flora and fauna would provide a sharp contrast to future turkey-hunting locations on my quest.
Things were shaping up nicely, but, as so often happens, the turkeys had other ideas. Jakes and hens piled in all morning, but no longbeards showed.
The afternoon went the same way. Again we couldnâ€™t bring a longbeard into range.
At dayâ€™s end we built another makeshift blind, this time closer to where the longbeards had roosted the previous day.
Unfortunately, they chose another location to roost and, the next morning, another direction to leave. After calling fruitlessly for a while, we struck out for some run-and-gun hunting, moving from one location to the next, trying to elicit a shock gobble.
Running-and-gunning is an effective tactic for gun hunters. But itâ€™s especially challenging for bow hunters. Moving quickly through the dense underbrush is not as easy, or quiet, and when an eager bird responds, you canâ€™t simply plop down against the nearest tree. You have to find the right mix of sufficient cover and clear shooting lanes, often a daunting challenge.
Even when we struck a responsive bird, we werenâ€™t able to draw him into bow range. We had one that could have been felled by a tightly choked shotgun. In the end, we came up empty.
Fortunately, Iâ€™d prepared for such an eventuality. One of the most important steps in planning a Slam, particularly if you hope to do it in a single season, is to have contingencies.
I had lined up a second Osceola hunt, which would ultimately prove crucial. I didnâ€™t know it at the time, but in this second location, there are both Osceola and Easterns.
FLORIDA, PART II
My friend Jeff Lampe set up the next leg through connections he had in the Jacksonville area. Marvin Hartley, a former NWTF board member, and local turkey hunters Richard Barkoski and Danny Barrett provided local knowledge. Barkoski had scouted the area and built a ground blind.
The first morning was unseasonably cold for Florida â€” 34 degrees â€”which may have accounted for the lack of roost gobbling.
Minutes seem like hours when things donâ€™t go according to plan. The sun had yet to crest the treetops when we finally heard distant gobbles coming from several directions.
I typically begin with soft, sparse calling first thing in the morning, but the birds had already left the roost, and sounded a ways off, so I went right into aggressive mode. They seemed responsive, at least vocally, but werenâ€™t moving any closer. With little to lose at this point, I amped up the calling again.
The increasingly vocal birds were still a ways off when Underhill suddenly whispered, â€śDonâ€™t move. Thereâ€™s a longbeard 40 yards away.â€ť
The gobbler sneaked in silently and was now making his way toward our decoys. Relying on Underhillâ€™s eyes and whispered instructions, I carefully adjusted into a shooting position, switched on my Nikon red dot scope and set my TenPoint Titan up on its monopod.
I was ready for a shot.
When the bird finally showed up over my right shoulder, he was already in range, trotting toward the decoys and into my line of fire. I followed him as best I could. When he stopped I wasted little time lining up and taking the shot.
We watched anxiously as the bird limped off 50 yards then laid down. Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â We were on the board!
But our first leg wasnâ€™t over yet.
With another tag and time remaining, we moved a short but ultimately critical distance north the next day. We failed to connect, but our efforts gave us a good idea where to set up for the final dayâ€™s hunt.