April 11, 2022
I’d almost accepted defeat when I heard the gobble come from beyond a distant tree line. It was late morning on my final day of a three-day turkey hunt in west-central Illinois, and I was the only guy in camp yet to kill a bird. Even worse, since Illinois hunting hours go from a half hour before sunrise to 1 p.m., I was also up against the clock. And its ticking was growing ever louder in my mind.
After we heard the gobble, my guides for the morning, Ron Beayon and Travis Slade, motioned for me to follow them, and we made a beeline into the adjacent timber. Minutes later, I was set up against a tree near the edge of a large agricultural field, waiting. Positioned several feet behind me, Ron initiated another calling sequence. Seconds later, a piercing gobble answered him from the trees on the opposite side of the field.
The disappointments of that morning and the prior two days melted away. We were back in business.
A UNIQUE HUNT
Now, from the beginning, this was to be no ordinary hunt. I had traveled to Tennessee, Illinois, specifically, to hunt turkeys while using QuietKat’s 2021 Apex e-bike. For those who don’t know, e-bikes—or electric bicycles—are motorized bikes that come equipped with an integrated electric motor that assists with propulsion. I had seen recreational e-bikes before, and they always intrigued me, but before this hunt I would not have considered them for hunting applications.
The models I had seen, I suspect intended for commuters and casual riders, seemed ill equipped to handle the types of terrain hunters often encounter. Nor did they appear suitable for lugging around the extra gear we are infamous for toting. However, what greeted me when I arrived at the farmhouse that would be our base of operations at Performance Outdoors—the outfitter for our hunt—was something else entirely.
Instead of commuter chariot vibes, the Apex gave off serious workhorse energy. Set up with a beefy frame, Kenda Juggernaut fat bike tires, an inverted 150mm air suspension fork, a built-in heavy-duty pannier rack and a completely enclosed electric motor, it seemed ready for about anything. Obviously, I was excited to check it out, and I don’t think I even unloaded my vehicle before hopping on one for an initial test ride.
The Apex e-bike is one of QuietKat’s most popular models. Powered by a mid-drive electric motor (750- or 1000-watt depending on model) that runs off an integrated 16 Ah 48 V lithium-ion battery, it has a range up to around 60 miles on a single charge. It’s also loaded with premium components like a wide-range 9-speed SRAM drivetrain, Tektro 4-piston hydraulic disc brakes, a forward air suspension fork and more. Perfect for hunters with gear, it has a 325-pound load capacity and is compatible with several trailers, cargo bags and panniers that QuietKat makes. And, of course, it has a sweet Veil Caza Camo finish.
In terms of propulsion, there are three options with the Apex. Pedaling it on your own, without any electric assistance. Using pedal assist, in which the bike’s motor offers additional power as you pedal. Or—unlike many e-bikes—you can use the Apex’s built-in thumb-actuated throttle to propel the bike using the motor alone. During my hunt, I discovered just how helpful the throttle could be when I needed a boost on a steep hill or when powering through water-logged terrain.
Another cool thing about the Apex is that it has five speed settings in two different modes—ECO and Sport—all user-selectable with a remote on the bike’s handlebars. The ECO mode, naturally, uses less power to preserve the life of your battery. Meanwhile, the Sport mode is all about performance (to go fast or to navigate difficult terrain). On my test ride, I was using the Sport mode and throttle to easily reach around 20 mph on gravel roads without pushing things much.
Later that afternoon, we all patterned our shotguns—Franchi Affinity 3.5 Turkey semi-autos—with Federal Premium Heavyweight TSS turkey loads. We also received a full briefing on the bikes, and the next morning we hit the field with them in tow.
A ROUGH START
Before our group even arrived in west-central Illinois, a deluge had hit the region, swelling ponds and inundating fields and lowland areas. It was not an ideal scenario for turkey hunting, but it was perfect for putting the Apex through its paces.
The first morning I hunted with Timothy Kent, of Phenix Branding, which represents several outdoor brands. After arriving at the property we’d be hunting that morning, we offloaded the e-bikes, and then immediately looked at another piece of technology we’d use on this hunt: the HuntStand app.
Billed as the No. 1 land management app, HuntStand is a powerful mapping tool that allows its users to do a ton of different things. You can create shapes to denote boundaries and food plots, draw lines to make customized paths, view property lines and add objects for things like stands, trail cameras, access points, hazards and more. Hunting clubs can even use the upgraded HuntStand Pro version’s sophisticated stand reservation system to book stands for certain time frames. You can also share these maps with others, which is exactly what the Performance Outdoors crew did for us the night before our hunt.
Tim and I had this tool in the palm of our hands—or, more accurately, affixed to the handlebars via an attached phone mount—and we were ready to hunt. Following a pre-drawn path in the app, we easily made it to the popup blind we’d hunt from that morning. We also saw the Apex e-bike’s stealth capabilities on display, as we tooled right past several feeding whitetails that weren’t concerned with us in the slightest. After hiding the bikes in the woods, we settled in for what we both hoped would be a short sit.
This was not the case, though. We heard one extremely distant gobble early and little else in a few hours of sitting. With time ticking on our morning, we decided to make a move to scout other areas and do a little blind calling and see what we could shake loose.
Unfortunately, this, too, proved futile, and we would end the morning bird-less. Later that afternoon, we’d celebrate those who found success the first day and we’d pack up the bikes and take them on a fishing outing at a nearby private lake. It was mainly a chance to unwind after a hard day of hunting and to see the Apex’s hauling capabilities at work.
The next day my hunting companion changed, as did the property we’d hunt. This day, I was hunting with a camera guy and Ryan Chuckel, the founder and president of Gunpowder, Inc., which handles marketing for various outdoor companies. Ryan would be assisting with the calling. As before, our game plan was to sit tight in a popup blind on the edge of a nice-looking food plot.
Also, as before, this ultimately did not pan out. We again set out on the bikes to look around this new property and see if we could make some magic happen, but we were shut out once more. No sightings. No gobbles. Strike two.
The lone bright spot in my first two mornings of hunting—aside from the good company—was that all my gear was working great. The Apex e-bikes were efficiently taking us from A to B, and over and through some challenging terrain, and the HuntStand app was ably guiding us around the properties we were hunting. Other hunters had used the Franchi shotgun and Federal Heavyweight TSS turkey loads to successfully anchor several gobblers, too. Everything and everyone seemed to be doing what they were supposed to—except…well, me, I suppose.
I was, however, thoroughly enjoying myself on the Apex e-bike. And I was getting to see firsthand just how effective they could be for hunting. While there are an assortment of ways in which an e-bike can help hunters, I was impressed especially with how quiet the Apex was and how well it was able to handle soft, squishy ground with the motor’s assistance.
The rainstorms that hit before we arrived had turned the properties’ lowland areas into swampy messes. As experienced riders know, biking through wet, grassy areas or open, muddy ground can be a literal slog. You work twice as hard to get half as far, especially if you’re weighed down with gear. When I encountered these spots on my hunt, however, I simply gave myself a little power boost with the throttle and skated through without issue. I did the same on steep hills that threatened to slow my progress or stop me completely, and the Apex’s excellent mid-drive motor took it all in stride.
I also got to see how portable the bikes were and how much extra ground you could cover with them versus walking alone. While the Apex is heavier than a normal bike at around 71 pounds, it’s still exponentially lighter than an ATV or UTV. I was able to easily lift the Apex over downed trees while on my hunt, which would have been impossible with larger gas-powered vehicles. You also don’t need a trailer to haul an e-bike to and from your hunting grounds. It can ride in the bed of a truck or on a quality heavy-duty bike rack like QuietKat’s QK 1UP Fat Tire Bike Rack made by 1UP USA, which is what we used on our hunt. And, of course, we were all able to scout and hunt larger areas more effectively with the Apex—all without making a bunch of noise, leaving lots of scent and, really, without using up too much of the e-bike’s lithium-ion battery.
Of course, while it was great to see and experience all this technology working firsthand, I was also growing more concerned. By the end of the second day, I was one of only two hunters in camp not to kill a bird. Luckily, I had one more morning to get it done.
THE FINAL PUSH
While the other hunters in camp slept soundly, I had a good feeling when I left our farmhouse HQ on the third and final morning. I’d be hunting with Ron Beayon, Performance Outdoors’ head guide and field operations manager, and another gentleman named Travis Slade, who’d also be helping with the hunt. Both seemed confident, and with the amount of joking and ribbing in the truck ride to our hunting spot, I knew that, at the very least, I’d have a fun day in the field.
We arrived at our first spot, biked in and then Ron immediately started making owl sounds with his mouth. It wasn’t long before one owl answered. Then two. Then three. And then suddenly the whole timber was echoing with the sound of owls hooting. Unfortunately, the same wasn’t true of any turkeys.
“Let’s go boys,” Ron said quickly, shaking his head. “Any bird in the county would’ve laid fire to that.”
At our next spot, we rode our e-bikes up to the bottom of a large hill in the timber. We stowed the bikes and then started on a path up the hill, stopping to call periodically. It wasn’t long before we had an answer. Travis and I quickly set up in a popup blind atop this ridge that offered clean shooting lanes on the trail we’d been walking. Meanwhile, Ron set up a little behind us and continued calling.
This felt like the most promising setup of the trip, but while the gobbler worked initially, it became clear that he was now moving away from us, possibly with a hen already in tow. We set out in pursuit, bounding up and down hills, stopping occasionally to call again. Then, we finally set up on a hill side overlooking a bench beneath us and, farther below that, a creek running through the valley.
While we had gained ground on this tom, things were still not going our way. He was on the other side of the stream—on a neighbor’s property—and while he would respond to Ron’s last-resort gobbles from a shaker call, he would not move our way. Finally, we had to concede to the turkeys again and move on to the next spot. Unfortunately, it too proved fruitless, not producing so much as a gobble or a yelp. To add even more pressure, we’d learned that the only other hunter with a tag left to fill had done so with a nice gobbler.
Our next move would take us back to the same property I hunted the day before with Ryan. Only this time, as mentioned earlier, a thundering gobble would lead Ron, Travis and I scurrying into the woods next to a large ag field and eventually setting up along the edge.
It was around 11:30 when the gobbler sounded off, and after our urgent walk through the woods and hasty setup, we probably had about an hour to make a Hail Mary effort at this tom. Ron sporadically called, and each time, the gobbler would answer with a booming gobble. My heart was pounding already, and I waited for a mature tom’s white, red and blue head to poke through the forest across the field from us at any second. Then, not long after the gobbling had started, the tom went quiet. My hopes came crashing down again.
Suddenly, to my right I saw three birds crest the top of a hill and walk up to the far edge of the field. It was a trio of jakes, and a couple were making a decent effort at sounding like a full-blown gobbler. But none of them was the fully grown tom who’d been responding to us earlier. The birds lingered at the field edge for a while, before one started slowly moving closer to us.
A little behind me, Travis quietly asked if I was willing to shoot a jake. I knew we had less than an hour now in our hunt, and the odds of striking up another gobbler seemed slim. I told him I would shoot this one if he came in range.
Ron continued subtly yelping from several feet behind me, and the bird kept coming—albeit at a painfully slow pace. I’d been sitting against a tree in an awkward position, with the gun up and ready, for what seemed like an eternity. And the bird kept slowly closing the distance.
Then, the bird had come close enough, but now I had a different problem. The jake had walked too far to my right and behind some limbs that were blocking me. To get a shot, I would’ve had to lean or scoot forward enough to clear them, or swap shoulders and shoot lefthanded, and there was no way the bird would tolerate that this close.
With a root still digging firmly into my back, I waited the bird out. I watched it get farther away once more and wondered if, again, the birds would get the better of me today. However, finally, he veered left just enough to clear the limbs and afford me a shot. At right around 40 yards, I fired. He dropped and flopped at the shot.
Finally, after three mornings of hunting, I had bagged a bird in western Illinois.
While it wasn’t the big Eastern gobbler we were looking for, killing a jake was much better than ending the morning—and the hunt—with a big goose egg. And getting it done as time was winding down on the final morning certainly made for a memorable hunt. The way we had hunted, too—using the QuietKat Apex e-bikes to access and scout hunting grounds that we could view on our HuntStand App—was something I’d remember for a long time.
My initial concerns about the merits of using e-bikes for hunting were long gone. Replacing them was a newfound respect for a piece of technology that hunters everywhere might at least consider adding to their garages. Well, that and some fresh wild turkey meat that would ride in my cooler back to Missouri!