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A Novice Turkey Hunter's Dream

Ryan Gilbertson with his gobbler from the 2018 opener

Follow up story to Mike Sampson's blog "Talking Turkey" - Contributed by Ryan Gilbertson

This day will be one of those days that I will not soon forget. I had just finished reading Mike's blog about his turkey tactics and run & gun style. I was lying in bed with my wife as she discussed her day and she said, “Good luck in the morning.” I honestly told her, “I don’t need luck, I have Mike on my side.” That is how confident I am in him and his turkey hunting abilities.

Last season, Mike took me through an incredible experience and adventure. We navigated the public woods in the early morning hours and Mike let out one of his notorious owl calls that he claims, “tends to attract a lot of owls.” He wasn’t kidding. Not a moment later, the owls were closing in on our location, not to mention the plethora of gobbles it produced in the early morning. The excitement was building and my smile could not have been bigger, as I knew I was in for an exciting day.

Our first set up had us sitting just off the crest of a large hill looking into a cornfield down below, gobbles erupting all around us. As I was sitting there, I could hear a new sound that I had never experienced while hunting on my own. I heard the tom drumming right behind me and to my left. I was afraid to move and bust the bird. With much disappointment, the Tom escaped around the bend and our first encounter was over just like that.

Our second encounter started only a short distance away from the first. We approached a fence line that was overgrown with good cover. We observed two Toms and several hens in the field working their way back into the pines. Mike said we had to move and we had to move quickly to the new ambush site. We hustled and set up the decoy as we concealed ourselves in the pines. Just in front of me, about 80 yards away on a small island of pines I saw the toms and hens cross in front us as they moved from right to left. The toms continued along their path without as much as a strut.

We picked up our gear and headed back towards where we had started the morning. As we were walking back Mike heard a gobble and the stalk was back on. We thought that the tom was on the backside of a hill. I started to belly crawl, just like how my Drill Sergeant taught me, to the crest of the hill and lowered myself into a defilade, while Mike called to the tom. This all lead to an awkward moment with me facing down a hill in the prone position unable to spot the gobbler. I slowly rotated myself around, knowing I was on borrowed time, as I could now see the head of a few turkeys. I’m sure they were wondering what that strange looking blob was doing on the hillside. I sat up while simultaneously switching the safety and delivered a striking blow to the head of the gobbler. The excitement poured over me and I rejoiced as the gobbler lay there not even 25 yards away. Come to find out a short time later, the gobbler had four beards. Truly an awesome hunt and experience. It would be hard to top this great experience. Or so I thought.

Fast forward, to the day before of the 2018 spring turkey opener. Mike and I had already made plans for hunting the following morning and the excitement kept me awake for most of the night, as I dreamt of big tom's strutting in front of us all morning. I finally crawled out bed, struggling to silence the alarm and trying not to wake up my wife and two young boys, threw on my camouflage, loaded up the SUV, and was off to meet Mike.

The rain had just starting to let up as I reached Mike’s place. When I arrived, I was greeted by Mike and his dog Stihl. We quickly transferred my gear to Mike’s truck, and we were off. While traveling to our hunting spot we discussed our tactics and possible scenarios. We arrived at the farm about 45 minutes later and immediately got down to business. The first thing I noticed as we started moving was that Mike knew the terrain of the farm really well. At first light a tom started gobble, Mike knew that tom was on the ridge by the lake and he already had a plan in place to put the stalk on. Once Mike decided we were close enough, the decoys were set up on a field road with me taking cover in a pine tree. Mike, who also had a tag for the same season and zone, was set up just behind me in another pine tree covering the shooting lane just to my left.

Mike began the sequence of calls and the gobbles erupted in front of us, but they sounded distant. Nevertheless, Mike continued to call and manipulate the tom with calling sequences and patient moments of silence. I continued to gainfully watch my shooting lanes, knowing that if a Tom came in at a sprint I would have to play the waiting game until he moved into one of my shooting lanes. As time ticked by, my spirits and thoughts of an early morning gobbler started to drift. If I had been by myself, I would have made a novice mistake by now. I would have either picked up, thinking the Tom had gone away, or I would have tried to move in closer and probably gotten busted. That is why Mike was so critical in this hunt as he continued to call and when the tom gobbled back, he told me to get ready.

A short time later, the thunderous gobbles were getting closer and I readied my shotgun. It would be an opportune time to mention that my workout of choice from the previous day involved all of my shoulder muscles. The struggle was real in maneuvering the weapon into my first shooting lane as I waited in anticipation. Another gobble that shook my core and I noticed a bright white head just behind a row of pines, moving into the decoy setup. The tom strutted through the pines and through my first shooting lane without providing a clean shot, so I shakenly moved my weapon slowly into my second shooting lane as three jakes looked on.

The gobbler moved in to the jake decoy and delivered a blow that knocked the decoy clear off the stake and onto the ground. This would prove to be a fatal blow to not only the decoy, but the Tom as well. His antics provided me ample room to make my own strike. Mike has one rule, don’t shoot the decoys, the tom’s aggressive style provided me with a nice shooting lane as the decoy being knocked down created a large hole with only the Tom’s head present. The shot rang out and the gobbler flopped over 10 yards away. Another truly magical moment in the turkey woods and the lesson learned of being patient paid big dividends again.

Not only did I have the pleasure of taking my own bird, I also got the opportunity to watch Mike work when we returned to his home farm. I noticed five birds on a field road, one of them appearing to be a Tom. Mike looked at the birds, in a matter of seconds he looked at me, and with a confident tone said, “We can kill those birds.” We parked the truck in the driveway and a quick calling sequence later, the action began. The bird gobbled and Mike looked at me and said, “This hunt is about to get Western.” This is because we were currently in a valley and two large hills surrounded us. We were going to have to move fast and hard up a large hill no matter what angle the birds took.

We hopped over a fence, into a creek bottom, over another fence, and another, only to find the birds were moving in the opposite direction. At almost a dead sprint, we utilized the creek bottom and other cover to hightail it back the other direction, as I could see the birds heading into the woods. That is when I began to look up at the climb that was ahead. Mike began up the hill like a billy goat and I followed. As we climbed the hill we maintained an almost dead sprint speed. When we nearly crested the hill Mike called to the bird. He gobbled at Mike and we were able to determine that we could move forward. We go set up behind a nice log and I utilized the camera in my phone to record the remaining parts of the hunt.

Less than 15 yards away a jake’s head poked over the hilltop, as the gobbles continued. Moments later, I caught the tips of a fan in the view finder on my phone. I watched as the fan shook when another gobble echoed through the woods. I conveyed my view to Mike, I told him that I had the shot when the gobbler stepped into view. The shot rang true and the second turkey, in less than three hours, was on the ground. The tactics Mike described in the blog had been executed to the “T” and had resulted in not only two trophy birds but also two memories and experiences you cannot put a price on.

Looking into Mike’s blog, we executed three of the four topics discussed. The first hunt exemplified Roosted Ain’t Roasted and Patience Young Grasshopper. The second hunt we utilized the Terrain to maneuver on the birds and delivered two trophies. I hope that you found these stories useful and entertaining. I look forward to bringing more content as I learn and can share with you my experiences.

You can follow these guys on Instagram:

Ryan @flip_six_3hole

Mike @doyouevenshedbro

Mike Sampson with another opening morning bird

Chalk up another successful season

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