First Feathers

The journey to a woman’s first bow-killed wild turkey.
First Feathers

A gobble boomed from a timbered river-bottom nearby as I staked the wild turkey decoys into public dirt. My then-girlfriend, Becca, who’d killed a bruiser tom — her first kill ever — the previous spring by shotgun, was up to bat with her bow.

My calling triggered more gobbles, but then for one reason or another, the tom suddenly muted. I knew he’d either lost interest or was coming in silent. Minutes later, subtle footfalls behind our blind begged for a peek. Before I could have a look, a ground-shaking spit-and-drum sequence rumbled the blind walls.

Becca drew back as he confronted the jake decoy. “Take your time,” I whispered. The tom was perfectly still and facing us only 9 yards away. “Go ahead, right beneath his waddles,” I coached. A split-second later, carbon launched, but the tom had simultaneously lunged at our jake decoy. Though Becca’s shot was perfect, the tom’s move resulted in only a few floating feathers and a quickly departing, unwounded bird.

Becca was slightly discouraged, but I assured her she’d done everything correctly and that we could simply chalk the mishap up to bad luck.

wild turkey

Dave Smith Decoys were an integral component to pulling longbeards into effective bow range. A Double Bull Darkhorse blind kept the husband/wife team hidden, and a trusty slate call kept the gobblers singing.

Growing Pains Continue

As the week continued, we encountered more gobblers. Two busted Becca drawing her bow. Another one appeared in our decoys unannounced and completely busted our jake-decoy stake. While drawing back, the trigger on Becca’s T-handle release brushed her collar, and the Rage-tipped arrow flung through the blind roof. The tom didn’t flinch, so Becca reloaded. While drawing back again, that arrow also flew through the roof. Oddly, the gobbler continued pummeling our decoy.

As Becca nocked her third arrow, I told her to look at me. “You have to reach full draw this time,” I said. When she did, I thought the tom’s gobbling days were over, but I didn’t realize that the first two mishaps had stolen all Becca’s confidence. Consequently, she shaved off several feathers, and the tom lived to gobble another day.

Though her confidence vanished, I convinced Becca to tote the shotgun to even the score. She reluctantly agreed, and when a gobbler skirted our decoys at 40 yards the next morning, a wad full of #4s rocked his world. Though I was excited, Becca felt like she’d cheated the system. She really wanted one with the bow.

Accept Defeat? No!

Becca refused to turkey hunt the next three springs, besides accompanying me while I hunted. Her misses and nicks left terrible scars on her bowhunting soul. I hated seeing her this way.

Healing began when she witnessed me bow-kill three toms during a Nebraska/South Dakota hunt two springs later during our first year of marriage. However, Becca wouldn’t bowhunt again until two springs later. I got her a different bow and a wrist-strap release, hoping that having newer, better equipment would erase the poor experiences she’d had with her previous rig.

Rebuilding Confidence

In the spring of 2016, I asked Becca not to give up. I asked her to try turkey hunting again, explaining that I wanted her to bow-kill a turkey before deciding whether she loved it or hated it. Finally, I told her that her past experiences need not define her bowhunting future.

Becca started practicing diligently prior to her turkey season. Each time she shot tight groups, I praised her efforts and hard work. When her groups weren’t so tight, I carefully and patiently coached her. As a result, she became deadly (photo below).wild turkey

As season approached, I knew that seeing toms strutting in fields would reinvigorate her excitement. It worked. Nearly every morning we worked the grid up and down country roads searching for possible hunting locations. We narrowed our search to several farms, and then stopped in to ask for permission on a farm where we’d been seeing two gobblers like clockwork. After a brief hello, handshake and introduction, we’d scored hunting permission. Yep, a knock on the door can still work.

Noncommittal Longbeard

During the first two mornings of hunting, we had one henned-up gobbler skirt our decoy spread as he followed several hens through the corn stubble. Two jakes also came through, but they, too, were beyond bow range. Becca was slightly discouraged, but I assured her we had plenty of time left in the 7-day season.

Becca was juggling several cleaning jobs, so I drove to another zone to hunt the afternoons on my tag. At the close of day two, a farmer I’ve known for years came to mind, and after a brief phone call, he invited us to hunt his land. I dropped in to see the property lines.

I hopped into his truck, and we cruised along a two-track toward an area turkeys traditionally roost. As we crested a rise, we instantly spotted two strutters. Darkness was fast approaching; obviously, the toms would roost in the hardwoods bordering the field. We reversed as the toms faded into the timber.

I returned home. “Good news!” I told Becca. “I got you permission to hunt a new farm, and I know exactly where two gobblers are roosting.” She was cautiously optimistic.

Closer …

Before dawn, we arrived at the farm and positioned our blind and decoys. Gobbles soon reverberated from the hardwoods. I made subtle calls, which the mouthy birds answered.

When they flew down and entered the field with several hens, they worked our way, disappearing at the base of the hill on which we were positioned. “The next time we see them, they’re gonna be in the decoys,” I whispered.

Unfortunately, they loitered just beneath us where we couldn’t see them, gobbling their heads off and spitting and drumming almost constantly. They eventually followed their hens to the opposite side of the field. Turkeys can be so frustrating.

… and Closer

That afternoon, we positioned our blind at the top of another hill on the field edge bordering the hardwoods where the toms roosted. I’d call periodically, and soon I could hear spitting and drumming behind us. I peered out the back of the blind and saw a red-faced gobbler slinking closer in full strut.

When he appeared in front of the blind and approached the decoys, his head was completely obstructed by feathers, so I told Becca to draw. Simultaneously, the tom perked up and spotted the movement — I don’t know why; she hadn’t created any noise. He walked briskly away from us, and I called Becca off the shot.

She was quite frustrated with me, because her pin was locked on the bird and her finger ready to touch the release. However, I simply didn’t want to risk missing or wounding the bird, which would sap the confidence she’d rebuilt. Plus, we had several more days left.

Once the other two toms roosted behind us, we tiptoed out.

wild turkey

A three-blade Rage broadhead devastated the gobbler’s vitals, and the bird was out cold in seconds. Rarely do turkeys leave a blood trail, but Becca’s tom leaked crimson galore — the result of a well-placed broadhead.

Lady Luck

The roosted toms were already gobbling as we approached our blind the following morning. While setting gear into our blind, though darkness lingered, a hen suddenly landed in the field 20 yards away. We froze, but she started putting and flew. The toms continued gobbling. Whew!

Now in the blind, I made several tree yelps, which were answered. After the birds hit dirt, the gobbling angled away. One tom popped into the field at the base of the hill 150 yards away, and though he saw our decoys, he slipped back into the woods and went silent. I was disgusted.

But, disgust soon became elation as I heard the subwoofer effects of spitting and drumming. I told Becca to lift her bow. They were committed but approaching slowly. She wanted to draw back, but I told her to trust me and wait until I said so.

When the gobblers were almost to our front window, though she couldn’t see them, I told her to draw. “You’ve got all the time in the world,” I said. “Don’t shoot until everything’s perfect.” My perception of time slowed. I was wound as tight as a guitar string.

Finally, the shot broke, and Becca’s arrow skewered the tom. He stumbled off the field and into the thick woods. I’ve seen enough birds die from arrows that I had no question the bird was down a short distance away. “You did everything perfectly!” I assured her as we clutched hands and exchanged wide-eyed grins.

After 15 minutes, I stalked my way along the field edge to where the bird had disappeared. As I approached, I could hear tick … tick … tick. I figured the other tom was pecking the dead bird’s head. I peeked over a slight embankment, and that’s exactly what was happening.

I slinked back to the blind to get Becca, then we returned to the embankment. We peeked up, and the tom was still hammering away. We were 12 yards away before his lightbulb came on and he went airborne.

The morning ended with high fives, hugs and wide grins. My wife’s quest to bow-kill a gobbler had been arduous but ultimately successful, and I’m proud to call her a bowhunter.wild turkey

Sidebar: 5 Reasons a Couples Bowhunt Beats a Movie/Dinner Date

  1. You get to be alone. That’s more romantic than a noisy, crowded movie theater.
  2. You can have meaningful discussion without interruptions … except for the occasional gobble!
  3. You don’t overpay for mediocre food.
  4. Spring turkey season comes once a year. You can date all you want the rest of the year … except during deer season!
  5. When you or your wife kill a gobbler, you’ve accomplished something together as a team. That’s positive reinforcement for your relationship.

wild turkey


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