I’ve always been a hard-core do-it-yourself bowhunter. As the Cabela’s slogan states: It’s in my nature. For me, nothing trumps the feeling of accessing private or public dirt and figuring out the critters that dwell on it. Success, at least for me, tastes a little sweeter this way. However, from time to time, I do enjoy the comforts of a hotel room, a gorgeous lodge and home-cooked meals. That’s why when my good friend Scott Sanderford at Croton Creek Ranch invited my wife, Amy, and me to his slice of Oklahoma heaven for a late-April turkey hunt, I jumped at the opportunity.
Aside from owning over 5,000 acres of beautifully managed deer and turkey dirt, Scott and his wife, Joni, are just two of the best people the Creator ever put on the earth. They go out of their way to ensure their hunters’ success, and Joni’s cooking – well, its delectableness can’t be put into words. Over the years Scott and Joni have become great friends, and my family and I make it out to their ranch often, even when a hunt isn’t on the menu.
My wife and I weren’t even supposed to jump in a blind that first evening, but Scott, as he always does, had some birds pegged and figured we could get in and get our ground blind deployed.
“These birds will be working their way back to the roost,” Scott said. “The cool thing about this location is that where you’ll be positioned is far enough off the roost you won’t bugger the morning hunt. If we leave now, I think you can get in there and get set.”
That’s all I needed to hear. We jumped back in the Chevy and made the 22-mile jaunt. In record time, we were set up in the corner of a large, harvested wheat plot. The sky was milky and droplets of rain tapped on the roof of our popup bunker. Dressed like a pair of ninjas, my wife and I took a moment to catch our breath and just gaze at the beautiful landscape. This was our first time together bowhunting turkeys, and I could feel the excitement.
Knowing the birds would likely be grouped up as they made their “roost return,” I opted to call soft and light on my Zink Power Hen Slate. I wasn’t looking to create the feel of a going-crazy-must-be-bred hen right at roost time. Instead, I wanted to give the birds a feeling of relaxation and safety. I would let out the occasional yelp, but mostly opted to stay with lots of purrs and soft clucks.
A talkative hen was first on the scene. I love it when this happens. The lone lady made her way into my trio of Avian-X fakes and started emitting sweet music. First it was soft clucks, purrs and yelps, but then she broke into a chorus of aggressive yelps. It didn’t take long. Amy tapped me on the shoulder, her finger pointed south and shaking like a seismograph needle. Two big rope swingers and a fleet of hens were coming fast.
The two toms were totally fooled and committed. In fact, I could have skewered either of them multiple times, but as this was my wife’s first time seeing wild birds so close, I opted to wait. Big mistake! Just as I was getting ready to draw on the closest bird, a series of shotgun blasts rang out on the neighboring property. Both toms gobbled, then tucked tail and scurried off. I was a little bummed, but the excitement in my wife’s eyes quickly vanquished any disappointment I felt.
After I was sure the birds were well past our location I let my wife exit the blind. Before I could hand her some equipment, she was scrambling back inside.
“Honey, you won’t believe the size of these turkeys that are still out in the field!” she exclaimed.
If there were still birds out in the field they were the bravest – or dumbest – birds I’d ever encountered. Still, I figured it was worth a look. Through my Meopta optics I saw what my wife was so excited about. There were several big black blobs 200 yards in the distance, but they weren’t turkeys. They were wild hogs. I love hogs.
With legal shooting light fading quickly, I sat my wife in some brush with her video camera and made a very quick stalk.
Using the available cover, I was able to get within 30 yards of the rooting hogs. A plump sow emerged from the mob, and I wasted no time settling my pin and letting a Carbon Express RED go. The shot felt good, but I didn’t see the arrow’s impact. I did, after letting the group scamper into the thick brush, go recover my arrow. Blood covered only about 6 inches of the shaft, and the droplets on the ground were microscopic. Nighttime temps were going to dip down into the low forties, so I opted to back out.
My wife and I found ourselves huddled in the same ground fortress watching the first rays of morning tease the roosted toms’ voices to life. It was deafening. The pair of gobblers from the previous evening – along with several others in the distance – let out a barrage of back-and-forth gobbles. Our plan was simple: Try the birds off the roost and then go track my hog.
The first birds, a pair of raspy hens, hit the field running. It didn’t take long to figure out why. A pair of coyotes soon emerged from the brush. Before long those close-to-us gobbles were a good ways in the distance. Honestly, I was glad. I wanted to go unravel the previous evening’s event.
I opted to go hands-and-knees mode into the all-but-impenetrable brush alone. Aside from the tracks, I would find a spot of blood here and there. Each was immediately marked with a piece of pink flagging tape, a favorite method of mine when blood trailing. On more than one occasion, after losing blood I’ve used my flagging tape to anticipate a predicted route of travel. This method has paid off in spades multiple times over the years, but the way this tracking job was going, I wasn’t overly hopeful. Then, oddly, more spots started to appear. Those spots turned to pools, and after 100 yards, I walked up on my Oklahoma hog. I was elated. My wife wasn’t too thrilled. She said, “That thing is disgusting. Look at all the ticks on it.” She was even less thrilled when she had to help me with photographs and packing the meat out.
By noon were back in the blind. I moved our ground fort up the field edge a bit to gain a better midday vantage point, and this new location would allow my hen music to penetrate a few distant hollers.
I let out a few yelps from my M.A.D Bill Yargus Cut-n Touch diaphragm before I got a response. Multiple chocked gobbles rang out. A wad of jakes for sure. I didn’t care. My wife had never seen a group of juveniles maul an imposter. The birds wasted no time. I didn’t even have to call again. The moment they saw the pair of hens and the lone jake, they came on a run. My wife’s eyes were wide and she was smiling ear to ear. She let me know she had the birds in the viewfinder and was telling me to shoot over and over again. I waited. The birds were putting on a show. A pair of the bigger jakes would bow-up to my Avian-X fake, only to retreat back a few yards where their cautious comrades stood.
My wife said, “They’re going to leave. You better shoot one.” Finally, one of the birds separated just enough from the group, and I was able to release a perfect arrow. The Rage X-Treme broadhead put him down quickly, and the celebration was on. My wife and I hugged, high-fived and rejoiced in the wonderful morning the good Lord had given us.
I’ve been told numerous times that late-afternoon hunts for longbeards are often a wasted venture. Of course, I’ve been told the same about whitetail hunting in the wind or during a torrential downpour. As often as possible, I go against the grain and punch my tag. I’ve had some incredible late-afternoon turkey hunts over the years, and my biggest whitetail to date was shot in incredibly windy conditions.
It couldn’t have gone any better. Not only was this Oklahoma dynamic duo gobbling at every yelp, cluck, cut or purr I made, but they were blown up like hot air balloons coming across the field. My wife got to see it all, and amazingly, held her composure enough to capture it all on video. The dominant gobbler was first on the scene, and he was quick to give a swift Jackie Chan-style kick to my jake. My wife let out a little giggle. I let an arrow fly. This arrow, tipped with a Dead Ringer Trauma, put the boisterous bird down in seconds.
What a perfect ending to one of the most magical days I’ve ever spent in the spring turkey woods. Not only was I able to show my wife her first wild hog in an up-close-and-personal way, but I had also tagged a pair of Oklahoma birds.
The walk back to the truck with a heavy longbeard over the shoulder is always memorable, but this one was extra special. In one hand I held the feet of my fallen prize, and in the other, the hand of my soulmate. This is a hunt neither of us will ever forget.