What drives you to hunt turkeys? For me and my sons, it’s partly the challenge of matching wits with North America’s most-regal gamebird. As many of you would agree, there isn’t a more-stately bird on the planet. But it’s also more. Much more. Long-standing traditions. Great friends. Camaraderie and shared adventure.Maybe you can relate. And if you can, you might also appreciate why I dedicated my April 2022 turkey hunt in eastern Oregon’s beautiful Blue Mountains to my longtime hunting buddy Jay Decker. A close friend and hunting companion for 15 years, Jay passed away last year at the age of 79, following a valiant battle with leukemia. That’s Jay pictured above after one of our successful Blue Mountain turkey hunts.
Jay Hunts Again
But Jay was with us again in April 2022. We made sure of that. Following Jay’s passing his wife presented me with one of Jay’s shotguns, and some of his old hunting gear. I knew just what to do with them: Keep them hunting as Jay would have wanted, and no time was wasted.
For our 2022 Blue Mountain hunt my son Hunter would be toting Jay’s favorite Benelli Black Eagle semi-auto 12-gauge. And both me and Hunter would be using a few of Jay’s favorite turkey loads: Federal Heavyweight TSS No. 9. I happen to be a big fan of these high-tech Tungsten Super Shot loads myself, but using some of Jay’s personal stash just seemed right. It seemed to almost guarantee a memorable adventure. Thankfully, I couldn’t have been more correct.
Spring Or Winter?
To start, Mother Nature threw us a curveball. Just a week before the opener there was basically no snow in the West Slopes of eastern Oregon’s Blue Mountains. Then just a few days before the opener, a surprise. The area received 10-plus inches of the white stuff, followed up by almost 5 inches of fresh new snow the first day of our hunt unfolding on the long Easter weekend. Regardless of what would transpire, the scenery was incredible. But the hunting?
My brother accomplished a lot in his short time with us. He had a wildly successful pizza business in Minnesota and was able to retire about eight years ago and move to Oregon near me. He and his family had fallen in love with Oregon and the Pacific Northwest during their visits. This gave us the chance to participate in more activities together, including getting him into hunting and fishing.
“This year my goal became doing that for Scott’s oldest son, Jack. I had promised my brother I would be there for his boys while they grew into young men.”
The year before he got sick we went on a turkey hunt together and I was able to call in a magnificent 11-inch bearded tom for him, which became his first and only turkey (pictured above). That tom put on one of the best gobbling and strutting shows I’ve ever witnessed in my 18 years of hunting them. It’s an amazing moment when you help someone harvest their first turkey; it gives me much more joy than shooting my own. This year my goal became doing that for Scott’s oldest son, Jack. I had promised my brother I would be there for his boys while they grew into young men. Jack expressed a strong interest in hunting last year, and hunted turkeys under the Oregon Mentored Youth Hunting program with me. He got a taste of the experience. We never got one close enough to shoot, but he experienced strutting and gobbling turkeys first hand, which whet his appetite for more.Rewind briefly to last fall: Jack was finally able to harvest his first game animal when he shot his first goose and several ducks under the mentor program. This motivated him to finish hunter education so that he could hunt this year’s youth opener of turkey season with me. His Christmas stocking was full of turkey gear and he got his fill of YouTube turkey videos in anticipation of the hunt.After a year of tremendous loss and sorrow, both of us were looking forward to the hunt. Knowing how hard this past year had been on my nephew, I desperately wanted to help him harvest his first turkey. Some of my industry friends were kind enough to provide us with some gear for the hunt. Federal sent turkey loads along with some hats and shirts. The day before the hunt, we shot the Federal Heavyweight TSS No. 9s at 40 yards and the pattern blew me away.LaCrosse provided each of us with a pair of the AeroHead Sport boots featuring their AeroForm technology. I have to honestly say they’re the most comfortable rubber boots I’ve ever worn. Throughout the last several years I’ve used rubber boots more and more for all of my hunting. Dry feet, very comfortable, no laces and they can handle plenty of rugged terrain, and because of the comfort and support improvements I could hike all day with no foot soreness. It’s also great that you can roll down the neoprene uppers on a warm day.Our hunt took place in the blue mountains of eastern Oregon. This area has seen phenomenal growth in its turkey population during the past 10-20 years. The region now has a three-bird limit in the spring and one in the fall. It’s a pretty amazing story, considering there were no indigenous turkeys on the western side of the Rocky Mountains. I’ve been very fortunate that a welcoming family in the Blues has allowed me access to hunt on their property throughout the past several years. As we all know, it’s getting tougher to find affordable areas to hunt, and outfitters tend to take over most of the good areas.During the past three years we tagged out by sunrise each time on this property. On the day when we arrived, the landowners said they had heard gobbling that morning where we planned to hunt the next morning. I felt pretty confident, envisioning it would be the same show as the past three years. Turkeys would gobble like mad on the roost, fly down in front of us, strut a bit, and then come into our decoy spread. Then, Jack would shoot a big tom, we would celebrate, get home early enough to watch the Masters, and sleep in on Sunday. Well, long story short, I didn’t watch any of the Masters and there was no sleeping in on Sunday.Turns out the birds had not been roosting on the property, and we didn’t see or hear a bird on the property. We did hear a couple of distant gobbles on neighboring properties, but none of them wanted to play ball. Jack made a great observation that “the YouTube turkey hunting shows make it look so easy.” I truly believe we lose a lot of young hunters because their expectations are unrealistically high.
We decided to change tactics, and instead of waiting for them to change their tune and come onto the property, we packed up our gear and drove an hour to my main honey hole that I was hoping to save for regular turkey season opener the following week. The rancher had seen several toms on the property recently, so we had high hopes. By the time we arrived, the winds were gusting to 30 mph, making it even tougher. We hunted most of the midday without hearing a gobble, and saw only one hen. The pressure was mounting and my nephew was getting a little frustrated.
“My nephew was quickly learning that turkey hunting is about more than just harvesting the bird.”
We did find some sign that a few birds were roosting in their normal area, and we saw several birds on the lower part of the ranch when leaving the property that evening. So we felt really good about our chances on Sunday. My nephew was quickly learning that turkey hunting is about more than just harvesting the bird. You need to find areas to hunt, get permission, scout, make a plan, watch the weather, and make sure your calls and decoys are ready to go.
We had a delicious turkey burger meal that night, and before you knew it the alarm was going off at 3:45 a.m. on Sunday morning. I was pleasantly surprised to see Jack up and ready to go. We got dressed, made coffee, packed the truck and departed with high expectations.
I dedicate this hunt to my brother and Jack’s dad, Scott Nelson. Rest in peace, bro!
Know a passionate hunter dealing with hearing loss? Get them back in the game with some ground-breaking technology.
The outdoor world came alive for me again this past weekend, while chasing gobblers in eastern Oregon’s scenic Blue Mountains—and my wide smile hasn’t left since. Was the cause a milestone-number longbeard? Bagging an unusually difficult bird? Those would be good guesses, but my elation stems from something even more special than those. You see, spring turkey hunting in my home state has been one of my passions, but over the past decade, my hearing has gradually diminished to the point where, unaided, I cannot hear turkeys gobbling farther than 100 yards away. As you might guess, this severely handicaps my ability to pinpoint direction and distance, unless I have one of my sons—or a friend—by my side for assistance.This recent hunt was much different. With the aid of a new TETRA hearing device, I was able to roost the 21-pound, 10-inch bearded gobbler you see pictured at top, from about 400 yards, without assistance. The best part? In recent, previous years, I would have never heard this bird at all. Scouting the night before paid off the next day, as for the first time in way too long, I was able to hear each and every gobble from the roost. With a few yelps and purrs from my favorite Rocky Mountain slate call, I was able to bring this longbeard to within 10 yards, and my son Hunter did the rest. As you can see, he didn’t leave much of the fan—but strange things can happen when the action gets up close and personal. Is it any wonder why we love to chase turkeys?Over the years I had tried several other hearing-aid devices aimed at hunters, and had been continually disappointed. Most were either prohibitively uncomfortable, or simply, created too much back-noise to be useful. In the end I wasn’t able to discern a longbeard’s direction or distance, with one problem being the sounds I was hearing were simply too loud. For a dedicated turkey hunter, it was maddening. In my opinion, TETRA is a game-changer. Not only does it protect your hearing from loud gun blasts and calls; you can hear conversations and target game animals clearly and accurately. From the start with this unit, I was amazed at how the sounds came alive again—with no discomfort or back-noise—and I could easily pinpoint the correct distance and direction! Game on!TETRA’s hearing technology for hunters is simply incredible, and you can read about it yourself by clicking here. Truth be told, before I made the leap I had watched several TETRA video testimonials over the past year or so, and was still a bit skeptical, primarily because of my previous experiences with other devices. Well, I’m not a skeptic any more, and honestly, I can’t wait to try them out while chasing other species. Especially, while bowhunting for elk during the September rut, and during my annual pheasant hunting treks to North Dakota. As you can imagine, I’m looking forward to hearing some bugling and cackling again!
If you’re interested in hearing the woods come alive again, TETRA provides a customized, very-detailed online hearing test (for each ear) that corrects frequencies. For me, my left ear demonstrated more hearing loss than my right, and TETRA adjusted the frequencies accordingly, for each ear. Since I hunt year-round, I chose to have them set me up with their Multi-Pursuit AlphaShield series ($1,499/pair; designed for multi-species), which has several settings designed for specific hunting/shooting environments. The settings include turkey, elk, deer, waterfowl, upland, and range/clay.
TETRA improves my hearing so well, I now have complete confidence that I can effectively hunt turkeys, elk, and other game on my own again. The MSRP might be a bit of a sticker shock for some, but considering what we shell out these days for a new bow or rifle, not to mention myriad other gear, all aimed at improving our hunting success—shouldn’t hearing all aspects of your hunting adventures be a top priority too? You already know my answer. Good hunting, and good hearing!
When a trio of turkey chasers takes on cagey late-season birds, some serious patience wins the day.
What a spring it was chasing turkeys in my home state of Oregon. As you might have read here previously, I’m an unabashed turkey hunting fanatic, and make it a point to chase these regal birds with friends and family each and every spring—at least as much as time, work and opportunity allows. Unfortunately, every spring season must come to an end, but this year, I was able to close it out in style, surrounded by friends and some stunning Oregon scenery, during a late-season hunt I won’t soon forget.
One of the highlights for me, was when Skyler Pace from Pure Archery Group (shown above) knocked over a fine Oregon gobbler, after receiving a heart-pounding, two-hour show that began with multiple gobblers sounding off on the roost, and continued right through fly down that occurred virtually in front of us—but just out of range. That was followed by still more tense minutes of out-of-range strutting, and a bit of late-season frustration. But patience, as it usually does in turkey hunting, paid off in the end. After some final coaxing from my Rocky Mountain Hunting Calls slate, Skyler shot his first-ever bird at 52 yards, helped along by the mighty power of a Federal Heavyweight TSS load…in my opinion, the undisputed turkey shotshell of the year. Congrats Skyler on your first gobbler, hopefully the start of many, many more. Skyler had hoped to take his first tom with his Bowtech compound, but this late in the season, the birds become notoriously decoy-shy, which makes it a whole lot tougher to get a good bow shot. Next year Skyler!
As a bonus, I was able to take a nice jake out of the very same blind, some 45 minutes later. The bird had a 5-inch beard and weighed an impressive 17 pounds; some might call a bird like that a “super jake,” and I surely was thrilled, but the photos do not do it justice. Why? My jake ended up falling in a creek and admittedly, looked a bit rough. But you can bet it won’t disappoint once on the table.
It should be noted that the patience of the third hunter of our group, Shawn Skipper of Leupold, was seriously tested on this adventure. However, Skipper’s laser focus was eventually rewarded as well, when he toppled a sure-to-be tasty jake at 52 yards, with help from his Leupold red dot scope. Personally, I’ve become a serious red dot fan this year; while using one my confidence at all ranges has increased dramatically, and the results have been nothing less than impressive.From start to finish, this Oregon hunt was a great way to end the season, and we’re already dreaming of gobbles on the roost for next spring. From all of us here at Team HuntStand, we hope your 2021 spring turkey hunts were memorable and productive. And like many of you, we’re already strategizing for 2022. As you plan, remember to tap into the amazing power of the HuntStand app—be sure to review where you logged the hottest patterns, sign and activity in 2021—and don’t forget to consult the property lines feature found in HuntStand Pro that will point the way to public and private land boundaries, and helpful landowner information, all at a glance.
It should be noted this late-spring hunt unfolded with help from Jody Smith Guide Service out of Elkton, Oregon. Smith has access to some of the best turkey ground this side of the Mississippi, and Smith will also help you catch the state’s impressive sturgeon and smallmouth bass, and come fall, he offers a complete slate of adventurous big game hunting opportunities.