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?
Jay must have been guiding us. Despite the falling snow, during the late morning of opening day the two of us managed to sneak into position on a fine strutting tom. Then Hunter took over. Using Jay’s Benelli and loads Hunter anchored the snow-flecked gobbler at 20 yards. We were on the board! The snow actually made the hunt even more thrilling, yet neither of us would admit to being as cold and wet as we were. After walking up on the big tom, we gave a nice salute to Jay, who had hunted this very same area with us several times. I’m sure he would have been proud.
The next day the snow came down even harder. Luckily, we had set up a ground blind the evening before, along a known turkey travel route. We had patterned the birds after coming off the roost; we were concerned the near-blizzard conditions of Day 2 would prevent the birds from flying down into an open field they had been using regularly. Since it was snowing so hard, we figured they would prefer the shelter of some nearby pines. And it wouldn’t hurt that we’d have the shelter of the blind to help stay dry. Regardless, expectations for a close-up encounter were low.But maybe, once again, Jay was with us in more ways than one. Turkeys being turkeys, the big birds did the complete opposite of what we expected that second morning. They flew down smack-dab into the middle of their favorite, and now seriously snow-covered, open field a full 30 minutes before sunrise; some big toms began strutting immediately. We counted 17 birds total in the flock, which hung out and did its thing about 100 yards from where we huddled in our blind.
What Could Go Wrong? Plenty
But thankfully, the birds seemed antsy. Within minutes, the boss hen was walking in our direction—in no time she was within 20 yards, and even better, she had the attention of a big tom. Soon, he was heading our way as well. Looking through my Leupolds I could see this was a bigger gobbler than we had seen while scouting the previous couple days. As he closed, we watched the gobbler’s thick paintbrush beard swing back and forth, and I prepared for the shot.
Just as the tom got to 40 yards, disaster! Just seconds from pulling the trigger, I flinched as something flew into view. Turkeys scattered. It was a Golden Eagle! Out of nowhere the eagle’s dive-bombing swoop scattered the flock instantly. “My” gobbler was out of there! I’d never seen turkeys move so fast. Needless to say, much like the eagle, we would bag no birds that morning.
Another five inches of fresh snow fell during the rest of Day 2, and we found the birds basically didn’t want to play. But HuntStand was forecasting a welcome change. By the next, (Easter) morning, HuntStand was calling for the snow to lift. With clear skies and warming temps over 30 degrees forecasted, we hoped the next day would see the game change—in our favor.
The next morning, we decided not to use our ground blind setup. Instead, we set up where the birds entered the woods after their confrontation with the hungry eagle. We figured at flydown, the birds would be seeking cover after being harassed the previous day.
Frustration To Elation
Well, once again we were dead wrong. Yet again, the birds flew down from their roost right into the middle of the adjacent field. But even worse, the birds began walking directly toward our now-empty blind! It was time for action. In seconds my trusty, favorite box call was sending out some nice gentle yelps and purrs. The sounds did not go unnoticed. Just a few yelps later three toms suddenly broke from the flock—and came at us on a dead run!It wasn’t long before another beautiful Blue Mountain gobbler folded before us. Within minutes, we went from utter frustration, to sheer elation. Don’t you just love hunting turkeys? Both handsome birds would weigh in over 21 pounds, with 1 ¼-inch spurs and beards pushing 10 inches, anchored with help from HiViz LiteWave sights that helped us stay on target in blowing snow and low morning light. Even better? One of the big strutters was shot with Jay’s gun, and both of them fell to Jay’s personal Federal turkey loads.In the end, not a bad way to honor a great friend and loyal hunting buddy. Love you Jay, and rest in peace.