The Fall Hunt is a Goat Rope
I recently learned of the phrase goat rope and immediately thought of its likeness to the fall turkey season. Apparently when one ropes cattle, it simply runs straight away and the roper just follows up and wrestles the animal, classic. When roping a goat though it seems the creature goes every which way but straight, back, side to side, through the ropers horses legs. The goat makes it all rather confusing with little method to its evasion. However unstructured the goats flee, it is a damn side more difficult to deal with.?The fall turkey, while still a turkey, will not be as predictable as a spring turkey. A turkey hunt is never a sure thing, but a fall turkey hunt is certainly uncertain.
This most recent Fall season I was not very well prepared, I had been too busy to scout during the preseason and had only two weekends in order to hunt. Mercifully those two weekends were consecutive. The first weekend was very nearly successful though, thanks to my Dad, Rand Siegfried, as he had been up to the ranch before me and found a potential roost. It being the Fall season meant that the roost was not reliable and we found the turkeys on the other side of the ranch saturday morning. I was able to get within 40 yards off a stalk but I wanted to get closer with my 20 gauge. I spooked them. I almost enjoyed spooking the turkeys off the side of a hill, the whole 30 of them flew up at once. The turkey is a big bird and 30 of them flushing at once just about makes the sky black. They brought the hill to life with their movement and wingstroke cadence. Just magnificent, thus is the joy of hunting, even if I was dearly missing my model 12's range. That weekend was a wash, but we did feel as though we knew where they would be come next weekend.
The ranch has only one creek and when it is dry, this creek is the only source of water for a mile each way. The turkeys are not going to move far from the water, so on the last weekend of turkey season we situated ourselves on a hill that was near to where we had seen the turkeys the weekend previous but also looks over the creek. We hiked a very dark mile to our spot. The darkness only slightly hinders my navigation, as I still have young eyes. For my Father though, his night vision isn't so fresh. So during all of our nightly walks I make gentle jokes about his careful stumbling, occasionally I voice them aloud. I kid only because I so enjoy his company while hunting, hunting is my passion and I am the first of my family to have any interest in it, yet my Dad is sport enough to wake up at 3am and chase turkeys with me all day and enjoy it. That was all very nice and eventually we made it to our predetermined spot.?
We sat waiting for the sun, contemplating the stars and listening to the coyotes. Enjoying a cup of hot chocolate, an accidental tradition from my first days turkey hunting. However cold it was, there was no place I would rather have been. As the sky began to brighten, our cones in our eyes were polite enough to let the colors bloom before us. What under the stars was a grey and black landscape was now a properly green and golden California view. It is all very pleasant, the soil on this part of the ranch is a red sort of hue, the bushes are more sparse and the bull pines enjoy little competition from oak trees. The creek had a low mist hovering ?above, as did the valleys between our hills. There came little sound with all the pretty sights. Not a single gobble, no clucks and certainly no wingbeats. And after a half hour, still no turkey sounds. It was the first time we had ever set up and not even heard a turkey. Thats pretty bad, so knowing no turkey was in the area we began strategizing in full volume. We reasoned that because it had rained during the week the turkey's must be less dependent on the creek and therefore favoring the oak's acorns on the other side of the ranch. Of course, turkeys love acorns, why wouldn't they be eating acorns whenever they can. Why did we suppose that they would stay by the dreary bull pines after the rains? Well rather than beat ourselves up about our foolery we began the hike to the oaky part of the ranch (I say ourselves, but really it was my own fault). We got atop a hill that overlooked a blue oak grove and we didn't see nor hear any sign of turkey.
By this point I really thought I had blown the operation and ruined my chance at a turkey this season. But we continued on down to the blue oak grove, perhaps we missed something with our binoculars. Coming up over another, smaller hill that overlooked the blue oak grove I saw them. I dropped down and motioned my Dad to do the same, for fear of bumping them off. My heart began to beat me up from the inside, just instantly going a mile a minute. I peaked up to see if the turkeys were still there. They were there but they were getting outa dodge, I had spooked them when I first saw the damned things. My heart sank as quickly as it had beat with hope. I knew that considering the direction they were going, there was very little chance to cut them off, or stalk them. Again I thought the hunt was over, and with conviction. But even with such knowledge I gave chase, one never knows, might get lucky. I was lurking from bush to bush, planning on waiting for the turkeys to cross the grove before I hightailed it to the next hill to try and cut them off.?
Crawling on my butt down to the last bush before the grove, I lost sight of them. Still beating myself up for spooking them I began to sneak toward the grove. Then, inexplicably, the turkeys came running back towards the hill where my Dad was still hiding. For no apparent reason. I was instantly excited again and ran past my confused Father and tried to get to the other side of the hill, hoping they would come over. I made it to the other side and couldn't see them. I slowed down to more carefully examine the great big mess of bush that was the other side of the hill. 20 turkeys could easily hide in that tangled brush. A great big bush separated me from where the turkeys would have come from. On the other side of a large bush I heard a single putt. Sprinting to the side of the bush I saw one turkey, snapped my model 12 to my shoulder and loosed off a few No. 5s. It was flapping on the ground and I was smiling as big a smile as I can remember and I yelled to my dad, "they're headed your way!" I hit the ground expecting a boom any moment, hoping for one really. But the fifteen or so turkeys must have flushed away from my Dad because he didn't see a thing.?
Why the turkeys turned around and headed back to my advantage I will never know. Might have been a cow, another hunter, or a coyote. Perhaps it was simply the fickle nature of the fall turkey. Whatever the reason, it was one of my most memorable hunts. It just goes to prove that the fall turkey hunt is a verifiable goat rope. The resulting turkey dinner was delicious, as wild turkey always is. It wasn't a big turkey but by god it was a turkey.