Turkey season ended here in NH on May 31st. While we did not successfully harvest a bird, we learned so much and enjoyed the experience as new hunters. I want to share some of the highlights of the season.
We started by looking at a few local public land options, and decided on one that is over 1,000 acres of wilderness surrounded mostly by other private land and includes an extensive trail system of old atv trails and logging roads.
The first day we set out on the land to scout for turkeys, Matt and I went prepared with our packs, a map, and plenty of daylight. We stayed on the trail for a while until we came to a huge swamp and decided to go explore it. We walked through the woods and came into this clearing on the edge of the water and it was truly a magical feeling. On the way through the woods we had seen deer and moose dropping as well as tracks. Once out on the edge of the swamp we saw the most beautiful wild ducks swimming and flying around, and were surprised by a breathtaking Great Blue Heron flying overhead. If you’ve never seen one, they’re almost prehistoric looking and quite a sight to behold. I felt like I was living in my favorite poem, Wendell Berry’s The Peace of Wild Things. It was simply enchanting. We tried a few owl calls once the light started to fade, and although we did not see any turkeys, we did find droppings and a feather – so we thought “there must be turkeys here!”
We started to eagerly plan for our first weekend hunt. I was actually furloughed from work due to COVID19 and was able to go a few times on my own but was looking forward to Matt having a whole week off from work so that we could hunt together. Hunting was so helpful during this pandemic to get outside and clear my mind and connect with nature. It helped to give me perspective and provided awareness of things outside of myself.
For our first hunt together we decided to go with our friend and mentor, Mike. Mike is a seasoned hunter and is great at mouth calling – something we’re working on but haven’t quite gotten the hang of yet. We had mostly been using a box and a slate call. We woke up extremely early in the morning around 3:00am or 3:30am, made a quick breakfast, grabbed our gear, got in the car and headed to the trailhead to meet Mike for first light. Once there, we identified the areas on the map where we had seen signs of turkey and noticed good habitat. We heard a gobble off in the distance and that gave us some directions of where to go.
We ended up following an atv trail down to a heavily forested and wet area, decided to cut through to a ridge that we wanted to sit and call on. We began to gain elevation and stopped for a moment to rest. I’m not in the best shape, which is something I am working on. I’m participating in the Hike to Hunt challenge this summer, and spring turkey season definitely started to help with building up my stamina. When we paused to rest, I could faintly hear my heart beating in my ears which happens sometimes, but then it started to get noticeably louder and faster and then was a rapid sound almost like a motor revving up. I thought “oh, no – something is wrong with me” and then suddenly realized what I was hearing was a grouse drumming. We had gone on a mentored grouse hunt in the fall and had seen one flush but had not heard the drumming. It was a truly magical sound to hear. Once I gained my composure after this neat moment, we headed on up to the top of the ridge. This spot was the perfect location to sit and call for turkeys and we had a wide view down the mountain. We sat spaced out, Matt and I were within about 30 yards of one another and Mike went over to the other side of the ridge to broaden our perspective. It was very windy and quite chilly. We sat and Mike used the mouth call for a while. We were excited to have called in some hens, although in the spring season you can only hunt bearded birds. There are sometimes bearded hens, but from my understanding there are mixed opinions on whether to harvest them or not. We we’re hoping for a gobbler – meaning a jake which is a young male turkey, or a tom which is a mature male turkey to have followed the hens but had no such luck. We decided to move on.
We had a brief moment of hope that we were seeing turkeys, but they turned out to be a couple of turkey vultures, definitely not what we were looking for. We made our way out onto the powerlines and it was probably 10am at this point. There is no hunting after noon for the spring season so we chose to make the most of our time by walking and calling along the way. Mike was using his mouth call about every five minutes. All of a sudden we heard gobbles in response to a call – they sounded very close. Mike told us to get ready and make our way into the treeline to sit and wait. Well, not much waiting happened as these two jakes came running in to us. In the bustle of excitement, I shouldered my shotgun and proceeded to try to get a clear shot. Being a new hunter I was filled with adrenaline and my brain seemed to shut off – in the process of trying to get a shot I moved the barrel of my gun way too much and frightened the birds and they hightailed it out of there…Mike was trying to get my attention to tell me to stop moving and stay still but I didn’t get the message…I felt so stupid and was upset and frustrated at my mistake. After all the time spent researching turkey hunting tactics by reading, listening to podcasts and watching YouTube videos.Mike, being the mentor that he is and having been my boss at one point, knew how to make me laugh by telling a story of a friend who made a different but equally ametuer mistake…I figured I had several weeks left in the season and plenty of time being furloughed from work to bag a bird. We didn’t see any more turkeys that day and decided to call it a day and headed home.
There were many other memorable moments of the season. On my birthday, May 9th, we got several inches of snow and went out into the woods! As we were walking in Matt realized he forgot our hunting licenses and tags at home, meaning we needed to go get them before continuing on. He was upset, but I figured I had made a rookie mistake and now, so had he. Luckily we didn’t shoot at a turkey before he realized this! The day was still wonderful for me, we had a dinner spread that could have been in a magazine complete with mussels, lobster, and sea scallops wrapped in bacon! My friend, Jesse, bought me a great birthday gift – my first hunting knife and an electric fish filet knife! Matt got me a Glock .48 to take with me while I hunt and hike alone. Very thoughtful gifts, I was truly overwhelmed with joy.
There were other highlights, too…some more gobbles, time spent outside in nature with Matt, and awesome wildlife sightings. We were walking the powerlines and Matt abruptly turned to me and loudly said “STOP”, not what you’d say if you saw a turkey – you’d be silent and motion to get down…I could tell he was nervous and he then said, “A Moose!” I crept over the ridge to see a cow or a calf (I couldn’t tell which as I have not seen many moose in my lifetime). It turned and looked right at us before slowly sauntering off into the woods. Another day, almost the exact same scenario but a doe that was about 15 yards in front of us right on the trail. She did not see or hear us but caught our scent, looked up at us, made an adorable sound and quickly bounced off into the woods. I later learned the sounds we heard her making as she left were probably calls to her fawn to stay put as danger was near.
We saw several porcupines, too. They don’t have many natural predators and you can walk up close to them. Predators include bobcats, owls on occasion and depending on the size of the porcupine, and mountain lions, which are rare in NH. Since porcupines often burrow in the holes other animals make, these animals are bound to turn up a time or two only to find a prickly little porcupine in their home. The fisher is by far the most aggressive predator and feeds on the porcupine by grabbing its face, flipping it on its back and attaching the stomach where there are no quills – since porcupines often fall from trees after being tempted by some sweet food and land on the ground. We’re hoping to hunt porcupines this summer as there aren’t any rules or regulations in our state due to the overpopulation and they’re supposed to be quite tasty, although obviously difficult to prepare. As the joke goes, there’s only one way to prepare them – very carefully! Realistically you either have to pluck the quills with pliers or singe them off over an open flame. We actually went out last weekend to hunt porcupines, only to see 5 jakes on the way into the woods and ZERO porcupines – I think they’re all just mocking us! On one of our last days I found an intact coyote skull which was so cool and is now hanging out on our screen porch which we’ve named “deer camp”. We heard and saw so many wonderful things, I could go on for hours recounting them all.
So overall, it was a great season filled with learning through experience and gratitude even if we didn’t get a turkey. Here’s to the fall season and hopefully harvesting some turkeys!