Watch Your Step!

Watch Your Step!
In 2004 I traveled to Florida, Texas, and South Dakota in pursuit of the Grand Slam. When I returned to Kentucky to finish my quest, I was excited. I was hunting a farm in Crittenden County that I was leasing for deer and turkey hunting that I had successfully hunted for a few years in the past.
Expectations were high as I crossed the open field and got in the woods just as the day was breaking. When I got to the spot where I wanted to be to start the morning hunt, I paused and listened. Then I gave an I owl hoot and heard a distant gobble. It was a cooler morning than I had expected; maybe this was why I didn’t hear a bird any closer.


I spent a few minutes listening and hoping to hear an ole slobber mouth cut loose with a gobble, but I didn’t. Then the bird that gobbled earlier gobbled again, so I headed in his direction. I was slowly following the fence line through the woods, back towards another field, pausing to look and listen about every 40 or 50 yards. I had worked myself about half-way to the field, still not hearing anything close.


Just as I was ready to walk on, I happened to look down. Directly in my path was a huge copperhead! I immediately jumped back and tried to gather my composure. That scared me! One more step would have been bad. It was the largest copperhead I had ever seen, and I almost stepped on it.


I was amazed at how well blended into the forest floor that snake was, and I was only one step away. Copperheads are not overly aggressive snakes, but they will bite you if you step on them.
I didn’t waste any time killing it, while being careful not to damage it in the process. (I actually thought about taking it to be mounted during those split seconds.) He was at least 3 feet long, so I put him in the back of my turkey vest and continued to the field.


It was kind of unnerving to have a copperhead in the back of my turkey vest. Even though it was dead, I was a little uncomfortable with that. I don’t think I could get a fang in me accidentally, but it was in the back of my mind.


When I got to the field, I set out a hen and a Jake decoy and went through a series of calls hoping for a response. It wasn’t long before three birds showed up at the far end of the field and headed toward my decoys. When they reached the decoys, I identified the birds as three Jakes. One of the Jakes was twice as big as the other two. I didn’t intend on shooting a Jake, so I let them pass. But as they were about 75 yards away, I thought to myself: “what if I don’t get another chance to kill a bird this year?” I realized I might not have another chance to complete my Grand Slam in one year, so I called again, and the three Jakes came back to the decoys, and I harvested the big one. I had my Slam.
When I weighed the Jake, he was 19 pounds with a 5 ½ inch beard, which I thought was huge for a Jake, and the snake was 38-inches long, which I thought was huge for a copperhead!


This spring when you are in the woods chasing turkeys and enjoying God’s creation, be careful where you step!


PS About a week later, I was able to harvest a mature gobbler who sported a 10 ¼ inch beard, weighed 22 pounds, and had over 1-inch spurs.

MERRIAM’S BEARD DEBACLE

In 2004 I went on my quest for the Wild Turkey Grand Slam. I have already written a story about this adventure, but there’s more to it. I had gone to Florida and harvested an Osceola turkey, and then I went to Texas and tagged four Rio Grande birds near Brackettville, TX. Then I made a side trip to Dallas to visit my sister and her family. I enjoyed visiting with Jeanne, along with her husband and her kids Kayleigh and Evan. She allowed me to keep my birds in her freezer while I stayed a few days.
Finally, it was time to set out for Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota, where I stayed at the home of my guide, Jesse Trueblood. One of the stipulations to hunt on the reservation was to have an Indian guide, and I choose Jesse. I settled in for the evening and looked forward to harvesting a Merriam’s turkey on this third leg of my Grand Slam quest.
As Paul Harvey used to say: “now, for the rest of the story.” After breakfast, we set out in hopes of getting me an old longbeard. We parked and listened for a gobble, and it wasn’t long before we heard one fairly close. Soon, we heard some more gobbles, so we closed the distance on a flock of about twenty turkeys. There were three strutters in the group, but we couldn’t call them into our position. Jesse said he thought he knew where they were heading, and we could drive around and get ahead of the flock and have a better chance of getting a shot
We got in his truck and drove around in front of the birds. Finally, we were able to see them coming in our direction, so we got set up to try and get them to come to us. We were slightly above them (which is usually a good thing). Soon there were three hens and a great longbeard in shotgun range, and the rest of the flock was in tow. I had to wait till the gobbler was far enough away from the hens to get a clean shot and not kill one of them. It seemed like forever, but he finally gave me the opportunity, so I pulled the trigger.
Down he went, and the other 19 birds scattered everywhere. I jumped up and ran down to where the gobbler was lying. He was a great bird, but I had shot most of his beard off – I couldn’t believe it! I know it was probably at least two feet long, but I couldn’t prove it since I had shot all of it off except for about 4”!I was extremely disappointed, to say the least, but since I had my big boy pants on, I didn’t cry. He weighed 19 pounds and 4 ounces and had about 1” spurs (and an estimated 24” beard). I now had harvested three of the four birds needed for my Slam, but I was really frustrated with myself for shooting half of his beard off.
Fortunately, I was able to redeem myself that evening. I shot another bird just before dark as they were heading to their roost. My second bird had a much longer beard (because I didn’t shoot it off!) His was 9.4375” long, both spurs were .8750”, and he weighed 19 pounds and 6 ounces. I harvested 2 Merriam’s turkeys in one day.
The next morning, I said goodbye to Jesse and headed home to Kentucky in hopes of finishing my Grand Slam. Even though I had previously harvested 29 Eastern Wild Turkeys, my goal was to achieve the Grand Slam all in one year, so when I got back home, I was able to harvest two more Eastern birds to complete my goal. What an adventure! I harvested nine birds that season.


Reflections of 2020

The 2020-2021 Kentucky deer season is winding down; today is the final day for the December Muzzle-loader season.  After today there is about a month of bow and crossbow season left.  This year, about 135,000 deer have been harvested in Kentucky, and there should be another 2000 to 3000 more animals harvested before the Martin Luther King holiday when the season closes.  Here is my reflection on this year’s season. 

Overall this year, I saw fewer deer than in previous years.  However, I have had some incredible encounters with several bucks this year.  One that made the greatest impression on me this year was a hunt back in late September.   I had five bucks come rushing into my location in the woods, where I was ready to let my crossbow do the talking.  Two of the deer were (what I call) shooters; they supported some fine headgear – ten-pointers or better.   All of the deer were within range to take a shot, but I didn’t have a clear shot on the two bigger bucks. The only deer that I could shoot was a smaller eight-pointer at nine yards, so I put the crosshairs on him and waited for something to change.  I was hoping maybe one would move closer or move from behind a tree to give me a clear shot.  The minutes seemed like hours before any of them moved, and I didn’t move either because there were so many eyes looking for danger.   I never was able to get a clear shot of the two shooter bucks; my heart was still pumping hard as they slowly moved away from me.  That is what I call a close encounter.

I hunted this area of my farm several more times this year, hoping to get a second chance at the big bucks.  I saw the two shooter bucks a few days later right at dark and farther away.  Oh, well – that’s why they call it hunting and not killing!  I did harvest an eight-point buck this year with my crossbow, but he was not nearly as big as the bucks I encountered that late September evening.  I also harvested a bearded hen turkey on the first day of bow season with my trusty Hoyt compound bow, and during the KY spring turkey season, I harvested two nice longbeards.  When I look back over the year, it was a good year, after all.  What was your best encounter while hunting this year?

My First Crossbow Buck


Modern gun season has come and gone for 2020. Today is Saturday, December 5th, and I am hunting on my farm with Scott Devine; he is in pursuit of a doe, and I would love to take a buck today with my crossbow. I have passed up nine different 8 point bucks this year in hopes of harvesting a 10 or 12 pointer, which I have trail camera pics of in recent days. Scott has set up in my cabin on the south side of my food plot, where he has about a 40-yard shot to a feeder, and I am hunting on the southeast part of the farm, where I have pictures of a 12 pointer.
It’s 30 degrees and calm this morning. I can see my breath as I exhale, and I can hear a barge pushing up the Cumberland River not more than a mile away. Slowly I am starting to see the ground below me as the sun begins to rise. I can hear an owl hooting in the distance, and I know the songbirds will soon be filling the air with their songs. Then the acrobats of the trees (squirrels) will begin chasing each other through the branches.
Now it’s about 8 am, and the sun is slowly making the frost disappear from my neighbor’s hayfield. It’s a great morning to be in the woods, out in God’s creation. Nearby I heard a volley of shots from duck hunters on the river, but by late morning, neither one of us had an opportunity to make our shot – we had not even seen a deer. I began wondering if deer hibernated for the winter like bears do or traveled south for the winter like ducks and geese do.
Scott had prepared to hunt all day, but I had a couple of things I needed to do, so I checked in with him before I got down and let him know I’d be returning for the evening hunt.
It was early afternoon, and my neighbor’s dogs were taking part in a barking marathon. I texted Scott, and he was watching four does. Since he wasn’t able to harvest one today, he decided to head back home before it got dark.
After we said our goodbyes, I settled in my stand for the evening hunt. I noticed the dog barking marathon was finally over, and the woods were quiet again. Just before dark, I could hear something approaching my location in the leaves. It was a deer. As it got closer, I could see antlers. I had my crossbow aimed in the direction of the buck as he continued directly towards me. He stopped at twenty yards and looked up at me. Since he was slightly quartering away, the time was now or never to take the shot.
My heart was pumping hard, ready to jump out of my chest, when I pulled the trigger on my crossbow. The deer bolted and ran! I quickly got down and looked for my bolt and /or some blood while it was still light, but I could not find either, and now it was dark. I decided to back out and return in the morning.
After a long night, morning finally came, and I started looking for my buck. I found him within five minutes! There was no blood trail because the bolt was only sticking out of him about four inches (which is why I could not find my bolt at the scene of the crime). He is not the biggest or the smallest buck I have ever harvested, but he is my first crossbow buck! Thank you, God, for this experience.

The Peacock

All my hunts are different, but many are very similar. However, a few are very different, and one of them is this story today.
About 15 years ago, I was turkey hunting near where I lived in Paducah, Ky. I started my hunt at daylight; I had been chasing a couple of long-beards for over an hour. Finally, the gobblers had gotten quiet, and I decided to set up on the front field. I set up some decoys and called every once in a while. Decoys are like every other tool in my arsenal; sometimes they work, and sometimes they don’t.
I got the hen decoy set up, and I positioned myself just near the corner of the woods for a good 25-yard shot if the ol’ gobbler came to investigate. I had made a couple of series of calls over 45 minutes with no success when all of a sudden, a blue head appeared from the woods only 50 yards from my position.
Soon a peacock emerged, walked up to my hen decoy (Henrietta), and circled her 3 or 4 times. Then it pecked Henrietta, and she fell over; it was hard to keep from laughing. I started calling, and the peacock started toward my direction; it was searching for my calling. It came within about 5-yards of my position, stopped just to my right, jumped up on a log, and let out a woman screaming cry. I sat quietly and motionless until the peacock was gone.
I found out later that there was a business located down the road from where I was hunting called “Barnyard Buddies.” I believe the peacock had escaped from there. Now I can say that I have called up a peacock. Get out in the woods and experience whatever God sends your way. (What is your unusual hunting story?)