By Wil Askew
If anything positive has come out of the past two years of "two weeks to slow the curve," it has been the ability to be outdoors, breathe fresh air, escape the city life, and…hunt.
During the spring of 2020, I hoped going things would be back to normal the following season. Not exactly sure what "normal" would be as our spring turkey season had been pushed back a month by Washington law. Fortunately, I was able to hunt in California in March. And for the first time since my days of chasing gobblers began in the mid-'90s, I couldn't purchase a license and tag for spring birds in Oregon. I could hunt with friends, which I did, but I could not hunt as a non-resident. To make it even weirder, on April 15th, I was not dressing in camo and setting up near a roost with anticipation of the fly down. Instead, I was walking along the Columbia River in Oregon. Yes, 2020 was an odd year, but the times spent afield and with others would set the wheels in motion for an EPIC 2021 turkey season.
Fast forward to March of 2021, and under perfect weather conditions, I was setting up camp in Northern California.
The backdrop was tall pines and rocky hills that held plenty of birds for myself and my hunting companions. This would be the first of my hunts which, if all worked out properly, would have me hunting five states during the spring. As I mentioned earlier, I was able to hunt in California in 2020; this came in handy as the previous years' successful hunts gave me a great lay of the land.
Opening morning found Myself and my buddy Armone walking up to a familiar fly-down area nestled in the back of a ravine. We had competition from other California locals, but experience is vital, and I knew for a fact that the competition does not hold the turkey hunting resume I've built since 1997. As the birds were harassed and pushed around by various hunters, I worked my way up a hilltop towards a tom that was anxious for some companionship. Slipping in close and with a couple of soft clucks, he stepped out to meet his potential bride, and my hunt for the day was over. One bird down and my season was off to a good start with one of 5 states checked off. The weekend provided numerous opportunities for everyone in camp, lots of shots fired.
Morning two provided more of the same action, and by 11 am, I was taking photos of my second Tom that came in on a string from hundreds of yards away.
The following state to hunt for me was Missouri.
I was flying out to meet up with my friend Rocky and hunt an area over the Mississippi River. Steeped in historical artifacts and tradition, it's an area that I enjoy.
Being a western turkey hunter, we pursue Rios and Merriam's. However, Eastern wild turkeys are on entirely another level. This was my second time back to the "Show Me" state, and with the perfect conditions, I had a feeling it would be successful. One thing for sure was how skittish eastern turkeys were. One glance, and they were GONE.
I had a couple of days to scout and explore the hunting grounds. The evening before the opener, I decided to run to town and purchase a ground blind. I love to "Run and Gun," which is to call, set up, move, move… move… set up, and stick close to the action until the shot. With the openness of the trees lacking foliage and uncertainty of the terrain, these birds had me beat. I had an area picked out where I had seen birds twice at the same time of day. The feed was good; there's a pond and lots of cover.
Opening morning, I had a plan and walked in way before light. A cacophony of bird sounds filled the air in addition to one of the most eruptive pre-fly down gobbling sessions in memory. I had a feeling it would be a good day. As the sun rose and the birds hit the ground, I knew they were preoccupied with their morning ritual of trying to impress the ladies.
I slipped out the blind and took a walk down the ridgeline that afforded me the views of the prehistoric Mississippi River. Seeing where the river cut hundreds of years ago gives it the recognition that Mark Twain wrote about. Today, it's a sliver of what it used to be. With little action, I figured my best bet was to be back in the blind about the time the turkeys would frequent that specific spot.
One thing to note about turkey hunting is they are very predictable. And this can be used in your favor.
Returning to the blind, I had text messages from Rocky and Chris, another hunter who had filled their tags below. I let out a series of soft yelps from my box call and sat tight. Five minutes later, three or four yelps, nothing exciting. Soon, a gobble and another coming closer. A couple of simple clucks and the toms were 40 yards out. My Missouri tag was filled with one shot, and I had just bagged a 25-pound deep chocolate-tailed eastern Tom. I would enjoy the rest of my time in Missouri and pick up back home in Washington to hunt my third state for the season.
April 27th, I woke early and headed up the Columbia River Gorge.
I live in Vancouver, Washington, which is very close to Portland. The joke currently is, "I live so close I can smell the courthouse burning" with the unfortunate turn of events and the powers that be, they have destroyed a once beautiful city - fingers crossed for a speedy return.
In the distant landscape of Portland, you'll find some of the best turkey hunting in the West, hands down. It's a two-hour drive from my house to the area I wanted to hunt. Klickitat county has a good abundance of birds and vertical hills and canyons, carved at around the same time as the Columbia River Gorge.
One of the most scenic places to hunt with the Arrowleaf Balsamroot. I had found an area on my map app that looked promising. In addition, whenever I drove by here during the season, I always saw hunters, a good sign. In Klickitat County, a hunter can bag two birds in a day so, it can be quite the adventure.
With darkness still concealing my entry, I worked my way up to an area I had picked on the map. It looked like an excellent place for birds to stay away from danger, assemble, and then move on. It would take me about 30 minutes of a vertical climb to get to the elevation I had picked.
After that, I could "Run and Gun" with a long ridge and get a first look at the area before me. Once I arrived at the location, the toms were waking up, and there was no shortage of sounds.
I gave a couple of soft tree yelps and immediately had a response. Setting up quickly, I faced the direction of the Tom and strained to see what was happening through the soft light of late April. It was roughly 5:30 am, and things were off to a good start. The distinct deep gobble of a Merriam Tom was getting closer, and he was HOT. Eventually, he was on top of me, and as he went behind a tree, I pointed my gun to where he would emerge and securely anchored my third bird in three states.
As the shot rang out, more Toms were advancing to my location. Spinning around the opposite side of the tree, I let out a series of exciting cuts and clucks to mask the BOOM. Two Rio Toms poked their heads up at 25 yards two minutes later. I was tagged out for Washington with a load of #5's sent downrange.
On May 6th Armone and I were heading to Idaho.
Neither of us had been, and we were going in blind to an area that someone had mentioned. So at 6:30 pm, we left Vancouver and drove until 3 am. In a wide spot of the road, we threw out cots and slept for two hours. Little did we know that the random area we chose to sleep in would be the hot spot for hunting. I had two tags and Armone one in his pocket. Immediately we found ourselves in action. The mountainous location that looked to house more elk than turkeys turned out to be ideal for turkeys.
We set up on a Tom down this small canyon, and in my wildest dreams of anything that could happen in the turkey woods, I never imagined having my set up busted by a MOOSE! As the lovesick Tom inched closer, I heard a loud crash and running. Perplexed, I stood up to see Bullwinkle herself looking right at me - no more than 100 yards away. This would be the first of three moose encounters for the following days.
Leaving this area, we ventured towards the roadside sleep shack and struck a bird. Armone motioned for me to move up as he kept him talking. I snuck into a small clearing off the side of a clear-cut logging area and set up, and he was coming. The next gobble seemed close, and as he stepped clear, we checked off the fourth state on the list. We spent the rest of the day chasing toms with close calls. The following day, I was able to fill my second tag and work a Tom and hen up through a clear-cut for Armone to pull the trigger for the first time of the trip.
We packed up and headed to Spokane, Washington, to see if we could continue the hot streak.
This area is loaded with turkeys, and I knew it wouldn't be long as I had spent a day here before the previous year when they lifted the no hunting mandate on May 5th.
At 1:30 pm of day two, Armone killed a beautiful Merriam that couldn't handle to sweet yelps and putts of the slate call I provided. One state left to wrap up the five-state Slam, so we headed to Oregon.
I honestly believe that Oregon is one of the best states to hunt turkeys. There are thousands of birds, plenty of public lands, and various terrain to pursue them. Success is good for those who put in the effort, and the adventure is endless.
I'll spare the details of the first couple of days, but I had an issue with my shotgun. This gun has been my go-to since 2004, and its barrel has seen the last breath of over 100 turkeys. Frustration was setting in, and I was at a loss for what was happening, but I stuck with the gun.
On the third morning of the hunt, I connected (luckily) with my season finishing Tom. We checked state number 5 off the list, and I felt bitter-sweet. Sad it was over, but glad I could spend some time to figure out my gun situation.
Long story short, I had lost a shim while cleaning it, and the once deadly gun was about as useful as a water bucket with a hole in the bottom. At the end of the season, I spent numerous hours fine-tuning the shotgun again.