I stepped from the warmth of a canvas wall tent into the darkness of a cold, calm April morning. I was in New Mexico’s Gila National Forest. There were two turkey tags in my pocket and it was my turn to hunt. It was the second day of our hunt and already there was a big, old Merriam’s tom turkey hanging in the tree next to the tent. My hunting partner had scored on the bird the day before. He took the bird with a clean head shot in the exact spot where a gobbler had gotten away the previous year. Talk about a “do over.” He had a year to think about what went wrong the first time and obviously go it right.
The canyons north of camp had been socked in with smoke from a nearby control burn. That morning was no different and the smoke lay low and thick in the valleys. I stood a little ways from camp soaking in the predawn stillness. When I could finally relax I couldn’t help but try to locate a roosted bird from camp. I pulled out my elk diaphragm call and howled on it like a coyote. I listened as the howls echoed down the draws and into the smoky canyons below. I knew the sounds could be heard for at least a mile on such a morning. After a bit a very quiet gobble came back. I howled again and this time two gobbles came back! I went back into the tent to grab my gear and let Ryan know that we had a new plan for the morning. We piled into the truck and took a road that conveniently led down the same smoky canyon the birds were in. We drove as close as we dared then hiked the rest of the way. When we finally reached where the turkeys were the GPS said that we were two miles from camp! Talk about a still morning. After we had closed the gap we were hoping for a breeze to lift some of the smoke away. The birds quieted down for a while during which I heard at least one “fly down.” They were in a small side canyon and keeping a tight lip. We sat across from them on a point tinkering with the calls and waiting for the turkeys to make the next move. It wasn’t long before they started up again and we had them on the line! I hurried to set up the “blow up” turkey decoys while Ryan set up behind me and kept them coming with the calls. The smoke was lifting a little but after three decoys I was ready to pass out. The set up looked good. The decoys could be seen for almost 100 yards in the turkeys’ direction. Ryan had the birds coming fast so I ran off to the side to try to reach a big, fallen log that I could use as my back drop. Before I reached the log I spotted a hen crossing the bottom of the canyon and coming at a run. I quickly dropped to the ground behind the big log out of sight of the hen and unfortunately out of sight of most of my shooting lanes as well. A minute behind the hen came two big toms doing their best to rock the canyon with their thundering gobbles! The hen putted past the end of my log and into the decoys. Finding no friendship there, she topped the hill to Ryan’s calls and tried to sit in his lap. That spooked her a bit and luckily she ran away from the incoming gobblers. My shotgun was trained on the end of the log. But before the toms stepped out they decided to make a stand and strut their stuff for our little smoke filled decoys. For what seemed like forever they strutted, strummed and gobbled ten yards away and just out of sight from my awkward position. Meanwhile, two more gobblers were sounding off down the main canyon. I was beginning to cramp in my bent over position. Just when I thought I couldn’t sit there any longer one of the toms peeked up over the log just four yards to the right of my barrel. Startled to see me lying there in the open so close he pulled his head back down and began to putt. “The gig’s up” I thought and I started to get up. He popped his head up again catching my movement. Down he went again even more excited than before. This time it was my shotgun that peeked over the log. I caught him making his escape at 15 yards with a clean head shot! With the recoil of the gun I pumped in another round and pulled down on the second bird. The shot would be as easy as the first. “Boom,” I said aloud while pretending to make the shot. I lowered my smoking gun and watched as the beautiful Merriam’s turkey took flight down the canyon. I still had days to hunt and was having too much fun to fill both of my tags at the same time. Ryan came down and we retrieved my big tom. He had one inch spurs and a thick 10 ½ inch beard. We retold the story to each other rejoicing in our success.
We felt like we were on a roll so we hit the calls again. We hoped to hear one of the other toms that were down the canyon. Sure enough, one of them answered our first call. We grabbed our set up and my bird and hiked 200 yards in his direction. We set up again and soon had him on the line. It was my turn to call and Ryan was out front. In no time at all the gobbler had closed the distance. I hunkered behind a small rise waiting for the report of Ryan’s shotgun. When the shot rang out I jumped to my feet to see the bird lying way down the canyon. Confused over the distance, I asked Ryan, “Did you just shoot that bird at 100 yards?” Ryan looked down at the bird and then looked back at me and said, “Yes, yes I did?” “Why didn’t you wait for the bird to come in?” I asked. He explained that the turkey had come in, in a spot where he couldn’t shoot. It had then spooked and was running away. So he led him and let fly. The shot had connected solid up the back of the big turkey and was the only shot that was needed. We latter used a range finder to determine that he had taken the bird at an amazing 83 yards. Two days latter I harvested my second tom at 60 yards. He was strutting his way into our decoys when he caught sight of a real hen turkey off to his right. He hesitated as to which way he should go. I knew my pattern at that distance was good so I introduced it to him and over backwards he went with a thud! I heard Ryan call from behind me “Did you get him?” “I smoked him” I said.
In fact the smoke from the control burn was pretty thick in that area that morning. It even had us coughing now and then. It obviously didn’t bother the turkeys though, so we put up with it. “Besides,” we joked, “Everyone likes smoked turkey”.