By Dave Wardell
I grew up in Denver and my first memories of hunting were with my dad when he took me pheasant hunting in Eastern Colorado when I was eight years old. During my growing up years, and into high school I began archery hunting for mule deer, elk, antelope, and mountain lion with a friend whose dad was a lion-bear outfitter. In fact, that leads me to the title of this article “shed hunting”. During many of my trips into the mountains hunting big game, I would find elk and deer antler sheds. Also along the waterways when waterfowl hunting, I would pick up whitetail deer antlers. But this story is really about turkey hunting from the “shed”. Wild turkey is my favorite game bird to hunt. I’ve been blessed to harvest a significant number of turkeys, and completed my Grand Slam when I killed an Osceola in Central Florida in 1996. I remember shooting my first Merriam’s turkey in Sturgis, SD in 1982. I became hooked after that trip, and I experienced beginners luck in bagging that bird, because I couldn’t call and was ignorant of wild turkey habits.
Fast forward almost 30 years to spring gobbler season 2010. This hunt turned out to be one of the most unique hunts I have ever experienced, as it unfolded in Kansas. Don Haberer, my dark goose and turkey hunting partner loaded up his pop-up trailer in Colorado, and we headed for our April turkey quest in Kansas. We had been looking forward to this trip since the end of the Colorado goose season in February. We arrived the day before the season began, and stopped at the farmer’s house and confirmed permission to hunt, as well as inquire where to find the turkey flocks on his land. He told us about the turkeys he had been seeing, and which got us even more excited about the opener the next day. We scouted the locations he had given us, and set up our pop up blind that afternoon, in anticipation of the hunt the next day.
Spring is such a great time of year to hunt turkeys because the trees are budding, the air is warm, and the tom turkeys are gobbling. When you experience that first gobble, early in the morning, your adrenaline levels spike listening to this majestic game bird. We realized we had all the components for a successful turkey hunt. We had scouted and seen birds, we had placed our blind in a wheat field where the turkeys had been feeding, we had a large pond behind our blind, and on our West was a large stand of trees where the turkeys were roosting. We couldn’t miss, could we?
We snuck into our blind in the dark opening morning, and as it started to get light over the Eastern horizon, we began calling softly. To the West in the woods a gobbler sounded off immediately. The bird continued to answer our calls, but we waited and waited for the birds to appear and come to our decoys. Nothing! After two hours of sitting, we decided to still hunt after the vanished flock. Many turkey experts say stay put no matter how long it takes, because the birds will return. I have played that game many times so we cautiously left the blind and headed into the woods after the missing flock. A short time later we heard a distant bird gobble, and the game was on again. Don and I decided it would be best to split up and see if we could relocate the birds. We decided to meet at the “shed” about a quarter mile north and just off the gravel road, around lunch time. A little before noon I crossed the road and slowly headed toward the empty cow shed. I entered the dilapidated structure, unused in many years, and looked out a back window up a draw toward a high hill top. Bingo! There was the flock with at least four strutting gobblers doing their thing a quarter mile away. Just then, Don sneaked into the shed and asked if I saw the flock up on the hill. We settled in at each end of the shed and began calling more aggressively once again. The birds’ heads came up, and the entire flock began working downhill in the draw toward the shed. We knew our time had come, and we poked our shotguns out windows at each end of the structure. I lost sight of the birds, but Don’s shotgun blast let me know they had come to his side first. I saw a big gobbler flopping in an opening and my partner said, “Shoot that jake!” I raised my shotgun and dropped the jake at about 30 yards. As we watched the remaining birds disappear, we began celebrating because we had a nice gobbler and a jake on the ground and had filled tags for two of the four bird limit in Kansas.
Don decided to still hunt to the west, so I set out my decoys west of the building in a nice green meadow. It was warm so I thought I would lay down for a quick nap, but fell fast asleep. When I awoke, later that afternoon, I stood up and peeked out at the decoys from the open window and called. Suddenly, about three hundred yards up the draw I saw two large gobblers sprinting toward my decoys. I waited until both birds went into strut in the decoys, and fired at the bird with the longest beard. The tom went down dead, while the second bird got out of Dodge. Later when we weighed the bird, he was 22 pounds, had an 11 inch beard, and over one inch sharp spurs; probably a three or four year old bird. I had tagged out with a nice gobbler and jake, and was a happy camper.
Don filled his tag the next day at another spot with a jake, so we had limited out with four Kansas birds. But, I will always remember this trip as a very special hunt from the “hunting shed”, a weathered permanent turkey blind used by cattle for protection from the weather. I often think of the farmer who built that now falling down structure, maybe 30-40 years ago, and the cattle that had been protected during harsh winter storms; and the turkey flocks that had passed by going up and down the draw to feeding fields. We truly had found a natural turkey “hot spot.” I wonder how many more seasons the shed will remain standing. That old shed reminded me of life itself. I know if the good Lord allows me to return to Kansas to hunt again in the Spring, that I will spend time calling and waiting for a big gobbler to answer and appear unexpectedly coming to my call. I know now to stay awake, be alert, and call frequently, because you never know what will appear outside of the “hunting shed”.