Thursday, April 26, 2012
Gobble, gobble, gobble...red, white and blue
|When a turkey hunt all comes together it has to be one of the finest experiences in the great outdoors. Just prior to the start of turkey season this Western Outdoor News hunting editor was contacted by Chad Wiebe of Oakstone Outfitters and he said that he had just recently leased hunting rights on some additional ranches in the coastal foothills that were loaded with gobblers. To quote Wiebe, "I have more adult toms on these ranches than I have clients and I need more hunters to harvest some of these big gobblers."
WON had hunted with Wiebe over at Santa Rosa Island for trophy elk and huge mule deer and was familiar with his knowledge of wild game in addition to his being a truly fine taxidermist. Many Western Outdoor News readers are avid turkey hunters and being able to pass on a good option for a hunt this spring was in order.
An invitation to come up for a mid-week hunt with Wiebe was just too much to pass up. The hunt started out at Wiebe's taxidermy studio in Bradley, where there was an abundance of game along the drive into the old 1930s style adobe headquarters. Hundreds of dove flew across fields, the earth moved with ground squirrels and a west facing oak studded slope held a fine herd of Tule elk that included a couple of bulls that would become trophy animals by late July.
Wiebe suggested we take a drive over to turkey country to see what would be on tap for the following morning, as a storm system moved in across the coastal range. The hills were livid lush and green with small creeks beginning to flow on just about every ranch or vineyard in these coastal foothills. The first flock of turkey were spotted just a few hundred yards off an old country road where Wiebe great-grand parents had homesteaded back in the late 1800s.
As storm clouds moved in over the coastal mountains the region was alive in turkey. Many of the ranches we drove by or onto had a flock of birds. I would have to say that we saw at least 40 turkey in less than an hour of driving around and that at least one-fourth of those birds were adult toms. I had to try get a good night's sleep at ranch headquarters in anticipation of what kind of a hunt it would be in the morning!
The front moved in late at night with light showers and some wind, but still huntable conditions despite it being on the damp side. Wiebe had scouted the area and had a pretty good idea where a flock of birds were roosted and what kind of pattern they would take after fly-down.
The walk in was a little slippery to get into position and obtain some protection from the rain under the limbs of an old oak tree. No gobbles were heard as the sky started to lighten up, which was kind of odd but perhaps the rain affected the normal pre-dawn gobbling between birds.
Patiently we waited for an indication that there were birds nearby. A gobble broke complete silence that morning as the rain backed off. In soft words Wiebe spoke, "The birds are already on the ground we'll just wait them out and see what happens."
True to plan the first heads bobbed over a ridge and suddenly there were 5 hens feeding right in front of us that had appeared almost from nowhere, as they took a more protected route alongside some live oaks. Those hens just kind of poked around and then a crashing tree limb, weighted down due to rain, cracked behind us sending the hens into flight across the valley floor. Things did not look good with the hens now bunched up some 150 yards away from our setup.
Silently a dark image appeared on the ridge that separated the hens from our location...it was a big tom. Thankfully Wiebe had placed out 2 hen decoys and one jake just off to the side of our half-blind. That tom locked up on the decoys and very subtle purrs from Wiebe's friction call and strutted down the hillside. As that bird got closer it would stop to strut with a full fan, although missing part of one tail feather likely from a previous fight with another tom, but its long beard and spurs indicated that he was a shooter. Luckily for this hunter that tom didn't even notice the live hens farther up on the hill as he came directly at us. At fifteen yards it was too much to hold back and the Benelli functioned perfectly as the birds just winged off a short distance before falling to the ground.
It was all "high fives" as we walked up to that big gobbler which had rolled up into a pile of feathers. That tom had an 11-inch beard, one and one-eight inch spurs and weighed just a tad under 24-pounds, a very fine representation of a trophy class Rio Grande turkey.
The rest of the morning was spent checking out other ranches, orchards and vineyards as the sky began to darken again with rain on the way. During that scouting trip we saw another 25 birds of which many were adult 2 or 3 year old toms, a direct result of excellent hatches in this coastal region the last three years.
Oakstone Outfitters.com still has openings for the remainder of the spring turkey season for those looking to hunt a big Rio, and Wiebe will also continue guiding turkey hunters through the end of the archery season, which closes on May 20. Looking ahead to other hunts offered by Oakstone Outfitters that might be of interest to WON readers include: mourning dove hunts, quail hunting, coastal blacktail deer hunts, varmint hunting, ground squirrel plinking and the possibility of shooting a record class Tule elk. Hunts can be combined with meals and lodging and there is some pretty good largemouth bass fishing available. For those looking to have a trophy turkey or big game animal mounted Wiebe's other business Central Coast Taxidermy would be an excellent choice.
IN FULL STRUT — This gobbler is in full strut trying to impress the hens. As the season winds down, toms will be out looking for receptive hens and will likely come to a call and move in on decoys, thus becoming more huntable. These birds were photographed by Chad Wiebe of Oakstone Outfitters on one of his leased hunting properties west of Paso Robles.