Monday, February 10, 2014

CONCEPTion of Swamp City Media




Fred Jr, Fred Sr, Scott, Mark


A New Year and New Beginnings

Sheridan and Mommy
Whether you subscribe to the thought that 2014 is the year of the Horse, the lucky #7 (2+0+1+4) or its just another year, we should all agree on one thing...2013 was another blessed year that we all got to enjoy what we love, with the ones we love.  For me I couldn't ask for a better year; I knocked out a few more miles of my Appalachian Trail section hike, hunted my first Merriams turkey in South Dakota, spent a few days in the Big Horn Mountains of WY, made friends with some great people and best of all we found out that we would be new parents!  On December 29, 2013 Angela and I were gifted a beautiful baby girl, Sheridan Grace Loughery.  Man can I not wait to take her on her first back country hunt!

I was also invited to join the Outdoor team of Urban Hunting, completely humbled that they want to use my blogging to highlight their adventures.   




The  Immaculate Modest Conception

The whitetail rut has come and gone and the spring mating ritual for the wild turkey is on the horizon, just in time for the abstract idea of Swamp City Media to be born and the rejuvenation of our kindred outdoor souls that are starting to cramp with cabin fever.  
Sister Tracy, Nephew Brennan on a TN urban hunt


Scott Jr, Blake Soileau, Scott Sr. at "Honey Brake Lodge
Swamp City Media was once a concept of Scott Davis that started around 10 years ago when he began self filming his hunts.  With a season of filming under his belt, Scott decided it was time to push it a step further and produce a DVD.   Seven DVD's later, his own website, Urbanhunting.net,  and a new dimension added to his outdoor adventures, Swamp City Media is now a reality.






Rhett and Fred Perkins






To fully understand the idea of Swamp City Media you will need to follow me while I interpret Scott's philosophy on hunting.  My credentials are short but I know a humble man when I meet one and when we share the same outdoor passions my opinions are typically as accurate as a smooth bore rifle but at close range pretty darn precise.  After all, Scott and I spent a few days in the deep Alabama woods together last spring chasing turkeys and we both made it back alive (see Talladega Nights ) and if you have ever been to the central Alabama pine woods you will know there is nobody or nothing there, so getting to know each other was not an option! 

Scott contracted the hunting bug at a very young age and used this infection to earn his spending money by trapping wild animal pelts in his home territory of the Pine Hills of Central Louisiana.  His then hero, Daniel Boone, romanticized the outdoors and inspired Scott to try and split every pine within site, if it wasn't for his other passion of football, Scott may have deforested the Southern Pine with nothing more than a hatchet!

Scott and Papa Bear on the radio
In the early 90's the Davis family moved to Nashville, which was a big city by their standards.  Scott and his wife raised their three children there and what free time he could find he used it to hunt, he quickly discovered Percy Priest WMA, where he "cut his teeth" on Urban Hunting.  This WMA is nestled in Davidson and surrounding counties of middle Tennessee, a lot of which is in amongst major urban areas.  In the midst of hunting and fishing on Priest, Scott was fortunate enough to meet a few people that granted him access to their small urban parcels of land.  Urban Hunting was born and shortly thereafter his children became involved, all learning to hunt the "Urban" style.

Scott with a big 8
His roots of hunting and the outdoors are shared with memories afield with his extended family and siblings while growing up in the Cypress Swamps of the deep South,  fortunately for him he is still able to make new memories and share them with his own children.

So you see; the misconception of needing vast amounts of land or rural living to enjoy the outdoors from a hunters perspective is just that, a misconception.  The concept of Swamp City Media is simple ( Swamp- growing up in Louisiana, City- hunting in Nashville, Media- DVD and website) but the meaning is much deeper; a glimpse of how deep it goes can be seen in the ranks of God, Family and Hunting, when you meet Scott you will fully understand my perspective. 

Moving Forward

In between diaper duty I try to spend some of my free time writing and researching my next outdoor adventure, I  also take time to thank my creator for all he has given me and reflect on how blessed I am.  For instance;   just today my wife opened a new toy for Sheridan, as we tried to get her attention with the toys her focus kept shifting to the Pronghorn Antelope and Whitetail deer mounts hanging on the walls, she will either be an outdoors woman by default or grow up to be a vegan...either way I will love her to the end!  

I am excited to be invited to be a part of Scott's team and with the arrival of our new baby girl this whole year will be an adventure and hopefully Swamp City Media will be there to capture all those memories!  


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The Achoo Haiku
By T.C. Loughery
"Walking Home"

She sneezes a lot
The diaper genie is full
The turkey goobles



Tuesday, October 29, 2013

You should have seen it in color; A Wyoming Mule Deer Hunting Adventure


If a picture is worth a thousand words, then the memory is priceless 

With Photographs by Johnny Ringo

 

A light dusting of snow on the Big Horns
 
Recently I just got back from one of my favorite places on earth, Gods country, Wyoming and I was fortunate enough to share it with two good friends.  The 11th of October could not have come soon enough as this trip has essentially been in the planning stage since September 2012.  Paraphrasing my new friend; This trip is destine to be epic and the forecast is impeccable for mule deer action.  

The 1500 mile drive from Middle TN to the North-Central WY was quick, all things considered for a non-stop commute. A Cabelas pit-stop in Nebraska was a welcomed break, but it didn't stall us too long as we had plans to have camp set-up on the mountain by dusk.  

A Shroud over the Eastern slope of the Big Horn
As we crossed the border into WY, antelope appeared everywhere, giving the sense that an invisible fence prohibited them from crossing the state line.  Though a few stranglers do make their way into NE, for the most part the majority of these prairie rat's stake claim in the Cowboy state, in fact some estimates claim that more antelope inhabit WY than do people!

WY is a checkerboard landscape of high plains deserts, mountains, and basins. Driving through the least populated state gives you plenty of time and focus to notice these landscape features.

 The clear skies allow you to see changes in the distance, most notably are the mountains. The transition from prairie to mountain is certain, yet only the hand of a creator could be so ingenious to strategically place shrub covered foothills to perfectly blend the two together. Relying on this perfection the ranchers raise alfalfa and small grains in these foothills where water is available to irrigate.  Not only is food provided for our nation here but the wildlife have adapted to these modern feeds.  Driving up to our mountain camping spot we gazed at the countless wild animals that pastured in these meadows (deer, elk and antelope fed heavily) whether their internal barometer was rising or not it seemed logical as a front was moving in, predicted to dump up to 12" in the higher elevations. 


_______________________________________________________________ 


And I found out a long time ago
What a woman can do to your soul
                  - The Eagles

Camp set-up and a roaring fire fighting the frigid cold was the perfect recipe to crack open a couple local brews (and the infamous Budlight for a certain hunting partner who seems to stay close to his roots).  We discussed plans for the opener, which was two days away, and keeping the early winter weather forecast in mind.  
Though sleep was not true slumber it was much needed.  After a quick breakfast next to the fire, another check of the forecast and a discussion with some elk hunters we decided to pack up camp and head off the mountain.
Building a fire on the mountain
  Glad we did as we would later find out the area received at least 12" of snow and the road was impassable for a few days.  We confirmed this by trying to get to the top 11 days later, only to find out four-wheel drive was still needed and the snow was still too deep to hike very far in. 
After camp was packed we headed down to some BLM land around 5K feet elevation.  We had now reverted to plan B and hunt the foot hills.  The next day and a half we spent scouting the areas from the roads and looking for access points. We finally decided on hunting near camp, mainly due to its proximity and the abundance of sign.  The eve of the opener was based on my personal ritual; Moose Drool Brown Ale and mule deer steaks.  It started out outside over the fire, but more moisture decided to fall and pushed us inside the tent. 

Opening morning was a treat, the road we camped near sounded like a interstate with all the vehicles traveling on it. 
example of the canyon and rim rock country we hunted
Lukas and I sat up on a high point over looking some draws and canyons and Johnny sat up on the edge of a high ridge over a funnel.  Once day light broke the infantry sounded off, deer  literally were running everywhere, except in our direction of course. We ended up seeing a good number of deer and one nice 3x3 muley that Lukas thought really hard about shooting but he never presented a ethical shot.  Later that morning we spotted him at the top of a canyon and tried to put a stalk on him via another canyon.  By the time we scaled the steep red rock walls the deer had made their way to their afternoon beds. Johnny had seen a good number of deer as well, but the only decent bucks were whitetails. 
That afternoon we hunted in the same locations, fewer deer but optimistic for the next day. 

This would be my first trip to Wyoming without my best friend and wife.  I was nervous to say the least, not to leave her at home, but because I was afraid I would not enjoy this beautiful country as much without her.  But the bitter sweet beauty of it is is that she was at home pregnant with our first baby.  The beauty of it is is that she is pregnant, however it made me more nervous that I left her alone.  But being the independent people we are and she basically pushing me out the door to go, it quickly became an adventure I was ready to undertake.  They may not have been there physically with me but mentally they never left.  To be honest I spent more time thinking about the future years of hunting WY with my new baby girl than I did worrying about them.  

As the Eagles did I too found out what a woman can do to your soul, but luckily for me I will soon enough have two to give me that peaceful easy feeling.  
"Cause I get a peaceful easy feeling
And I know you won't let me down
'Cause I'm already standing on the ground"
                                                                                    -The Eagles
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Our pictures are black and white while our senses are manifested in a smile
Your minds sensation will perceive it in color no matter the amount of gray
                                                                                               


The second morning was the dawn of success.  Lukas and I had moved about 1/8 of a mile further in to the drainage we had hunted the day before.  The wind was bitterly cold and the morning activity was less than the day prior.  Around 8:30 we had began talking about heading back to camp to eat some breakfast and hike in to some other canyons. 
lower elevation camp
Suddenly deer began to appear out of the draws in front of us, luckily a few made their way to us.  There were a couple young bucks and doe that all appeared to be healthy.  One of the better bucks caught wind of a doe that appeared to be close to coming into heat and she was headed right in our direction.  With him in tow they passed within 100 yards and started up the canyon behind us.  We glassed for 15 more minutes and nothing else seemed to be heading our direction.  I decided to look at the deer that passed us one more time when I noticed there were three this time!  Through my binoculars I could tell the third deer was a buck and bigger than anything we had seen so far.  Lukas quickly got turned around and had his sights on the deer.  The deer was in tow of the doe as well and was headed up the canyon, luckily in the typical mule deer fashion he stopped one last time and looked back at his trail.  Lukas was able to put a good shot him and as the deer bounded toward a draw he put another shot in him.  He disappeared in the draw and we kept an eye on it for the next few minutes when Lukas decided to head that way and I stayed back to watch in case the deer was still alive and exited the draw.  


processing the first deer in camp
Within a few minutes I could see Lukas through my binoculars indicating the deer was dead.  The excitement was astounding, we had just killed our first public land muley in a 2nd choice unit of WY!  The hunt was already a success; great company, beautiful scenery, snow, and now a kill!  

I will not mislead you, I was excited that we were able to kill our first public land muley and I was also a bit nervous that we wouldn't kill anything at all, its human nature to set a goal for yourself and strive to meet that goal.  If we didn't strive for a goal then we would likely not be nervous, we would also likely be failures as well.  But the kill was only one part of my overall goal and that main goal was to have a memorable experience.  After 5 days of leaving TN we I had already achieved my goal and I was thanking God for every moment!  

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Embodied in the spirit of wildness while concealed in our own fears of freedom
Conversion to a wild heart is instinctive then the fear is suffocated 


The next day and a half was spent hunting new territory and burning about 10 more miles of boot leather, with very little luck.  One spot was littered with deer sign ( we even found a few sheds) but we later discovered that theses deer were traveling around 2 miles to a non hunted hay meadow off the plateau.  Johnny actually had his sights on a younger muley but opted not to shoot due to its close proximity to private land and the fast approaching night.  

"Good things come to those who wait"

Since Lukas had already filled his deer tag and another wave of snow had come in during the night he opted to sleep in, so Johnny and I decided to hunt together in a canyon where we had previously seen deer.  

Once again the WY wind was howling, that combined with the fresh snow fall and cold temps made for a bitter morning.
"pit stop" at Cabelas in NE
  Deer movement was slow and minimal but by 8 am or so we started to see a few deer make their way up a draw towards a canyon in front of us.  Out of shooting range but within range of the spotting scope we studied the deer.  After assuring they were all doe I began to brainstorm other areas to hike into and glass, just as my guard was letting down three deer appeared out of a draw that we had been previously glassing...it is amazing how these deer just appear and disappear.  After a few seconds of looking at them through the spotting scope it was evident one of the deer was older and his antlers were bigger than most we had seen on the public land, a shooter by our standards for sure.  

The group of three deer consisted of a doe and two bucks, the first buck (also the smallest) was leading the way and luckily for us they were headed in our direction.  The lead buck was on a mission and within a short time frame was passing our side within 80 yards.  Nervous, we patiently waited and watched the other two deer.  The larger buck was focused on the doe, like the other doe that lead the buck Lukas killed, and they were slowly making their way on the same trail as the lead buck.  The wind picked up and carried our scent directly into the lead buck, fortunately he was down in a ravine and out of sight of the other deer when he winded us.  

By this time the buck and doe were within a few hundred yards and gave us a beautiful display of rubbing sage brush with his dark rack and checking the doe for that faint whiff of estrus.  Leading the buck on a string right toward us that closed in to just under 200 yards, Johnny had a steady rest and when the buck presented the quartering shot he dropped the hammer.  The deer ran through a ravine and mid way up a knob then seemed to disappear, after finding him in the spotting scope we discovered he had laid down behind some sage.  Confident he was hit hard Johnny decided to wait it out, we spent the next half hour watching and waiting.  At one time the deer laid his head down, but as soon as we thought he had died he raised it back up.
Three people make packing a deer out a breeze
  A few minutes later he did the same thing again but this time when he raised his head back up he also raised up on all fours, Johnny quickly put another shot in him which finished him off.  

Three days into season and we already had two deer tags filled, cloud nine was nestled above us for sure.  We hiked back to camp to get Lukas so he could help us pack the deer out.  Hiking back to the kill site we told Lukas Johnny had shot a doe, I am surprised he didn't turn back around at that point (what would deer camp be without a practical joke) but as good hunting buddies do he marched on.  When we arrived at the site Lukas said, "that ain't no doe!"...Johnny had taken a nice 4x4 with brow's.  

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Euphoric in freedom now we roam
My "Walking Home" has circulated another episode  


Two tags punched, one to go and plenty of time left...this was our situation and a good one to be in.  The afternoon after Johnny killed we decided to hike up to a large ridge just South of where Johnny had hunted the first couple days of season.
heavy horse trail on a foot hills ridge line
  We spotted a few doe and couple decent bucks and as luck would have it they never left the private property.


Later that night we had a welcomed surprised, a ranchers wife stopped by the tent with a fresh mule deer lasagna!  Yes, this sounds weird and somewhat unbelievable, however it really did happen and the lasagna was delicious.  I will leave the details for another post.  

The next morning after we hunted, we packed camp and made our way north.  We had been hunting the southern portion of the mountains with good success, I just wanted to try a new area we had studied on the map and hopefully see some bigger deer.  

We arrived at our access spot sometime after lunch, the truck was packed full of our gear so Johnny and Lukas opted out of taking their packs with them.  Johnny stated that if I kill one he would tote the head out and eat snow for water, in all honesty I thought this was just going to be more of a scouting hike with hopes of putting some deer to bed and getting back after them in the morning...ever heard of the old saying, "prepare for the unexpected"?  Lets just say seeing is believing.  


Johnny and his muley
We had hiked in about 3.5 miles when we arrived at some major rock outcroppings, these things were basically cliffs in the middle of foothills.  Some of the draws leading up to the cliffs had a good stand of mature pines, so we glassed these areas.

  We spotted a few deer but we where to far off to see if any were bucks, so we hiked another 3/4 of a mile to get above them.  Once there the only deer we could spot were doe so we decided to head over another rise to glass some more before we headed back.  
Lukas and his muley


When we got to a high point we were able to glass down into a large meadow and it held a number of deer.  It was the time of day that the deer were getting out of their bed to feed before night fall and we had hit it at the right time.  

With no way to put on a stalk we decided to head around the ridge and try to get closer.  As we were skirting the wood line we bumped a deer out of its bed, this caused a few more deer hidden from our view to make their way out into another meadow.  We stopped and glassed again, this time we saw a couple really good deer and one 4x4 that was worthy of shooting (I think this was the deer we bumped because he was last in line and kept checking his back trail like something was after him).  A decision was made to make our way around the next ridge and try to cut the deer off where we thought they might go.  We didn't want to bump them, but we still had at least a good 1.5 hour of shooting light left, so worse case scenario we would put them to bed and get back after them at first light.  

Once we fell in behind the ridge for cover we started hiking fast, Johnny was about 50 yards or more behind us when Lukas and I came to a ridge top.  We slowed down to make sure we would not be sky lined by other hidden deer, as we topped the ridge we noticed two hunters glassing a draw opposite of where we were headed.  We looked North to where they were glassing and seen a group of 7 or more deer.  We backtracked a little and started to tell Johnny about the hunters and deer when he cut us off and said "I see deer in that draw".  
The 3 of us with the first 2013 WY buck

We went back to a saddle we had originally used to cross a ridge, once we arrived we could see the deer (one looked to be a shooter).  We were so focused on getting to the other deer we had seen that we completely missed these.  We came up with a game plan, Johnny and Lukas were to stay back and watch the other hunters and the deer.  I was going to put a long stalk on them to get a better look.  In case the other hunters went after these deer I would be out of their way and hopefully in the escape route of the deer in case they got spooked by the other hunters.  

I slowly made my way down a drain, keeping the wind in my face.  Once about mid way down the drain I looked back up and I could see the other hunters walking the ridge I just came off, I glassed them through my binoc's and could tell they were likely elk hunters (sheds strapped to their packs and only one appeared to have a gun) and they motioned to me that one of the deer was a 4x4, only sense I could make out of it is either they already filled there deer tags or didn't have any to begin with (we were hunting in a trophy elk unit).  

As the hunters hiked their way other the ridge, I decided it was safe to continue the stalk.  I made my way another few hundreds yards until I was closing in on the ridge above the draw the deer were bedded in.  Once I was threatened by being sky lined I began the crawl, after a 100 yard crawl I could see a group of 6 deer, all bucks!  The largest was a 3 point but was no older than 2.5, where was the larger 4x4?  The deer must have noticed me as a few stood up and the ones already standing became alert.  I decided it was now or never, so I crawled a little more over the ridge.  This time I could see down in the draw better and noticed the larger buck was about 200 yards further up the draw than the other deer. 
our version of a meat pole
At this point the smaller bucks were about to make a break for it and the larger buck was looking around trying to find what had spooked the others, after a quick look through the scope I decided he was bigger than anything I had been able to shoot yet on this trip so I squeezed a shot off.  Dead!  He did not move a inch, a perfectly quartering to me shot through the front shoulder stopped his heart instantly.  


We had all three just filled our WY mule deer tags in just 5 days of hunting, way more than we realistically expected. 

I made my way over to the deer while Johnny and Lukas began the hike down.  It was nice to have several moments alone with this deer, I was able to bask in the hunt and say a long winded prayer to the man who made it all possible.  I ended the prayer with a request to him to see we made it out safely, because the sun was setting behind the mountain and we had to get this old deer off the mountain and back to the truck, which was well over 4 miles away!
field caping

Lukas and Johnny joined me and seemed just as excited as me.  They were able to watch the whole thing unfold, except they never did see me.  Lukas was lucky enough to be looking through the spotter when I pulled the trigger, he said the deers head hit the ground before he heard the shot go off...I can only imagine how cool that was to see.  Knowing that they got to share the hunt with me made the feeling that much better, I was with each of them when they killed so it was only fitting that they were both with me.  

After a few cell phone pics and the fastest skinning and boning process ever, we began our trek back.  Johnny of course got to "tote the head out" and ate plenty of snow.  With the meat in game sacks, I put half the meat in  my pack and Lukas carried the other half, we alternated to give each other a break. Just less than a 1/2 mile after making our way back to the truck it was dark, there is no ambient light in the West, so when it's dark it is dark! 

My 4x3 plus brow's
We finally arrived back at the road close to 10 p.m., we had decided shortly into the trip we would head to town and get a hotel.  It would be our celebration and much needed, as this was day 8 with no shower!



A gift I got for Sheridan
To simply put this Johnny's way, this hunt was "EPIC", spending time in the wild doing something you love and sharing it with like company is a glorious gift.  The only way to make it any more magical would be if my wife and future baby girl were there with me.  Soon they will be though, and I must confess something...I wanted to hunt near a town I would like to one day live near, this town also helped to inspire the naming our little girl, Sheridan.  Maybe it was fate maybe not but that night we got a hotel room in Sheridan, WY and the sleep was as peaceful as any I have had.   The time Angela and I have spent together in Wyoming was strengthening and though we didn't know it at the time, it was also preparation for our future child. We cannot wait to teach her the love of the wild, we are already planning a trip to Yellowstone for her before she turns two!   

A couple days later we dropped Johnny off at the airport, Lukas and I had planned months ago to hunt a few more days longer and bought some antelope doe tags in case we killed our deer early.  Lucky for us you could say, we ended up with three antelope doe and spent a couple days driving through the mountains and soaking up some minerals in Thermopolis Hot Springs.  

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The Wild side of Color
By T.C. Loughery
"Walking Home" 


Our pictures are black and white while our senses are manifested in a smile
Your minds sensation will perceive it in color no matter the amount of gray,
Embodied in the spirit of wildness while concealed in our own fears of freedom
Conversion to a wild heart is instinctive then the fear is suffocated,
Euphoric in freedom now we roam
My "Walking Home" has circulated another episode 
 



Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Fire on the Mountain

Planning for a Mountain Merriam's Turkey hunt started in the late fall of 2012.  Myself and two other buddies had committed to head out in mid April of 2013 to the Black Hills National Forest of South Dakota.  Months of planning, excitement, and purchased tags met an ill fate on April 11th.  The Black Hills received a record snow fall of over 30" of snow!
Black Hills National Forest, SD

The Hills were now white, so these three country boys did what any other man with previously granted permission would do.  We left town anyways!

The truck was not pointed North however, we reverted to plan B and headed to Oklahoma to try our luck at some Rio Grande Turkeys on the Black Kettle WMA.  

Less than one hour on the road and we had already worked our way to the middle of the alphabet of plans.  Needless to say we drove to Las Vegas, NV!  This I will save for another post, likely titled The Hangover Redux.  "The three best friends that anyone could ever have" left a permanent impression of three Tennessee Country Boys in the Sin City. 

Now on to the story...

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

And there's fire on the mountain, lightnin' in the air
Gold in them hills and it's waitin' for me there 
-Marshall Tucker Band


Paha Sapa (Lakota, for "hills that are black") is now part of my Walking Home.  Fortunately for me, I got to share the experience with my best friend and wife, Angela.   
 
Angela at our first stop, Badlands National Park
 
I will admit, I am a very lucky and fortunate guy.  To have a wife that enjoys the outdoors and to encourage me to go out and explore is a gift, one that I truly appreciate.

Angela knew I was a little bummed out because I didn't get to go to the Black Hills in mid April, so she made a proposal "I have a few days I need to take off, so let's go out West to the Black Hills".  Before she even finished the sentence I was packing our bags!

The plan was simple; we were to leave Friday after work, drive straight thru, camp 3 nights in the tent and 2 nights in a primitive forest service cabin.  I was going to hunt the mornings and then we would explore the hills during the afternoons.  Simplistic plans make a trip like this so much more enjoyable, keenly to an exploration.

The gold in them hills is waitin' for US there...

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 
-Friday May 3rd
The path will take you there, your fear will steer you away...

The trip started a little after 3pm, motivated to make it to SD we hit the road in full force.  Other than Obama's brilliant stimulus plan,"the road to recovery", we hit very little traffic.

view of the many butte valleys in the Badlands, NP
We drove all through the night and made it to the Badlands National Park,SD around 10am.    At first glance this place is pretty "bad" but the negative-sounding name is really the only bad part about it.  The rich history this place has is extraordinary; ancient mammals like the miniature horse and saber-tooth cat once roamed hear. Explorers later introduced cattle, which proved to be a little less efficient than originally planned.  Now on this 244,000 preserve you will see bison, big horn sheep, prairie dogs, antelope and the seasonally invasive species...tourist in over-sized motor homes. 

Bison burgers and micro brewed beers at Firehouse
The Badlands have a lot to explore on foot in addition to the wonderful driving tours through the park.  We took a couple short 1-2 mile trips off the beaten path and discovered wonderfully colored buttes and valleys carved by erosion that look like a lunar landing scene from a Sci-Fi movie. 

The Badlands are a must stop for sure, but this trip was about the Black Hills.  So after a couple hours exploring we continued on our way.

A trip to South Dakota is not complete without a stop to one of the famous tourist traps in the world, Wall!  This is marketing at its best, a small failing town in the 1930's turned mega tourist stop just by advertising and capitalizing on Route 16A.

After our nickle coffee and free ice water we left Wall and made a quick trip to Cabelas in Rapid City (quick only because Angela had to lure me out) and stopped for lunch at the Firehouse Brewing Co.  After 20 plus hours of driving the medium rare bison burger and brown ale at the brewery was absolutely delicious! 

We paid our tab and headed South on Hwy 16 to Custer.  We had reserved a spot at Beaver Lake Campground, only 3.5 miles West of Custer on U.S. 16 and bordering the S.E. portion of the national forest this was a great place to stay for our first leg of the journey.   A friendly, safe, and non crowded private campground with a heated bathhouse for $22 a night.  We could have camped in the NF, but temps were getting down in the 20's at night so we opted for the warm shower over the primitive solitude. Plus, most developed forest campgrounds are still closed and primitive camping has a fire ban in place. 

After setting up camp we headed to the forest to scout out some areas and hopefully roost a turkey.  After studying google earth, I decided on focusing my efforts in the area South of Jewel Cave National Monument. 

We arrived in our area a few hours before sunset and quickly found a high ridge to park and begin hiking on.  This area is the Southern portion of the Jasper fire of 2000 that burned 83,000 acres, 64,000 which burned in the first 7 hours.  The careless arsonist devastated this beautiful area which still shows little sign of recovery, but if you study closer you will find that native grasses have reestablished.  This provides excellent habitat for the Elk, which appear to be doing great at this time.  The turkey can benefit from the new grass openings, but they are also easier prey.  With this in mind we decided to hike to the nearest tree line and scout. 
Devastation from the 2000 Jasper Fire

This portion of the forest resembles a post apocalyptic battle field at first, but the views and miraculous amounts of wildlife you see shadows that first thought.  We saw a small herd of cow elk and over 50 whitetail less than 1/2 mile in, after I saw the elk I started keeping my eyes open for sheds. 

hit hard last year with EHD, mule deer seem to be isolated to certain areas in the hills
We hiked close to 5 miles and did some locator calling with no response from a turkey, the sign was limited as well.  We decided to head back to the truck and stop on a few ridges to locate a turkey for the mornings hunt, luckily we stumbled upon an elk shed from this year.  The first day out was already a success.

On our way back we did hear 2-3 birds gobbling on a side of a mountain, bad news was it was surrounded by private ranchettes.  Accessible, but it would be a mile hike in over a mountain.  I decided against it for the first morning. 




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-Sunday May 6th
 The hills will provide solitude, she will give the love and God will provide the way...


Sleep came quick Saturday night and was much needed.  I decided to sleep in Sunday morning to energize for the rest of the week, glad I did as it was still in the low 20's at 8am when we awoke.  If you do any front country camping in cold weather I recommend a Mr. Buddy Heater, this makes cold weather camping tolerable. 
Angela relaxing by the fire

After a hearty breakfast of pancakes, bacon, eggs, and hot coffee (another benefit of front country camping) we drove into the forest.

We headed back to the area South of Jewel Cave.  We ran into some locals who were shed hunting and graciously gave me some spots to check out that might hold turkeys.  I would check them out at sunset. 

We looked over the forest map and picked a spot with very few roads, this is where we would go and hike.  The one down fall I have so far about the Black Hills in SD is the amount of roads, very few places can you find that are away from the roads.  Luckily though, the hills are over 1 million acres in size so you have lots of places to check out.

We parked at the ridge we planned to walk out on, packed a lunch and headed in to the mountains.  We hiked close to 7 miles, saw a couple turkey tracks but did not get any response to the calls.  We hiked in on a closed forest road and on the way back we bushwhacked  back to the truck.  Beautiful views all along the way, but still no turkey.  So far the hills seemed void of the gold I was after.  I wouldn't be fooled though, as I was in gorgeous country with a beautiful wife and enjoying the solitude together. 

Elk shed
As sunset neared, we headed toward the spot the locals told us about.  I hiked a little over a mile to the top of a ridge that bordered private property.  The locals had heard a bird gobbling here a week prior and claimed they usually hear them behind the private property all through this area.  The reason is a lot of landowners feed them and they don't wander too far from the private property, but usually roost in the forest.  I wasn't to fond of hunting this way, but I had yet to be able to get on a bird so I figured I would give it a shot.  At the least I would hear one gobble on roost within hearing distance of the ridge I was on and be able to make a plan for the morning. 

As the sun started to set and no turkey located, I decided to head back to the truck and hit a few other places before it got to dark.  After still not having any luck getting one to gobble we headed back to camp.  We finished the day off with grilled venison loin and a few Crow Peak IPA's from a local brewery in Spearfish, SD. 

No turkey was located the first full day, but man was it still a success.  We met some nice people (oddly enough no other turkey hunters) and hiked in some beautiful country with complete solitude. 

A.B. Donaldson, a newspaper correspondents with General George A. Custer's historic Black Hills Expedition, wrote the following:

"The lover of nature could here find his soul's delight; the invalid regain his health; the old, be rejuvenated; the weary find sweet repose and invigoration; and all who could come and spend the heated season here would find it the pleasantest summer home in America."

I say you could find your soul and be invigorated here any season.  Here is to you Mr. Donaldson, Cheers!
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-Monday May 6th

Many have come to see the king of spring, few take him home...

4:30 a.m. and I was standing on a ridge waiting to hear the woods come alive.  As the sun broke the horizon only a few song birds and few stray deer shared the woods with me, I headed back to the truck to try a few more ridges before the turkeys would fly down.  

Private property strutter
I parked on a ridge that was surrounded by larger mountains to the West and a large block of woods to the South.  I grabbed my gear and headed out to the point of the ridge, immediately I heard birds gobbling.  With the country being so large it was hard to determine where exactly they where at.  The map showed another ridge just beyond me and a large block of woods just below it.  I guessed this is where they were roosted.  I covered about 1/2 mile in 4 minutes, sweating in my wool pull over and trying to listen over my labored breathing, I was able to hear them again.  Sadly, they were still a few hundreds yards to my N.W. and a 500 foot bluff kept me from going to them from my current location.  

When I arrived back at my truck I quickly studied my map a little more.  I discovered a small private parcel in the general vicinity of the gobblers.  As I drove to the base of the bluff my fears were confirmed.  They had flown down off the bluff and were proudly strutting in private pasture.  Oh well, I still had a little over a million acres to find one.  

I covered about 30 miles in my truck after sun-up, stopping periodically on high points and ridges to call and glass the open spaces.  From what I can tell this is the method a majority of hunters do, not my cup of tea but with the amount of roads you are almost at a disadvantage if you do not opt for some version of this "road hunting" method.  Nothing like walking to the top of a ridge and discovering a road.  Road-less places do exist but turkeys are not always in there either.  
many limestone outcroppings of the hills

An observation while driving this much, so far I have not seen another hunter and I'm not sure if it is a good or bad thing yet. 

I took the long way back to camp and headed North of Jewel Cave.  After a few stops I finally got a bird to gobble.  My strategy was to hen call every two stops then coyote howl the third, this happened to be the third stop so it was a shock gobble and the tom happened to be less than a 100 yards away.  I quickly grabbed my gear and went after him, I presume since I was so close and used a predator call the bird went the other way.  I circled the pasture in case, but he seemed to have vanished.

Once back at camp we ate another delicious breakfast and made plans to head up toward Hill City and check the forest out there.  Very little of the burn hit this area, so there is still a lot of green here.  The forest is also pretty thick as well but offers some absolutely beautiful country.  There also seems to be a little more water as well, something we haven't seen a lot of lately.  

After literally 50 miles of driving, sight seeing, and calling I finally discovered some birds.  Besides the turkeys I saw in the private pasture this morning after fly down, these were the only other birds I had seen.  

The thought had been running through my mind ever since Saturday afternoon..."what if I saw one from the road, would I go after it?" I had also started feeling guilty because we had been here for over 2 days and I have been focused mainly on hunting.  Angela insured me she didn't care if I focused on hunting, she was "here to relax and enjoy the hills from a non tourist view".  

 lions are thick in the hills, they kill as many deer as hunters do
Quickly I made my decision, I was to go after this bird.  Based on two main reasons; 1.) there had not been many opportunities, one bird was on private and the other gobbled once then disappeared.  2.) I had never killed a Merriam so I was excited to see one I could actually hunt!  

I parked a few hundred yards out of sight and got a visual on the birds.  It was a hen followed by a Jake.  They were crossing a creek bottom headed to the mountain, likely making their way to roost as it was getting later in the afternoon. 

The birds were quickly making their way to the mountain across the bottom, that is where I was headed as well.  I set-up quickly and made a few soft yelps.  They seemed to pay no attention to me, so I decided to cutt.  Still no response from the Jake, but the hen seemed to notice so I made a few more soft yelps.  Whether it was me calling, my set-up, or likely the combination of the two, they made there way toward me.  
"white-tipped" King of Spring

I was really hoping for a good show from a mature tom, but I was also prepared to take an immature bird as well. He closed the distance and the rest is history.  


As I stood over my first Merriam's turkey it all hit me at once, I was blessed to share this experience with my wife in some of the most beautiful country God has blessed us with.  No, it was not the hunt I pictured when originally planning this.  It was not for the lack of trying either, as I had put in close to 15 miles of hiking in the back country and countless miles on the forest two-track roads. However, this was a trophy and for sure ranks as one of my top turkey hunts.  

It was the end of the third day and our trip was halfway over, bittersweet in a sense but tomorrow we would pack up and head deeper into the hills to finish the rest of our trip off in a remote forest service cabin on the WY border. 




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-The last leg

We are guest hear, received more than we gave...

 
 We made our way to Jewel Cave National Monument and participated in a Ranger led cave tour.  Now as the 3rd longest cave in the world, it is a sight to explore. The elevator ride DOWN to the cave is worth the trip!
6 bull Elk
After exploring the cave we made our way to the WY/SD line and then North to Summit Ridge Cabin.  This cabin is in the only forest service cabin in the Black Hills for rent.  It is primitive with solar LED lighting, wood stove, and plenty of solitude.  The cabin is eligible for listing to the National Register of Historic Places  We were to stay here for two nights. 

Once we unpacked we were anxious to get back in the forest and explore.  We decided to hike the WY/SD border and leave from the cabin. We planned a 7 mile loop, with a lunch break half way.  I grabbed my turkey calls to try and locate one, already planning for next year! 

The hike was beautiful as expected with plenty of elk, deer, and cougar signs.  This area is higher elevation and Mule deer tend to inhabit a little more than the lower elevation ranges. 

We made it back to the cabin with a few hours before sunset, so we made our way out to a point to listen for birds and watch the sunset. 
Summit Ride Lookout Cabin

Once back at the cabin we made a fire in the wood stove and began to cook dinner.  After dinner we roasted marshmallows for smores outside in the cool mountain air then climbed into our toasty sleeping bags in the historic cabin. 

We wrapped the trip up with a few more short hikes, a driving tour of the central hills and Custer State Park (we skipped Mt. Rushmore as we had already been there).  The elk, mule deer, and whitetail were plentiful.  The turkeys were still elusive, even though my tag was filled. 

Another majestic sunset and warm dinner ended the last day of our Black Hills trip and it was over, for now.  We explored off the beaten path, toured caves, and shared the solitude with local wildlife. 
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- Fools gold no more
 Now my widow she weeps by my grave
Tears flow free for her man she couldn't save
Shot down in cold blood by a gun that carried fame

All for a useless and no good worthless claim
 -Marshall Tucker Band 

The rich natural and cultural history of the Black Hills runs deep.  Cheyenne and Lakota Native Americans fought over this sacred land, later European Gold miners came after Custer's exploration.   With the gold rush famous, Western characters came to inhabit the area like Wild Bill and Calamity Jane and tales of miners murdered; "killed by Indian's beyond the high hill" as told in the Thoen Stone.  

sunset on the WY/SD border, the valley behind us is WY
This was not your typical hunting trip, it was so much more.  To spend time away from the real world with your best friend in some of Gods most beautiful country is truly a blessing.  This trip was successful in more ways than one as I describe in a Muir fashion below...

The path will take you there, your fear will steer you away
The hills will provide solitude, she will give the love and God will provide the way.
Many have come to see the king of spring, few take him home.

We are guest hear, received more than we gave. 
                                                                     -Walking Home





Monday, March 18, 2013

Under the influence; Wild Turkey and Talladega Nights

Friday March 15, 2013...

Ricky Bobby would be proud of us, topping out at 55 mph dodging pot holes and hugging the outside corners of the dirt roads in the Talladega National Forest, not because we were trying to qualify for the Sprint Cup Series but rather trying to beat the sun set so we could find our primitive camp ground and try to roost a turkey.

I was gripping the passenger's side door praying we wouldn't be involved in our own version of Nascar's infamous crash, the "Big One".  Trying to keep my mind from wondering dark thoughts of "this might be my last turkey hunt" I tried humming Jason Aldean's "Dirt Road Anthem".  That didn't work because we weren't "laid back swerving like George Jones", I quickly determined the Dukes of Hazard theme song was better suited.

Scott, my new hunting buddy, seemed the least bit concerned with the dust trail he was leaving...he was actually at home it appeared, maybe the roads he grew up driving on in Louisiana were similar or maybe deep down he wanted to be a Nascar driver?  The only time he let off the accelerator was when we topped a hill and a local woman, doing ever bit the speed we were, tested the shocks on her car by swerving to dodge us and directly impacting one of the many pot holes.
Scott said, "I think she got some air on that one".  

We shortly arrived at our camp, met a local who generously gave us some advice on starting points to locate some turkeys and we headed that direction.  If only we knew what he was thinking as we pulled off,  you see we were driving a 2013 Nissan sedan that Scott had rented that morning. His truck had to make an unexpected trip to the mechanic, so he chose the eco-friendly 4 door sedan that had about 3 inches of ground clearance and front wheel drive.  To say we were not your typical hunting party in Southern Alabama would be an understatement, next time I think we need to take a Prius.
Scott with the "eco-friendly" hunting sedan.  Lucky for us it didn't rain during our trip!

 We found our access point, it was a long leaf pine ridge that extended 1/2 mile into the heart of Talladega National Forest. As you fell off the ridge to either side you met hardwoods, most of these hardwoods started as draws that led into small creek bottom land mixed with hardwoods and oddly enough, cane thickets. Electing to abort the plan to roost a turkey, we marked the location on the GPS so we could find it in the early morning darkness the following day. 

The ridge of choice was chosen for various reasons; it had the highest elevation within a square mile of any direction, it had hardwoods that could serve as roosting locations and a food source, but most importantly it was the first location we came to and could not explore anywhere else because we had to head back and set-up camp before night fall.  Plus we did not want to get caught on these Southern Alabama back roads in a "city slicker" sedan on a Friday night, as we got back in the car Scott made a wise observation, "does this kind of remind you of Deliverance"?

After setting up camp we needed to head into town to pick up some provisions and our Alabama hunting license.  Brent, the nearest town with the necessary evil "Wal-Mart", was 25 miles north west of camp, 1/2 of the trip would be through the National Forest on the back roads.  The average man would give himself 60 minutes to get there.   

With Scott driving we made it into to town in 30 minutes, man would he make some tips delivering pizza out here. 

This is a view from the many roads we traveled via sedan, this one is in good shape
We made it to town safely, but the cotton tail rabbit and barred owl would argue differently.  Luckily we yielded for the 125 lb rottweiler, which appeared to be guarding the perfect location for a meth lab.  Out here, there seems to be nobody and what few people are here live a pretty isolated life.  Most homes were older farmsteads, hunting camps, and a couple modest ranch style homes.  However, the occasional trailer that reminds you of an episode from National Geographic's Drug, Inc would appear off in the distant pine thickets.  This rott had a purpose and he did it well. 

The trip to town was basically uneventful, that is as uneventful as a trip to Wal-Mart can be.  With our 3-day nonresident hunting license in hand, enough food and snacks to get us through two days we headed back to camp.

The drive back was safe for all of Gods woodland critters too, not one single animal fell victim to the Nissan.

We arrived back at camp to find our neighbors sound asleep and the primitive campground dark and isolate, good news as sleep should come easy.

Our camp for two days, Scott had the "penthouse" and I used my ENO doublenest hammock w/tarp (directly under the sun in this pic).  The campsite was primitive and very quite.  You could actually hunt a couple hundred acres in and around the campground, very convenient
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Saturday March 16, 2013
 
"The beauty and charm of the wilderness are his for the asking, for the edges of the wilderness lie close beside the beaten roads of the present travel." - Theodore Roosevelt

5:15 a.m. the next morning could not come soon enough, the two other hunters in camp were up and out at 5:00 a.m. , "and I thought we were excited."

We gathered our gear and made a cup of the finest instant coffee you could brew, the nourishing warm concoction did the trick of raising our internal thermostat from the night of camping in the 40 degree temps.

The Eco-Warrior Nissan was loaded and turning up dust by 6:00 a.m. and we where at the access point well in advance of our originally planned time, a benefit of camping in your hunting area.

Once we arrived and realized how much time we had to spare we tried to decipher why the other hunters left so early.  We came to two conclusions; they wanted to ensure they were the first to their spot or they went into town for breakfast, either way they were up to early for our style. 

We made our way to the highest point on the ridge that gave us our best chance of hearing an early morning gobble.  Much to our dismay that glorious gobble or "thunder roar" that signals Spring is here, did not come.  In fact we did not even hear a gobble on the distant private land, odd because the turkeys 250 miles North of us in middle TN are already strutting and gobbling.

As the minutes passed mother nature began to awake, song birds began their chorus and the most glorious part of all unwrapped...the morning sun appeared over the horizon, "Here comes the sun, and I say its alright".

 With the birds silent the first morning we had to break out the typical southern turkey hunters play book; series of hoot howls and crow caw's still did not produce the illusive gobble we so deeply wanted to hear.

We stood our ground and waited until we were confident the turkeys left the safety of their roost.  The we proceeded with the next chapter in the play book.

We methodically hiked ridge to ridge, stopping on the high points to make a series of soft yelps and purrs.  Waiting a few minutes to hear any type of response then throwing in a couple excited yelps or crow caws to trigger a shock gobble.

After we covered all the ridges within our area, we dropped down into the hardwood bottom.  We hiked deep into the heart of it and set up next to a narrow creek with flowing water, hoping what turkeys were in the area might not have been able to hear our locator calls due to the sound of the flowing water from the creek.  We set up on the edge of a forest opening and started a sequence of calls.

After 30 minutes of submissive feeding purrs and yelps things were still uneventful. With only two days to hunt, we decided we needed to get more aggressive and cover as much ground as possible. This was definitely going to be a "run and gun" type of hunt. 

First things first though, we needed to figure out where these birds have been calling home and ever since the sun rose and provided enough light to see, we did not pick up on any sign, albeit we were not to attentive either.  A decision was made that we needed to revert to the old school style of scouting and tracking methods.

A little over three miles and four hours later, the deep forest turned up nothing but a couple tracks on a fire break and one ridge with signs of scratching that probably took place more than a week ago.  The lack of sign made us re-evaluate our plans, we needed to think winter range and food source.

We headed back to the "Eco-Warrior" Nissan to regroup our thoughts and put a plan together.  After studying the map we decided to head to a large chunk of national forest land, this area was huge and would provide us with enough room to hike in deep and hopefully find some turkeys feeding on red oak acorns or any new green shoots that might be growing in the recent prescribed burn areas. 

Talladega NF is best described as rolling hills with long leaf pine ridges and hardwood bottoms.  They do a good job with prescribed burns, mast producing trees are not too dominant in the areas we hunted but where you find them you will find lots of game sign.  In 1935 over 60% of the Oakmulgee district was clear cut for Ag use, so most of the hardwood forest are young.  The above picture is a good example of the transition zones from pine to hardwoods you see in this area, in this picture no burn has been prescribed recently so it is very thick. 
We decided to drive the area first, to see if any other hunters were in the woods and to get a "feel" of the area.  Much to our surprise we only spotted one other hunter parked in the seven mile loop we made.  Even better news we discovered was that the Forest Service was conducting a prescribed burn in the Northern portion of the zone, so we banked that some of the turkeys in that area would hopefully have made their way South into the heart of this large zone.

After a quick and healthy lunch of vienna sausages, sardines, and snicker bars we headed deep into the forest.
We set our sites on a firebreak that cut 2.5 miles through a Western section of the zone.  This firebreak followed the spine of pine ridges most of the way and gave excellent access to hardwood bottoms, recent burns, and saddles that all looked like ideal turkey habitat.  We did cut a few fresh tracks on the fire break, at least we were in the right area. 

Once we got to the end of the last set of ridges that would eventually give way to hardwood slopes and the county road, we decided to fall off one of the ridges and follow a hardwood bottom back to the car, approximately three miles back to our starting point.

Once we fell off the ridge we discovered quickly we should have been down lower off the ridges the entire time.  Red and White Oak trees lined these bottoms, a recent burn had been through and provided excellent access to the remaining Red Oaks, in addition green browse was starting to sprout.

Once we finally left the pine ridges we finally found "turkey country"
About 2/3rds of the way down we stumbled upon our first group of turkeys, lucky for us we spotted them first as they were feeding.

We quickly sat down, a few moments later we could hear them purring and making a few soft yelps, all hens it appeared.  Since these were the first turkeys we had encountered and Scott was filming for a new turkey load, produced by Spectra Shoot, we decided to call and see if we could get a show.  We were also hoping deep down that a silent Tom would be in the group and we would luckily pull him in. 

After 20 minutes of calling back and forth with a boss hen we decided they had no interest in us and the turkeys quickly proved our theory.

They eventually made their way over one of the hardwood finger ridges and fed out of sight.  Scott and I regrouped and he informed me he had some good video of the birds and was pretty sure he seen two Jakes.  Puzzled why we seen no strutting or heard zero male vocalization, we still had hopes because we finally made our way into some game.

We waited a while to give the birds plenty of time to feed on.  We headed back up the ridge to try and cut them off a 1/2 mile or so in the bottom we hoped they were headed.  As we started to crest the ridge Scott motioned to stop, he had seen a turkey drop off over the crest.

Scott marked the location on the GPS and we slowly made our way back up to the pine ridge we left a 1/4 of a mile ago.

No matter if you invite him or not, Murphy will always make his way into your life.  For reason's unknown, a few of the hens circled in front of us toward the pine ridge, they were forced to come back in our direction because of a thicket that managed to avoid the recent burn.

As we started to crest one of the flats on the side of the main ridge, we busted the hens, they decided to take flight towards the bottom and when they did they spooked the rest of the birds.  Low and behold 20 or more turkeys took flight and in the middle we noticed at least one mature Tom and a couple Jakes. 

Scott climbing up out of one of the recent burns
Fortunately it was the hens that spooked the flock, so most of them took cover in trees or landed within sight in the hardwood bottom.

We quickly made our way up the ridge and out of the bottom, plans were already made to come back here in the morning.  It was 3:30 in the afternoon at this point, a few hours before roost, surely they wouldn't go too far.

The 2.5 mile hike back to the car was on the verge of gruesome, temps were in the upper 70's with the sun bright.  The hills we hiked up the way in had seemed to reverse, we were once again hiking up!

Hopefully the pork chop sandwiches planned for dinner will replenish the calories we had burned today.  According to the GPS we hiked 7.2 miles the first day, this does not include the two hours we hiked that morning while the GPS was off due to battery loss, sleep should come easy again. 

We arrived back to camp with plenty enough light to cook dinner and get a nice fire started.  We recapped the days hunt and made a game plan for our last day.

Hopes were high for the next morning's hunt and the hammock was calling my name and Scott made no qualms about calling it a night.

Lying in the hammock with a slight breeze passing through I replayed the events of our first day.

Man did we cover some absolutely beautiful ground, the Creek Indians likely used this area as a hunting ground and probably regarded it as a spiritual place.  Later, European settlers cleared the land for agriculture, to their ignorance this abusive practice lead to significant erosion and was described by some as a wasteland.  By 1935 the federal government had acquired the Oakmulgee unit and began its recovery into long leaf pine stands and hardwood bottoms. 

 Luckily, we live in a country that understands that this land is of the people, by the people, and for the people.

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Sunrise the last morning of our hunt

 Sunday March 17, 2013
"To be under the influence of pure enlightenment in the Talladega night and be in pursuit of the elusive Eastern Wild Turkey gives you a visual insight to why Ben Franklin adoured them so much.  To be in their home you understand they are American; courageous and determined." -T.C.

If Rip Van Winkle had a hammock he would have never awaken on that mountain, I am convinced.

I slept solid for several hours and when I awoke I felt like I had the energy of sleeping for 20 years, like Rip.  With temps in the lower 50's and the exhaustion from the previous days hunt, I had just experienced mother natures Ambion.  

With another cup of freshly brewed instant coffee in hand we headed to our parking spot.

As luck would have it another vehicle was there, OK by us though because the spot we marked on our GPS was accessible from another gate which turned out to be a more direct route in.


6:30 came and the only noise in the forest and surrounding areas were the droves of hunters, which sounded off with owls hoots and crow caws.  Scott thought he heard the distant tree yelps of some hens, but we could not confirm it.

My hammock and tarp sleeping system
We sat quietly on a recent burnt pine ridge to listen and take in the solace of the rising sun..."Here comes the sun, and I say its alright".

The turkeys were once again quiet, not even the hoards of hunters with their myriad of locator calls.  Even the lost Elk who migrated his way this far south buggeling could not muster up a shock gobble, I thought to myself, "this is going to be a long morning".

If you ever hunt public land you will learn one thing real quick, the majority of hunters will not stray to far from the road.  Granted, this is not a stead fast rule.  Rather it is a simple observation with some logic behind it when it comes to turkeys.  Let me summarize; most turkey hunting is a game based on sound, a male turkey gobbles and the hunter tries to mimic the sound of a hen (this has to do with the birds and the bees...blah blah blah) to lure him in close enough for a shot.  Since turkeys roost in trees and tend to gobble on the roost in the early morning hours of the Spring breeding season, hunters use this knowledge to their advantage.  Likely so, if you can hear a turkey gobble on roost before they fly down, you can use the cover of darkness to sneak in close and then try to mimic a hen to lure him in closer once he leaves his roost.  Sounds simple right?  Go try it and let me know how well it turns out for you.

With this knowledge in hand, the typical public land turkey hunter whom is trying to cover lots of ground will usually drive the perimeter roads and listen for a gobble.  If they hear this gobble they will then head off in that direction.

A recent burn, also the location we seen the first group of turkeys
I use that logic to form my own hypothesis; turkeys may be bird brains but they do still have a brain.  They are prey and in order to survive they must avoid the predator.  Therefore, I bank on the majority of turkeys to either roost far away from the roads or gobble very little, if at all.

Either way, this morning was uneventful for the road hunter and the back country hunter. 

Since it was our last day, we decided to head deeper into the forest.  Our game plan was simple, we were going to throw our entire book of game plans at them...something had to give right?  I mean, surely I still have enough primeval spirit in me to kill something to sustain myself, if not the extra snickers bar in my vest would provide enough calories to get me out and to the nearest McDonald's!

As we headed deeper in to the forest, we discovered more areas that had been recently burnt.  Mostly these were the slopes of the pine ridges, but a few of the hardwood bottoms suffered the fate as well.  I said to Scott, "these areas should provide strutting zones turkeys prefer and free up some available food".

Whether or not it provided the ideal strutting zones or not became irrelevant, we quickly discovered fresh scratching.  Turkeys had to be close, it was in the same vicinity as where Scott had heard distant yelps and the recently turned up leaves showed no signs of the morning dew, plus the smell of fresh earth was over powering.

We looked at the GPS and made a decision to make our way up over one more of the finger ridges that formed the perimeter of the bottom.  As we trekked up the ridge we spotted a hen feeding, slowly we reversed our direction.

We quickly demised our last game plan, we were confident this was the same group of birds we spotted the day before.  We knew there was at least one mature Tom and a couple Jakes in the bunch.

one of the few open hardwood slopes
Our options to set up were limited. Below us, approximately 100 yards, was a large hardwood bottom that was fairly clear, likely a strutting/feeding zone.  Behind us was a thick stand of pines and to our East was a recent burn.  Reluctantly we sat on the edge of the thicket, it provided a decent view of the bottom and a semi-clear shot of the draw that lead into the recent burn, other than that we were pretty limited.  Now all we had to do was call them our way.

After we sat up and Scott got his camera ready, we started a series of soft purrs with a few yelps thrown in.  Almost immediately the boss hen let out a couple yelps, I called back.

We played the game for 15 minutes, during this time not one single male gobbled.  At one point I thought a Jake had yelped back, but was unsure.

The birds fed nonchalantly in the bottom as we suspected and I continued to call intermittently.  This went on for another 10 minutes and much to our surprise we heard one of the Jakes gobble twice.  Things were looking brighter!

I would like to think it was the soft feeding purrs we made and subtle yelps that led them in our direction, or it could have been that we were set up on two of the three funnels that exited the bottom.  Regardless we did something right, so after a good 1/2 hour or more we finally had them in range.  Sadly though, the gobbler was nowhere to be found.  Scott did confirm two immature birds were in the flock, his safety was slid into the off position.

The first to pop over the rise was the boss hen, her sixth sense alerted her and the gig was up.  Scott had one of the birds within 20 yards, I watched as he settled his sights in on him.

The feelings of anxiety, pressure, and excitement had to form a thick cloud of emotions in the bottom.  BOOM!  The force from the 3" #6 Spectra Shot evaporated the emotional cloud and brought the reality back to the bottom.  Our first Alabama turkey was in the books!
Not the oldest bird we have ever killed, but will truly be one of the most memorable. 

We figured we put upwards of 12 miles on our boots that weekend with elevation gains easily over a 1,000'.  Hunting silent public land turkeys in territory that was virgin to us, competing against the locals who know the area well and the other out of state hunters like us, made this a truly demanding hunt.  Top that off with camping in a primitive campground and having absolutely zero experience with these elusive Alabama thunder chickens; you have the recipe for an extremely rewarding and exhilarating outdoor experience.

The Alabama Wildlife Officer, who was strangely waiting for us at our car, checked the bird and congratulated us.  He mentioned the birds in the entire county were all silent, this made us feel good about our efforts.  We have our suspicions why he was there, but we will not let the jealous local run us off.  

We were truly blessed to experience this hunt together.  Scott and I had never hunted together, so we went out on a limb and gave it a shot...no pun intended.

To experience the outdoors with someone that has similar passions is unexplainable.  I do not have many hunting partners, but those I do have are truly top notch quality individuals.

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"Unlike the Creek Indians who hunted in this sacred place, I am nomadic.  To witness first hand the miracles of God, will humble the most chesty of those who walk within his creations.  Walking home will never cease, as there is always another prey over the next crest and another sun rise to hear him roar. 
My decision to walk here was rewarded, as all hard work is.  I am reminded of the sacrifices and hard work our fore fathers endured so I can bask in their glory.  
Let us not forget the heritage of this great nation; Walking Home is... My Pursuit of Happiness"

 Myself (left) and Scott (right) with our "trophy".