Colorado Turkey Hunt
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By Craig Kimble

  I've hunted turkeys with a friend at his eighty acre farm in Indiana, but this Colorado Native was ready for my first Colorado spring turkey hunt. I scheduled an unguided hunt on a 20,000acre ranch located east of Trinidad Colorado. I had done my homework, read stories about Rio Grand turkeys in the west and I was hoping for a first class hunt.

  A four-hour drive from my home brought me to a small sign on the side of the highway. The sign or should I say shingle read "Ranch House 18 miles" in hand written letters with an arrow pointing down a dirt road to the south. Two things crossed my mind; eighteen miles could put me into another state, and who has a driveway eighteen miles long? At any rate it was a beautiful day and I only had eighteen miles between me and a turkey with my name on it. I am amazed at how the landscape can change in just eighteen miles. Beginning with grass covered hills where cattle grazed and antelope watched me drive by, to an area where canyons cut deep into the earth. Pinion and juniper trees dotted the rim of the canyon where scrub oak grew in a tangled mess. The most striking thing though, was a massive mesa on the horizon that seamed to be my destination. When the road ended I found myself at an old ranch home built of smooth river stone. As I got out of my truck, a dirty flat bed ranch truck pulled up behind me.

  The grizzled rancher that stood before me looked as hard and wild as the country I had driven through to get here. His face looked like well-worn leather and his only hand, muscular and callused. Awkwardly I reached out with my left hand to shake his. "Good afternoon " he spoke with a friendly tone of voice "I'm Richard". Introducing myself I explained about the scheduled turkey hunt on his property. "I've bin expecting you," he said." I'll take you to a good place for turkeys " he explained. "Are you a walker?" Richard asked. "Sure" I replied. Walking towards his vehicle he said " Follow me and I'll guide you up the mesa, you can walk from there".

  I followed Richard's flatbed truck as we meandered along the foot of the looming mesa. He drove fast and with a purpose knowing all the ground that lay before him. A left, at the mail box, a right, at the "y", through the gully and into the trees we went. After a number of miles the rancher came to an abrupt stop. As the dust cleared, Richard half-stepped out of his truck and twisted around towards me and in a thunderous voice he said " Put it in four wheel for the rest of the way". I waved in acknowledgment and complied. The road quickly transformed from dirt to rocks the size of footballs. As the incline increased the rougher, and narrower, the trail became. Richard's break lights flashed and the next thing I knew he was walking up the road in front of his 4x4. As I pulled up closer to his truck I saw that he was opening a gate that was precariously positioned on the cliff like portion of the road. From my vantage on this narrow and unbelievably steep road, the gate looked as if it opened to the clear blue sky.

  With my faith wavering, I drove my Ford towards the sky and to my surprise the road leveled off immediately. I found myself looking across a grassy plane maybe a mile wide and quite possibly ten miles long. The lush plane was flat but was tilted slightly so that it would be uphill the whole way, one end to the other. At the far edge of the mesa I could see that the earth rose into a mound or so it seemed at that distance. Juniper and pinion trees lined the edge of the green field with only blue sky beyond. Still following Richard I drove along a tire track road that bisected the mesa. Occasionally I could see a game trail cross our meager path. Things were going smoothly when, with no warning, Richard veered off the trail and headed out across the grass. No road or discernible landmarks guided Richard as he drove towards the edge of the mesa.

  Richard finally stopped his truck and I joined him as he walked toward the edge of the mesa. The grass gave way to solid rock as I stepped to the very edge. Before me was a wonderfully beautiful box-canyon. An uncultivated and wild place to be sure. I could see a small dry creek at the bottom with pinion, juniper and scrub oak lining its banks and the surrounding area. Patches of verdant areas, no more than one or two acres apiece, were dabbed hither and thither. Just below me, maybe a mile away I could see the remnants of a run down cabin with other outbuildings in shambles around it. On the far side of the canyon a turkey buzzard glided on the thermals above the shear rock walls.

  Using the back of an old gas receipt, Richard drew a map of his property indicating particular landmarks that I should watch for. He also showed me an old cow trail that would take me from the rim to the base of the canyon. The only other instruction he had was to," watch out for mountain lions". So with a few hours left of sunlight I decided to scout the trail I would be using in the morning. By the time the sun set, I had formulated a strategy for the next mornings hunt.

  The plan this morning would be to maneuver my way down the old trail in the dark, find the edge of a meadow, and sit tight until sunrise. Hopefully a Tom would gobble at the morning light and give me the direction I needed to work. I think the strategy was sound, but I was having great difficulty implementing it. The overgrown path was hard to negotiate with just a flashlight and I nearly put my eye out with a branch. By shooting light, I was still a good distance from my planed field. I decided to sit tight where I was and see what happened over the next few minutes.

  Bingo, a Tom Turkey gobbled maybe 500 yards away. Another gobble and I had him pinpointed. Slowly I traveled in his direction being as stealthy as possible in this tangle of scrub oak. Finding an open area about 200 yards from where I herd the Tom I set up my decoy. Comfortable and hidden in the trees I made a soft call with my box call. The Tom responded immediately with a gobble that echoed off the sandstone walls. A minute or two later I called again and again he responded. This is it, I thought as my heart pounded. We exchanged calls a few more times and I was positive he was traveling in my direction. Without warning, an enormous gust of wind blew through the canyon. Waves of dust and sand crashed into my face forcing me to cover my eyes with my hands. To my surprise the sound of the wind was deafening, possibly being amplified by the high canyon walls. At any rate this natural event had put a damper on my hunt. Tom turkey didn't make another sound. I waited, not making a move, for over an hour just in case he was coming in silent. No such luck. The wind continued to blast at varying degrees all morning and afternoon. Discouraged I ascended the canyon trail back to my truck.

  I spent the remainder of the day exploring the top of the mesa. On the northern end of the mesa I found an area where turkey feathers littered the ground. The foliage in this area was very sparse, mainly short grass with a few large rocks scattered about and juniper trees dotting the landscape. But turkey feathers mean only one thing. Turkey's, and this would be the place I would hunt tomorrow.

  Using my vehicle to shield the wind, I ate dinner and sat watching the day come to a close. As unexpectedly as the wind started this morning it now stopped. The anxious feeling, caused by the wind, quickly left me and I relaxed for the first time all day. In the distance I thought I heard something. Was I hearing imaginary gobbles brought on by wishful thinking? No, I Definitely heard a gobble some where beyond the horizon. Hurriedly, I gathered my gear and, with my camouflage shirt only half on, I ran towards the sounds. According to my watch I only had forty minutes to make this hunt happen. I found a small grassy rise with several junipers clumped together on one end. Thinking, this place will work, I set up the hen decoy and pushed myself back into the trees. Using the box call I made a call as loudly as I could. The response was immediate but very distant. I called again and received another distant reply. I decided my best chance, with time running out, was to be very aggressive with the calling. So using my mouth-call and box call at the same time, I tried to sound like multiple hens. I must have succeeded that Tom was covering the ground between us fast. I continued the same calling technique, but a little softer as the turkey got closer. Getting into position I watched for that Tom to strut over the top of the rise. To my surprise, not just one Tom crested the hill but three. Unfortunately I had a problem, the turkeys had missed my decoy and come in way to my left. My shotgun was pointed in the wrong direction. I quit calling and now just sat there with my eyes about to pop out of my head. Unable to do anything, I watched the Toms move in closer. Twenty yards. Fifteen yards. I couldn't believe it; those turkeys walked right past me no more than 5 feet away and were now strutting on the other side of my tree. I could hear them drumming and beating their wings. Gradually and very quietly I moved my shotgun to the left hoping the juniper would hide my movements. It worked, but how was I going to get them back in front of me? My mouth call was still in my mouth and I decided to make a single cluck and hope for the best. Saying a little prayer to myself, I softly mouthed a single cluck. All three Toms gobbled at the same time, and with tail fans flared and heads bobbing, they started back the way they came. The last in the procession was the Tom I wanted and I waited for the others to give me enough room to shoot with out hitting all three. My opportunity finally came and I took a single shot. I had my first Colorado Rio Grande Turkey and still had five minutes remaining before the sun set.

Wow, What a Hunt!