Niles Canyon Ranch

       Niles Canyon Ranch

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Recent Hunts

During Oklahoma’s spring turkey season in 2004, my then 12-year old daughter Alysse, myself, and an Outdoor Oklahoma videographer, set out to film the hunt and harvest of her first longbeard.  Welcomed to the fabulous Niles Canyon Ranch, we experience a number of (mis)adventures on a season long hunt.   Three separate hunts across a month long season culminate with the harvest of a very nice mature bird, and a video that 6 years later can still be seen on occasion on one of the outdoor show channels.  The three of us created and continue to share memories that will last a lifetime.

This hunt, although it culminated on the afternoon of Tuesday 04 May 2004, began well before opening day of the 2004 season (06 April 2004).   Paul Moore, a videographer with the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation called to ask if Alysse and I would be interested in filming a turkey hunt for the Outdoor Oklahoma television show.  Of course we would!  (Little did I know at the time how apprehensive Alysse was about the whole concept…. Stay tuned…).   Alysse was 12 and had never harvested a mature gobbler, although she did enjoy hunting, fishing and all sorts of other outdoor activities. 

Our attempt began on the evening of Friday April 9th.   The truck was packed and ready to go when Alysse got home from school.  We met Paul in Oklahoma City and headed west.  That first evening we didn’t really plan to hunt much, but wanted to get an idea of where the birds were hanging out so we could set up a blind for Paul and his video equipment.  We ended up making a blind out of some camo netting and two weathered hay bales in front of us, both as a rest for the gun, as well as to help hide any movement.  We were able to hunt for about an hour that first evening, but the birds just were not responding to our call.  Two jakes came by, but Alysse was determined that she was going to harvest her first mature bird, or go home without a turkey.  The highlight of the evening was when a small buck, whose first set of antlers (at the time nothing more than two velvet covered knots between his ears) was just starting to grow, noticed our blind.  The curious deer walked up to within one step of the blind and looked us over good, almost sticking his nose into the blind with us. 

We enjoyed a good supper and visit around the campfire that evening, then climbed into the camper shell and snuggled down into our sleeping bags for a short night dreaming of gobbling and strutting longbeards.

Saturday morning we woke up to overcast skies, seasonably cool temperatures, and the ever-present springtime breeze (most would call it a wind) that can make western Oklahoma turkey hunting such a challenge.  We heard a number of birds gobbling to the north of us, but despite abundant sign that indicated we were set up at a strutting area, the birds were with hens all morning.  The sweet notes from a box call would elicit a booming gobble (or two, or three) from several birds to the north of us, but never enticed a bird away from the hens.  Due to prior commitments, the hunt had to end about 9:30 that morning, and we left with lots of good memories but no turkey.

The next time that Alysse, Paul and I could all get together was for an afternoon hunt on Thursday, April 22nd.    This evening was pleasant and warm and our hopes were high.  As we approached the area where we planned to park, we looked up to see two longbeards just to the north of us at the edge of a wheat field.  They didn’t hang around long once we stopped the vehicles, but sure lifted our spirits and made us feel certain that this would be the evening.   Wrong again.  Birds were gobbling occasionally, mostly to the north of us, but nothing ever responded to any of our calls.   Apparently the birds did hear us, however, because about an hour before shooting light ended, we noticed a mature bird strutting in (but he never gobbled)  from the north.  Everything seemed perfect and the adrenaline was flowing.  The bird got within about 30 yards, and went behind one of the biggest Bur Oak trees in western Oklahoma.  We were all in agreement that when he came out from behind the tree, Alysse would harvest her first mature tom.  Alysse was to my left, and Paul and the camera were at our back.  The bird was coming from our right, so Alysse would be the first to see the bird step from behind the tree, but she  knew not to shoot until Paul gave the signal that he had the bird in the camera viewfinder.  Suddenly, and for no apparent reason, the doomed gobbler gave an alarm “putt”, folded up shop, and left our vicinity with utmost haste and abandon.  I was frustrated and disappointed beyond measure, and I’m sure Paul was too.  Alysse seemed to be taking everything better than either of us adults.

Now is the time to re-visit Alysse’s apprehension that I mentioned earlier.  In trying to impress upon her the acuity of a wild turkey’s vision, I had suggested that a turkey could “see a gnat blink from 100 yards”.  Alysse, who is now 18, hit me with an astounding admission just last year.  One day, pretty much out of nowhere, Alysse says to me “Dad, do you remember telling me on that turkey hunt where Paul was filming me, that a turkey can see a gnat blink at 100 yards?” 

Yes, dear, of course I do.”  

“Well, I was scared of shooting at a turkey on camera, and everytime we had a turkey come up on that hunt, I was blinking my eyes like crazy so I wouldn’t have to shoot it.”

 

What can I say?  What CAN I say?  I left the ranch that night feeling certain that somehow or another the turkey had seen the camera or Paul and spooked.     Paul had been filming hunts of all kinds for 20+ years, so of course he knew what he was doing and was not the cause of the spooked bird, but I knew that both Alysse and I were well hidden, and couldn’t have possibly spooked the bird.  Looking back, however, I know that I was focused on the bird and not Alysse, and if she was blinking trying to scare the bird, she was probably also moving (whether intentional or not) and no doubt the cause of the birds unexpected and hurried departure.

 

So ended another evening hunt.

All were in agreement that we now had too much time invested in this endeavor to quit, so the date of Tuesday 04 May 2004 was selected as our final attempt to get the show wrapped (the spring season ends on 06 May each year).  The weather was hot and windy (yes windy,  even by Oklahoma standards).    We arrived at the ranch around 4:00 pm, leaving us about 3 hours to hunt.  We set up a camo burlap blind about 70 yards west of where we had been setting up before.  This was on the other side of the ranch road down which the turkeys travelled, and on which we had seen birds during the earlier hunts.  It also put the afternoon and evening sun at our backs.

We got set up and began to call every 30 minutes or so.  The late season vegetation was so thick, and it was so windy, that we probably couldn’t have heard a gobble from more than 50 – 75 yards away.   We called about every 30 minutes and listened to the wind blow while watching the blind whip around, but apparently nothing responded to the call.  About an hour into the hunt, two hens fed in from the north and we watched them feed and loaf at about 40 yards for the next 45 minutes.  Suddenly, as often happens, we something caught our attention and there he was.  A mature gobbler strutting in to the hens!   Sometimes it is just meant to happen, and this turned out to be one of those evenings.

As the bird slowly eased in from the left, Paul is following him with the camera, and Alysse is following him with the gun.  Suddenly Paul finds that the camera will no longer swivel on the tripod, and watches in desperation as the turkey slowly struts out of the frame.  As luck would have it, the handle he used to move the camera was sticking straight out behind the camera, and was against the tree where we were sitting, making it impossible to swivel the camera to the right.  Slowly Paul reaches up to loosen the wing-nut holding the handle in place.  As the wing-nut turns, the handle suddenly crashes down against the tripod with a resounding “Wham!”   The turkey, a mere 30 yards away, jerks its head up, and you can hear me mutter “What in the devil was that noise?”   Fortunately, the wind-caused noise and movement that was prevalent that day saved our bacon, because after about 20 seconds of looking around, the gobbler went right back into a strut. 

Now it is high time to get this thing ended, but Mr. Murphy and his law are still in the blind with us.  We had slits cut in the burlap to look and shoot through, but as the turkey strutted into range, he had moved out of Alysse’s view through the slit.  I whisper “shoot” and Alysse replies “But I can’t see him!”  I reached out and leaned Alysse over to the right.  “Can you see him now?”    “Yes, but the blind is covering the front sight and I can’t get the gun on him!”   With my right hand supporting the leaning Alysse, I grab a small stick with my left hand and move the burlap away from her gun barrel.  My question “Can you shoot him now?” is answered by the bark of the 20 gauge, and the hunt is finally over.  After a few nerve-settling moments trying to catch our breath and come down off a 30 minute (OK maybe a 3-4 minute) adrenaline high, Alysse proudly walks up to her first mature gobbler.  The bird tipped the scales at just a smidge under 20 pounds, and had a very thick 10 ¾” beard.  Interestingly, although obviously a mature gobbler, the spurs apparently never developed on this bird, and were pinkish white bumps about ¼” long.  Nonetheless, this bird was, and will ever remain, a trophy in the truest sense of the word, for all three of us. 

While there are numerous priceless memories of this hunt that I will cherish forever, the unquestionable pinnacle came as we were taking still pictures of Alysse, her bird and me.  Paul was snapping numerous photos from different angles and perspectives, many of which show Alysse and I on either side of the turkey and with some distance between us.  Suddenly Alysse scooted over and snuggled right up against me.  The photo that Paul then snapped will forever be special, but can in no way convey the strength of the loving bond shared between Alysse and I at that instant.

 

Russ Horton

 
   
This one could be yours this year!
 
   

     Let's go hunting! Call: +405-691-8797

     Copyright © 2010 Niles Canyon Ranch

 

 

     Let's go hunting! Call: +405-691-8797

     Copyright © 2010 Niles Canyon Ranch