No turkeys, but plenty of fun

DON MARTIN/Special to the Miner<BR>
BooBoo the bear, who was believed to have destroyed a turkey decoy and a pop-up blind, sits in “bear jail” while awaiting relocation  to  another part of the San Carlos Reservation.

DON MARTIN/Special to the Miner<BR> BooBoo the bear, who was believed to have destroyed a turkey decoy and a pop-up blind, sits in “bear jail” while awaiting relocation to another part of the San Carlos Reservation.

Hunting for gobblers in the spring is a passion of mine.

The two sounds that really get me excited in the great outdoors are: 1) a bull elk screaming out challenges to other bulls in September, and 2) hearing a big gobbler sounding off as he lets the hens know he is around and open for business in April.

It is also a time of transition for me - the end of turkey season means that fishing for stripers on Lake Mead is just around the corner.

Turkey hunting is the last big game hunt that most sportsmen will participate in for at least four months, if you're an archery deer hunter. It will be much longer if you've been lucky to draw a fall big game tag.

Hunting on public lands for turkeys in the spring is not easy.

In fact, it probably has the lowest hunt success of all of the Arizona big game hunts.

I have almost given up on drawing spring turkey tags offered by the Arizona Game and Fish Department, instead opting to pay a little more and go hunting on the San Carlos Indian Reservation.

The tribe offers an early April hunt and one the third week of April, both with 150 tags. The early hunt sells out in a few weeks. The late hunt usually has tags available until the beginning of June.

All tags are purchased over a year in advance.

Yes, it makes for a long trip. But once there, it is like being in turkey Valhalla when compared to public lands hunting.

In the last three years I have got two longbeards, and this year I should have snagged another, but it just didn't work out.

Opening day saw high winds, inclement weather and more than an inch of snow.

There were four of us in camp, and one of my friends, Kensen Lee, passed on a jake at 5:30 a.m. on opening morning. About 30 minutes later, Eric Hawkinberry called in three more gobblers and one had a 10-inch beard. Kensen bagged that bird at 30 yards.

Another friend, Don Tirpak, was sitting under a huge ponderosa pine about a half-mile away with a couple of decoys in front of him.

At daylight, nine jakes landed in his decoy spread and several of them started attacking his jake decoy. At the same time, a pair of coyotes ran in and started chasing the jakes.

Don got a little excited and fired twice at the coyotes, and all the jakes escaped.

I was with new turkey hunters Dave Bruns and his son Cole. Only Cole and I had tags. By noon on opening day, we had seen or heard five gobblers, but neither of us had got a shot.

For the next five days I would see or hear gobblers - but they seemed to be "henned up," which meant they were with hens and were unwilling to come to visit an unseen "hen" making plaintive calls.

By Monday afternoon, everyone had left camp but me. I was determined to stay until I got a gobbler, as they seemed to be everywhere.

Late Monday afternoon, I was watching a green area at the end of a lake when I noticed a longbeard.

He was more than 80 yards away when I saw him, so I grabbed my trusty AR-15 (center-fire rifles are legal on the reservation) and got into the prone shooting position.

Mr. Gobbler saw me and took off on a dead run into the trees on a hillside.

Two shots later, all I had for my efforts were two empty shell casings and a 3-inch piece off one of the gobbler's tail feathers.

Day after day I was up at 3:30 a.m. and was out in the field pursuing gobblers that I had roosted the night before.

The closest I got to a strutting gobbler was 70 yards, well out of range of the shotgun I carried while stalking through the woods.

Then, on Wednesday morning, something unusual happened.

I set up a pop-up blind and a spread of five decoys, including a very expensive Avian X hen decoy I borrowed from one of my friends.

I was sitting in the blind well before light with a bag of fresh chocolate cookies that Mrs. Tirpak had sent up, when I heard a turkey gobble a long ways off.

I decided to chase the gobble, jumped out of the blind, ran to my truck and headed off.

An hour and a half later, I came back and was surprised to see my blind tipped over and the decoys all knocked down. The most expensive of the decoys had a leg torn off and a hole eaten in the side.

The cookies had been eaten and the cookie bandit escaped through the side of the pop-up, and in doing so broke one of the supports on its way out.

I knew that woodcutters had reported a bear in the area, and that the San Carlos Game and Fish Department had set up a live trap down the road.

I decided to see if the offender might have wandered that way after the raid on my set up.

When I walked up to the trap, there he sat, all sad looking. It was BooBoo the bear, a young two-year-old who was looking at me out of the "bear jail" he was in.

I took a few pictures of him and met with the wildlife ranger later that day to tell him what happened to the decoys and pop-up blind.

I was told that BooBoo was going to be transported about 80 miles away and would be released unharmed at a place where he hopefully would not have any more human interactions.

I stayed on another day, and saw and worked gobblers. But it just didn't happen that a lonesome gobbler would investigate my calls.

Even though I came home with an unfilled tag, I had an awesome time.

I told one of my friends that the "worst day on San Carlos is better than most days on public lands" and I really believe that.

There are still about 60 spring turkey tags left for the late 2015 season on San Carlos. The tribe will sell you one over the phone.

San Carlos Wildlife can be reached at (928) 475-2343. I'll probably see you up there, as I already have my 2015 tag.