Outdoor Journal: Taking a tom in High Peaks
Three years ago, the New York State Outdoor Writers Association held its annual fall conference in Lake Placid. I limited my outdoor activities that weekend to the various types of lake and stream fishing the area offers.
October is a great time to be standing by or in any of the many trout streams or boats fishing their crystal clear lakes. Threre isn’t a more picturesque place to be during the peak of the colorful foliage season. During the day’s conference, I found out they had a growing population of wild turkeys. Lake Placid Tourism hosted dinner that evening, and I said I’d like to try hunting these high-peak gobblers in the spring.
In late January, I got an email from Sue Cameron, events and communications manager of the Lake Placid CVB/Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism, asking if I was still interested in hunting turkey in the high peaks, and if I was, what would I need. It didn’t take me long to answer that question. I told her if they could find any properties that had turkeys, all I’d need is permission to hunt. I also added if someone, or a guide, wanted to help me, that would be great.
Several weeks later, Sue contacted me and said she had talked to many of the hunters in the area, and the name that kept popping up when it comes to turkeys was Bill Moore, the Lake Placid chief of police. I also found out that Bill had taken two NYSOWA members turkey hunting during the fall conference. I thought this was great, because I’d have someone familiar with the territory and the bird’s habits and locations. In all my years of hunting, I’ve never shot a turkey north of Glens Falls, and I was going to be hunting the high peaks.
Shortly after lunch April 30, I headed for Lake Placid. I’ve always enjoyed the ride on state Route 73 from the Adirondack Northway at Exit 30 to Lake Placid village. It winds through Essex County’s Keene Valley and alongside the famous trout waters of the Ausable River.
What really surprised me was the large chunks of ice still on some of the high rock walls. I believe when the foliage along this road starts to green, it’s almost as beautiful as in the fall. I wasn’t the only one that day to stop at one of the pull-offs to take a few photos.
It was right around 3 p.m. when I passed the Olympic ski jumps that were built when Lake Placid hosted the 1980 Winter Olympics. My first stop in town was to check in with Sue Cameron, who gave me directions to The Pines Inn, where I would be spending the night. The Pines Inn is a turn-of-the-century historic inn, but with all the modern conveniences, and the proprietors, Jill and Frank Segger, were very congenial hosts.
Once settled in, I had an early dinner, and later that afternoon, I met up with Bill at his son, Sean’s, baseball game. Sean was going to join us for opening day of the turkey season, but he was one up on us. On the first day of the Youth Hunt season, Sean shot a 20-pound tom with a nine-inch beard one-inch spurs.
I set the alarm for 4:15 a.m., but I was up shortly after 3, as usual, anxious to get into the woods. It was still dark when Bill and Sean picked me up, and he said we’d start on his friend’s property. His friend had called the night before and said he heard toms gobbling out behind his house.
We parked several hundred yards from where the birds were believed to have roosted, then walked slowly down a dirt road winding through the pines, stopping occasionally to call, but got no responses. Before leaving, we set up on the edge of a field, made a few more calls, got one response, but nothing after that.
“Back to the original plan,” Bill said.
We packed up and headed for the area he’d roosted birds several times during the week. As we were driving down the road leading to the property, we saw a tom and two hens well out into a field, and on our way to turn around, we spotted at least six birds on the other side of the road, about 200 yards in along a woodline. Two were definitely toms.
We quickly parked the truck and began sneaking and peeking, using bushes and trees to cover our advance. Sean and I got within about 50 yards of where we thought the birds were feeding, and each took a spot where we could watch each side of the cover. Sean was watching the left, I the right.
Bill stayed back about 25 yards in the high brush and set out his decoy. The plan was that the tom would see the decoy and head for it, and Sean or I would intercept him.
Bill began with several soft yelps on his slate and immediately got several booming responses. This is when that chill runs up and down your spine and your finger slowly moves towards the safety as you anchor your cheek on the shotgun’s stock. I don’t care who you are or how long you’ve been hunting turkeys, when you know that tom is interested and coming, you can feel your adrenaline level beginning to rise. I know that mine rose significantly when I heard him spitting and drumming, a sure sign that he was close and coming.
Out he came on a fast trot and in full display with his big bright red head pushed back against his raised fan feathers that were glistening in the morning sunlight, and all he saw was that lovely hen decoy that was about to cost him his life. It was during this stare that I slid the safety off and placed the orange front sight on the base of his neck and squeezed the trigger.
At just 30 yards, it didn’t take long for the three-inch No. 4 copper-plated pellets of my Federal Premium Mag Shok leaving my Benelli Vince at 1,300 feet per second to reach Mr. Tom. It was quick, clean, and he never took another step. This was my seventh turkey with this gun in just as many shots. Finally, after decades of successful turkey hunting, I’d taken my first high-peaks gobbler.
But before I could move, two more gobblers announced their presence, and out of the corner of my eye I saw a lone hen walking and clucking her way past Sean. Both of us froze so as not to alert her or the toms. When the hen was out of sight, one soft yelp by Bill was all that was needed to light up those two gobblers and in they came, side by side, and walked behind my downed tom. I think the dead tom might have made them a bit nervous because they quickened their pace as Sean raised his gun. Unfortunately, he was unable to get off a good shot. All this excitement, and it was only 6:45 a.m.
We estimated my tom weighed about 18 pounds, and his full, thick beard measured 91⁄4 inches. What was interesting, and a first for me, was that he did not have any spurs.
Prior to our setting up for these birds, I hadn’t looked at our surroundings and never noticed just how picturesque a background I had for the hunt and our photo shoot. I was just about 100 yards from where we took the photos, and I could actually see the tops of the Olympic ski jumps. But most impressive were the mountains. Looking at them left to right, I could see Marcy, Skylight, Colden, Wright, Algonquin and Iroquois. If you go to my blog at: http://fishguydblog.blogspot.com/, you’ll see what I mean. Be sure to click on the photos to enlarge them and check out the snow on the tops of some of them. It’s truly beautiful country.
With several hours of legal hunting time left, there was plenty in which to get Sean a tom. Bill decided to circle the area where I’d shot my tom and see if we could come in below where the other two toms had run off into the woods.
We walked down parallel to the woodline several hundred yards away from the birds and then entered a trail that led us deep into the woods. Once inside them, Bill began a walking 50 to 75 yards, stopping to call and listening. But the toms were not talking, and after an hour, we loaded up to move to another area.
“They’ll be back,” Bill said, “and we’ll give them a try tomorrow.”
We made several other stops, but none produced sightings or responses, and we ended the day’s hunt about 11 a.m.
Back at The Pines Inn, I thanked Bill and Sean for their hospitality and for what was definitely one of my most memorable wild turkey hunts.
Thank you, Sue, Bill, Sean and the Segger’s for your hospitality.