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It's Wild Turkey for Thanksgiving! November 2000
Dan Martinez  

Unlike most hunters, I came to the sport rather late in life. My first hunting experiences, including "big" game, came in the fall of 1992, well into my adulthood. That first big game hunting experience was for fall turkey. No, that’s not really very big, but a guy’s gotta start somewhere, and turkey is a familiar critter even to non-hunters, so it seemed like an ideal place to start.

Since that first big game hunt, I haven’t exactly been the deadliest hunter in the field, having taken only one javelina and two deer in the intervening eight years. But in that time, I think I’ve only gone one year without some sort of a turkey hunt, either fall or spring, sometimes both, failing each time to bring home a bird. Well my birdless streak has finally ended, and it turned out to be the most casual, and easiest hunt I’ve ever done.

Dale Saverud was my partner on this hunt. Previously, I had taken him on a spring hunt to MY favorite turkey spot in the White Mountains. And though we definitely got into the birds on that trip, I’m afraid we were both disappointed because neither one of us scored. So I decided that for this hunt, I would let him "drive." I was gonna let him pick the unit, and the camp spot, and I was just gonna "tag along" with whatever he decided.

He ended up choosing unit 6A, and we were drawn. Despite the unit’s popularity with many Arizona hunters, I had never hunted unit 6A before. Dale had spent some time there many years ago, but had no fresh experience. So we spoke with a number of our HSC buddies asking where they had seen birds before. We ended up going near, but not exactly to, the Coulter Ridge area recommended by Ray Cernansky.

Dale was out of vacation time, so the best he could do was get there Friday, opening day, and hunt through Sunday evening. On the other hand, I planned to take the whole week, arriving Saturday. I also planned to take along my two boys, Bennet, 9 years old, and Sam, 6 years old. I had taken each of them separately on hunts and scouting trips before, but this was going to be the first time I would have to deal with both at the same time! What Bravery! What Courage!

We found Dale at the appointed spot in the woods at around 1 PM on Saturday afternoon. He said that he had done a little investigating of the nearby tanks and that they had proved disappointing, being very nearly dry. He had seen no sign of turkeys.

Well the first task for the Martinez boys was setting up our tent, and the rest of a comfortable camp. While we were setting up, Dale told us that there must be at least two dens of songdogs in the area, as they loudly serenaded him to sleep the night before.

Late afternoon was descending quickly upon us and I was anxious to see the woods. For that first foray, Sam was assigned to Dale, and Ben and I walked in the other direction.

The fall turkey opener is a wonderful time because squirrel and duck seasons open on the same day. Dale and I had been talking about the trip for weeks before, gluttonously planning to partake of all the hunt season had to offer. The trouble is that I had to pack the truck with a week’s worth of provisions, camp comforts, and arms for two kids in addition to myself. I had to make a concerted effort to control myself, and trim the number of arms I might normally have been tempted to take.

The kids each had a Red Ryder BB gun, and a single-shot Marlin bolt action kid’s .22. For myself, I decided to take my proven tank-jumpin’ duck gun, the Beretta Essential O/U. For squirrels, my pick was the achingly beautiful Browning .22 A-Bolt, sporting a Bushnell 4-12x40 scope. I’ve inherited a 60’s vintage Anschutz sporter that’s a little more accurate, but the Browning’s beauty and feel just make my heart sing.

I had a real tough time deciding what centerfire arm to use for turkey. My first thought was to use my Savage .223 combo gun. But the whole time, I was worried what varmint round performance would do to a turkey. I didn’t want to turn a turkey into "red mist"! So I tried some of the new .22 cal. Nosler Partitions in my gun. These little pills are designed for people who just insist on big game hunting with a .22 centerfire. The big problem was, that these pills weigh 60 grains -- theoretically too heavy to stabilize in the Savage’s slow 1-in-14" twist barrel. Theory turned out to be truth for this gun, as my groups were plagued with wild flyers.

I next turned to the .243. I’ve been trying to find a big game load for that gun, using 100 grain Nosler partitions, and a matching BOSS sweet spot, since I bought the gun. I’ve got some decent varmint loads for it, but like I said, I had no interest in red-misting a turkey. When I took the .243 to the range with my latest batch of Partition loads, two rounds out of the first dozen locked up the bolt, and blew out their primers. I decided to put the .243 aside until after the fall hunts were done.

That left me in somewhat of a pickle. It was then that I decided that my gun for turkey on this trip was going to be the Magnum Research Lone Eagle single shot handgun in .260 Remington caliber. I had developed a low recoil silhouette load for this gun using an 85 grain Sierra HP, and Accurate Arms’ XMP-5744, which I thought would be a decent turkey load.

XMP-5744 is a weird powder. It’s one of only two rifle powders that I know of, that you can safely half-fill a rifle cartridge with. For the .260 Remington, a 6.5mm bullet in a .308 Winchester case, Accurate recommends as little as 20 grains of powder, and as much as 33 grains, for use with the Sierra 85 grain bullet. My load is 27.0 grains which yields a velocity out of the 14" Lone Eagle barrel of 2300 fps. This works out to be 1000 ft-lbs of muzzle energy, about the same energy as a .44 Magnum out of a long barreled hunting revolver. For reference, a full power deer load in the .260 LE would release a 120 grain bullet at around 2500 fps for a muzzle energy of almost 1700 ft-lbs.

My 85 grain Sierra load has proven itself quite accurate. At the last CF Handgun Silhouette shoot, we tried something new. For the second round of a doubleheader, we set up the long range handgun silhouette targets. That’s chickens at 50 yards, pigs at 100 yards, turkeys at 150 yards, and rams way out at 200. The Lone Eagle firing this load smoked the field, knocking down 28 of the 40 critters.

While sighting-in the Eagle for the turkey hunt, I was able to print two benchrested 3-shot groups at 100 yards under a half-inch. One came in at .460" and one at .430"!

So with the Lone Eagle tucked into the front of my web belt, and the Browning .22 A-Bolt in hand, Bennet and I set out for a late afternoon walk in the woods. Ben was toting his Marlin M15YN .22 bolt gun. We weren’t long out of camp when we spotted our first bushy-tailed, pointy-eared critter. I handed Ben two .22 rounds and let him go forward for a stalk. The further Ben creeped, the further away the hyperactive squirrel leaped. Ben finally gave it up and came back.

About 10 minutes later, a second bushytail revealed himself. Ben didn’t see him, so I knelt down and squeezed one off with the Browning. The Mini-Mag entered between his shoulder blades and exited his sternum.

As we walked over to pick him up, we noticed that we were near a cattle tank that was not shown on the topo map. Further investigation of the tank led us to a really nice ground blind, most likely constructed by archery elk hunters. We decided that it might be worthwhile to sit here and wait for darkness. Maybe some birds would come in to water.

We briskly walked back to camp, dropped off the squirrel, and picked up some hunt stools. We sat at the tank blind until dark with no further luck.

The next morning, Dale and I decided to visit a pair of tanks south of camp. We would split up again, trading boys this time. Sam and I walked down the road toward our tank, making periodic stalks on the plentiful squirrels. We reached our tank and sat for about 30 minutes, but we had an appointment at 10:00 to meet Dale and Ben on the top of the hill between our two tanks. With military precision we made the planned rendezvous with the other two boys.

Dale said he had spotted a turkey track in the mud at his tank. There was no sign at ours. We decided to head back for lunch via Dale’s tank. When we reached it, sure enough, there was a very nice 3-toed turkey foot impression in the mud. Dale said that for his last hunt of the trip, that he’d like to come and sit this tank for the evening.

We had a nice and leisurely lunch back at camp. The boys did some plinking at cans with their Daisy Red Ryders, while Dad cut some Z’s in the tent. When naptime was over, I figured that I wanted to get in on some plinking fun too. I set up an empty propane bottle, grabbed my shooting sticks, and the Lone Eagle. The propane bottle was set out at about 85 yards. I dialed the 2.5-8x Leupold scope I bought from Gerhard, up to 6x. The first shot hit and punctured it. The second hit the seam and tore a gaping exit hole. OK. Seems sighted in.

The day was getting on, so I gathered up both boys and headed off to the woods. Since this was Dale’s last hurrah on this hunt, I didn’t want to saddle him with MY kids.

I decided to head back in the direction of the tank that Ben and I had discovered the day before. But I didn’t want to sit AT the tank. The topo map told me that beyond the tank, the mountain rolled off on a downslope. I was heading for the spot where flat started turning into downslope.

As we walked along, I had to remind the boys that the great object when hunting is to turn yourself, to the extent possible, into an invisible ghost. One boy loves to talk, and the other boy drags his feet when he walks. Neither one is very ghost-like. I also told them what I wanted them to do if we came across some birds: just freeze!

The tank was only about a quarter mile from camp. We came to and passed it, and about another quarter mile later, we came to a spot where the land sloped down away from us in two directions, giving us about a 270 degree view. The trees thinned here, so we could see up to 100 yards out.

We sat down. I started digging around in my backpack for some beef jerky and passed some pieces to the kids, who were sitting on my right. I picked up my shooting sticks, and opened them up in front of me. It hadn’t been any longer than 10 minutes since we had sat down, when something caught my attention at my left periphery. I don’t know if it was a sound, or movement which alerted me. I looked to my left, and there was a flock of at least 8 birds right there!

I turned to my right and urgently whispered, "Boys! Turkeys!" I picked up the shooting sticks and pointed them leftward. With the other hand, I picked the Lone Eagle up out of the pine needles and propped it into the crotch of the shooting sticks. I fully closed the breech, and cocked the gun. A bird stepped out from behind the trees. The crosshairs found the center of the bird’s chest as it stood facing directly toward me. The sight picture was big, as I had forgotten to turn the power ring back down from the 6x setting I used when plinking propane bottles at camp. The sight picture stabilized, and the gun went off.

At the shot, the bird collapsed straight down, tried flapping its wings 3 times and expired. Upon picking up the young hen, it became evident that the shot was one of those that you hear about that kill and field dress in one action. The bullet entered the lower part of the breast and ranged straight through the center of the body cavity. The bird’s paunch had popped open, dumping the contents on the forest floor.

With great reverance, we honored the game by performing the ancient American hunting tradition of celebrating with whoops and high-fives. The greatest thing about it was the chance to have taken the bird with both boys in attendance.

Dale wasn’t as fortunate at his spot. As darkness descended, he packed up and hit the road. But for me, there were some new lessons learned. If you keep trying the same thing, or place, and it isn’t working, try something new! Also, sometimes, you just get lucky!

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