Turkey Report: Luck is there, but sporadic on South Republican SWA
The “Gooble Obble Obble Obble!” rolled in through the front window of our Double Bull and The Shakes started on queue. We had watched two toms and two jakes follow six hens across the field for two hours. It was our third day of hunting the former Bonny Lake State Park. The birds were getting closer, strutting 75 yards in front of the blind.
“Gooble Obble Obble Obble!” They took their time, grazing on an abundance of tiny new grasshoppers all the way in. They were eyeing the decoys, inching closer but slowly. We were set up on a funnel that led to the next sunny field where they wanted to strut, and not calling. The Shakes were growing — my limbs twitched in the spastic tribal dance of the amped-up turkey hunter. I was comically helpless to stop it. If you know the magic of a turkey hunt, maybe you know this dance?
“Gooble Obble Obble Obble!” I looked at my husband, he hadn’t taken his eyes off the birds, but his body was a hundred little earthquakes ricocheting all at once. The idea of what we must have looked like — all herky-jerky and staring out of the blind like it was Christmas — threw me into fits of stifled, uncontrollable giggles. And, somehow, the birds kept coming.
There are still a few days left in the Colorado spring turkey hunting season — so if you haven’t filled your tag yet there’s plenty of daylight left to create your own adventure and see if The Shakes hit you as bad as they do us.
My husband and I have hunted turkeys in Nebraska, I doubled up last year on an amazing hunt in Kansas, we’ve chased Merriams in the foothills above Boulder, but this was our first trip to Unit 103 and the legendary South Republican State Wildlife Area. The reservoir there, at the former Bonny Lake State Park, was drained in the fall of 2011 after the Supreme Court ruled that Colorado owed the state of Kansas billions of gallons of water under the Republican River Compact, a water-rights deal established in 1942. New-growth cottonwoods and grasses now fill the dry lake bottom.
We heard reports all season that the birds just weren’t there. Friends were coming home from the notorious Bonny with nothing but stories. We were wary, but during our three days there we found the unit’s reputation as a premiere Colorado turkey destination still holds true, despite the drought conditions affecting the plains. We were into just as many birds as we’ve seen on some of our best hunting trips, although it took a day of scouting to find them. Nonetheless, the action does seem to be more sporadic than in years past.
The 100 tags Colorado Parks and Wildlife gave out for the South Republican area (Units 103, 107 and 109) cuts a large playground for hunters. Most congregate in the dips and valleys of the South Republican SWA, and we found turkeys in most corners, as well as on SWA lands to the west of Hwy. 385.
Dave Nicklos, the CPW property technician at Bonny said in the last couple weeks, there hasn’t been as much hunting pressure as he was expecting. “Hunters have been fairly well spaced out and their success has been varied,” he said. “One guy will not see much and the next guy will take a nice bird,” he said.
We expected to find good luck to the east of the old Bonny Lake dam, along the river bottoms. Our first day there yielded little turkey traffic but a grand adventure holding the padded seats of our turkey vests over our heads while waiting out a lightning and hail storm. (Those make a fine deflector for one-inch hail balls, in case you were wondering.) We found better action off both the north and south side roads that lead from the dam west to Hwy. 385.
Our hunt ended just before the last big cold snap, and it seemed to us the birds were not quite fired up. Maybe they were holding off for the bad weather to pass? Or maybe they just grow up smarter out there — during our trip they repeatedly shied away from our best calling, except while sitting on the roost, and they hung back warily from decoys. Toms were strutting nicely in fields and on the edges of cottonwood bottoms when live hens were around, but largely ignoring even our finest Dave Smith offerings.
“I’ve seen a fair number of gobblers, but I think they are still somewhat call-shy,” Nicklos said about the current conditions.
But our set up on the edge of a funnel was what ended up working perfectly. The toms sent the hens in to inspect the decoys first, then slowly cut the distance to the blind. “Gooble Obble Obble Obble!” At the edge of shotgun range, a not-so-wiley coyote showed up at the edge of the field. All parties — including us — raised our necks to see what would happen next. The Shakes continued. The toms clucked like mad. The coyote, mere inches from a fat hen, thought better of it and turned and ran. It left the turkeys uneasy and heading back into center field. I took a breath, The Shakes calmed for a few seconds, enough to let me harvested a gorgeous 4-year-old tom.
While Unit 103 is a limited unit that requires you to draw licenses to hunt (I drew it with 5 points this year), there are many over-the-counter licenses available that will let you see some late-season action hunting Rios on the Eastern Plains before the last shooting light closes the season on May 25.
Things that worked:
• Blind hunting
• Waiting for strutters to come to you with very VERY little calling
• Breeding hen decoys
• Roosting birds with predator calls
Things that didn’t:
• Cursing at the coyote
• Aggressive calling
• Spot and stalk – the birds are tuned in to trucks that stop on roads
• Walking in at shooting light. Get set up where you want to be long before shooting light. We walked in a half hour before shooting light only to find three hens already feeding in the field. Dang early birds.