Today, as a follow up to A Late Spring Pursuit Part I, Justin Crawley tells how his spring gobbler hunt went after the prep he discussed in Part I.
My early spring turkey season was coming to a close with no success despite hard miles logged and good scouting for the region. A friend whom I hunt and attend law school with, Ben Burnett from Burnett Farms in Arkansas, scored a mature local bird with a 12 inch beard- all the while making my motivation deeper and more ambitious. My school semester was coming to a close, leaving eight days to remain of the spring gobbler season after my last exam. As my approaching exams brought about chaotic schedules, I used alternative means and various technologies for scouting a region I’ve never scouted before- giving hope for a vey late backcountry adventure.
With my destination and regions of interest set, I set off to hunt the remaining days of the season hard with the perfect backdrop- the back country hills of the Mount Rogers National Recreational Area. The perfect place to loose and find oneself amongst all nature has to provide. With gear and equipment set, I took off for the region arriving near to dusk. With an evening arrival- I was able to trek the short 5-mile hike into the saddle I thought would give a good home for the next few days. That evening I cooked a meal by the campfire, and glossed over maps of the regions I prepared- with high anxiety and aspirations for the following morning.
Whether it was pure excitement that resembled a child on Christmas morning- or the anxiety left over from exams- I didn’t sleep well that night. The morning came quick, as a pre-light awakening summoned a gear check and a quick dress because the morning brought about a big surprise: freezing temperatures and ice. Despite my excitement- I knew this would bring a challenge to calling the spring birds as I set out for my first map quadrant to explore. The four-mile sneak to my field of choice was welcomed with a unique glow on the horizon, and warmth for a change from the sun.
Although I was full of hopeful sign and ambitions- I still kept in the back of mind my scouting was not of typical sense- merely ideal regions on a computer screen, which gives no real life indication of actual sign. One reason I pursue backcountry adventures- is because they come with dreams and ambitions- yet have no real script for outcomes. As I closed the day with many miles logged and much calling in ideal regions, no sign of the Great Eastern Bird was revealed. Weather certainly was not helping as the temperatures continued to stay at freezing with moderate winds. The next day was a Sunday, which I used to scout the same area again ensuring my thought to move on was the correct one. The day ended with no success.
After a cold night and hours of pondering the next move on the maps, I decided to jump a little further north and hope warmer weather would come my way. In an area I’ve never scouted, calling was my biggest advantage to locating a mature bird and the weather was not helping in this regard. As I jumped north, I set up a new base camp- moving the previous after two days and two nights. I set up camp, secured water, and prepared for an evening of calling into a stand of timber I eyed on the map. The timber was very thick, which revealed no birds, no response to my calls, but allot of dear and bear sign. A spot I noted for the future.
As the next morning’s sun rose, I ventured into the territory about two miles north of my camp for the next eleven hours calling, and actively creeping through the timber looking for sign. As the day closed, the anxiety and excitement turned to desperation for a change in the weather and active birds. With food rations running low and shrinking morale, the fifth day brought the decision to exit the woods. The weather was not cooperating, no turkey nor sign revealed, and one day of season was left. As I traversed the last few miles of terrain with base camp in my pack these factors circulated my mind; I decided to make the push and leave the region- making way back West in the Commonwealth for a last-day pursuit in an area known to hold birds.
As I made the final trek out of the area, a rush of emotions hit me including both hope and disappointment. I questioned my decision to hunt this area with no previous scouting, I questioned the weather, and questioned my effort despite my sore legs and weary mind. When asking myself the reasoning for this pursuit, the endless preparation and the daylong dreams I concluded: I pursue, to immerse myself in the elements and the terrain, to deepen my connection to the backcountry and all within. One day remained for the season, and already I found myself making plans for next year’s seasonal pursuits.
~ Justin Crawley