The All-Consuming World of Turkey Hunting


A turkey-hunting blind at a private ranch off the Marshall-Petaluma road

Powell Nielsen, Reporter

It’s 4:25 in the morning, my alarm buzzes, and I leap out of bed. I rarely will wake up early for something, but the two things that do get me out of bed are hunting and fishing. It’s the opening week of the spring turkey season and I am already dreaming of getting my hands on a large bearded tom. For those of you who don’t know the first thing about hunting or the difference from a jake to a tom, let me fill you in. 

I’m at a private ranch off of the Marshall-Petaluma Road in west Marin at around 5:15 a.m. There I check in with Josh, a family friend and member of the family who owns the large property. He introduces me to his friend, an experienced hunter by the name of Mateo who hunts all over the world and goes after almost any game species imaginable. We go over a basic game plan for our early morning hunt, check our guns, then trek up to our blind which is perched atop a hill looking down on a small group of trees where some of the turkeys like to roost. 

A large portion of hunting is sitting on your ass and waiting. Mateo and I converse in hushed tones as the moon sets and the sun begins to rise. Mateo hits a few diaphragm calls that mimic a female turkey to get a shock gobble from the turkeys down the hill. 

One of the best things about turkeys is that they can’t help but respond back to a loud noise. It’s absolutely hilarious, as they give up their location by a simple car door slam, or crow call. 

Mateo has to combat the loud noises of a ranch generator, but after a few calls we get the turkeys to respond. The sun rises, and the turkeys go to the one place that was disadvantageous to us. We wait a bit to try to get them to come up to our area to no avail. 

Mateo decides the best thing to do is to switch tactics to a spot-and-stalk method. At the top of our hill, we glass for a few minutes before seeing a massive tom strutting along on the other side of the range. We run down our hill, hop into a truck, and head down the ranch road to a spot where we can intercept the tom (mature adult male turkey) and hopefully secure a kill. We stop the truck down the road and begin to crawl up the fenceline. But the truck had driven too far, alerting the turkeys to our presence. In a last-ditch effort, I attempt to rush the turkeys with my 12-gauge shotgun, but by then they are far out of range. 

Defeated, we head up to the ranch house to regroup and try a new approach. Mateo takes us hiking through the ranch land to try to intercept the first group of turkeys we saw that flew in the opposite direction of our blind. After about two hours of hiking, crawling, and glassing, we admit defeat. 

By now it’s about 10:30 and the turkeys we have not spooked have retreated into the undergrowth to feed or search for water.  We hop in a truck and drive down the road to check if we spot any turkeys on ranch land that doesn’t belong to Josh’s family. Devastatingly, we see multiple large strutting toms, a few jakes (young male turkey), and many hens. Since all of the land in this area is privately owned, we cannot make any moves on any of these turkeys. 

As we return to Josh’s ranch, we plan a second hunt for late in the afternoon and evening as Mateo heads out to set crab pots in Tomales Bay and I head to swim team practice. 

I arrive back at the ranch at 4:30 that evening and after an hour of glassing we spot a massive tom in the middle of a clearing with four or five jakes surrounding him. He’s strutting along with his red, white, and blue head just waiting to get shot. We make a quick game plan and head down to the clearing. 

Mateo and I get on our hands and knees and crawl for about 200 yards across fields, undergrowth, and streams. When we get within range, the turkeys sense the slightest movement and bust out of there. Pissed off, we return to our morning blind and in a final plan set our blind up to intercept the turkeys coming home to roost. Mateo has to cook dinner, so I sit in a blind as the sun sets and no turkeys arrive.

Finally, Mateo walks up to my blind and checks in.

“Well you earned your stripes as a turkey hunter today kid,” he says.

We finish the day over a meal of turkey kabobs, with our pride hurt and our bodies broken. However, hunting is not about the kill. It’s about the experience of hearing that shock gobble as you hold a shotgun in the bush. It’s about freezing your ass off blind early in the morning and enjoying every bit of it. It’s hiking for hours to just catch a glimpse of a crafty tom fanning his feathers in the morning light. It’s crawling over stream and briar to get in range for a magical thunder chicken. 

Those who haven’t experienced that feeling might not understand hunting. Some never will.