The strutting Merriam's tom had no clue I'd fooled him, as I knelt still as a stump in my makeshift blind, watching him try his best to impress my passive hen decoy. Knowing I'd have to pull off the most critical aspect of hunting turkeys with a bow—getting away with the draw—I remained patient, even though the bird was well within range.
My opportunity came when the gobbler momentarily disappeared behind a small bush, and I drew back my vintage Oneida Eagle compound bow, collapsing its signature power limbs, and centered its 20-yard pin on the bird's vitals as he emerged, broadside, on the other side.
Confident I'd soon be tagging my first bow bird, I let the string slip through my fingers and … that's when things went terribly wrong.
At first it didn't register. Why was my arrow sailing off through the treetops? And, more importantly, why was my bow a tangled mess of cables and string? The deep furrow in the ground next to my right knee provided an explanation. While concentrating on drawing the bow and releasing the arrow, I'd neglected to leave enough clearance for the bow's lower limb to clear the ground. It had driven deep into the dirt, springing the cables and sending the arrow off target. The turkey, of course, had exploded to flight in a flurry of feathers and dust. Dejected, I examined my injured bow and sadly determined my hunt was over. More than a decade would pass before I'd get another chance at tagging my first bow bird.
The Mathews Switchback I now held ready to draw was a good deal shorter and lighter than the Oneida I'd retired after my close encounter more than 10 years earlier. I'd learned a valuable lesson that morning.
Prior to this South Dakota spring turkey hunt, I'd spent hours at the archery range, shooting from my knees and off a stool until it was second nature. I was determined not to repeat the blunders that had led to a missed opportunity.
NAHC Member and hunting buddy Lance Verhulst and I were concealed in a pop-up Double Bull ground blind, talking trash to a loud-mouthed gobbler that had hung up a hundred yards or so away in a wooded hollow.
We were trying to remain optimistic, but after an hour of persistent calling it was apparent the stubborn tom wasn't going to budge. We quietly collapsed the blind and sneaked down into the woods, trying to shave off some distance without getting busted. As soon as we got settled back in, Lance stroked his box call and was immediately answered by an all too familiar gobble … from above us on the ridge where we had previously been set up! This bird was really getting under our skin.
Once again the obstinate tom held his ground, cutting Lance off every time he hit the call. Should we move on him again? Should we quit calling and hope he gets antsy and sneaks in? Should we pack it up and try to find a more cooperative bird?
We were discussing our options when a half-hearted gobble right behind our blind jolted us. I looked at Lance and he shrugged his shoulders. I held my breath as I heard footfalls to my left only 2 or 3 feet from the blind, and then spotted the lone jake as he passed in front of the blind and walked over to our makeshift decoy, the tanned hide and tail fan from a tom turkey. I drew as he quartered away and released my arrow from 17 yards. Fatally hit through the chest, the bird sprinted 30 yards before piling up.
Lance slapped me on the back, and I expelled the air I had been holding in my lungs.
As Lance and I walked over to retrieve our turkey, I thought back to that failed hunt more than a decade ago and smiled. Payback was, indeed, well worth the wait.