Backcountry Strutter

My buddy Brandon walking in for our first backcountry turkey hunt last April on Pisgah NF

Since the turkey podcast and articles are popping up, I figured I would share a turkey hunt from last April that occurred on public land here in WNC. Enjoy!

I am very fortunate to work with some cool folks across NC, but even more so for working with one of my good friends Brandon. He and I grew up together in church and back packed Yellowstone when were in highschool. The tale of how we ended up working together is pretty swell as well, but that is for another time.

At our annual meeting for work, we struck up conversation with one of our colleagues from another county, Jonathan. We started taking about some past hunts and Jonathan started reminiscing on his days at the greatest university in the world in Cullowhee, NC (GO CATS!!) and how he missed the trout fishing and the mountains in general. He started talking to us about some stories from his time at Western and how bad he just wanted to get back up there. Brandon offered up the idea of a weekend of backpacking, turkey hunting and fly fishing. All of us agreed that it sounded like a great idea. After the meeting ended and we all went back to our respective field offices, we told Jonathan that we would figure out a spot if he would let us know a date. He has 2 boys that are in their early teens/tweens and that would be a busy time of year for them.

Finding a spot wasn’t too shabby for me and Brandon. We work in a county with 50,000 + of Pisgah NF, and knew the hot spots in other counties for trout. But we were skeptical about birds on federally managed land. Not a lot of edge on the lands here, and even less ESH (Early Successional Habitat) which would make a tough hunt, even tougher. We finally settled on a spot and left one day after work to go scout where we were going. Found some deer sign, saw a few squirrels nest and no turkey sign. I think we found a feather, but cannot remember. It was a speed trip and our optimism was very minimal. But, we called Jonathan and let him know the where, as he relayed to us the when.

The day arrived and I brought in my Remington 870 12 gauge and hunting pack, newly acquired hammock, fleece blanket and other stuff for our hunt. Checked our food, water and phones and started in. We walked through some awesome deer bedding and sign as we went to the spot we had decided on through some e-scouting.

Heading in.

Total hike in didn’t take too awful long and we started getting camp set up. As we walked in, a rare thing happened; a grouse drummed the whole time. We actually bumped it a few times, but it stayed around us and drummed throughout the day. Jonathan had about a 3 hour commute, so Brandon and I did some exploring and scouting to see what we could see. After checking out our surroundings and getting dome rocks so we could build a fire ring, it occurred ot me that I needed to send Jonathan something so that he could find us. Mistake 1, I sent him our coordinates as a pin through Apple Maps. Close to us was a very large burn/salvage cut that was in approximately its 5th year of regeneration. Now, in the Southern Apps, that is thicker than a bamboo patch and one of the primary species that grows back is greenbrier. Other species that are around during this time are raspberry, blackberry and the invasive we all know and hate, multiflora rose. All this stickiness goodness was growing on that hill, and guess what? The pin I sent Jonathan was located directly at the top of this hill.

After about an hour after sending the pin, I heard clanking of pots bouncing on a pack like someone was walking down the trail. I let out a whistle and the sound didn’t stop. I whistled again and the clanking stopped and I assumed Jonathan had heard us and was headed our way. Brandon and I started building a fire ring and messing around the campsite and about another 45 minutes went by. Still no Jonathan. I walked up the hill to where I had reception and called Jonathan. He answered and sounded like he had just invaded Normandy on his own. Brandon set out up the trail hollering for him and Jonathan started making his way back down.

To do justice to what the next scene is, I must describe Jonathan. Brandon and I are of medium height and build fluctuating on the scales in the 155-165 region at about 5’9″. We have an athletic build with a little loving around the waste from our appreciation of certain red meats and craft beer. Jonathan shares those appreciations, but he has a different build. Jonathan exceeds 6′ and weighs about 200lbs or more. The amount of body fat on his body is directly proportionate to the amount of honest politicians in this world; maybe 3%. For fun, Jonathan picks up boulders in his yards and moves them around. Boulders people, flipping boulders. He follows a fairly strict work out regiment and is a freaking beast. He keeps his head shaved and has a fairly majestic beard that is reminiscent of a Tolkien novel. Generally has a very pleasure disposition, and his only fear is me. I joke, but seriously, he would never back talk me….

Brandon found Jonathan, or rather Jonathan found him. I heard Brandon give a little shout as Jonathan popped out. When they walked up, I could tell why. Jonathan had followed my pin to the top of the thickness. He was dripping in sweat, he was covered in scratches and he had just gained 500+ feet in elevation over a 1/2 mile. Brandon’s word to describe Jonathan popping out of the regeneration were along the lines of “All of a sudden I saw these 2 huge eyes and Jonathan appeared and he was covered in scratches, had some blood, dripping sweat and he wasn’t smiling. His beard and eyes were possibly the scariest thing I have ever encountered in the woods.” I could speculate that was very accurate. Lord knows I would have no desire to have that walk up on me!

After he called his wife and told her that he was safe he just looked like he had been “raped by a honey badger” we set up hammocks and started out to see fi we could roost one. We walked a bit from camp and came close to a clearing and let out a few yelps. Nothing. We waited and laid up against a bank as the sun sank over the horizon. The beauty of these mountains is indescribable, my attempt to compliment the Makers handiwork would fall short and most assuredly be blasphemous to the beauty of the landscape. I was snapped out of my trance by the sounds of wings beating. I gave a soft yelp and looked in the direction of the wings. We had found where the hens were roosting.

As we headed back to our camp, I spoke with Brandon and Jonathan about how we would get on those birds in the morning. I rambled on and on and was quieted only when Brandon gave me my Ramen Noodles. We sat there and told tales as the fire was glowing and the flames were adding to the story in a language we couldn’t speak fluently, but somehow we understood.





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