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 I Turkey Hunt

Bill Rhinehart's Hunting Diary 2005


March 26, 2005
Opening Day Nightmare.
I had planned to meet my buddy on a Wilderness Unlimited (WU) property called “Palm Ranch”. Wilderness Unlimited is an Outfitter that provides access to private land for its members. Palm Ranch is located near Coalinga in Central California. We had this hunt planned for several months and had gotten drawn for our second choice in the “WU” lottery. We were feeling very confident about our chances to score and had reservations for the entire weekend. We were ready.
I drove to the ranch and got there at about 3PM on Friday March 25th. I pitched camp and waited for my friend. He had the stove and all the cooking equipment. He didn't show up at the planned time.
At 10PM I decided to call it a day. I ate some junk food then curled up in my sleeping bag while “Visions of Gobblers danced in my head”. I fell asleep thinking he'd join me early in the morning.
Little did I know that while he was making his way up Interstate 5 and past Bakersfield, the engine in his Jeep blew up.
Considering there’s no cellular connection where the ranch is there was no way for him to notify me. His Jeep blew up about an hour and a half from the ranch.
He called his wife and she drove all the way out to pick him up. They continued on to the ranch to tell me what had happened and to make sure I didn't worry. They woke me up at 1 am.
At 9 am on opening morning, I broke camp to go help my friend. I had the tools, experience and a working truck.
I worked feverishly on it. We were able to “LIMP” the Jeep down Interstate 5 to the Grapevine. That's where I made the decision to leave it. On Monday we returned with a car dolly behind my Ford F-250 to trailer his Jeep home.
It’s funny how things work out. Maybe God planned this to happen. If I had been hunting, it would have been the FIRST time in 50 years that I would not have attended Easter Services. As it turned out, I went to church on Easter Sunday morning. There I thanked God for my blessings AND my challenges.

I had to work during week #2 of the season so I wasn’t able to go hunting.
April 9, 2005
Are we getting lost yet?
I obtained reservations to a ranch called “River Ridge”. River Ridge is another of the many parcels of land that WU manages. The WU "Lands" guy told me it was the place to be. He said that a very nice Tom was taken there during the previous week and he'd personally seen a bunch of birds there. I showed up at the ranch on Friday the 8th at about 3 PM. I had reservations for the entire weekend. I signed in and because I had a couple hours left I decided to do some scouting, glassing and calling. I noticed several trucks parked where we are not allowed and I did not see any WU stickers on them.

I headed out with my shotgun over my shoulder, my calls and my backpack. I would try and "Run and Gun". I'd hike a ways then do some calling in hopes of hearing a Tom that I might be able to get close to or maybe roost him for the next morning. What a magnificent piece of property!! It backs up to The Sequoia National Forest. The word "Beautiful" doesn’t do this ranch justice. It has the North Fork of the Tule River running right through it. The water was flowing rapidly and was as clear as a piece of glass. This place is known for its Wild Trout population and an over-abundance of Quail.
A little over a half mile from camp I came upon a bunch of people on ATV's.
(Note: ATV's are not allowed on this ranch.) I told the people that I was legally on the ranch to turkey hunt. I offered to show them my permission slip. I asked them who they were and why they were on this closed and private ranch. They told me they were police officers.They told me that this weekend the Tulare County Sheriff's office and Search and Rescue Teams would be having a training exercise here. They told me about 60 officers will be crawling through the hills as they train for the real thing. They will be using the entire ranch and the Sequoia National Forest it borders. They were to be using dogs, horses, ATV's and helicopters in their drills.These are the REAL heroes. What could I say, other than I'm glad these groups train for the real thing. The ranch owner had neglected to inform WU that the ranch was to be closed to hunting on this weekend!!

I made a 650 mile trip just to see a wild trout stream. WU compensated me very well for the mistake.
April 14, 2005
Busted in Love Valley.
I hunted on public land in San Diego County near Lake Henshaw. I hiked the 2 miles into “The Valley”. What a spectacular sight!! Love Valley was always a beautiful place but now it had two LARGE lakes in the middle of the meadow. These lakes were not there the previous year. They were loaded with ducks!! Maybe this was my clue to forget this stinking turkey garbage and stick to Ducks and Dogs. The problem is that I know Love Valley produces Toms. I set up at 5:45 and all morning I didn't hear a single gobble. I would call every ten to fifteen minutes. At 10:00 I moved my set up to another place where I've heard them many Gobblers before. Today it was deathly silent. At about 11, I was lost in a daydream. A HEN just appeared out of nowhere about 50 yards from me. As soon as I saw her, she saw me!!! I was BUSTED!!! No foul. At least it wasn’t a Tom. However I saw a bird!! I was feeling pretty good because I actually got in a full hunt! Then to frost my balls, on the way home my transmission went out. To make matters even worse, I arrived home with a rash of Poison Oak!!

I'm just about at my wits end here. This Turkey hunting is costing me a  fortune! After licking my wounds and feeling sorry for myself (about one hour) I decided to call my friend "Gen", who gave me new hope.Week #4 was out because of car troubles and repairs. Hunt #4

April 24, 2005
Slippery fun in the fog. The friend I had called on Friday the 15th was going to act as my Guide and caller in an attempt to get me a Tom. This hunt was with a seasoned Turkey Hunter, Gen Murofushi, who is an NWTF Team member for Southern California. (National Wild Turkey Federation) He was someone I met and helped out at the NWTF "Turkey Tune-Up" in April at Lake Sutherland. (Isn't it funny how being kind to someone can come back to you later? Is there a moral to this story or what?)I met Gen in a parking lot in the middle of nowhere at 4 am. It was cold, foggy and raining!! We were to hunt public land in the Cleveland National Forest near Pine Valley. He had seen two Jakes there the day before. (A Jake is a first year Tom) I told him I'd be happy with a Jake or even a "The Bearded Lady of the Circus".

Note: Only bearded Turkeys can be harvested in the spring. Some "barren" females will grow beards after they can no longer reproduce. My sister told me I “Was Hooked”! I think she’s right.We had this trip planned for over a week. It seems the weatherman threw us a curve ball because he had predicted rain on Saturday but not on Sunday. As my luck (or lack thereof) would have it, it was sunny on Saturday, raining on Sunday.I followed him into the dark onto a piece of land I've never seen before. We set up at about 5:15 AM and waited...and waited...and waited. The rain came and went and the fog was as thick as pea soup. It didn't lift until between 9:30 and 10. When I was finally able to see where we were, it was Gorgeous! What a beautiful meadow. The purples, reds and oranges of the wild flowers were simply breathtaking! Gen made a few calls but not a peep was heard from the birds. The only sounds we heard were the rain, the Owls and the song birds. We did see a Coyote. At noon we called it a day and hiked out. On the way out I slipped on a large rock. My soaked boots didn't hold traction and I took a pretty hard fall. All in all I was very happy indeed. The area was magnificent and just "Smelled of Turkeys". I had a real nice day with very good company. It reminded me of why I love to do this stuff.

After watching and listening to Gen, I now know how to do this type of hunting! It’s absolutely amazing how much I learned from him in one day!! I came down with a spring cold from the soaking and I was badly bruised but not broken.
Hunt #5
April 26, 2005
Gobbles and a close encounter. I went back to San Diego to another spot near Lake Henshaw on April 26th. Gen had recommended that I try this place. He was well aware of it and knows it produces every year. When I first got there, I parked in an illegal area. When I backed up to relocate the car, I hit a rock and damaged the paint job!! I was going to hunt an area where there is a ten foot "easement" into the forest through private Valley Water District land. This place is patrolled constantly and without knowing EXACTLY where that easement is, you can get yourself a thousand dollar fine for trespassing! I was shown the EXACT location (with Game Wardens present) and am VERY reluctant to share this "Honey Hole". Several people who know about it but who are not EXACTLY sure where it is, are reluctant to try because the wardens are tough. I have the GPS coordinates!! Very few people know where this is and it's almost like hunting private land. During the 3 times I've hunted it I've only seen one other person!  I got to the correct parking spot at 4:15 and was in the forest and set up by 5. I set up near the boundary between Private Property and National Forest. I was overlooking a nice green meadow.

I could hear dogs barking in the distance and trucks moving along the highway. At sunup the forest came alive with song!! The wild flowers were in full bloom and before me was a carpet of delicate purple flowers that were something to see! It was a lovely spring morning with just a little fog. Drake Mallards were chasing the hens all over the sky and the hens were making quite a racket. The Hummingbirds are not like any I’ve seen in the city. The mosses and lichens gave the appearance of a Primordial Forest. About 400 yards away, out walked a HUGE Gobbler! I yelped to him, he looked my way and walked back into the thicket! He was BIG! I never saw him again. At 10:20 all hell broke loose. The Gobblers were all around me!!! It was AWESOME listening to all the Toms making noise. I figure there were at least 6 different Toms that were Gobbling. They made thunder. Unfortunately, they were all on private property!! It was my job to get one to come to me.
There was one noisy Gobbler that kept gobbling on the other side of the tree line. He was on private property. I estimate he was about 200 yards away at his closest point. He just walked back and forth on the other side of that hill and gobbled every 5 minutes or when someone would shoot a gun in the distance. He also gobbled to a dog howling. Oh, how I wish I could have ambushed him. He knew where it was safe!! At about 11:30 I happened to look up and saw a head pop up over the rise and over the grasses about 50 yards away. It was a Turkey!! I was in complete shock!
The top of the bird's head was all I could see and as it put its head down to feed, I'd move. Trying not to move, or doing so real slowly, I raised my Winchester and waited. I quietly took the safety off. The flies were crawling all over my face and glasses. My shotgun was pointed as the bird walked towards me. Eventually the bird was in full view and I didn’t move an inch. At about 25-30 feet away it was apparent that it was a HEN! No beard, no barbeque! That hen got so close to me that I could clearly hear her quietly cluck-purring as she happily went about her business. I'm quite sure she was heading to her nest. The sound was totally cool! Words can't describe the cooing sound her purr made. She was so quiet. She was so content!! Even a green rookie like me could tell she was a very happy girl. That cluck-purr is a soothing sound indeed. It was soothing, calming, gentle, sweet and soft. That sound rapidly calmed me down after my heart was thumping while thinking it was a Tom.
It was worth the trip just to hear it. At 2:00 I picked up, hiked out and headed home. I made it out of the forest and all the way home without further incident!
Hunt #6
Lucky #13 or “3rd Times a Charm”.

After my last trip to Henshaw and after having that hen come right up to me without getting “busted”, I couldn’t sleep. I lost my appetite. I wasn’t even interested in drinking beer. All I could think of, dream of, imagine or hear was Gobblers! I’d hear a Rooster Crow and I’d think Gobbler. I’d hear the song birds on my property and think Gobbler. I’d hear the neighbors Peacocks and think Gobbler. The only thing I could watch on TV was NWTF’s Wild Turkey Video. Nothing else could ease my addiction!! I was “A Hurtin’ Unit”. My sister was absolutely correct. I AM hooked!! I have a “Jones”. It’s even worse that the drugs I took in my teens. I could get away from those, and did, but this stuff had taken control of my very being. I decided to “Pull Out All The Stops”. With one more weekend left and the 2004/2005 season nearly over, I knew what I HAD TO DO! “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead”!! I called Frank Morasci who runs “Mustang Guide Service” out of King City California. Frank is a renowned “Hog Hunter” and Licensed Guide. He told me quite honestly that he couldn’t guarantee anything. He said that he and his “Guys” knew where the birds were roosting. He said there were a few HUGE Gobblers that had been seen on the properties. We set a date for Saturday April 30th! It would be my thirteenth attempt at “Old Three Toe” and my third time to Central California this year.He arrived at my room at Motel 6 at about 4:30. There I met one of his team members, “Carl”. Carl is an experienced gobbler hunter. He would do the calling so I could concentrate on doing my best to stay still and shoot straight. We drove to the 8000 acre “Echniqu Ranch” near San Lucas in Monterey County. (Pronounced Etch-Nick)
The pattern was that the Toms were roosting in a pine tree about 200 yards from where I was to set up. Carl set up about 100 yards from me with the decoys. The “Boys” would see the decoys and instead of flying directly to the fake hens, would fly into the middle of the field and then “Strut” their way back to the deeks. That’s where I hoped for an ambush. In an hour I was set up in my blind. At 6:00 came the first Gobble from the big boys. It was clear that there were two Gobblers roosted right where they said they would be. What a racket they made! The sound was incredible! Carl started yelping with the call. At 6:30 the two came out of their roost and instead of making a right turn INTO the field, they made a quick Left and Left the county!! There was something they didn’t like. Those birds are smart! Immediately Carl got up and pulled his decoys. We hiked out and we moved to another location. I was dejected. I thought my time had finally come. I was wrong. I thought my season was over. We drove to the peak of a large hill where we met another of Franks Team. They call him “Keck”. This man is part Mule Deer! I was about to learn what it’s REALLY like to “Run and Gun”. Keck told me that we were going to try to ambush those Toms. We started a “Forced March”. We made our way up and down those hills. I only had a few chances to look at the awesome country I was hunting. At the tops of the rises we passed, we would stop and Carl would call. On the top of the third rise, Carl called and we got a Gobble. Back to the march but this time Double Time!! At the bottom of a large hill Keck stopped dead in his tracks, he motioned for me to come up and told me there was a Tom at the bottom of the hill next to the cattle road. I looked and there he was! Now was time for the sneak attack.

From here things started moving very fast even though we were moving slowly. Keck told Carl to set up and to start calling as soon as we made it to the rise of the next hill. We made it to the hill without being detected and I could hear Carl imitating a hen! The Gobblers responded but did not come our way. Keck told me to stay down as he got up to attempt locating the birds. He motioned to me to come up to him and when I did, he told me to move slowly forward and to look. There they were! They were in full Strut under an oak tree. They were right in the middle of the dirt ranch road. However, they were 90 yards away and in the open.

Keck motioned for me to follow him. He had me curl up next to a bush while he set out his lonesome hen decoy and started mouth calling. The Gobblers responded. Now we waited for them to come. And we waited for them to come. And waited. They flew off again!! These birds are smart and wary!! Keck turned around and Carl was motioning to where the birds had landed. He motioned for me to follow him and we ran back to where we had just been. He held out his hand for me to stop as he peaked up over the rise. This is where I nearly blew our chance.

Keck motioned for me to come up to the top of the hill. Instead of crouching and moving straight up to him, I circled low and to the left. I thought the birds were directly over the rise but they were actually to the left and A HEN BUSTED ME!! You should have seen Keck’s eyes. I knew I had blown it!! I think he would have liked to have kicked my stupid A$$ right about then!! I wanted to kick my own!!

I finally got lucky which is something I’ve not had any of this season. Lady luck finally showed up for me!! The hen had wandered off but didn’t bolt away. There were two other hens which I hadn’t seen who the Gobblers were focused on. There was a Jake too.Keck motioned to me. I crawled to the top of the rise and lay down between two bushes. Keck was lying next to me on my right. He whispered that the birds were directly in front. I eased up and saw a snake like head pop up. It was a hen and she was coming straight at us! I could see one Tom in full strut right behind her. Keck whispered to me that he hoped the hen that busted me wouldn’t pull them away. He hoped they would come to us.

I could see the Tom fanning, strutting and moving directly towards me. I waited. I could hear the hen now. She was so close to us I could smell the grasshoppers on her breath. I couldn’t see her or the Toms. I heard a quiet “DAMN” from Keck. He whispered to me that the hen had just busted him. She had walked right up on him. He told me to “Get up and shoot, the birds are right there”. I started easing up. All I saw was tall grass. I sat up completely with my Winchester at the ready and the safety off. Have you ever been to the Fair, to Disneyland or to a Fiesta with an arcade “Shooting Gallery”? Have you seen the one where a head pops up then the other goes down, then one pops up and the other goes down? That’s what I saw, heads popping up and down, up and down. Two of them were Bright Red!

I’d slowly aim at one and then it would go down. Another would pop up, I’d slowly move to it and then it would go down. !!!“Shooting Gallery by Marx”!!! (Note: If you’re old enough to remember that, you’re my age)I thought to myself, “Take it NOW, which one? Who cares?”

Keck jumped up and started running to the left. He thought I had missed. He didn’t see the birds until they flew off. Heck, all I saw was a big red head! I yelled, “He’s down!” and “He’s not over there, he’s over here!!” And there he was!! What a sight. What a Magnificent Bird!! My hands were shaking like a leaf. I don’t even remember aiming or pulling the trigger. I barely remember the report but I know the forest rang with the sound of a 12 gauge. It was all over in the blink of an eye! It had been a blur. All the work of two years, done in a split second! The bird weighed out at 23 lbs 8 ounces and is 48 inches long. He has four beards!! One is 10.6 inches, one is 5.5 inches, one is 4.6 inches and the fourth one is just over 4 inches. He has spurs of one inch and .8 inches! It seems he must have had a close encounter with a Mountain Lion earlier in the season because an entire chunk of his tail feathers were missing and there was a scar in their place.

Carl told me that he has shot 30 Turkeys in his life but NEVER one as big as the one I just took. He sure can call.
Keck grinned with pride as he admired his skill and cunning.
Frank took pictures as I filled out the “Take Form” and copied my hunting license # on it.
My 2005 Turkey season Conclusion:
  A weekend repairing and towing a friend’s truck home.
  A 650 mile cruise to see a Wild Trout Stream.
  A blown transmission.
  A damaged front bumper and scratched paint job.
  A Poison Oak rash.
  A Badly bruised ankle, back and tail bone.
  A spring cold.
  A close encounter with a Hen.
  Experiencing magnificent wild country.
10.  Hearing Gobblers.
11.  Bagging my very first Wild Turkey.
I guess if there are any morals to this story it would be to keep trying no matter how bad it seems.
Do what you know is right and good things will come to you.
Treat people right and the reward will eventually be yours.
My profound thanks go out to Frank at Mustang Guide Service and Gen Murofushi of the NWTF. Thanks to everyone who helped me realize this dream!!
I thank God for these small blessings, my family and my friends!!
After PERSONALLY seeing and experiencing the sights and sounds of spring in the Forest, I dare say my faith is stronger today than that of many Inductive Theologians. Thank you Lord Jesus!


Distance 20 Yards

Mine was the #1 in California of all species - 2005 and the
 #4 Atypical Rio taken with a shotgun in the world for 2005.
#5 - score - all time, all species - California - shotgun
#7 - weight - all time, all species - California
#10 (tie) - spurs - all time, all species - California
#13 - beard - all time, all species - California

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