This past weekend I got out with Prois Pro-Staffers, Olympic biathletes, and identical twins Tracy and Lanny Barnes for some turkey hunting (www.twinbiathletes.com). I first met Tracy and Lanny during the WOMA retreat Prois CEO Kirstie Pike and I hosted in our home town of Gunnison Colorado (I am a transplant but Gunnison is definitely home now). Right off the bat I really liked Tracy and Lanny, they are some of the nicest most down to earth yet totally badass ladies you’ll ever meet. That is why I jumped at the opportunity to drive a mere 3 ½ hours South through some gorgeous Colorado country to do some turkey hunting with them. Just a few weeks prior I went on a ladies hog hunt which was organized through Tracy Splechter, owner of Outdoor Connection. That was the first women’s hunt that I’d been on and I thoroughly enjoyed it. There is something so special about hunting with other women and it is such a supportive and fun environment to learn in. I could barely contain my excitement in the days leading up to the turkey hunt and Kirstie grew weary of me talking about it since she was unable to attend. I got out a couple days before I was leaving and patterned in our shotgun with some turkey shells and readied myself for the hunt.
This was my first turkey hunt ever. Contrary to what many people think I did not grow up hunting or fishing. I was raised in Massachusetts and I only knew two people that actually hunted and neither of them well. I fished some as I grew up in a pond across the street from our house but that was the extent of my sporting experience. After moving to Colorado and subsequently Oregon then back to Colorado I jumped head first into an outdoor lifestyle. It started when I did creel surveys for the Park Service at Curecanti Recreation Center (AKA Blue Mesa Reservoir) in Gunnison Colorado. I would pay close attention to what the people that were catching the most fish were doing and where they were fishing and quickly learned how to catch my limit of trout. I quickly became popular for my fish frys and my fellow creel surveyor Mike would often get frustrated with me because he had been fishing for years and would spent much longer than me setting up his rod and rig only to be out-fished by me every time.
The falconry seed was planted in my head and started to germinate around that time but it wasn’t until I moved to Oregon that I had the facilities available to start hunting with birds of prey and it wasn’t until I moved back to Colorado that I learned to fly fish from my fiancé Eric Grand. Our first date was the first time I went out fly fishing and he made me leave my trusty tackle box and stringer in the truck when I tried to bring them. Though my history in the sporting world has been a short one, I’ve made up for lost time with enthusiasm, by getting out with people that REALLY know what they’re doing, and hunting and fly fishing every opportunity I have. Though I have been a falconer for 5 years, I only started hunting with guns the past two years. I tagged along elk hunting two years and did everything but shoot an elk before I took up my own rifle with the hopes of shooting an elk. Every hunt has taught me so much, even and sometimes especially when I have been unsuccessful. I very high expectations for myself and every unsuccessful hunt (if they can even be called that) has only strengthened my resolve and made me try even harder. Some of my favorite things about hunting have nothing to do with whether I get an animal or not but since I have already gotten way off track, I’ll save that for another blog.
I arrived at Tracy’s house Friday night and we planned on getting up before the sun and heading out to a spot they had been scouting Saturday morning. I eagerly asked them a million questions about turkey hunting Friday night and tossed and turned all night in bed as Tom’s ran through my head, jumped from the painting on the wall, and pattered across my bedroom floor. I woke several times looking at the clock thinking it must be time to go before my alarm finally sounded. I felt like a kid trying to sleep the night before Christmas. Finally it was time to go. We donned out Prois gear, grabbed our shotguns and packs, and headed for the hunting spot. Unfortunately two days prior the Forest Service opened the road to the area Tracy and Lanny had been scouting early and the turkeys had been pressured and spooked for the first time all season. Fortunately we heard groups gobbling almost first thing that morning and began to stalk them. I love spot and stalk hunting and it was so exciting to hear the turkeys gobbling and try to sneak up on them. My main goal on this trip was to keep up with the twins and hunt as hard as they did. This was a lofty goal considering they are world class athletes and have been hunting this terrain since they were little girls with their father. I was so impressed by their navigation skills, the way the worked together seamlessly with little communication, and their knowledge of the local flora and fauna. They were great at pointing out things along the way. Lanny would whisper and point “bear poop” or pick up a tuft of fur and velvet from a small sapling that had been used as a rubbing post. We came very close to two separate groups of turkeys but they somehow eluded us. Lanny is excellent with a mouth call and we got some responses but jealous hens may have led the Tom’s off when they heard a hen they didn’t recognize as Lanny explained to me. It felt like the forest was full of invisible turkeys because they sounded like they were so close but we didn’t see them. It didn’t help that the forest floor was very dry and it was difficult to move quietly. As soon as we thought we should give up on a group and head back up to find another, without fail we would hear a Tom gobble below us after we had ascended a steep slope.
It was really awesome to see elk, deer, and the pointy eared, white bushy tailed Albert’s squirrels that frequent the forests there. It was also exciting to see the huge prehistoric looking tracks of the elusive turkeys we were tracking. Turkeys are much more difficult to hunt then many people give them credit for and they have excellent hearing and vision. This is how these big, noisy, seemingly awkward birds has survived and flourished. By afternoon the turkeys had quieted down and we hiked down to the Piedra River for a little fly fishing and scouting. The river was the color of chocolate milk because of runoff and the fish weren’t interested in the streamers I was tossing along the slower moving water on the banks. We found a big cold abandoned egg in the camping area by the river that we determined was a goose egg. We also ran into a group of very untalented college age rafters, all men who were drinking heavily, that invited us to share a small hot spring puddle with the six of them. I don’t think they had ever seen a group of three women out hunting together. As tempting as their offer was (can you sense my sarcasm here?) we declined sharing the already very crowded shallow hot spring puddle with them. When we passed back by the spot where the egg had been over a half hour later it had mysteriously disappeared. We also heard a Tom and some very angry Canada geese and had fun speculating about what that horney Tom was up to. Unfortunately after hiking up and down a very steep slope twice we determined he was on the opposite side of the river from us which at that level would not have been crossable without a boat. That afternoon it started raining on and off and the birds quit talking. A half hour or so before last light we headed back to the truck just as it started raining hard and decided to call it quits for the night.
That night I soothed my aching muscles with a nice hot soak in Tracy’s hot tub and hit the hay early excited about the next day’s hunting. The following morning was muddy, foggy, and wet and the birds were not talking. We started hiking hoping to run into a group since they were not responding to calls and gobbling. We saw fresh tracks in the mud and were hopeful about running into some birds. The bright side of the rain was stalking was much quitter and many of the people that had come into the area to camp and recreate had left during the night. We saw another group of elk and the low clouds and mist in the valleys was lovely. Suddenly Tracy and Lanny tensed and they saw a group of birds up ahead. The moved me up front and as we rounded the corner I saw a Tom running in the middle of the path. Tracy and Lanny whispered “SHOOT”, I mounted my shotgun, lined him up and pulled the trigger. The boom resounded through the forest but the bird kept going. The Tom turned left just as I shot and my wad flew just right of him on the path he had been running. I was disappointed but the twins patted me on the shoulder and told me I did great and we would find him again. When we stopped for a snack they regaled me with tales of failed hunts and missed shots to cheer me up. We continued to hike looking for that group or anther and as we walked into a clearing Lanny cried out and delight and just as I my eyes lighted upon a massive elk shed lying in the clearing. Just as Lanny raced for the shed Tracy took off to the left with just as much exuberance. She had found the matching shed less than 20’ away from the first. Knowing I could not beat two Olympians in a foot race I reveled with them in the find after they had collected the beautiful matching set of 6 x 6 elk sheds. That afternoon it started pouring and showed no signs of clearing up. Tracy and Lanny said this was the worst weather they had had all spring. We headed back to Tracy’s house and looked at the weather and it showed no signs of clearing until the following morning. On my way home I needed to go over Red Mountain Pass which is one of the most dangerous avalanche prone passes in the state so I begrudgingly decided to go home. We made tentative plans for me to come out again two weeks and they invited me to come elk hunting with them in the fall.
Despite the fact that I didn’t kill a turkey I had a fantastic time. I loved spending time with Tracy and Lanny. I continue to be very impressed with them as people and as huntresses. I am very grateful for all the amazing women that have come into my life as a result of working for Próis. Hunting with other women is so amazing, especially women of the caliber of Tracy and Lanny. They were excellent hostesses and always made sure I was well fed and had everything I needed. Though they had opportunities on birds they did not take them so I could have an opportunity to shoot my first turkey. I can’t wait to hunt with them again in a couple weeks and I hope the weather will be more cooperative then. Stay tuned for the next installment of Turkey Tales with the Twins.