I have to admit, it felt a bit odd to be standing in the highlands of eastern Montana Saturday morning. As I scanned this broad, beautiful landscape, I couldn’t help but think about the legions of anglers making their first attempt at catching a walleye back home.
So, why would I forsake the hallowed Minnesota walleye opener –and Mother’s Day, to boot –to travel 10 hours west to Glendive, Montana?
This type of trip wasn’t on my radar screen until a surprise invitation came from the father of my first wife Jennifer (who died of cancer in 1995). “Grandpa Bob” Guditis came up with the crazy idea of hunting wild turkeys in the area. He drives Interstate 94 throughout the year, and had seen turkeys on numerous occasions. So, he did a little research and thought it would be worth a try. He invited me, plus my two oldest sons, Joe and Andy. Joe was due back from college on May 10, so we would be able to go the next day.
After a careful and deliberate talk with my wife Julie about missing Mother’s Day, I agreed to make the trip. On Friday afternoon, we set out for Glendive. We had hoped to get there early enough to do some scouting and try to roost some birds at sundown, but we were too late.
An early sighting
The next morning, we went to a piece of property labeled BMA (Block Management Area). The landowner enrolls in a state program in which he or she allows hunting in exchange for a small fee. Hunters either call or sign in and the landowner gets paid each time a hunter visits the property. It’s a great idea that opens up a lot more hunting land.
We had heard this land holds birds, so we decided to start there. As we were driving in, we saw a group of three toms walking across a field, and that got us excited. We circled around the back side of a small hill and hoped to intercept the birds. But, when we did so and started calling, we got no answer.
Unfortunately, that was typical of what we experienced throughout the trip. We heard very little gobbling, and the birds did not respond much to our calling. But, there was one exception.
Gone to roost
After hearing no gobbles throughout the day, we decided to come back in the evening to see if we could find an area where they roosted. We spread out on the property, then did some calling in the last two hours of daylight. Joe went behind a house into a field with a strip of woods dropping down the hill below it. He heard two birds fly up into the trees, and one of them gobbled several times.
No one else heard or saw anything, so we decided that Joe would set up there the next morning with Andy. We got there at 5 a.m., with the sky already brightening. We dropped them off first, and they hustled down the field to the edge of the woods.
Within minutes, one of the birds started gobbling, soon joined by the other. They then flew down and started working their way toward the boys. Andy did the calling, and these two fired up toms gobbled at every noise he made. Later, he said he didn’t think his calling was very good. But, the turkeys didn’t seem to notice.
Eventually, they knew the birds were just over the hill, only about 25 yards away. They heard a low, humming sound toms make when they are puffing out their chests and displaying, or strutting. This noise is called spitting and drumming, and it’s always a good sign when you can hear it.
They whispered back and forth and now strategized about how to kill both birds. In the end, one bird poked its head over the hill and ran his head up, giving Joe a perfect shot. After a year and a half of waiting to fire a gun in the woods, he jumped on the chance to pull the trigger. Just as he was doing so, the other bird came into view. Right after the shot, the second bird went airborne. Andy fired twice, but the bird flew down the valley and over to the other side.
Lots of looking
I was so glad Joe got the bird. He had gone the longest without taking a shot, so I was hoping he would be the first one to pull the trigger. We took some photos, then resumed the hunt. We explored two more BMAs, plus checked out a piece of state land. Bob ended up seeing a group of eight toms cross a creek on one of the BMAs, but they wouldn’t come in to his calls. He shot three times at the birds, but they were too far away.
Fortunately, they roosted just a few hundred yards away, so we decided to come back the next morning and try for them. We did not get there as early as we had hoped, so we weren’t able to slip in as closely as we would have liked. The birds gobbled just a few times, then flew down and went the other way. We tried to go after them later, but never caught up.
It would have been nicer to have more action. Yet, I wasn’t surprised. Montana had the same early spring that we did here in Minnesota, which meant the birds started to lose interest in breeding earlier than normal. That added up to the lack of response we witnessed.
Still, the trip was very enjoyable for all of us. We’re all glad we chose to do it, and maybe we’ll come back again someday when the birds are more active.
It’s important to note that an experience like this shouldn’t be measured solely by the number of birds that fall. Rather, the real value is time spent together. With so many youth losing interest in hunting, a three-generation hunt is becoming rare.
I’m hoping – and praying – that Grandpa Bob will stay healthy for years to come so that we can enjoy more hunts like this with him. As Andy pointed out, it’s always fun going to Montana. We know we’ll see lots of game, which we did on this trip. In addition to turkeys, we saw antelope, mule deer and whitetail deer, plus some upland game birds like pheasants and sharptail grouse. We couldn’t help but wonder what it would be like to hunt this area in the fall.
I hope we get the chance to find out!