Tricky Toms in AZ

Devil Diver Down

Well-known member
Dec 7, 2009
Chandler, Arizona
I had the privilege of being a mentor at a youth turkey hunting camp last weekend, even though I'm a relative newb turkey hunter myself - a whopping grand total of one turkey kill under my belt. Arizona purposely starts their turkey seasons after mating season has been going for a while to limit the exposure to lovesick toms and the success rate - we just don't have many birds. That makes it tough for camps designed at hunter recruitment and retention.

My introduction to turkey hunting was at this same camp 4 years back when I took my oldest son - they didn't have enough mentors to go around and he ended up getting stuck with the worst turkey guy in camp for Friday and Saturday hunts - me, without any calling experience or ability. Finally, on Sunday morning we got paired up with someone who knew what they were doing and we got our first gobbles, though we never saw the bird.

The camp has hunters from 4 units - 2 draw and 2 OTC - and anywhere between 50-75 hunters. Most of the mentors prefer to pair with kids in the draw units because the mentor also drew that unit for the general hunt and are getting some scouting in while helping a kid learn some things. Few mentors want to spend time in the OTC units. Success ratio is under 10% at the camp.

I brought both of my sons (first and only big game hunt for my youngest) the next year and, again, not enough mentors so they were saddled with me, but I'd practiced on a slate call enough to get some gobble responses. Lack of success - and I don't mean tagging out, I mean seeing birds and the full experience - is tough on old hunters, but particularly hard on kids, I think. In any case, for a variety of factors, my youngest (going on 18) no longer hunts, at least for now. Oldest has too much on his plate and hunting is way down the priority chain.

I ran into the guy who runs the camp at an expo in March and he remembered me and asked after my boys. I laughed and told him they no longer qualify as juniors but the camp recruited one new turkey hunter - me. He asked me to come up and lend a hand, even though my experience is slight. He reminded me how thin mentors are spread and I agreed to go. I requested to be paired with an OTC hunter with no argument.

I was paired with a 10-year-old girl, T, who couldn't even carry her shotgun and her dad, who hunts but has zero turkey experience. I scouted the evening before, found some hens headed to roost, and we were in there before dawn with a light, intermittent snow. A soft yelp and the canyon shelf exploded with gobbles - at least 6 or 7 gobblers - and her eyes lit up. Her lack of strength made it impossible to be super aggressive as I wanted to be - we had to put our packs on the ground to prop up the gun and even a slight angle change meant moving packs and us. I showed her and her dad tracks, scat and other turkey sign.

Long story short(er), birds outdistanced us on Friday. Saturday morning we made a more aggressive move and got busted 3 times, but she got to see turkeys. Sunday morning, we received gobbles from only one bird in the same location, so we set up on the side of a seam on the shelf in the dark. I yelped softly, purred and the tom flew down right below the shelf - she whispered "Did you hear that? He's coming!" Unfortunately, this really nice tom waltzed right up the seam to my left at under 20 yards and we had to wait for him to pass before we could reposition her. I got him to come back around and he went into full longbeard strut at 35 yards and put on quite a show. One of his hens came along and tried to take him away but I kept cutting her yelps off with mine and she came for us through the jackpine that hid him. "Bingo!" I thought. He just needed to follow her for 3 steps and it was over but he never did. The hen fed within 12 yards of us, then walked back though the jackpine and collected her beau to safety.

When this intense 15 minutes was over, T looked at me like she was going to cry, then pulled her facemask off and dry heaved to the side. I shared that my legs were quivering with anxiety, too, and that she handled it like a champ. I told her that even though she didn't get a shot, this was one of my best turkey moments ever. When I dropped her and her dad off at camp, she asked me if I was coming back next year because she would, too. I smiled and told her I would. Sorry for the novella, but it's funny how a hunt that ends without a hero shot can be so satisfying and successful. Take a kid new to hunting out to the turkey woods with you. I guarantee you'll love it.
Last edited:


Dec 28, 2013
it's funny how a hunt that ends without a hero shot can be so satisfying and successful. Take a kid new to hunting out to the turkey woods with you. I guarantee you'll love it.

This is exactly what it's all about. The experience of the hunt. I'm glad it turned out to be a great day for you. I commend you on your efforts!


New member
Apr 14, 2015
hey DDD newb or not that is a great story. thanks for sharing, from a current elkaholic.
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