Photos by Larry Weishuhn Outdoors
It was the morning after the 2021 DSC Foundation Gala in June 2021. It was our first summer gala to raise funds to grant money to numerous thoroughly vetted worldwide wildlife efforts that support DSC’s mission of conservation, education and advocacy. Our efforts had done extremely well thanks to our donors, bidders, buyers and attendees. The following morning leaving a quick meeting with our Board, fellow Board member Russell Stacy stopped me on the way to my vehicle. “Larry I bought the Choctaw Hunting Lodge eastern turkey hunt last night. Could you check if I could buy two other spots for that hunt so I can take Mary Edith and Kaylee? We would really appreciate you being there with us.”
Having spent time in the past on the 44,000-acre Choctaw Hunting Lodge near the small community of Daisy, Oklahoma, hunting whitetails and wild hogs, I could not say “YES!” fast enough. As a professional wildlife biologist and hunter I had never before seen more beautiful low mountains and valleys—wildlife habitat, a mixture of oaks and pines, with excellent browse species growing between. I fell in love at first sight of the Choctaw lands!
Half of the Choctaw Hunting Lodge acreage—22,000 acres—is leased to hunting groups that are held responsible for what happens there under an intensive wildlife management program. The other half is open to a limited number of whitetail deer, Eastern turkey and bison hunters through guided or package hunts, which include guides and lodging.
The Choctaw too offers economically priced wild hog hunts of which there is no lack. Needless to say, the 22,000 acres utilized for guided hunts is under an intensive wildlife management program that involves habitat improvement through a variety of ways and means, supplemental feeding, water development, and of course proper harvest of bucks and does, as well as wild turkeys to insure healthy animals.
Each fall, the Choctaw limits their trophy buck harvest. Most of these are taken by bowhunters and a hand full of firearm hunters, returning hunters I might add. Current hunters are reluctant to release their hold on their annual “spots.” In the future, there may be hunting opportunities for additional bucks… Those will most likely go to hunters who have previously hunted the property for management bucks.
So now that I have told you about hunting whitetails, what about the turkey hunting? Nothing short of fabulous!
I met Russell Stacy, his wife Mary Edith and daughter Kaylee a short distance from the Choctaw Hunting Lodge. You may know Russel as a Board Member, or with his wife as Life Member Breakfast Chairs. He and Mary Edith are also Convention Chairs for the 2023 DSC Convention this coming January. Kaylee serves as co-chair on DSC’s Exhibitor Breakfast Greeters Committee. The Stacy’s are serious hunters/conservationist and too, own an outfitting business in northern Colorado (Strawberry Creek Outfitters). Kaylee is an exceptional young lady who has hunted throughout the world with her parents. She has taken many different big game species with shotgun, rifle, muzzleloader, handgun, crossbow and bow. In 2021 she was named DSC’s Colin Carruthers’ Young Hunter.
After meeting Jody Standifer, the Choctaw Nation’s Director of Agriculture and Wildlife, we caught up with Dusty Vickrey Choctaw Hunting Lodge’s hunt manager and ace legendary Eastern turkey caller/guide Johnny Gibson. With a quick orientation, all were ready to head to the turkey woods.
Mary Edith and Kaylee hunted with Jody. Russell and I—me carrying only a camera—hunted with Dusty and Johnny. Jody also carried one of my video cameras. I hoped to get footage for one or more episodes for our weekly “A Sportsman’s Life” tv show on CarbonTV.com, which I co-host with Luke Clayton and Jeff Rice.
When we left the lodge, the wind was blowing no less than 20 mph. Forecasts called for even stronger winds later that evening and the next several days. Wind is not a friend when calling turkeys… But we were going to try.
“Know a place where there have been seen a couple of long-beards that have been strutting each afternoon, about three miles from here on top of a ridge,” stated Dusty. “Larry, I think you may have hunted there when you were here three or four years ago. Jody told me y’all saw a huge black bear there.” I nodded and knew exactly where he was talking about.
The relatively tall, flat mountain top had deep hollows on either side. In the bottoms were streams with tall trees, ideal turkey roosts. “The gobblers we have frequently seen have legitimate eleven-inch, if not longer, beards.” He continued, “We have not yet hunted the area. With the property being as large as it is with turkeys throughout, we seldom hunt close to where we’ve hunted earlier.”
We set up where we could watch an open area. Walking in I had seen numerous large turkey tracks, “J”-shape gobbler droppings, as well as “strut marks” made by wing feathers where they were dragged on the ground while strutting, such an area is often referred to as a “lek.”
The wind blew way too strong! I seriously doubted a gobbler could hear Johnny’s expertly made calls. But obviously they could, even if nary a turkey clucked, yelped, purred or gobbled.
I spotted the bright whitish blue head of a gobbler coming our way. Russell saw it the same time I did and shifted a bit, since he shot left-hand. The gobbler put on a show for us, but at a distance of sixty to sixty-five yards, a bit farther than Russell felt confident making the shot.
The tom, complete with an 11-inch beard and one and a half inch spurs never gobbled but strutted for about ten minutes. Then, a hen appeared and he followed her, this after paying no attention to our hen decoy.
“Turkeys!” muttered Dusty. I knew just how he felt.
We drove to another area, set up and started calling. A short time later two gobblers appeared. Like the first one of the afternoon, they remained silent and stayed just beyond shotgun range, even though Russell’s 12-gauge was loaded with Hornady’s turkey loads. When hens came upon the scene the gobblers followed them, away from us. By then it was late afternoon and we headed back to the lodge.
When we arrived, Jody was in the process of weighing Kaylee’s gobbler. They like us had set up near a “lek” where previously had been seen some jakes, but also a couple of mature gobblers. After setting up a jake decoy, Jody started calling. Three jakes appeared, did some strutting then sidled over to their decoy. About that time a huge mature gobbler appeared and walked to where the jakes were flogging the jake decoy. When the older, much bigger gobbler stepped clear of the jakes, Kaylee pulled the trigger on her first Eastern wild turkey.
As she finished her story, I glanced at the scale from which hung her gobbler. “Twenty-six point seven pounds!” Proclaimed Jody. Then measuring the gobbler’s bushy beard said, “Eleven and a half inches long!” All around could be heard congratulations and “oooohs” and “aaaahhs”. Appropriately so! Kaylee’s was one huge and impressive gobbler.
Next morning Mary Edith again headed out with Jody, while I trailed along with Russell, Dusty and Johnny. The wind was stouter than the day before, blowing 20 mph with gusts well above 30. Our morning hunt was a replay of our previous afternoon. Gobblers appeared, strutted around us just beyond reasonable shotgun distance, then waddled away. Great fun, good turkey hunting footage for “A Sportsman’s Life,” but no turkey.
That afternoon we headed to another lek, a ridge a long way from camp. Earlier, over the noon hour, Dusty and Johnny had set up a pop-up blind for Russell and me to hide in and sit on chairs rather than rocks. They set up a short distance behind us back in the trees where they would call. Our blind was between them and there they thought the turkeys might come from.
We had been in our blind about ten minutes when I spotted a gobbler coming our way through the oaks and pines. He was obviously a mature tom with at least an 11-inch beard. The gobbler strutted to within almost shotgun range in front of us, then disappeared.
A few minutes later a couple of hens appeared, as did the gobbler. He strutted for no less than fifteen minutes while the hens fed on lush green “shoots” thanks to recent rains. But, he stayed out beyond sixty yards. Interesting there was not a “peep” from the turkeys. A short time later the trio disappeared. Both Russell and I thought he was gone for good.
Twenty minutes passed, a hen appeared from the direction the turkeys had departed. The way the blind was set up only Russell could see him. I peaked out of a slit and saw the hen and the gobbler, having noticed Russell was raising his shotgun.
The gobbler strutted closer, cutting the distance to fifty or so steps. Russell had previously patterned his shotgun out to 50-yards and had told me he felt comfortable taking a shot at that distance. Shotgun came to shoulder, Russell sighted briefly then pulled the trigger. Through the slit I could see the gobble go down. Then immediately I heard Dusty running to the downed gobbler!
Moments later we celebrated Russell taking his first Eastern turkey!
Back at camp we learned Mary Edith too, had taken a great gobbler, almost identical to Russell’s! That night numerous hunting stories were told around the dinner table.
Part of the Stacy’s Choctaw hunt will be featured in upcoming episodes of “A Sportsman’s Life” as mentioned, which can be seen on CarbonTV.com. Viewing shows, listening to podcasts, and reading blogs is free. One simply needs to signed up for CarbonTV.com, which is available on both phone and computer, as well as through ROKU and others. My weekly “DSC’s Campfires with Larry Weishuhn” will soon be available there as well, and you will be able to listen to the Stacy’s tell their own story as well.
Graciously the Choctaw Hunting Lodge has donated another Eastern Turkey hunt to our upcoming June 4th DSC Foundation Gala. It will again be a raffle item. For more information please go to www.dscf.org.