Nine8Nine Gobbler Club
This image is too pretty to litter with text, am I right? Scroll on.
This image is too pretty to litter with text, am I right? Scroll on.
First call of the birds chirping, “The Boys of Spring” come to life with heavy anticipation for the long beard season and a chance at the coveted Fallen Cup. Follow along as several of us get riddled with poison ivy, blow up a perfect double, and have a heck of a lot of laughs along the way. Welcome to the Nine8Nine.
It is my privilege and great pleasure to openly welcome the public for the first time to the Nine8Nine Gobbler Club. Nestled between the timbered hardwood ridges of Michigan’s north country and the expansive ag fields of southern Michigan, our Nine8Nine Headquarters sits quietly in the budding village of Hope, Michigan. For two months out of the year, our 13 member club combs our core area in search of the elusive eastern gobbler. As each season wains on, pregnant with possibilities, the fervent chase to raise the legendary Fallen Cup and don the fabled “Spur Chain” remains the primary goal for each member. But not to be overshadowed is our inclusion of new members and special guests every season. It’s our outreach program that continues to be the north star for our staunch 13-membered contingent inside the walls of the Nine8Nine HQ. As the President of this club, I quietly weep with great pride as our members continue to rewrite our record books year over year. Well over a hundred wild toms have fallen from our dead-eyed snipers over the last five seasons, and subtle whispers of lofty goals like a 40-gobbler spring continue to sneak into a handful of bold conversations during the off-season. With a concerted effort, anything is possible.
Five years ago our club was born, and etched into the copper plate forever fused to the front of our sacred Fallen Cup are these important words. “The origin story of the Fallen Cup commemorates the individuals who fought and battled on the tilled earth of Central Midland County and defeated a thunderous and aggressive moving band of long-bearded gobblers to victory. After the smell of burnt powder dissipated and the gun smoke settled, the warriors of the Nine8Nine Gobbler Club cried victory on scorched earth still wet with blood and neck feathers from the high-ranking brood-Toms that fell to the lob-leaded Winchesters on this sacred and pivotal spring morning. “HAIL PETEY HAIL” echoed throughout the valley!” This legendary story, known as “The Day the Field Bled”, solidifies the connection to our homeland and anchors our rally cries every spring.
As another season for the Nine8Nine Gobbler Club commences, I would invite you to immerse yourself in all of the ridiculous sleep deprived stories, our massive bouts with poison ivy, the ones that got away, and the constant over-calling our club is known for, as we all take part in the adventurous back-roads to gobblered glory this April and May. We’re honored to share with you the sacred traditions of the Nine8Nine and open our doors to all of you. Thank you, and as always, Live Life at FULL STRUT!
-El Presidente – Jason Brown
Birthed on May 7th, 2016 @ 0748 Hours
The Fallen Cup was officially chartered prior to the Spring Turkey Hunting Season of 2019. The Cup will be awarded to the Most Outstanding Turkey Hunter (M.O.T.H) from the previous season during the Spring Permissions Party held at the beginning of each year.
At the conclusion of each Michigan Spring Turkey Season, The Fallen Cup will be awarded to the hunter who exemplifies some, none or a combination of characteristics such as: true grit, field stealth and maneuverability, box call chalking ability, scouting prowess, decoy deployment speed, roost hunt success percentage, poison ivy avoidance…and finally, the ability to generate PERMISSIONS… Voting is done by the ten founding members and any new inductees of the Nine8Nine Gobbler Club.
The underbelly of success for the storied Nine8Nine Gobbler Club is the ability to expand our hunting opportunities beyond the core areas each season. This is done by gaining turkey hunting rights on new properties. In the Nine8Nine, these are called “Permissions”.
The more Permissions accomplished, the more gobblers our members and guests will have an opportunity at. They are elusive devils at times, but the ripple effect of new promised land access can energize a sometimes lethargic medley of members. In early April, we celebrate the onset of the spring gobbler season during our Permissions Party, where we sort through the old and new “permissions” gained throughout the greater 989 hunting area. Each member is expected to contribute to this objective. Their devotion is critical to the success of our Club. During the Permissions Party, we crown the M.O.T.H. from the previous season as voted on by the members, along with many other highly regarded recognition like Rookie of the Year, The BeakMeat Award, The Wooden Gun Award, and The Cal Ripken Award, just to name a few. The others, are our little secret.
Depending on who you ask, you may be surprised by the number of answers you get. Georgia, Kentucky, Kansas, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Ohio; the list goes on. If you know me, you know I like data and believe more times than not, it tells the story. So when I was asked the question, “Where’s the best state to kill an Eastern Turkey?” I fired up Excel, pulled data from the National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF) website and got to splicing.
I pulled the following figures from the NWTF 2021 Spring Hunt Guide on Eastern Turkeys (See Figure 1).
From the Population and Total Harvest data, I used a couple formulas to calculate the Harvest Percentage based on the states total estimated population
Over 2 decades after I set out on my first “solo” hunt I found myself listening to the thunderous gobbles as they echoed through the timber…nestled up tightly against a tree with an 8 year old Ryder sitting squarely on my lap. I don’t know who was more excited – him or me. It was a picture perfect morning when the toms pitched out – within a few minutes they both marched their way towards us gobbling their faces off…then one of them hit the dirt.
Despite all the firsts I’ve had over the years – and it’s a pretty lengthy list, I don’t think anything will ever compare to that first – being part of the hunt as a dad. I’ve never felt such a sense of pride as I did at that very moment. None of my personal accomplishments even compare – either in sports or in the field. To be able to watch my 8 year old son put it all together and be successful completely revitalized a feeling that I hadn’t had since I downed my first solo buck… a deer Chris and I jokingly call “The super sweet 12”.
After all was said and done I came to the realization that as I sit here today I can honestly say that if I never got to fill another tag of my own, I’d be ok with that – as long as I got to take part in the hunt with my kids. Seeing the hunt, or the fishing trip unfold through their eyes is without a doubt 1,000 times more exciting than doing it on my own. It’s a feeling that’s extremely hard to describe, but one that I hope everyone can experience someday.
I’ve spent years of my life living off the land in the most remote places on earth. I’ve cast a fly in some of the most pristine waters in the world. I’ve arrowed some of the oldest and largest whitetails to roam the midwest. I’ve uncovered a centuries old mystery buried deep in a cave in an unnamed location. I’ve earned my way into favor, hunted and lived amongst the Macuxi. Don’t get me wrong, It’s been one hell of a ride – but I’d trade it all in tomorrow just to see that smile on Ryders face. The good news for me? Gunner is up next!
"for a youngster, learning to shoot a shotgun can be a scary thing."
We’ve all been there – the days when we were knee high to a grasshopper and just terrified to pick up a shotgun and pull the trigger. Thankfully, those days are well past most of us – and now we’re on to teaching our own kids – so let’s make learning to shoot a bit more fun than it might have been when we first learned to shoot!
If you’ve ever spent much time around your kids, or any kids really, when firearms are involved you’ve probably heard this question a million times – “Dad, how bad does it kick?” or “Is it going to hurt when I shoot?” or the countless other ways the little tyker can come up with to phrase the same question. The reality is, for a youngster, learning to shoot a shotgun can be a scary thing. The gun itself can seem huge and it can make one hell of a loud noise! It’s completely normal for kids to show hesitation when learning to shoot for the first time. It’s our job as parents and responsible gun owners to educate our kids first and foremost – on every part of the process – to ensure the safety of everyone. Secondly, we should only introduce kids to pulling the trigger when we are 100% confident that they are knowledgeable enough to understand what they are doing and the proper way to do it. Follow these simple steps and you’ll have your little one shooting in no time!
It’s been a tough season so far here at the Nine8Nine. Cold temps and large hen numbers have taken the gobble right out of almost every local Thomas post fly down, but the pendulum had to swing back at some point…which it finally did on day six of the Michigan turkey season.
With me on this hunt was my brother-in-law Randy “Backstrap Fingers” McGuirk (giant hands) and three students from the Expedition Hunting and Angling Scholars Program at Mid Michigan College; Marc Mankowski, Thad Tanner and Nick Poet. We’re in the final few weeks of the Visual Storytelling course I’m teaching and I looked to weave in a turkey hunt.
The morning started with several gobbles off the roost, but snow and wind shut them up quickly after fly down. We slowly and methodically worked through the trail system, to hopefully strike up a hot gobbler. Nothing. A small food plot sat near the property line, surrounded by rolling green fields to the north and plenty of folds for gobblers to hide out of the wind…time to sit. It was 10:30AM, perfect to pull in a lonely gobbler.
I deployed Petey at full strut with a hen feeder right in front of him and an upright hen 6-7 yards beyond working away from us. During the third sequence of soft yelps and purrs we spotted an interested silent gobbler nosing around in the green field through the pines. A few more tickles got him gobbling. One gobbler turned into two, within 30 seconds they closed from 100 yards to 10, gobbling until they broke the edge of the pines just five yards in front of Nick, who was filming with the old reliable Sony EX1…the same camera I shot season one of Dropped with. A true relic. Two Longbeard XR’s found their mark and the hunt was over. A three and four year old gobbler were fooled again by Petey. Hail Petey Hail!
Little did we know it was Marc’s first gobbler! Over the last four years I’ve guided eight successful doubles, and all but one team had a first time turkey hunter in it. Michigan turkey season to me is a very special time to share the awakening of mother nature after the long hard winters. It’s our chance to give new hunters an opportunity, young and old, to connect and share the true magic that the kings of the spring always provide for us. And if you sit down and shut up every once in a while like we did, your spring might even get a little bit sweeter.
Ah yes…the roost hunt. Although we hunt the roost almost every day at the Nine8Nine, only about 10 percent of our successful hunts happen during a roost hunt. It can be the most difficult hunt of the day. With variables going against you like competing hens and the complexity of getting in without detection (especially when you hunt with 4-5 guys like we do) it can be tough. But, the two things you really have going for you is the cover of darkness and knowledge of their location.
I like to scout the area to get an idea of the layout before I even hunt the roost. Knowing the exact trees to set up against is huge for confidence. I like to clear out any sticks, low hanging branches or ground leaves where I’ll be sitting. Finding a tree large enough to break up your outline is also key. Small diameter trees can move and bounce too much, giving you away before you get a chance to pull the trigger.
I really love the process of putting birds to bed. A gobble on the roost at dusk gives me a TON of confidence, but roost gobbles at night are far from a guarantee. For example, this year we’ve had lower than average spring temps, many mornings and evenings in the 20’s. I believe this plays a big role in their vocality on the limb after sunset. It’s often not until the second day of a roost hunt that I really dial in the best plan. The best time to prepare a roost hunt is after a failed one. If I don’t get right on the birds in the morning, I usually have a good idea what they did.
I don’t even know where to start with this one. As a relatively new hunter I think I actually set the bar too high for any future hunts. Let me rewind a little.
2018: Year one of my turkey hunting journey started on a high note. I am out with Chris, filming for Winchester Life. Two birds play the script like no other. “you take the back bird” boom! one bird drops, the other flies off. “What happened!” Long story short the opportunity for a perfect double, gone year one, on a national show. I’m out of the gate hot like a bottle rocket. You have to see how it all unfolded. If you want to watch it to see who was right, or wrong, click here. 2019: Casey and I are on a mission. Literally just us. As it would happen we are in another double situation. Boom! Boom! one bird falls the other takes off hauling. Pure panic sets in, not again! This time mine dropped in his tracks as Casey pops up and is high stepping through the woods full speed. I’m not sure if I have ever laughed that hard in the woods to this day. We did end up with both birds and a phenomenal story to go with it. At this point I am totally satisfied and one of the coolest hunts I have been on by far. Que 2020: In the midst of Covid and being locked up for months the band finally decides to get back together and make a run at it. Casey and I are on the guns and Chris brings his “just in case”. Not to mention Chuck’O being with us also. Bearded Hen, Double Beard, Boss Tom, Double Beard. that will never be topped for me.
I guess what I am getting at is I haven’t been turkey hunting long and 3 of my top 5 hunting memories have all come from the spring. Its not always about what we kill, its more about the set up, who didn’t set their alarm, the post hunt Busch Lights and the rolling on the ground laughing moments after a swing and a miss or the round of applause after a masterful performance from a brute strutter. This moment is scared in my memory for so many reasons and I will just say, if you haven’t tried it, I highly recommend you do. It doesn’t take much, just get out and do it.
It’s not the way I would have liked to have made it happen but it’s about the only way I could think to get it done.
Up until this point in the season I had put in a good amount of morning sits behind the camera as well as a 5 day stretch of roost hunts taking a friend of mine from Wisconsin. In all of those probably 10+ roost hunts I hadn’t witnessed a single bird that showed any interest in calling or decoys – they just weren’t willing to play the game. Every year people say “It’s been a weird season”, but I felt it. Each hunt left me scratching my head. I don’t know that I’ve ever gone that many hunts without at least momentarily grabbing the interest of a gobbler.
After some prime intel from Doug (the farmer), letting me know that the past three days he’d watched toms passing by my tent between 4-7 PM, I knew I had to act on it. With just a couple weeks left in the season and my last opportunity to sit this long, I packed some snacks, grabbed my camera gear and headed to my blind around 11 AM ready for the long haul. My plan was to sit until 8 PM at the latest – sure glad it happened a little quicker than that.
Self filming the entire thing was a bit more challenging than I’d anticipated but I sure am glad that I did. As a person who loves calling turkeys and beating them at their game, waiting these birds out was a bit out of the ordinary for me but it’s a hunt I’ll never forget!
After seeing this, I don’t know that you’ll ever go about it another way.
You just gave an old Tom a dirt nap, GOOD JOB! Now it’s time to get to work, clean him up, package the meat and then if you’re up for it, take care of the fan for a mount to remember the hunt by. If you’re like me, you probably search for a large piece of cardboard or plywood and get to pinning feathers in the fanned out position. That was how I’ve always done it, until last year when JB (El Presidente of the Nine8Nine) showed me quite possibly the easiest way to mount a turkey fan. After seeing this, I don’t know that you’ll ever go about it another way.