Bwana’s First Gobbler

There are hunters, and then there are turkey hunters
-Archibald Rutledge, Dean of Turkey Literature

Thanks to my hunting partner Jason for submitting this post on bagging his very first turkey !

Persistence pays!

It took all of five seasons, several shotguns, two ghillie suits, and dozens of calls, but I finally managed to bag my first turkey this past season.  Years of reveilles at 1:00 a.m. to make the hike in and get set up before dawn sometimes had me leaving for work on Monday mornings in my suit, minus my dress pants.  I averaged an hour’s sleep a night before a hunt, usually from opening day until the season closed.

I turned into a general plotting The Great Assault.  Topographic maps soon noted individual roosting trees, feeding areas, strut zones, calling locations, and turkey sightings.  The day before a hunt, I obsessively considered new areas to hunt, and different set ups. One more thing to correct and do differently.  A new call to start with at first light.  I started sweating and couldn’t sleep with the alarm set for just after midnight. What’s the point in sleeping anyway when the smartest game in the woods is going to be strutting just out of shotgun range in a few hours ?

There’s nothing like that first heart-stopping opening-day gobble. The sound of scraping leaves and breaking twigs as a tom in full-strut cautiously works its way into your decoys is more than enough to raise rainstorm-dampened spirits at O’dark Thirty and bring you back for more, year after year.

I had come close before.  A sudden movement would always give me away though.  Please note that I do not mean either sudden or movement, en grandiose.  Turkey hunters quickly learn you can’t sneeze, cough, scratch the deer tick on your leg, swat the mosquito in your ear, or adjust your shotgun too abruptly.  Scientists have determined that a turkey’s eyesight is so keen that it can detect the perception of a flicker of an eyelash, just as a hunter even thinks of blinking.  The bloody birds read your mind.

Taking no chances, early in my turkey hunting career I started wearing ghillie suits and even camouflaged the bottom of my boots with spray paint to break up the tread pattern.  Somehow though, turkeys always found a way to come in at an angle I wasn’t expecting.  There’s a wing in madhouses for those who feel like a turkey hunter when a 25 pound gobbler, spits, drums and gobbles two-feet behind the tree he’s set up against, knowing the slightest turn of his head will send that tom fleeing into the next draw.  Close calls like that have had me threatening to wrap my 12-gauge around a mossy oak every year, ‘round the first week in April in these parts.

Last season, I dealt with Mr. Won’t Budge.  This jive-talking turkey answered every call in my vest for about two weeks, but wouldn’t

Hurry up! This bird's heavy!

come within fifty yards.  He liked to hang out in an elevated area of open pine trees where he could see anything approaching.  I eventually had the idea that if I set up 25 decoys, purchased every call at Gander Mountain, and set up as close as I could, maybe he’d think all the turkeys in northern Virginia were celebrating at a party he wasn’t invited too.  I implemented most of the plan and eventually it worked. Half a dozen decoys and a cacophony of slates, boxes, and mouth calls (single, double and split reed) had him coming in fast. But when I shifted my gun from across my knees to the ‘high blast him’ position, he noticed the movement and was gone in a flash deciding to find a new roost for the rest of the season.

Finally, this year every thing worked out.  One Friday in the second week of the season, I decided to set up in in a pine thicket just a few hundred yards away from where I had heard turkeys on opening morning.  I got into my set-up early.  Had my decoys tastefully arranged in order to fool the most discriminating randy old tom .  Called softly, but wasn’t too aggressive on my slate.  This time, when a fat gobbler answered back I immediately brought the Mossberg to my shoulder and kept it there.  I only moved when he ducked behind a tree and eventually lined up the red dot, introducing him to my little friend, Hevi Shot.

This tom was more of a jake, with short spurs and a stubby beard, but he had a huge body, weighing in at least 25 pounds. My hunting partner, Jeff, who had heard my hooting and hollerin’ after the shot, showed me how to breast him out and take off the giant drumstcks. We laid the stripped carcass to rest under a pine tree, with an old wood and slate call for a pillow and thanked the Great Spirit for sharing His bounty with us.  I marinated the meat with lime and mesquite and had Jeff and his wife Natasha over one night for dinner. The tom’s fan and spurs are a very welcome addition to my ever-expanding trophy room. Let’s hope Jeff can get his first turkey next season.

Those interested in turkey lit may wish to check out Colonel Tom Kelly’s 1973 Classic, The Tenth Legion, comparing the obsessive compulsive, ritualistic, dogged attention-to-detail habits of turkey hunters to the Roman Army’s elite Special Forces unit.

If it was this easy, it wouldn't be huntin'!

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