In a way, I am somewhat relieved that the digital audio recorder was not working this morning. It saves me having to listen to it all again, to make it into a podcast. Now that it is over, I do not feel like I have achieved a great victory. In fact, I want to say straight off that I screwed up.
Let me back up a bit. Last Saturday was the last chance any of the three of us, had a chance to shoot a bird. Most of the past week, there were no gobblers gobbling on the entire farm. This was despite the warmest temperatures I’ve seen during Opening Week in 15 seasons, and the longest string of perfect turkey hunting weather I’ve ever seen. Morning temperatures have been in the 50’s to low 60’s. The high temperatures have been in the 80’s. This is rare for the Trans-Bluegrass. It is more likely that mornings will be around freezing and the high temperature barely sees 70 all week. Best of all, there was no wind.
Sunday thru Wednesday, I could have been calling in my own living room for all the good it did me. We all saw hens– lots of them. However, there were no gobblers, not even a peep out of them. However, on Thursday evening, just as the shadows were lengthening, the pasture to the south of the house suddenly filled with turkeys. We had an incredible display for the better part of an hour. Problem was, SuperCore and I were both caught in our chairs, sipping an evening cocktail. We could barely move for a half hour or more lest we scare them off. The gobblers were strutting within 100 yards of us. When they withdrew to about 300 yards, I went in the house and snapped some shots, but by then they were just dots on a field of green. Remember that thought.
Thursday morning saw some excitement. Two hens and a jake showed up at the Honey Hole and were feeding less than 10 feet from my gun barrel. I was having so much fun with them that I did not even think about shooting the jake. Instead I threw angry purrs at them, and they were deuced to figure out where the mad hen was hiding.
We had a thunderstorm on Friday afternoon. That brought the turkeys out again. This time, I snuck out and tried to hunt them. However, I got just a couple of gobbles thrown back, and they were gone. Shortly afterward, Angus showed up for the weekend. He’d been at school all week. It is his senior year.
This morning, it was drab, cloudy, and windy. I sat down at the Honey Hole, and almost immediately had a gobbler gobble from the same roost that had held the bird I had taken on The Opener. I thought at first this was going to be an easy repeat, but that bird hopped down and chased after some hens and it was hours before I heard him again.
Angus was over on Gobbler’s Knob. Even though he was a good 800 yards away from my position, a fluke in the wind brought his calls over to where I was. The gobblers were honoring his calling more than they were mine.
About 0800 this morning, I had a gobbler come up within 40 yards of me. At the time, I was sitting at the old Honey Hole, and the bird walked right out of Left Leg Creek and stood at the far end of the old oak that had fallen. I was sitting at the stump end of the old tree. I never saw him. He made a couple of gobbles and then took off after some hens going down The Left Leg. At 0940, I was starting to think about when it would be good to break off and go in. I pulled out the Shamanic MK I box call and did a few last yelps on it.
As you probably know, I have a theory about turkey hunting. Birds are either having an “ON” day or they’re “OFF.” When they’re OFF, which is most of the time, nothing you throw at them works. When they’re turned ON, everything works. All of a sudden, the gobblers turned ON. The gobbler I had been working at first light came back. He was gobbling up a storm near the roost across the pasture to my left. I had the 0800 bird gobbling in Left Leg Hollow, and all of a sudden three gobblers lit up just to my south, around the Midway deer blind. Midway nearly exactly 200 yards from the Honey Hole. Between the two is a fence line filled with ancient oak trees, and a tangle of old fence. The gobblers were coming my way. I just had to wait for them to come.
It took them the better part of a half hour to come to me. They were feeding in the pasture to my right. I had sowed clover there in mid February. I got the recorder working( or so I thought). I got my veil down, gloves on, and put a young hen call in my mouth. I had all three gobblers in view. I had a great shooting lane open that afforded me an optimal shot at 20 yards or so. It was the lane through which I had shot the gobbler on The Opener. This time, I made sure my barrel was pointed over the blind. I had nearly muffed the shot a week ago, by accidentally firing through the burlap blind instead of over it. This time, I took my cheek off the stock to check. No problem.
The first bird showed up and he was feeding. For the whole time he came through the shooting lane his head was down in the weeds. I slewed my shotgun back to the opening and waited, keeping one eye on the scope and the other surveying what was coming next. The first bird had already come through. The third bird was starting to show himself through the trees. The second bird stepped out into the shooting lane.
The mistake I made was thinking that all three birds were walking in a line. There is a track running a down both sides of the fence line. The one on the west side gets more use, and is a bit more obvious. I had just rolled the truck down there on Wednesday. It is about 10 yards away from the side of the blind. My shot was angled back to the south. If I had been right, the gobbler would have been 20 yards out when I fired. There was a cloud of feathers. The bird went over, and then promptly got up again and looked at me. His buddies ran over to see what was going on. When they were clear, I took a second shot. This did very little except blow feathers off the bird. By this time I was muttering about firing blanks. I took a third shot. This one I saw hit a low hanging branch and the wad deflected vertically. The shotgun was now empty.
I reached into my bag and jammed two more rounds into the magazine and took off at a run. All three gobblers had run off, albeit slowly towards the far side of the pasture and headed into Left Leg Hollow. The fence line is somewhat raised from the rest of the territory, so it affords a chance to pass quickly down the east side, out in the pasture, while remaining hidden to everything on the west side of the fence. I traveled over 100 yards in this manner before going through a hole in the fence. I burst out into the field about 75 yards from the far end, where the Midway blind sits. In the very back corner of the field was the gobbler. He was dazed, but erect. Our eyes met at about 50 yards or so. It was a long shot, but I jacked a round in and chanced it. That knocked him down. I ran over and saw he was prostrate, but still very much alive. The last round was inside 20 yards, and that knocked him insensate.
I was not done yet. I had not killed the bird. He was still flopping about and had plenty of life. My first attempt at grabbing his legs failed. He got me with his spurs–nothing serious, but it left some marks. He was almost through the fence. In the process, I had slipped on the wet grass and taken a tumble. I was now down on all fours, and saw him making for the fence. I lept on him and we rolled around on the rocks and sticker bushes at the margin of the grass. I finally got both legs in one hand and struggled to my feet before putting the boot to his neck. By the time I was done, the battle had lasted 5 minutes and gone more than 200 yards down the pasture from the blind.
Dragging the bird back, I was able to see two distinct piles of feathers. After retrieving my gear, I was able to step it off. As I said, I had imagined the birds to be traveling single file, and that would have put the bird in the center at 20 yards when I pulled the trigger. However, there was nothing to judge distance on the bird, in the scope he had appeared surrounded by green grass. The truth? 60 yards. The second pile was 5 yards farther out– this with a gun I had set up to work nicely inside 40 yards.
I cannot fault the gun or the load. I shoot a Mossberg 500 with a Dead Coyote choke. I have been shooting 3 inch Federal #4 lead shells since 1996. Yes, a 3.5″ gun shooting $8/round state-of-the-art alloys would probably have worked better. The point is, that my eyes got fooled by all that green grass in the field, and I took a shot that was too long. If I had waited for the third bird, I am certain he was closer to me. I could hear his feet in the leaves. I have taken nearly 2 dozen birds from this spot. This is the first time the outcome has been decided by hand-to-hand combat.