All the pre-season scouting trips back in March; all the 4:30 a.m. wake-up calls; all the miles trudged up and down those Appalachian foothills have come to naught. I am turkeyless ... again.
Remember that post I wrote two months ago? I do. I boasted, "There in the thick pine stand roosts the tom turkey I intend to kill on opening day." I hedged my bets when I also wrote, "I've been at this game long enough to realize the myriad things that can and probably will go wrong ..." I was mistaken on both counts. I did not kill that tom turkey on opening day, or any other day for that matter, and I had no idea of the colorful new ways this season I'd find to screw up a turkey hunt.
I'll spare you the descriptive minutia of every trip I made into the woods; the dozen or so times I worked gobblers that responded to my calls and, for whatever reason, did not commit. I'll just tell you about these:
April 13 - Opening Week
A close encounter with two toms a couple of days prior had me thinking I could set up above the roost, set out a decoy on an old logging road and patiently wait out the bird that would finally break my 3-year slump. I climbed three quarters of the way up the hill, found a clearing in the thick pines and unrolled my inflatable hen turkey decoy.
After I made myself comfortable, I put out a series of yelps with my trusty box call and waited. Ten minutes later, I threw out another sequence and one of the toms down the hill responded, starting a game of Marco Polo that went on for the next half hour or so, with me trying to convince him to come up the hill and him trying to convince me to come down. Finally, the gobbler went quiet and I got ready. A responsive tom turkey that suddenly stops gobbling usually means one of two things; either a real hen has come to the party and taken him away, or he's on the move and closing the distance.
It was the latter. After five minutes or so, the tom gobbled just downhill from me. He was searching for that hen who was playing hard to get. I shouldered my shotgun and pointed it in the opening I thought he'd appear. The gobbler fired off again, a little to the left and facing away. A minute later, he gobbled again, further to the left and further away. Reluctantly, I lowered the gun and picked up my box call. I stroked out some soft, sweet yelps and he cut me off with a thunderous gobble. He was coming in hot.
A minute later, I spotted him coming over the rise, right where I expected him to. He stopped for a second, picked up his head and saw the decoy for the first time. He was 25 yards away. I could have shot him right there, but I held off as he went into a half-strut and gobbled again at the decoy. This was game and set. He'd seen the decoy and was moving into position to find some room to do some strutting. I followed him with the bead at the end of the barrel as he orbited the decoy. I was going to let him walk right up on it and then I was going to clobber him.
Little did I know ...
The old tom circled 90 degrees around the decoy, never stopping or presenting a shot. When he got downhill of my itchy trigger finger, he made an unexpected left turn and kept on going down the slope, never to be seen or heard from again. What the ...?
|The headless decoy.|
I looked around my ambush. Something spooked him. Was my white tube sock showing above my boot? Had my roll of orange flagging tape (I never go hunting without it) fallen out of my pocket? Nope. I was clean. I stood up and looked down the hill. Wait a minute, the decoy didn't look right. I walked over to my inflatable turkey sex toy and realized the valve had come open and deflated any chance I had of killing that bird. Foiled by a flaccid decoy.
April 28 - Week 3, in the company of the Florida Cracker Contingent
I was excited to host three of my great hunting buddies from the state of Florida, who, over the last four years, have given up their expertise and access to vast orange groves outside Tampa to me and several of my North Carolina compadres to hunt wild pigs. Shooting hogs isn't terribly exciting for them, but they do love to hunt turkeys and I was thrilled by the opportunity to repay their generosity.
We split into two teams. Stephen and I started midway up a ridge and heard a distant gobbler above us right before 7 o'clock. We worked that bird for an hour, but I'm not sure it ever even heard me calling to it. Eventually, the tom went quiet and we made a big move to the top of a ridge at the head of the valley.
|Plenty of scratching here. Let's give it a try.|
I had my back against a fallen log and a great view of the slope below. The only way a turkey was going to sneak up on me was if it came in from behind or slipped in from above on the opposite side of the ridge. That would be fine because that was where Stephen was sitting. I got to calling every five minutes or so, but to be honest, I was doing as much basking in the Carolina sunshine as I was paying attention to the woods around me. Every once in awhile Stephen would call with his slate. He sounded great. Life was good. Maybe I could just close my eyes a little bit and take a nap.
I must have moved my head a little bit right before I heard that all too familiar alarm putt of a male turkey at close range. My eyes snapped open and I spotted a jake on full alert, on the ridge above me, just 20 yards away. He'd busted me but he wasn't quite sure what he should do about it. As he started fast-walking across my area of influence, I brought up the shotgun and followed his head. If he stopped, it was going to be all over. Then, out of the corner of my eye, I spied another bird, closer, standing stock still behind a large pine. He hadn't seen me yet for the tree between us, so I swung over to him and waited. A moment later, the second jake stepped out into the open. It was a 15-yard shot. I admired his feathers, all bronzy and green in the sunshine, his stubby little beard sticking out of the middle of his chest, his vibrant red head, and I squeezed the trigger. The long wait was finally over. Click. The turkey looked at me and started running down the hill after his partner, then they both took off and sailed down the valley.
I looked at my gun in disbelief, and then the wave of dread washed over me. I worked the pump and opened the chamber - no shells. I slipped my hand into my right pants pocket and felt the three rounds that were supposed to be in my gun. Oh no. No, no, no, no, no. I didn't do that did I?
There are many sins in the woods. Not loading one's gun before the hunt is perhaps the stupidest and most inexcusable and I now count myself among those unfortunate fools who have committed it.
Yes folks, it's been a long season. I didn't get my turkey, but I certainly made things happen. I am sated and take comfort in the knowledge those birds will be there next spring, a little older, a little wiser, and I can only hope that I will be too.