For most hardcore turkey hunters, this will be a weak story. They would prefer a story about a ghost gobbler that eluded me all season, or maybe multiple seasons, before the perfect set-up and expert calling finally enticed him into range. They want to read of gobblers that weigh 25 lbs., have 12-inch beards along with 1 3/4-inch hooked spurs known as “limb hangers.” Or maybe stories of a rare albino gobbler taken in Tennessee recently.
My story includes none of those things. I killed what’s known as a Jake, a one-year old turkey… basically a teenager in turkey years. And sometimes they are as stupid as human teenagers.
But it is my turkey-kill story, the first I’ve ever been able to tell in my life. As normal as it may be, I’m going to tell it. Read if you wish or surf on for those stories of legendary turkey hunts and hunters. Again, this ain’t it.
On social media I have long used the hash tag #worldsworstturkeyhunter. It is a well-deserved hash tag. Between lack of experience, poor luck, poor turkey hunting skills and just plain stupidity, I’ve screwed up more opportunities to kill a turkey than I can count. Granted, I don’t get to hunt very often. I’m a fishing guide and my “busy” fishing season coincides with the spring turkey season. Hence my forays into the world of wild turkeys are somewhat rare.
To the uninitiated who have never hunted wild turkeys or have watched them waltz down the side of the road or maybe even through your backyard, turkey hunting surely seems easy. It is not. I’ll leave it at that.
They have the keenest eyes and the most highly-honed ability to sense danger of almost any wild creature in America. Suburban turkeys may become immune and comfortable with the trappings of civilization. But put them into a predator vs. prey scenario and they dance to a very different drummer.
My most recent missed opportunity was just two weeks ago when my friend had me hunting in what he called “the kill zone,” while he hunted a couple of hundred yards away. Instead of being in the kill zone, I got to watch him take a big gobbler from afar.
My failed hunts are plentiful. In 2005 I even hunted with the world-champion goose caller and expert turkey hunter Kelley Powers with Final Flight Outfitters. As one would expect, Powers called a gobbler into range.
The big bird was coming up on a big oak tree. His head disappeared and I prayed he would make a slow stutter-step behind the trunk while I repositioned my gun barrel. I made my move … just a tiny shift, literally a matter of swinging the end of the barrel about six inches. But before I finished the move I realized there had been no stutter-step. The gobbler had cleared the tree in a heartbeat and nailed me.
I felt like a little boy caught with his hand down his pants. As his head craned high, I could just about hear this old bird say “shame, shame on you!” Then he meted out his punishment. He looked like a battleship coming in, however he slipped away like a ghost, dropping behind a tiny rise and left without a trace. I didn’t even see him go.
Stories like that abound. Last year I was on Prentice Cooper hunting beside dead trees piled up along a field. I was watching my decoy placed where the pile of trees ended. I heard a turkey “putting” (calling) on the opposite side of the pile.
Turkey hunting rules dictate you never move. You always wait on the turkey to move to an opening. Impatience (a nicer word than stupidity) got the better of me and I poked my head up, literally coming face-to-face with the gobbler mere feet away. If you ever think you can “outdraw” a fleeing turkey, you’re wrong.
Time after time poor decisions and bad luck sent me home from the turkey woods empty-handed. I’ve become somewhat legendary among my friends. When I meet fellow turkey hunters and tell them I’ve never killed one they’re typical response is, “Really!?!?” Multiple times other hunters have invited me along for what would be “a sure thing” hunt. Their definition of “a sure thing” always changed dramatically after turkey hunting with me.
But after last week I no longer have to hang my head in shame. Everything felt perfect that morning, which normally would be a bad sign. At the first hint of daylight, about 6:40 am, gobblers began to rattle the woods immediately behind where I’d placed my blind.
I won’t drag this story out. The birds flew off the roost well before 7 am and disappeared to parts unknown. Every 15 or so minutes I called, just enough clucks and purrs to hopefully convince a gobbler my hen decoy was real and worth a visit.
It was about 7:45 when I caught movement and saw a hen easing through the underbrush on my right. After a few minutes she jumped, flying into the open field in front of me.
“That’s good,” I thought. “Now I’ve got a real hen out front along with my decoy.”
Not long afterwards, more movement. I very slowly turned my head to peer through the small blind window on my right. A literal parade of jakes waltzed out of the woods mere feet away. I couldn’t move. I couldn’t blink. I probably didn’t breath for fear they would hear me because they were so close.
It seemed like an eternity before they all passed by the cracked window where I could move into a shooting position. I picked out the one turkey that had a longer beard than the rest – although I’m not sure why. As one friend told me, “You can’t eat the beard.” But beard length for a turkey hunter is apparently some sort of equivalent to your testosterone level, so I went for the longest one.
My shotgun spoke volumes and with the single booming 12 gauge blast the bird went down, his wings beating out a deadly rhythm on the ground. The rest of the birds scattered, some by air and some on foot, except for two that stopped not far away, peering back wondering what all the racket was about.
My first turkey hunt was probably 25 years ago, maybe 30. I skipped a lot of years but in recent years I have found a way to go at least two or three times each season. But this was the first time ever I had ever managed to seal the deal. It was a sweet feeling. I immediately texted half the world who knew all about my turkey jinx to tell them the spell had finally been broken.
As I posted on Facebook, perhaps now I can drop the #worldsworstturkeyhunter hash tag. #itsabouttime