Turkey numbers seem to be down on our lease this year. I remember my first scouting trip on the lease about 14 yrs. ago. I was surrounded by gobblers. It was such a thrill as the gobblers opened up on the roost. I was very confident I would bag a bird that first opening morning a week later. But I was inexperienced in the way of spring gobblers and it was much later that season before I finally bagged a bird, and then only by grit and luck rather than by skill and careful planning.
They had recently clear cut large swaths on the lease and thinned out most of the other planted pines, taking out about every 3rd or 4th row. I didn’t hear a single bird gobble on my first couple scouting trips this year. Had the birds been run out by the timbering, or simply disturbed from their regular regime? I found few tracks in the roads but it was early in the year and I expect they were still staying mostly back in the woods.
Mary, my wife and partner in all things including hunting and fishing, was with me the third morning of scouting. We found 3 birds gobbling on the roost in one area but heard nothing in the other areas where we had heard birds gobbling last year. In a couple of days youth season would open and I was questioning whether I should take someone out or save the birds for Mary.
Last year Mary and I hunted hard during the Georgia and West Virginia Spring Gobbler Seasons. In the ensuing 14 years since that first season, I’ve learned to talk dirty to a gobbler, mentored by 2 of the best turkey hunters in South Georgia, Jimmy Whatley and David Neck. Jimmy and David offered to take Mary hunting but I was already jealous of them having guided both my sons to their first birds. No way was I giving up that honor with my wife.
Mary cleanly missed 2 gobblers and could have gotten other birds I called in if she had been a little quicker on the trigger and more experienced. But to say we were unsuccessful last season would be a gross misstatement. Those mornings in the woods were priceless. We got all the good out of those turkeys with the exception of dinner. Besides, it would make Mary’s eventual success all the more special.
I did take a friend and his daughter on opening day of youth season. Mary and I were invited by Jimmy and David to the Friday night Lowndes Longspurs Youth Turkey Hunt dinner where I was impressed by the determination of one of the young female hunters. Abbey is 12 and a little small for her age and of quiet demeanor, at least in that setting, But I could sense her quiet determination to take a turkey. And Mary encouraged me even if Abbey did thin out the flock a bit.
Mary and I left after the youth patterned their shotguns, not staying for dinner, to set up a blind on the lease at the edge of a clear cut by a food plot where we found some big, old gobbler tracks. But the next morning we heard nothing but song birds and saw not even a hen. Well, at least the flock wasn’t thinned and it was Mary’s turn. I promised to bring Abbey back after Mary got her bird.
When I hunted alone or with my sons, I didn’t bother with a blind. Saving for their college funds, I was reticent to spend extra money on anything. Those are days past. After hunting so hard and not bagging a bird at the beginning of the season last year with Mary, I asked myself what would Jimmy and David do?
I had Mary hunting with my 12 ga. Remington 1100. But I owned a sweet little Beretta 20 ga., Model AL391 Urika shotgun which was lighter and fit her better. I switched her to that gun and bought a Primos Trigger Stick so she could prop the gun up for a surer shot. I also invested in an Ameristep, 2 person, Care Taker hub style hunting blind. An AvianX hen decoy topped it all off. The investment in equipment definitely improved our chances but still we failed to seal the deal last year.
I thought I had left the Caretaker blind at our hunting camp in West Virginia so I sprung for another blind. This time I bought an Ameristep, Brick House, hub style blind. It was more expensive but had bow style shooting openings in the corners and was a 3 person blind making more room for me to film our hunts. She could also sit far enough back so that she could aim without sticking the gun out of a port. We planned for her to shoot through the replaceable screens so we left them up, making it possible for us to shift chairs inside the blind, even with a turkey approaching, so she could get a better shot. I was surprised to discover the Caretaker blind in the garage behind a cooler in the one closet we have there before the season opened. I could have returned the Brick House blind and got my money back, but it was enough of an improvement that I decided to keep it. I’m glad I did. And as an extra incentive to draw in a big gobbler, this year I added a Flextone Jake decoy to the mix.
We heard no turkeys gobbling on our scouting trip two days before our hunt. We couldn’t scout early on the day before the hunt because of a doctor’s appointment where I would get the results from my latest PET scan. I was feeling good and expected great results. But the scan showed faint activity in the lining of the bottom corner of my left lung. The cancer was raising its ugly head again. Dr. Ofori planned to hit it with 3 rounds of chemo which would start as soon as my insurance company approved the treatment.
I would be lying if I said the results didn’t cause some anxiety. It could signal the beginning of a long, slow (but possibly not so slow) slide. But then again the chemo could knock it out and I could have several more years of progression free living. I recommitted to a conscious decision to live life to the fullest with whatever time I have left. That especially includes immensely enjoying life in the turkey woods with my wonderful wife this spring. It may or may not be our last spring in the woods, but if it is, I intend to make it our best! My faith makes this possible. There are scriptures throughout the Bible instructing believers not to be anxious about anything. As for me, I’m standing firmly on Philippians 4:6: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. “
Following are the principles that came to me the morning of my first wife’s surgery to remove a malignant brain tumor she eventually succumbed to after a 4.5 year battle.
- Face the brutal facts but never lose hope.
- Know that God is in control.
- Count your blessings.
- Take one day at a time.
- Live every day to the fullest.
It may seem crazy to some for me to think this way, but God was right there with us through it all, and as I look back I see those years as very good ones. Only God could do that.
And now I am enjoying perhaps the best years of an already very good life, even though I have faced and still face many struggles. God put Mary and I together to help make that possible. Yes, I have a very thankful heart even though I just may be walking through the valley of the shadow of death. What better way to live?
Okay, enough of that! Back to Mary’s turkey.
As usual, Mary was up an hour before me and brought coffee to me in bed and already had our oatmeal with nuts and blueberries for breakfast and sandwiches for lunch made. She is definitely a Proverbs 31 woman. And she loves to hunt and fish and hates to shop. I don’t know, maybe I’ve already died and gone to heaven.
It is next to impossible to out serve her. The least I can do is guide her to a big tom. I so wanted to do that!
Though we had not heard a gobbler in that area where we set up the blind, we had found other sign that was even better. We had found the strut zone of a big gobbler on the sandy road that led to the river on the northern side of the lease. There was a ton of hen tracks and “S” curves etched in the sand where the patriarch had drug his wings strutting in an attempt to seduce the hens.
It was still not good daylight by the time we were settled into the blind and though the whippoorwills were whip’o’willing their hearts out, the songbirds were not yet singing. I turned on the thermocell and the couple of mosquitoes that had found their way into the shuttered up blind were trying to find a way out.
In a few minutes the eastern towhees and northern cardinal woke up followed soon by raucous crows. Once the crows sounded off I told Mary, “Here we go,” knowing if a gobbler was nearby we would soon hear him. As if on cue, a gobbler sounded off in the woods about 75 yards behind us to the right. In a few minutes another gobbler sounded off right behind us, even closer. I joined in as hens on both sides of the road began to cluck and add their “tree talk”. The gobblers answered back but it’s anybody’s guess whether they were answering me or the myriad of hens that had roosted nearby.
Eventually a bird gobbled once in the woods in front of us, but I thought perhaps it was an early developing Jake since it gobbled only once and called twice later with its teenage like breaking yelps, a more drawn out and awkward sounding croak than a hen yelp.
We heard turkeys begin to fly down. I called more aggressively than the hens hoping to entice a gobbler our way before they became henned up. Then I heard a boss hen giving a loud assembly call and knew our chances of calling in one of the gobblers early was greatly diminished. I eventually used my repertoire of calls hoping to piss off the dominant hen and get her to come our way. But they fed toward the field we had set up on during the youth hunt with Abbey. That’s turkey hunting.
We saw a couple of birds cross the road below us which may have been jakes but they shied from our decoys.
“There is still a chance a gobbler will check us out around 9:30 after the hens have lost interest in him and dispersed to feed,” I told Mary.
There was no more gobbling after 8:30, and the last gobble we heard, the birds were still moving away from us. “If we don’t hear something answer or see a bird by 10:00, we’ll run and gun and see if we can strike one up,” I told Mary.
This seemed to be a repeat of many of the hunts we had the previous season. As the sun rose the shadows shifted and occasionally my eyes would fool me into thinking a shifting shadow was a turkey standing in the edge of the woods.
Was it the sun glinting off a leaf or was that a gobblers head in the edge of the woods 60 yards down the road? At first the shadow stood stock still and my mind was making it into a pine tree trunk with a shining leaf forming the head when I imagined it moved a bit. I knew I had been staring at it long enough for my mind to play tricks. I lifted my binoculars as the shadow unmistakably took a couple of steps toward us.
“Gobbler,” I whispered tersely. I thought about moving the camera to capture its approach but more wisely decided to focus on positioning Mary for a successful shot. Because of the room in the blind and the screens being up, Mary was able to turn in her seat, completely unnoticed by the gobbler which was now steadily moving in our direction focused entirely on the decoys.
“I can’t believe this is happening again,” Mary whispered as the turkey approached. She was positioned on the left-hand side of the blind, the side from which the turkey came. Although she could see the turkey when she leaned over, she couldn’t get a shot until the turkey approached much closer. The same scenario played out when she missed a big gobbler twisted in an awkward position taking a shot at the turkey which had come from her side of the blind the year before. That shot nearly broke her heart, and mine, too.
But this year the big gobbler was intent on kicking the Flextone Jake’s butt and then having his way with the AvianX hen. He broke into an impressive strut 15 yards away from the decoys, 30 yards from the muzzle of the Beretta propped rock steady on the Primos Shooting Stick. Mary aimed more for the beard area rather than the base of the neck as I had instructed her. She had watched hunters take turkeys with that shot on videos and she felt she had more area to shoot at there. She did it her way and it worked perfectly she told me when I asked why she shot it where she did. Can’t argue with that.
When the shotgun boomed the gobbler obliged and lay flopping in the road. As it flopped she asked excitedly, “Should I shoot it again?”
“That’s a dead bird,” I replied, my face almost hurting being stretched in a huge grin. “That’s neurons firing in its death throe. That bird is going nowhere.” A minute later and the bird lay motionless.
This was the third bird Mary shot at, so I guess the third time really is the charm. It is for her at least.
And for one brief shining moment all the worries and troubles of the world were gone. The picture of our smiles says it all.