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As the 2015 turkey season approaches, I find my self reflecting on past seasons spent pursuing those loud mouth birds of spring…I long for the sunrises of the spring woods as new life begins to take shape in the shadows of every daybreak. I am always in awe of how quickly everything begins to change this time of year. Trees and flowers are beginning to bloom, and everything that seemed to have fallen into a deep winter sleep begins to show new life.
The sounds, the sights, and the smells of spring all ignite memories that have been forged into my mind from hunts gone by, and eventually leads me to a day of turkey hunting that has remained one of those that I will never forget.
It was the spring of 2011, and a buddy of mine had been watching a big flock of turkeys on public land in preparation for season. This particular property was restricted to bowhunting only, so the turkeys don’t feel the heavy pressure that they would get on a place where the gun hunters would have access. We made plans to get out one morning on a weekday hunt, which would increase our chances of not having to worry about human traffic.
The property is a mix of fields and hardwoods, with a river running down one side…this would be the primary roosting area for the turkeys on this property. The plan was to set up as close to the roosting area as possible, yet be in the open field where the heavy concentration of birds had been seen while scouting. We knew that they would end up where we were by mid morning, even if they didn’t fly down to our set up at day break.
We were set and ready well before first light, tucked inside a pop up blind, with a few decoys placed only yards away. As the sun started to peak thru the darkness, the turkeys began to wake in the treetops. We sat patiently, and called softly just to let them know we were there. They did not pitch down in our laps as we would have hoped, but hit the ground inside the woods and gobbled on their own for a while, probably rounding up any hens that were within the sound of their gobbles.
About an hour or so after flydown, they became less vocal…as did we. Still, we sat there hopng that the scouting would eventually pay off and we would be sitting where they wanted to be as the morning seemed to drag on…
Finally, there was movement in the edge of the woods and 2 hens made their way out into the field. They paid little attention to the soft purrs and yelps that we used to try to entice them to our decoys, knowing that there should be a tom not too far behind them. They did come, and stayed for just a short time before they decided it was time to go. As they were leaving, we heard a gobbler sound off in the direction that they had come from inside the woods. They were moving to our right, and heading to the other end of the long field we had set up in. When the tom got to the edge of the field, he had a decision to make…would he come to our set up, or would he play catch up with the 2 girls that were leaving the party???
I guess the guy just didn’t want the competition of our jake decoy in half strut, becase he only skirted our set up, and made his way across the field toward the 2 hens. He crossed at an angle, feeding at about 40 yards at one point, but not stopping long enough to give an ethical shot.
We continued to watch the 3 as they were feeding thru the field, and had elected to sit for at least another hour to give time for any other turkeys in the area to come in to our calling. As the hens made their way toward a rise in the field about 400 yards away, another tom appeared on the peak of it. They seemed to be trying to avoid him, and slipped around to the right of him and continued feeding away from us. The first tom took their lead and completely circled away from him and continued out of site in the direction of the 2 hens.
This second tom had obviously found his strut zone as he used the small rise in the field to his advantage, gobbling, walking the length of the rise back and forth, back and forth for the next 45 minutes. He would pause on occasion and look our way, gobbling to our calling as if to say “I’m over here, come to me!”
I have had occasions in the turkey woods, as I would say most seasoned turkey hunters have, where I just know the time to move on a turkey is RIGHT NOW!! We were not in one of those situations…that old bird could see the whole field, and had us completely pinned down. It was his game, and we just had to play it his way….one of us would give in, or give up!
Forty five minutes of him strutting and gobbling on that rise turned in to an hour…and whenever he would pause long enough to look our way we would yelp and purr softly to him, just trying to stay in his head…as he was for sure in ours!
He finally makes a move…not very fast, or very far, but he started moving our way. He would come about 15 yards at a time, and strut and gobble back and forth for 3 or 4 minutes at a time. When he had finally covered about 300 yards, he was in a low area of the field continuing the same routine of strutting, gobbling and pacing back and forth. In that low area, we could only get an occasional glimpse of his tail fan tips, or the top of his red head as he peaked our direction to see if our flock had moved.
When he comes out of the ditch, he is in full strut, and facing directly toward us. He is only about 90 yards away at this point, and is finally giving us the feeling that he may commit to our set up. I am staring at him thru my binoculars, it is now that I realize he may have more than one beard, and I mention that fact to my hunting partner Terry.
I began to really get excited, but tried to remain calm. My biggest bird to date was a triple beard that toted a 12″ and two 5 1/4″ beards and was killed with a shotgun less than 5 miles from where we were sitting. This bird looked impressive, even at 90 yards.
Finally, he commits…coming out of full strut, and dropping into half strut, he starts making his way to us. He is postured very aggressively, and is certainly coming in to take the girls away from our jake decoy.
I had been sitting on a stool in the blind for the morning, but was ready to get into shooting position very quickly. When he went half strut and started stomping toward us, I positioned myself for the shot. Terry was ready with the range finder to give me an accurate range for the shot…somewhere around 40 yards away, he whispers, “Oh yeah, he definately has multiple beards!” Then the countdown begins…”35, 30, 25, 20, 15…shoot him!” I felt the tension of my release on my string loop when he first whispered the yardage. I had instinctively drawn my bow and was settling the pin at 30, but held my breath and the shot…I wasn’t going to mess this one up.
Two days earlier I had been out bowhunting on my own…I had turkeys working that whole morning, and finally managed to call 2 in to bow range. I had the yardage, and had settled in for the shot…no problem, 37 yards was doable…I was shooting out to 70 yards on the practice range at least 3 times a week. I blew it, I just absolutely blew it…I jerked the trigger on my release and shaved feathers off the back of that tom that was standing perfectly still at 37 yards.
I watched intently as this big ole tom stepped into my shooting lane, now only 15 yards away…all 5 pins on my site were on the black silhouette of this bird, and I was picking a spot…I finally let my breath out slowly as I squeezed the release. The arrow hit its mark, pushing thru both wingbones and toppled the bird straight over. He barely even flopped as they most often do when shot and I remember being surprised of the reaction. After a couple quick high fives and a peak of the field to check for other turkeys, I bolted out of the blind!
I counted the steps…all 9 of them! We had waited over 2 hours for this tom to come almost 400 yards across the field, and I finally arrowed him at 3 yards! I could not believe my eyes when I finally saw the ropes hanging from the chest of this turkey. All 6 beards were not perfectly exposed, and I managed to count 5! I was blown away…never had I seen a bird like this! Terry and I exchanged more high fives and hugs and began packing everything up. He needed to be at his office, but neither of us wanted to walk away from a gobbling turkey! I managed to get one field picture of the turkey before we threw him in the truck with all of our gear.
When I got him home I started taking pictures and sending them to some buddies. While posing the beards to show them off, I managed to seperate what would be beards 2 and 3, showing that there were actually 6 beards in total and not just 5. The beards total 42.75 inches (9.5, 8.25, 8, 6.25, 6.25, 4.5). The gobbler weighed 22.10 pounds, and he had .375-inch spurs. He would score 115.625, and would easily have made the record for the number one bow kill in Tennessee.
I was doing my research, trying to find the best taxidermist in the area to have him mounted. I was also trying to find out how to get him into the NWTF record book as well. I had taken my time to wrap him up properly before putting him in the freezer until I could get him to the taxidermist. Life has a way of changing, and little did I know how much change I had ahead of me in the next few months. A job change sent me out of town for training almost right away, and I had to move immediately after returning home. What would have been a record setting turkey would end up thawing out in an unplugged freezer in the chaos of my life. That turkey of a lifetime is now a memory…
I can’t bring him back, but I can relive the hunt every spring when the sun comes up over the horizon and the world comes alive with my back against a tree. I will be out there somewhere, listening, watching, and breathing in the sights, the sounds, and the smells of spring!