In Pursuit Of A Bearded Man

Posted on May 8, 2012

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“I touched my call softly, alluringly, only once. To call too much is fatal.

You have to vamp him. Like a man, he does not care for this ripe fruit that falls into his hand.

What he gets stirred up over is a siren, and enchantress, a wild-wood princess, shy and wonderful, hard to obtain, full of shadowy avoidance, and therefore greatly desired.”

                                                                                                                          –  Archibald Rutledge

Like periscopes rising from beneath the waters surface, one-by-one, four bearded men popped their heads up on the horizon. They were not marching in uniformed single file; rather, their skirmish line looked more like a full military invasion by the redcoats. The difference here being these were redheads who were marching to the beat of a different kind of drum; it was not war they were after but love.

After spending three fruitless hours huddled beneath an ancient oak tree just inside the woods line it was time for me to be proactive. Nothing in my arsenal of calls had solicited a single response from a turkey. In fact, even the squirrels were ignoring me. Peering out into the field I noticed a Tom in full fan, strutting in hopes of attracting the attention of the two hens feeding away from him. Quickly I needed to formulate a plan. The way I had it figured, I could either make an assault on that bird, or covertly set up in waiting for the hens to lead him to me. What ever I decide I needed to move fast.

I opted to gamble and set-up to intercept the ladies with high hopes they would be able to entice the gobbler to follow. Gathering up my decoy, I sprinted to the hedgerow separating the two fields. Utilizing the backside of this obstruction, I quickly scooted 300-yards to an opening and post haste, set three decoys, two hens and a Jake. The advantage I had was in the lay of the land, the front field sloped down with a couple of rolling hills, thus preventing any prying eyes from seeing what I was up to.

Sitting down with my back up against a spindly maple, I began to make enticing hen clucks with a diaphragm call. Because of my vantage point, and knowing that I was the only hunter on this plot of ground, I sprinkled an occasional gobble in with my mouth calls. And much to my great surprise, instead of the hens marching over the hill, it was the four bearded men from the opening paragraph.

Where they came from I do not know, nor cared at this point as long as they continued to march in my direction. Onward they came, four abreast cutting the distance to within 75 yards. After crossing a small stream they began to veer away from me, but with a few soft, enchanting purrs, the foursome redirected their advance towards the decoys staked a mere 15-yards from where I waited.

Interestingly, each of these long beards seemed equal in size and beard length. The one closet to me was the most vocal and as they walked within a few feet of the decoys, I settled my bead onto that particular bird. With the thud of the shotgun, one man was down and three others departing for parts unknown. At this point you may be asking, how is it that a deer tracker, known for his expertise in outsmarting antlered whitetails, an animal incidentally and thankfully that has no ability to fly, is out chasing birds?

My Indoctrination 

Just because you may be skilled in one area of hunting doesn’t necessarily mean that expertise will follow you when gunning for another species. Turkeys and whitetails are two very distinctly different creatures and require somewhat varied tactics to succeed. Because turkeys have not always been part of Maine’s landscape, turkey hunting for me came later in life. In fact, because of a lottery system, my turkey-hunting career actually started in a neighboring New England State.

I knew because of my own determination to succeed in whatever I put my hand too; I needed to break the learning curve to being a successful turkey hunter down as quick as possible. Trust me, I was less than a neophyte when I took my first turkey hunt. Fortunately for me, I had the gracious opportunity to train under one of the best turkey men I know, Bob Humphrey. Metaphorically, Bob took me under his wing and in so doing, saved me many painful lessons that I would have otherwise experienced. That’s not to say that I did not screw-up on several occasions while under Bob’s watchful eye, but those mishaps were kept to a minimum because of him.

The reason I was drawn to learn from Bob as opposed to someone else was due to his proactive approach to the game. Bob isn’t one to sit around long in hopes of a gobbler showing up. No, he hunts turkeys like I hunt deer; he literally runs them down.

The Comparative 

Although the tactics between hunting deer and turkeys are different, the overarching methodology of moving to the bird was the impetus that fascinated me about this springtime hunt. Trying to outguess an old limb hanger, putting yourself in the right position based on reading and interpreting what the turkey is actually doing, playing the right tune to entice a hung up bird are all of the vital components necessary to make for a great hunt.

Like deer hunting, with each new encounter and each new situation, more insight into the world of the turkey is added. Turkey hunting has added a whole new dimension to my life. I am as eager to learn as much about this bird as I am to continue my understanding of whitetails. As many of you well know, if it weren’t fun there would not be anyone in their right mind getting up at an hour that is just plain painful.

The Allure 

I was told early on; once you get hooked onto turkey hunting it will become more addicting than deer hunting. Well, to that point I would strongly disagree. However, the great part about pursuing turkeys is I never have to make a choice. I hunt turkeys in the spring and whitetails in the fall. And, I can go at both with equal gusto.

I can’t say that I have ever lost a moment of sleep prior to opening day of turkey season; that has not been the case preceding a deer opener. Psychologically, I’m not quite as pumped leading up to chasing birds as I am when it comes to deer, but I can assure you that I’m no less prepared. But, there is one element of this sport that has no equal when making the comparison.

After you have dragged yourself out of a warm bed, driven to your favored hunting ground, silently groped in the dark to where you are going to set-up, get hunkered down waiting for daylight that seems will never come, a sound reverberates across the landscape like none other. Somewhere close, from a limb high in the security of a pine tree comes the first gobble of the morning that sends tingles down through your entire body. That is when you know, you feel to the very core, this is exciting.

 

The old Chinese proverb states, “Catch a fish for a man and you can feed him for a day. Teach a man how to catch fish and he will feed himself for a lifetime.” After Bob called my first few turkeys to my gun, it was time for me to sink or swim. I needed to build the confidence that I could not only call birds, but also get one close enough to shoot without being aided. I can still remember that radiant morning when everything came together.

The morning had not begun well for me. In fact, I had missed a golden opportunity at a pair of fine birds. I was using a box call when two birds came within gun range, and in my excitement I dropped the call, alerting the birds. Instead of having a clear shot, I now had to force it and in the process, hit a tree instead of either of the birds. Mad, frustrated and feeling quite inept at this point, I stubbornly marched down across the section of field I’d been hunting, reset along a tree line and sat down. I pulled out a diaphragm call that up to this point was reluctant to use due to my inexperience. I popped it into my mouth and exclaimed, “It’s now or never.”

It is even hard for me to believe that anything would respond to my pathetic attempts to mimic the sounds of an available hen, but before long, more than 500 yards away I heard a gobble. “Was he responding to me, I thought? I continued calling and each time I did, the gobbles got closer and closer with increasingly more excitement.

Before long, the Tom materialized from out of the timber. Providentially for me, a hen walked out into the field halfway between the gobbler and me and started in my direction. I continued to call only softer at this point, which only served to further fire this bird up. After what seemed like an eternity, the big male finally got to within 30 yards distance from me. Fully fanned out, with his tail feathers shimmering in all their glory, in mid–tone of his gobble I sent a volley of turkey load that was sufficient to secure the bird.

As I sat there stroking his nearly 11-inch beard, admiring his 1 1/8 inch spurs I felt rewarded. Although Bob was not there to share in my success, I thanked him. After all, he was as responsible for me getting this bird as I was.

All images on this site are copyright protected and the property of R.G. Bernier

    © 2012 R.G. Bernier Nature Photography – All rights reserved.

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Posted in: Turkey