Get Er Done – My 2012 Turkey Season

Posted on May 22, 2012

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“There is something about three hours alone in here without the sound of another human voice that is restorative…It is an aloneness that is wholly free from loneliness…(but) make no mistake that the purpose in hunting turkeys is to kill some, not to worship nature.”

                                                                                                      –  Tom Kelly

 

  

A day prior to the 2012 turkey season, my bride of more than 32-years looked straight into my eyes and exclaimed, “Get it done tomorrow!” In defense of her seemingly indifferent attitude towards me chasing the long beard, our grandsons were on day four of their visit, sleep had been noticeably reduced due to the boys being sick, and she flat out dislikes being disturbed by an alarm clock going off at 3:30 a.m.

Understand that a women who has never risen from a warm springtime bed to venture out into the wild, under the cloak of darkness in order to be in position to hear the first crisp notes of gobbling booming from the roost at pink light cannot hope to comprehend the exhilaration of it. Nor can she fully grasp the difficulties involved in securing one of these grand birds, much less realize all of the contorted, uncomfortable, and sometimes down right ridiculous positions a turkey hunter finds himself in as he patiently waits for the bird to present a shot. How could she? In her line of thinking, it would almost seem that it is the turkey’s duty to strut on up to my gun and at its report, fall down dead.

Despite my resolve to explain to her that what she was asking was quite a feat to accomplish, one that I had never before experienced, and that shooting one good bird during a single morning of hunting would be considered by most, an accomplishment in itself; but to get two? Her confidence in my ability to secure both birds in one day would not be deterred as she reiterated, “Get it done.”

Although attainable, dreamed about by most that pursue this bird, including myself, the practicality of what was being asked of me seemed almost beyond reach. After all, we’re dealing with a wild turkey whose innate desire is heavily bent on preservation, and what’s more, he can fly, I can’t.

It was with eagerness and great anticipation that I arrived at my preselected location for my first set-up. Quickly and quietly I set my dummy (hen decoy) approximately 15 yards from the stone wall I would have my back against. And then for the next twenty minutes or so I sat in the stillness and marveled as darkness relinquish to mornings first light. In those pregame moments a whole host of emotional thoughts and feelings suddenly materialize. Questions such as, is this the best location, will the turkeys follow this path, will he see my hen, will my calls be enticing enough? We’ve all been there through the opening day jitters and nervousness. It would almost seem like the turkey is the one armed. I guess that is one of the reasons why we return each spring to hunt this bronze feathered bird; the feeling of uncertainty mingled with a desire to succeed.

And there it was; the first gobble that served to break the tension. I smiled inwardly as this confirmed that indeed, the turkeys were still using familiar roosts from years prior. It wasn’t long before there could be heard a raucous chorus of gobbles resonating from numerous perches. My grip on the gun tightened, my pulse quickened and breathing became erratic, and it wasn’t even light enough to shoot yet.

Near the end of the first hour of my vigil, gobbles sounded to my right. They were coming to my yelps, or so I thought. Looking to where the sound emanated I spotted two long beards in full display yet, they didn’t seem to be any too bent on getting to this hot mamma. Each time they would gobble I would respond with love notes trying to entice them. They appeared to be either disinterested or perhaps busy with the real McCoy, not to be confused with a decoy.

Sure enough, behind me and to my right were two hens that were preoccupied preening themselves in the warm sun. And as circumstances would have it, here came the pair of Toms from a direction that would make it virtually impossible for me to get a shot. Somehow I needed to get my gun barrel redirected around the tree to my right while at the same time, get my body in a position to shoot.

Tom Kelly writes about this very predicament in his book, Tenth Legion, “Turkeys, you see are going to come up from behind you. They are going to walk up over your right shoulder. They are going to appear downhill, under your knees. You are repeatedly and regularly going to have to lean eight inches out of plumb either to the right or left to shoot around trees. You are going to have to shoot with the stock mounted on your arm anywhere from the elbow to the collar bone. And you are going to be trapped into positions on downhill lies, that force you to keep yourself propped up with the left hand and shoot one-handed, the grip under the fore end being done with either knee.”

Well, it took quite some time along with a good bit of contortion but, I was now lying prone, facing uphill, all done without the turkeys any wiser that danger lurked so close. As the pair of fanned out gobblers drew closer, heads tight to each other, I thought for the first time, “Hey, I may just be able to pull this two-bird thing off and only have to shoot once.” Unfortunately, my hopes were quickly dashed as the hens led the colorful parade up the draw between two ridges and completely out of sight.

“Okay Bernier, think, what is the best option at this point,” I thought to myself. Quickly, I jumped to my feet, hunched over and raced down the stone wall to where the ridge eases out into the field edge. I selected a tree to sit against and was ready to cut the parade off. After several minutes of waiting with nothing showing, I climbed the embankment, peeked over the top only to be disappointed; no turkeys to be seen.

For years now I have been preaching and writing if you want to be a consistently successful deer hunter, you must learn, know and understand whitetail behavior. Well, that same philosophy holds true for turkeys. Over the course of the last three springs I’ve spent nearly the entire months of March & April photographing turkeys, and because of that intimate exposure, I’ve learned more about turkey behavior than ever would be possible should I have three lifetimes of hunting the bird. It was now time to tap into that insight and make an informed decision regarding my next move rather than start guessing.

I went back to my original position, gathered up my dummy and repositioned her half-way up the ridge, located a tree near the top and sat down. Why would I stay in this location you might rightfully inquire? Simple, I had not disturbed the turkeys that now had vanished and this appeared to be a hot location, at least this morning. I’d given myself the same advice old Flintlock Rutledge once wrote about when he extolled, “At such a time a man has to use all the headwork he has. And in hunting I had long since learned that that often means not to do a darn thing but to sit tight.”

Once again I began to call and instantly had a gobbler respond from way out in the field to my immediate left. When I called again, not only did he respond, but another male gobbled to my right and he was a whole lot closer. Now I’ve got to move again as I would not be able to shoot to my right. Slowly and methodically, I eased my frame to the right and around the base of a stately oak, and then shuffled over and placed my back to a conveniently placed blow-down; at least it was convenient for me at this moment in time.

Each time I yelped the bird from the field responded and was getting closer with every gobble. The bird to my right would only respond every third time and not with a whole lot of enthusiasm. Staring down the slight decline out in front of me I saw three hens feeding and coming towards me. “Wow,” I thought, “There’s nothing like having living, breathing dummies to help the cause.

Just as I finished the last note of cutting, the bird from the field revealed from his gobble that he had closed the gap and I guessed him to now be in the woods heading directly for me. It was at that precise moment that I spotted movement through a screen of brush to my right; big tom slowly meandering toward me. Slowly, ever so slowly I swiveled my gun to the right as if it were affixed to a turret and waited with high hopes that the bird would curtsey in front of my sights.

 He did, the boom followed and he bowed to the ground, which proved to be his final act. He was a three-year old that sported a ten-inch beard, 1 1/8 spurs and weighed in at 21 pounds.

But that’s not the end of the story.

At the report of my gun, one of the hens flew up into a tree, which caused me to look in that direction, and as I did, I noticed a red head, forty-yards out. I shucked the spent shell, jacked in another round and waited. The red spot never moved for ten long minutes, and at the eleventh minute of my watch, from behind a large blow-down came, in single file, four red-capped bearded soldiers. The second in line had the best beard, and in order to get my sights on him I had to move my barrel back and around a small sapling. In attempting to perform this simple task, the lead bird spied the movement and came to immediate attention. That move on his part, although noble became his last maneuver. I placed the sights on him and fired felling him in a heap.

 

 It took a couple of minutes for this to all sink in, I had, in the span of eleven minutes done what I thought was nearly impossible; shot two mature birds in the same morning. There they lay, thirty yards apart, the first shot at 7:50, the second, a two-year old with a 8.5-inch beard, 1-inch spurs that weighed 19-pounds shot at 8:01 ending my season exactly three hours after it began.

Truly I had been blessed. This was, without question a great opening day and perhaps the best turkey hunting morning of my career. With both birds lying at my feet I dialed my wife to tell her the unbelievable news, and her response was simple, “Thank you!”  Although I too was incredibly grateful for what had just transpired, I knew intimately that to accomplish this took more than just being a savvy hunter, it took more than just being in the right place at the right time, it took more than just making right choices, it took more than just being patient, it took providence from a great Father who gives good gifts to His children…And for that I am both humbled and gratified.

 

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