Thunder On The Mountain

Posted on May 29, 2012

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It is my great pleasure to introduce my long-time friend and hunting partner, Hart ‘Silverback’ Daley as this week’s guest blogger. The following is his tale of both an incredible hunt and an even more incredible bird as he ‘Double Downs in 2012’.

On the eve of May 3rd I ventured down the dirt road behind my house with my lovely wife Allison in what is usually a futile attempt to roost a gobbler. I have never had much luck undertaking this task but it was a nice night for a brisk walk. Surprisingly, as I fired up my Hoot Flute the night air was filled with a reverberation of gobbles, and by the time the symphony was finished 3 different birds were pinpointed. Although they were each about 300 yards apart they seemed more than willing to participate in my egotistical game plan. Despite fog starting to settle in, the predicted rain had held off, which made the decision to set my decoys out in the dark of night simple and further added to my growing optimism that come morning, my odds should be very good. However, if you’re like me and have hunted for any length of time you know who “Murphy” is, and the law he has made famous is always just around the corner of any endeavor.

And sure enough, when I eagerly awoke at 4:00 a.m., I was greeted by the heavy pitter patter of rain pelting my bedroom window. “Murphy is back,” I muttered. And then the tension began; the mental battle in my mind of whether to climb back into a warm, inviting bed or go hunt turkeys in a monsoon. Although the psychological tennis match was brisk and intense, subconsciously I could still hear the gobbles from 8 hours prior echoing in my head and that became the ace to finally push me to gear up in my turkey attire and head out into the dark wet woods.

Methodically I picked my way through a thicket before arriving at my location where immediately I cushioned my back against a solid oak settling uncomfortably under a pouring down rain. I sat quietly shivering in these formidable conditions from 4:30 a.m. to 6:00 a.m. and throughout this time, proceeded to wear out the latex diaphragm calls in my vest. For all my enchanting efforts and beautiful serenading I was rewarded with but a single, brief, faint lonely gobble about 300 yards away and to my left. Apparently that gobbler had some female company as his vocalizations continued to drift further and further away eventually dissolving in the morning shower. The longbeard that I roosted near my decoy set-up the previous evening evidently developed laryngitis as a result of the cold damp night he suffered through as he never stretched a single vocal chord.

In the early morning calm I felt that old familiar thud. It was my steadfast friend, motivation, kicking me in my seat cushion. So in resolute defiance to the rain and with an indomitable spirit, I hoisted my waterlogged carcass from the thoroughly saturated ground and meticulously picked my way up the mountain, intermittently calling every 50 yards or so. As I emerged from a conifer canopy into some tight-knit hardwood I heard a distinct solitary gobble, muffled as it was due to the steady rain ahead of me approximately 200-yards up the ridge. The chess game was about to begin as I continued moving cautiously forward and closed the distance to what I thought to be about 100 – yards and once again, for the second time this morning perched against yet another ancient oak tree.

 

I mixed my arsenal of calling between cutting hard, clucking and purring softly yet, could not solicit a return gobble. And then suddenly, without warning, I observed a dark shape silently materialized in the rain and mist about 70-yards away. At first I was unsure of what I was seeing due to trees and brush obstructing my view and even wondered, “Could this be a bear rubbing against a tree?” I both listened and continued to intently stare all the while intermittently calling when the shadowy figure finally stepped from behind the wall of trees revealing his bright white head attached to what turned out to a big tom in full strut. Thankfully, the rain had begun to subside allowing me to hear the old bird spitting and drumming as he strutted back and forth.

The tom’s pacing seemed to last forever, but then again, a half hour can feel like an eternity when your quarry is near striking distance. I pondered as to why this wary longbeard was resistant to move any closer to my location, but it wasn’t long before my question was frustratingly answered when the beguiling competition sashayed onto the scene. The hen walked right past the strutting tom and continued moving to my left along the edge of the ridge. No cutting, yelping, or purring, as the bronzed beauty just teasingly pranced past the old veteran in an effort to lure him in her direction. Her mission I believe was to do her best to convince him that “a hen in the wing is better than two that sound like one in the bush”.

The mossyhead was clearly mesmerized by the hen and indeed broke his strut to follow her, which meant I needed to continue to lightly and incessantly purr and cluck in an all out attempt to coax him in my direction. Apparently the temptation proved to be greater than he could handle as his curiosity got the best of him. Succumbing to my enticement, the bearded man felt compelled to move a little closer. Maybe he just wanted a peek, one quick glance at this mysterious, persistent lady prior to following the hen he could see. This lapse in good judgment on his part became the window of opportunity I had hoped for. Estimating the distance to be somewhere in the vicinity of 50-yards between gun barrel and feather, and concluding that this may well be my only chance, I made the decision that I’d shoot once a clear path was afforded. This distance was not troublesome due to the fact that I had meticulously patterned my shotgun out to 60 yards, and despite never having actually taken a shot over 40 yards at a turkey, I was confident in what the gun could do. Taking a steady rest on my knee, I took a shallow breath before gently squeezing the trigger that served to make thunder on the mountain and unleash a charge of #5 turkey supreme into the hefty beard dragger effectively laying him down on the forest floor. Thankfully, my estimates on distance were pretty close as it turned out to be exactly 48-yard from me to my hard-won fallen prize.

As I admired this fine gobbler I figured him to be a 3-year old based upon his 1″ inch pointed spurs. His uniqueness came in the form of having not one, but two well developed beards, a thick 9.5″ and a thinner 7 3/8”. What turned out to be the most surprising and perhaps gratifying was that he tipped the scales at a whopping……..24.5 lbs. This bird actually bested what I didn’t think possible, my previous year’s long beard that weighed in at 23.5 lbs. Regrettably, I had kicked myself during the past year for not having a full mount done on a bird of that size; and now, with one besting that by a pound I won’t make that same mistake. Nope, this magnificent specimen will be memorialized within the hard work room, taxidermically preserved in all of his bronzed splendor, fully strutting as I remembered him in life.

(Editors note: Just days prior to this story running, Hart finished his 2012 turkey season with another incredibly unique bird. This gobbler weighed 18.5 pounds, had 1-inch spurs, and sported and unbelievable 15 ½ -inch beard. Great job Silverback; we’ll leave that story for another day.)

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

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Posted in: Guest Blog, Turkey