An Epic Two Hour Battle

Posted on May 21, 2013

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“Big things happen from little beginnings.”

                                                                                                                Archibald Rutledge

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Everyone enjoys a good plot, the drama that sucks us in and keeps us on the edge of our seats. As the tension thickens, each page of the book is quickly turned; each new sequence in the movie further captivates and transports us into the very story that is unfolding before our eyes.

As with every good story that has the ability to spellbind the audience, there has to be an antithesis, good vs. evil, the law vs. the criminal, plaintiff vs. defendant, and predator vs. prey. And typically, as the drama unfolds, we begin to root for the underdog almost as if we have an ability to affect the ultimate outcome.

When it comes to turkey hunting, although there can and will be plenty of tenuous drama played out, we are primarily out there to kill birds. Tom Kelly writes in his classic book, Tenth Legion, “…any participant in blood sports is an anachronism. Any man who hunts, hunts in order to kill, no matter what he says about it…regardless of the complexities, and despite the artificial rules the participants erect for one another, the ultimate aim of a blood sport is the death of a beast.” He goes on, “They approach the killing with anticipation and in the event the kill is successfully made, feel absolutely no remorse-only a sensation of satisfaction and fulfillment.”

On the morn of Maine’s second day of the 2013 turkey season I found myself back in the same location I’d been the morning before. It was here where high hopes of immediate success were dashed when two very fine gentlemen gobblers strutted and gobble for 30 minutes, within sight but out of shotgun range, and then just shut-up and walked off stage-left.

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Hoping for a repeat performance, I set-up much closer to the proverbial stage. Once they began their morning crescendo of gobbling, I faintly yelped and purred in hopes of a gentleman caller. Nope, no deal. Instead of them duplicating yesterday’s performance, they pitched down into the valley where they continued to vocalize.

Some temptress hen obviously was more seductive than my flirtatious beckoning. Although I continued to plead with them to come, they only got further away with each departing gobble.

It was now decision time, these birds were heading out towards several fields to my left where they can see for a long way. Do I immediately go after them or give them some time to perhaps be in the woods out of eyesight of my movements? I opted to wait an hour and sat enjoying the orange sunrise appearing in front of me.

“The soul of the matter in legitimate turkey hunting remains the process of getting the turkey in front of the gun, regardless of the method used to do so.” Kelly opines. “Pulling the trigger simply delivers the charge of shot that finalizes the affair.” And believe me; I certainly wanted to ‘finalize the affair’!

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Up and off my duff, I covertly slunk down into the first field and seeing no birds, I hastily made for the corner. Both fields run parallel to each other with a hedgerow stonewall separating the two. I placed a hen dummy (decoy) out 15-yards with a full-fanned Tom 7-yards behind her. My ambush spot in the hedgerow was up against a double trunked maple with raspberry whips that aided in concealment. Within ten-minutes I began to call with my only response being from the song birds buzzing over head. And then…

The Battle Begins

 

In the far distance from behind me I heard a faint gobble. Immediately I responded with a very loud yelp. The gobbler responded. “Okay”, I thought, “he is at least somewhat interested.” Each time he would gobble I would respond in kind with a love language that hopefully he couldn’t resist. With each gobble he was definitely getting closer, but due to my position I was unable to see just how close. This back and forth went on for an hour before a second bird began gobbling from behind and to my left. So now I have two gobblers bellowing from behind me with no real urgency to close the distance.

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What to do, what to do to sell this setup and really turn these guys on? I decided to gobble a couple of time in hopes to create a little jealousy and guess what? It worked. These two really ramped up their gobbling. In kind, I really hammered on the Hot Mamma diaphragm made by Mouthy Maynard Calls. Every time one of them would gobble I would cut them off with cutting and yelping. Yet, they still seemed to be hung up.

Now further questions arise in my head (you have lots of time to think when hunting turkeys): can they see the dummies? Do they look realistic? Thankfully, my hen would move slightly left and then right each time the breeze struck her. In fact, it was admirable at how well an inanimate blow up dummy was performing seemingly on cue. All I could do at this point is remain motionless and continue to try and sell the charade to a pair of males I’d yet to lay eyes on. After all, nothing happens until it sells.

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For those that are uninformed as to some of the self-imposed discomforts related in outsmarting a wise old bird, allow me to articulate. I’d been seated without being able to move for nearly two-hours. I’m staring out into an empty field, save the two dummies, which by now were old news. My mouth was a bit dry from the continuous calling on the diaphragm and both my back and butt began screaming that a position change was long overdue. And the absolute worst part was not being able to see what I was hearing, especially when the gobbling would stop. The temptation to move and take a look was ever prevalent, but mind over matter, my head overruled my body’s desire to succumb. I remained motionless.

The silence was now killing me; it had been 15 long minutes since I last heard a gobble. More questions, “Did they lose interest and depart?” “Are they coming in silent?” “Has this drawn out skirmish all been for naught?”

And then, out of the corner of my left eye it seemed like there was something black that wasn’t there a moment ago. I dared not swivel my head even an inch. “Was it a gobbler or is it just my imagination,” I thought. Finally the suspense was broken with the tell-tale sound of a turned on gobbler spitting-and drumming.

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If a Tom could move any slower I’d not seen one before now. He was creeping at the pace even a snail could easily outdo. With all the air of a suave, debonair, well-seasoned gentleman, the fully fanned long beard with a head as red as a fire engine sidled into view at a mere 10-yards distance. Along with him, came his larger partner, who was also puffed out in his entire glorious splendor.

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My first thought was, “Can I get them both lined up and kill them with a single blast?” That notion was quickly dismissed as I told myself, “One in the hand is better than two in the bush, Bernier.” As the first bird fixated on the fully fanned dummy, I slowly raised my gun, found his head in the peep and folded him at 10-paces. As soon as he dropped, the spent shell was extracted, another round pumped in and his partner was folded with the second shot at 15-paces.

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Wow! At this point two hours worth of built up tension, excitement and yes, exhilaration was released. And yes, for a few minutes following this saga, I was indeed shaking a bit. I hope that feeling never wanes or goes away for if does, it might be time for me to take up another activity.

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Not nearly as difficult as dragging out a buck weighing over 200 lbs, but it was indeed a labor intensive challenge carrying out 40-pounds of turkey ¾ of a mile. However, it was toil of great satisfaction.

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The first gobbler weighed 18-pounds, had a 9-inch beard and 1-inch spurs. His partner weighed 22-pounds (my heaviest bird to date) with a 9 ½ – inch beard and sported 15/16 – inch spurs.

Henry Edwards Davis stated in his memoirs, “To become a successful turkey hunter requires long experience, infinite patience, a good knowledge of woodcraft and the range to be hunted, keen eyesight, hunting sense, the ability to shoot and a thorough understanding of the ways, wiles and habits of these wary birds.” Throw in the drama and uncertainty of the outcome and you have all the makings for what is sure to be an epic experience.

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                               © 2013 R.G. Bernier Nature Photography – All rights reserved.

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Posted in: Turkey