Slam Dunk Gobblers

Posted on April 29, 2014



Every man Jack of us is a dead shot, an expert hunter, and everyone who was born in a town smaller than Chicago a competent and polished woodsman.

                                                                                                                Tom Kelly – Tenth Legion



This seemed too easy, even for a greenhorn neophyte like me. Bob, my turkey hunting mentor motioned for me to sit down with my back against a stone wall. In that magical pre-dawn light where you can just barely see, yet still dark enough to conceal a couple of assassins on a clandestine mission to rob a gobbler of his tail-feathers, the unmistakable sounds of a male turkey could be heard at close range.

Having never experienced turkey hunting before, watching Bob belly-crawl twenty-yards out into the field to place a dummy hen seemed a bit, well, just a bit too much like the invasion of Normandy. Was this gobbler going to attack? Does he have night-vision? Once Bob returned to the wall he whispered, “Once its legal shooting light, that old bird will pitch down and approach the fake hen out there in front of us, at least that’s how the plan is suppose to go.”


As I sat there like a wide-eyed fawn seeing the world, or at least the turkey-world for the first time, I, like those self-proclaimed experts described by Kelly was of the same opinion that,

We believe that we are instinctively born knowing the wilderness, that we are nowhere so comfortable as in the forest primeval, and that we are quite fully capable of hunting and killing with dispatch anything from hummingbirds to elephants, even if we choose not to do it. To admit ignorance, to admit even by inference, that there is no species of game bird or animal that flies, walks, or crawls across the face of the North American continent that we are unable to hunt skillfully and kill effortlessly, somehow runs against our grain. Not only does it offend us to think it, we flatly refuse to admit that it could ever happen.

Ten minutes after sunrise and following a bunch of gibberish from Bob’s mouth (hen talk as I later learned) the bird flew down. “Get ready,” Bob said. Without another sound from a creature that just moments before was bellowing for all the world to hear, the tom was guardedly ambling towards the fake hen. The tension began as my arms begin to involuntarily shake. My breath came in short spasmodic rhythms as my heart pounded like the drum of an Indian war dance.

At this point, I was about to be, as Kelly puts it, “furnished with a sackful of humility and embarrassment.” To this day I cannot tell you the distance that bird was from my gun, nor can I recall where I held the bead. After all, wasn’t this a scatter gun capable of broadcasting BB’s in a wide arc? What I do remember quite vividly was the sinking feeling of despair as I watched the turkey launch into the sky, flap those long wings and fly completely out of the country unscathed and probably laughing at me for having missed a chip shot on my first ever attempt at what I have since realized is not as simple as it first seemed.


Indeed, I was, as Archibald Rutledge referred to, “the average man who is lured into the woods by the vision of a forty-pound gobblers’ gobbling at him violently from a distance of ten yards has many things to learn about the nature and the hunting of this grand bird.”

And learn I did. Being a determined type of guy as well as what some would classify as an overachiever, I was bent on succeeding, much like I had hunting whitetails. I can assure you, the lessons did not come easily with many more misses and miscues on my part. One thing I didn’t want was success as the result of chance blunders; I needed the self-assurance that I could get it done on any given outing.

Several years later, with a number of successful turkey hunts under my proverbial wings, I was feeling like perhaps I’ve got this turkey hunting down to a science. Pausing to look up after typing that last sentence my eyes focused onto a memento from a couple of years ago; a lone turkey feather. The significance you may ask? Allow me to explain.


Sitting along a hedge row amidst round hay bails provided great natural concealment from the prying eyes of wary gobblers. With a Jake and pair of hen dummies 15-yards out to my right and gobbles coming from down the field to my left had me confidently prepared for the gentlemen’s arrival. And come they did. All I had to do was hold the gun and wait till they walked into it. These were long beards, the very kind that old Rutledge writes, “every hunter longs to encounter.” In fact, his story is so similar to my own experience I will share both, beginning with Archibald’s account,

I waited until the birds were within forty yards. Then my trigger finger began to tingle. The time seemed right for the speaking of the message. Still I waited, until the gobblers were within thirty yards; until they were within twenty. I might have waited until they had come within two or three. But I was certain of my chance. Laying my sight on the bigger one of the two, I let drive.


To my chagrin and astonishment, both turkeys rose, and the one at which I had shot appeared to rise more strongly and quickly than the other. They started down the mountain, then took a half-circle above me, passing directly overhead at a height of about fifty feet. I gave the left barrel to the same turkey. It seemed to me that every shot struck. His feathers were sadly disheveled. But he did not stop; indeed, he did not pause. He had urgent business calling him elsewhere.

There were four bearded men in my own hunt that marched in single file, broadside to where I sat at a distance of 15 yards completely unaware of my presence until I touched off the first round.


At once and with immediacy the lead bird took off on a mad dash. The middle two birds, at which I was aiming, went airborne only to increase their flight-speed following shot two and three from my 870, peppering the air behind them. The last bird in line (I can’t account for his direction of escape) just disappeared. Once the dust had settled and feathers hit the field I just sat there in utter disbelief that I did not have at least one dead bird, much less two. What was I aiming at? I saw feathers fly, where did I hit the birds? Why-oh-why did they still fly? I defer to Archibald for his assessment,

I do not mean to say that a wild turkey will on every occasion stage a getaway of this kind; yet the selfsame thing often happens, as every turkey-hunter can testify, and there is no way of accounting for it save by saying that the wild turkey can take care of a good deal more than his fair share of lead.


And as the final word may I add, although success seems to shine the brightest, that luminosity surely could never have contrasted with the darkness without failure – regardless of how simple it appears. When it comes to turkeys, there are no slam dunks.


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Posted in: Turkey