A Tail of Two Birds

Posted on May 27, 2014

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“A wonderful fact to reflect upon, that every human creature is constituted to be that profound secret and mystery to every other.”  – Charles Dickens

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Each turkey season is different, unpredictable, uncertain and filled with experiences that continue to build on each other. Those occurrences hopefully provide valuable insight for future reference. And the 2014 season here in Maine did not disappoint with regards to turkey’s erratic behavior. They have the uncanny propensity to cause whatever you thought you knew about these grand birds to not only be questioned but at times be thrown right out the window. And just like the whitetail, turkeys are a profound mystery to those of us that venture into their springtime haunts. What now follows is two very different tales of turkey magic.

 

Jake – A – Tom

 

As opening day arrived, I felt the same joy and excitement aptly described by Rutledge, “I think no huntsman is more joyous than when he is taking the field, with a clear conscience, on the first day – one reason for his state of mind being that he hasn’t yet missed a thing that season.”

Creeping into my set-up location, which would be just west of where I suspected gobblers to be roosted seemed a bit eerie in the predawn darkness; after all, it had been nearly a year since the last time I was traipsing around in the dark. I set a lone hen dummy approximately 15-yards from where I would sit and then patiently waited for first light. It wasn’t long before a crescendo of gobbles began reverberating from several different trees. Not that I’m an expert at turkey vocal inflection, but according to my hearing, there was at least five different gobblers gobbling in unison.

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Wow, what a noise, which to a turkey hunter is pure music. I quietly sat down, put the gun stock to my shoulder and prepared for fly-down with less than five minutes till legal shooting light. As you can imagine, my breaths came a little quicker as my pulse raced in anticipation of what was shaping up to be a momentous opening bell on Turkey Street. And then the unthinkable happened. Some might describe it as a nightmare.

As I was concentrating on the gobbling to my left, I heard noise to my right; lots of noise coming directly at me. Were there other birds descending from trees to my right? Nope. It was four whitetails coming crashing headlong through the brush, making more racket than elephants in a potato chip factory. It was as if they were on a mission to sabotage my efforts because the four of them came to an abrupt halt within arms length of me.

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Now as many of you know, I’m primarily a deer guy and ordinarily to have deer making a valiant effort to be close to me is both welcomed and hoped for; but not today. Today I’m a turkey hunter.

I have no earthy idea what caused the stampede of deer, but just as soon as they arrived the lead doe spun, literally leaped over my outstretched leg, and took the rest of the crew with her down the incline and out towards the fields. By now the gobbling had ceased, the birds had flown down, and not even a turkey would be dumb enough to head in the direction of all that racket. And sure enough, a few faint gobbles could be heard as the birds headed directly away from me.

Although I made several attempts to cut the gang off, and call them back it proved futile as I ran out of real estate to hide within. I watched a parade of long beards following three hens leaving the premises. They might well have been the planet for that matter, as they weren’t coming back, at least not today.

Despite being a bit dejected over the turn of events, I decided to attempt one more set-up before calling it a day.

I set a lone hen dummy on a trail leading through a swamp and then sat down beneath an ancient maple tree on the edge where the hardwood abuts. After a few yelps, purrs and putts, I shut up and waited. Within minutes I spotted a hen, a real one picking her way through the bottomland 30-yards beyond my fake girl. Several minutes went by before I turned my head slightly to the right, and to my great surprise, 25-feet away, was a turkey whose head looked like it was glowing red from top to bottom.

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He’d come in silent and was fixated on my phony hen. It did not take him long to march right up to the blow-up doll. Here I am trying to decide if I want to shoot him or not while he is making an attempt to mount my dummy. Although he is clearly a Jake, the size of him was uncharacteristic; he was huge. It didn’t take a lot for me to decide, once he began to fan out, that I was going to take him. I squeezed the trigger on what may well be what my friend Hart calls, a Jake-A-Tom. The bird with a 5 ¼ “beard tipped the scales at 20 lbs 6 oz. It’s the biggest Jake I’ve ever personally seen, shot or heard of.

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The Chase

Tom Kelly writes:

“Turkey hunting is a magical, intellectual, tactical exercise conducted out of doors. It is a personal,      contemplative sport and does not require the production of a dead turkey to be classified a success…The only requirement is that you chase. Nowhere is it written that you have to catch. Catching sometimes spoils the poem.”

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But catching was the goal and this hunt certainly would entail a good chase. At pink light, a time in the spring when male turkeys are typically most vocal, no gobbling could be heard anywhere near where I was seated. With a Jake and hen dummy set out so that any turkey could see from a good distance, I was confident that I would see action. And it didn’t take long; a bird left its roost in trees just to my right and behind landing beside my two dummies. Now it’s always a good thing when a turkey flies down in the midst of your set-up, not nearly as good when that bird is a hen.

Within the next hour or so, nine more hens paraded into the field from different directions yet, still no sign or noise from any long-beards. “Strange,” I thought, “All these hens and no gobbling, no Toms, and not even a Jake?” This gathering of hens just sort of meandered around with seemingly no real agenda. It was as if these females were out on a shopping spree without actually buying anything.

And then, from out of a very distant corner of the field three hens emerged followed closely by a huge Tom. If this indeed was a shopping spree, the three new comers created quite a stir upon their arrival. Yelping began in earnest as the two groups clearly were not friendly towards each other. It now became evident where the cliché, ‘madder than a wet hen’ stemmed from. These gals were as animated as they were vocal chasing each other round-and-round as the big old gobbler just watched the show.

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Two things I knew as a turkey hunter, I didn’t stand a ghost of a chance calling that boy away from all those ladies no matter how seductively I talked – who could blame him – and if I was to have any chance at all I needed to try and cut the parade off.

I struck off into the woods at exactly 7 a.m. to make a wide birth of this large expanse of fields, and do so undetected. It was going to take a while. Being in unfamiliar terrain I ran into a few obstacles. The biggest was a brook that ran between two of the fields, which had swelled to twice its width and depth. There was no crossing that without taking a bath, trust me, I tried, and thus had to detour further in order to get around and back to the fields.

Finally, as I emerged onto the edge of the field beyond where I had last seen the entire flock, with disappointment I observed there wasn’t a single bird anywhere in sight. It’s as if the entire race of turkeys had quit the planet. Not one to be easily deterred, I found a strategic spot, put out a feeding hen, a breeding hen and a fully fanned dummy gobbler and sat down.

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After a few silent moments, I yelped, purred, clucked and even gobbled without so much as even a cursory response. I was getting the silent treatment. And so I did what any rational man would do, I shut up and just sat there. More than an hour later I heard an unsolicited gobble resonate from behind me. Immediately I yelped back. He gobbled again, I yelped back. This back and forth went on for the better part of another hour. The good news was that the vocalizations were getting closer. And then I saw the first of five hens behind me and to my right, with the big boy bringing up the rear. Across the dividing hedge row, they entered the forward field and began walking diagonally in front of me, out about 100 yards. I gave my best soft purrs, which to my surprise drew the last two hens right into my dummies, but the wise old boy stayed his distance and refused to commit. The two girls left to rejoin him and they continued to the upper field to my left and out of sight.

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For the next forty-five minutes I gave them everything I had: box call, diaphragm, the Bomb, and I would have thrown in the kitchen sink had I one in my vest. Just as I was about to chalk this up to a gobbler being henned-up, the trio reappeared once again. At this point I had nothing else to entice them with that I’d not already used; my bag was completely empty.

It was then with them out more than 100-yards that I quoted the Psalmist, “Every beast of the forest is mine,” followed up with a short conversation with Jesus: “These are your birds and if you want me to have that old gobbler than you’re going to have to direct the trio down here within shooting range.”

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Within seconds, the hens began a straight beeline for my set of dummies, and unlike an hour ago, the Tom was coming right in with them. When he got within twenty yards, centered between his two love interests and slightly to the left of the fakes, my # 5s found the mark, ending this 4 hour and 35 minute dual.

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The old limb hanger appears to be at least three-years old with 1 5/16” spurs, a well-worn 9” beard and weighs 21.5 pounds. “Every hunter knows them” – Jim Casada writes, “those days when fickle fate sees fit to shine, however briefly, on his efforts. Such fleeting moments we cherish for their magic.” And for me, for this hunt on this day, it was all Jesus!

 

 

 

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Posted in: Turkey