A Long Shot

Posted on May 24, 2016

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I’m not ever surprised by anything nature’s children astonish me with, and no more so than when it comes to bearded men. – RGB

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If you are a turkey hunter, what is the one sound you most want to hear just prior to mornings first light? If you said gobbles you’d be in the majority. There is nothing more exciting to those of us who hunt this grand bird than morning silence being eroded by a chorus of raucous gobbling emanating from among multiple long beards in their roosted positions.

“Right on cue,” I muttered to myself. It was ten minutes till legal shooting light, my dummies (decoys for those of you that are first time readers to my posts) were set and so was I. Day break was a gloriously stunning portrait as ground fog hung over the hilly terrain, which glowed orange with the rise of the sun. As a photographer it grieved me that I wasn’t shooting this dramatic scene. However, I quickly reminded myself that you can’t shoot both – not at the same time anyway – and this morning the mission was to shoot turkeys, with a shotgun, not a camera.

 

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If I were the engineer of circumstance, the story would have gone like this: the birds came off the roost, sailing directly into my fake hens, I picked the largest of the group and dispensed of the unsuspecting red head with a single well-placed shot. And if indeed this was the storyline, we’d be done and I’d be writing, the end. But as we all know so well, few things actually happen as we first envision and today was no different.

At fly down, all the boys clamped their beaks tight despite my most enticing purrs, clucks and yelps. In fact, other than a visit from a hen, who apparently wanted some company, no other turkeys showed the least bit of interest in any tune I was playing. Adding insult to injury, an hour into the day I watched a number of Toms following hens far below my set-up as they led the party out into an adjoining field.

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For about an hour and a half it was really quiet; a silence that if you’re not careful could easily lull one into a nap. With resolve I was staying put. I knew this was a great location from previous experiences of seeing birds. Not one to waste or whittle time away, I sat praying for a dear friend who was either in surgery, or about to be operated on. It was during that chat that I heard distant gobbles from behind me. Although they were a long way off I decided to yelp back. Well guess what? They decided to engage! Game on!

The initial stages of this long distance seduction was relaxing on my part as I was not entirely sure I’d be able to drag what I thought was a pair of Toms from such a great distance. However, despite my misgivings, the gobblers continued to close the gap.

If you’re a turkey hunter it will not be hard to understand the fact that a lot goes through our mind: hope; aspirations; curiosity of how this will eventually play out; questions of how hard, how often and to what tone do I continue to call as we patiently wait for this chess match to unfold?

With my next volley of yelps, much to my great surprise came gobbles from in front of me as well as the original from behind and to my left. (To better understand the remainder of this turkey tale, let me share with you my position: I was nearly at the pinnacle of the field sitting in a hedge row that divided one field from another. To my front and right the terrain dropped off into small valleys before meeting with the woods line. To my left was the very top of the rise, which sharply descended into more woods.) Taking a pause to peer into the field behind me, I spotted three hens feeding in my direction. “Wow,” I thought, “nothing like having the real McCoy to further entice.”

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So, here I am calling (Hot Mamma diaphragm by Mouthy Maynard Calls) with birds answering me from multiple directions, with hens feeding towards me. Talk about feeling like the circus ringmaster! “Which group was going to get here first,” I pondered. No sooner had that thought arose when three very red heads popped up over the hill to my right. As they topped the rise I was immediately struck by the length of their beards, and the finery of their iridescent plumage. Although fired up, they didn’t seem to be in any hurry; you might say they were acting like gentlemen. Of course at this point in the story is when these Toms come to the decoys, right? Isn’t that how it is supposed to work? Nope. They barely gave a passing glance at the dummies and proceeded to march down the incline towards the real hens coming towards them. And just about the time my hopes were dashed, another Tom appears on the adjoining knoll, gobbles twice and then runs toward the other three. Talk about feeling like I got stood up for the prom! I sat feeling jilted until I heard the gobbles from my original contact from behind; and they now sounded like they were within striking distance.

 

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The drama would continue to build. Really Bernier, there is more? Oh heck yeah. To my right I see two more red heads pop up. And even they seemed deliberate, and after a few tenuous seconds stepped up – all three of them – and began sauntering towards the dummies. The only problem was they were Jakes, and I really did not want to shoot a Jake, especially with so many fine gentlemen available. And now you may be asking, how am I holding it together with this many birds surrounding me? All I can tell you is: experience, which is the better part of wisdom.

The trio of yearlings continued to mingle in and around my faux hen and Jake, that is until a thunderous gobble resounded above them. Oh my! There were the birds that I had dragged in from afar and they were every bit as regal as the four below me that were now spitting and drumming. Now I had a huge problem, one of which I’m certain most turkey hunters would dearly love to encounter. I’m surrounded by ten males, any one of seven I would dearly love to pepper if they were only in range. I’m reminded of  ‘ole Flintlock Rutledge who wrote, “It’s a man’s job at any time to handle skillfully one wild turkey; but when they start simultaneously coming to you from every direction, calling at every step, as if you were some fatal siren and they were poor human beings, why, I say it’s being in a jam for sure. It almost makes a hunter feel that, instead of being after them, they are after him.”

 

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My mind for the first time began to do some serious mental gymnastics. I asked the question, “How do I get at least one of these guys to come within shooting distance?” Here is what I came up with: I continued to yelp. Each time I did this the air waves were blasted with ten very loud and continuous gobbles. (Is this exciting yet?) Finally, the stalemate was broken as the Jakes retreated and began to march back toward the decoys and to my thrill, the big boys followed them. The only issue now was the distance from me to them as they walked single file, broadside in front of me. It was at least more than double the 20-yards distance the dummies were set at. “What to do, what to do, I can’t let this slip out of my hand like the thread of a beautiful dream without at least giving it a shot.” (pun intended)

 

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As I raised my gun to the necessary height for a clear sight pattern, the lead gobbler quickened his pace. I yelped, he stopped, raised his head. The bead was centered on the base of his neck, the 12 gauge bucked my shoulder, and at the report, the old boy flipped upside down, flapped a few times and lay dead. None of his comrades or the Jakes hung around for an encore, they were last seen racing over the knoll for parts unknown. The group of four below me along with the hens disappeared as well, to where I could not tell. After all, there was a lot to take in during this ordeal.

Sensing it was now safe, I rose from my perch to go and retrieve my prize. I carefully paced off the distance and was completely blown away by how far my lethal shot traveled. In fact, being a bit doubtful, I re-paced the yardage on my way back to where I had sat. It was by far the longest shot I’ve ever made on a turkey with a shotgun. 49-to-52 yards as best as I can figure based upon my stride was the fatal distance from muzzle to target all the while using a peep site. All I can say is, “WOW!”

 

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The gentleman was handsomely arrayed in a finery of feathers, beard and spurs. He weighed in at 22 ¼ pounds, had a 10-inch beard and sported 1-inch spurs. Indeed, it was a ‘long shot’ but one that I’m glad I took.

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Posted in: Turkey