An Uphill Battle

Posted on June 12, 2018

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It is with great pleasure I introduce my long-time friend and hunting partner, Hart ‘Silverback’ Daley as this week’s guest blogger. The following is his tale of an incredible hunt we shared this spring and the memories etched as a result.

 

May 14th was like Christmas Eve to me because May 15th would be MY opening day to pursue the long-bearded gobbler with my great friend RG Bernier aka: Buck hunter! I went to bed at 8 p.m. Sleep evaded me, and I tossed and turned until 2 a.m. anticipating the upcoming hunt and fearing I’d miss both of my preset alarms.

I awoke and readied myself for the 90-minute journey to meet RG. I triple checked my gear and stepped outside into the dark night. The sky was clear and starlit, and I stopped briefly to admire God’s handiwork before getting into my vehicle for the southbound drive.

 

As I drove to RG’s, I imagined that we’d get set up at some unknown location, begin calling, and simply be overrun by gobblers! There is a clear difference in the population of turkeys in southern Maine as compared to my bailiwick in the western foothill mountains of Maine and I couldn’t wait to experience the thrill. As I wheeled into RG’s driveway he was already making a stealthy exit from his abode, applying painstaking effort not to alert his trusty beagle, who would abruptly end Mrs. B’s slumber if he awoke, which would not bode well for either of us!

 

RG jumped in my chariot and became my personal GPS as he directed me to the location of our pre-dawn destination. We bailed out of the vehicle and proceeded to a predestined location which was well-groomed and had cleanly trimmed shooting lanes, compliments of RG. As I settled in, RG put out a hen decoy, which he affectionately calls the “dummy”. He then joined me and let out the first of the subtle hen yelps and it was immediately acknowledged by a distant gobble directly in front of us. After a few more yelps he had another Tom gobbling at us from behind us and to our left. This lasted for about a half-hour and then the Tom’s fell silent. We continued our serenade for about an hour more and decided it was time to do a little “running and gunning” in the thick woods ahead of us to see what we could rustle up, but not before I showed RG a handy trick on how to create a simple turkey call designed to reel in the biggest turkey ever seen! (Inside joke)

We moved into the woods quietly following a decipherable deer trail. It was at this point that RG suggested we drift to our left and ascent up onto a small knoll to our left. RG commented that he had been educated to the fact that it is more difficult to call a long beard down hill than it is to lure them uphill. I too recalled this information in one of the many turkey hunting books I had read over the years in my efforts to outsmart this winged bandit with a walnut sized brain, however I had stashed the information somewhere in my subconscious memory bank files. But as I thought about all of the bearded turkeys I had waged war with and successfully brought to bag, I realized that I had shot many posing in front of my shotgun barrel after an uphill battle of calling, many who travelled parallel to me along ridges to meet their demise and many that sauntered across flat or rolling fields to meet their doom, but NONE had I called downhill!

 

RG and I moved up onto the ridgeline and began calling to no avail. We continued to walk along the ridge when we heard another gobble to our left about 60-yards away. We quickly sat down and began tag teaming the yelp calls in our efforts to seduce this mossy head out of the thick cover. After a second gobble it was evident that this Tom was henned up and travelling around us, below the ridgeline as he moved to our left. We waited another half-hour or so and stood up to change location, only to be met with a very loud and surprisingly close gobble down the path in front of us. It looked like we were playing a game of musical chairs and fighting for the last seat as we both dropped to our backsides rapid fire! Yet, after some more yelping, clucking and purring…nothing.

RG suggested that he has had success on more than one occasion at around 11 a.m. when the big boys finally give up on the less than cooperative hens. He offered that we could go check out another location but not before we made a pit stop at Dunkin for some much needed caffeination! RG and I have known each other for roughly 35 years. I consider him my brother and one of my dearest friends. We have spent ample time together hunting and have had many precious and personal conversations. Today was no exception. We discussed unexpected events and turmoil in our lives that were not part of our “life plan”. We talked about the “uphill battles” placed in our paths that we have had to endure and how it has not only affected us as individuals but also our families and our relationships with friends as well. We talked about how the paths we walk and the trials and tribulations we face are not for us to understand, but to endure, and to have trust in God that the way will be revealed to us through faith, family and friends.

 

After enjoying our conversation and yes, our coffee, we had arrived at our next turkey mecca destination, or so I hoped! We spied across the fields in front of us and observed a line of turkeys moving towards the wood line. These birds were about 300 plus yards away and did not acknowledge our presence. We hurriedly but cautiously trekked across a soggy stretch of woods and a scrubby field in our efforts to position ourselves to intercept the parade. As we reached the far end of the first field we were temporarily halted by a tangle of alders that would make the Amazon jungle pale in comparison (slight exaggeration). However I was wishing I had packed a machete in my turkey vest! As we began to shrink and contort our bodies to navigate the labyrinth of trees, RG quietly whispered, “We’ve been in worse places than this Silverback”, he was right again. As we weaved methodically through the web of woods, we encountered a very small but very mucky brook. I took one step across the stream and firmly sunk my left boot about a foot into the mud. If this wasn’t precarious enough, my right foot was also sinking and my seat strap on the back of my turkey vest had been impaled by a branch. I was beginning to fall rearward into the brook. Thankfully my brother had my back literally and kept me from taking a dip in the drink! Did I fail to mention as well that this was one of the rare occasions when the weatherman was right? The temperature was hovering at 80 degrees and we were a bit overdressed. Onward!

 

We made it through the thicket and ended up sitting adjacent to an overgrown skidder trail that cut its way from the field past our location. RG set out the tempting dummy again and we called some more, but did not illicit a gobble. We again uprooted and walked over to the edge of the field and were greeted with a long expanse of deep green grass void of turkeys. RG suggested we walk back through the woods toward another hilly area nestled between two large fields. While walking, we chatted about how we both enjoy the anticipation felt during the interaction when you get a Tom responding to your calls and know he is closing the distance, as opposed to having a gobbler walk in silently.

 

Upon cresting the top of the hill – at 11 a.m. I might add – I heard an unsolicited gobble off to our right, down below us and in the woods approximately 50 – 70 yards away. I motioned to RG that I had heard the gobble and he asked if I wanted the hen decoy set out. I nodded that I did and quickly found a tree to put my back against while waiting for RG to settle in behind me. I let out a series of yelps that was immediately greeted by a responding gobble. I called again and received a repeat performance. I knew now that this long beard was actually interested in having a conversation with me. I called back, and he responded yet even closer. I toned down my calling and mixed in some light clucks and purrs as well as the gobbler closed the distance. Suddenly from below me and to my right I began seeing the bright red head of this long beard flickering through the undergrowth. I called softly, and he again gobbled as we engaged in this uphill battle. When the Tom reached a distance of about 35-yards he was in full strut. I could see that he was a mature bronze warrior with a beautiful full tail and a long thick beard. As he stepped into a small opening, he provided me with a window of opportunity and a clear shot to deliver my 3 ½” #5s through the forest. I slowly raised the barrel of my shotgun, took aim, squeezed the trigger, and for the bearded old man, the uphill battle was lost.

 

The good Lord blessed me this day with a magnificent hunt, shared with a cherished friend and etched in my mind a wonderful and treasured memory. I was also fortunate to have RG, a professional photographer, alongside me this day to memorialize the success in photographic splendor!

 

My uphill battle amidst the turkey woods with this woodland warrior was now over, but I am confident there will be many more in my life’s path. When you face an uphill battle of your own, in life or on the hunt, relying on your faith, family and friends may help you endure the challenge. God bless and savor your time afield!

 

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Posted in: Guest Blog, Turkey