Come Turkey Season Opener

Posted on May 21, 2019



Any opener is special, exciting, anticipated and refreshing, no matter the sport or species. – RGB



I toss, turn and fidget expecting the alarm to be blaring at any moment. And trust me when I tell you, my Big Ben alarm has two huge bells that make it sound more like a fire alarm than a wake-up call. Yet, as I peer over at the digital red numbers on my best gal’s clock it reads only 1:30.
You would never know that this was not my first turkey opener, not even close. And at the age of 60 one would think the excitement of chasing long beards would have worn thin by now. Well, if my getting little-to-no sleep is any indication, I’d say the boyish enthusiasm is still very much alive. If that excitement ever fades it will be indicative that I need to chase something else come spring.

Three Hour Thriller

With high hopes in my heart and a 12-gauge in hand I moved across a partially moonlit field. The gobbles began like a rising crescendo from all directions. This was going to be a good day, I thought to myself.

It requires a bit of finesse to navigate a logging trail filled with debris under predawn light. What would essentially take 5-minutes in good visibility ultimately took 15 this morning. Upon arriving at my predetermined location, I set about to place a breeding hen and a Jake decoy. Once satisfied that I was ready, I sat down in my turkey lounger and waited for shooting light and the opener to begin.



“Turkey hunting has always been a contemplative man’s sport, filled with prolonged periods of watchful waiting and uncertain anticipation,” writes Jim Casada. “It lends itself to quiet reflection” he continues, “to immersion in the remote woodlands, secluded sloughs, and distant field edges which the beautiful bird calls home. Indeed, the consummate hunter enters turkey woods not as an intruder but as an individual capable of coming as close to oneness with nature as a human can.”

And thus, as darkness melded into the first rays of golden light, I indeed reflected on the many hunts I’ve enjoyed chasing long beards. I would be remiss if I did not share just how fortunate I am to be able to be here, at this very moment to hunt such a grand bird. I never take this opportunity to hunt for granted.



It was an hour after the birds hit the ground before gobbling ramped back up. It was now that I needed to sound both seductive yet, aloof all at the same time. No man wants an easy woman, he wants to work for it. But then, are we really hunting for a gentleman or just some Tom that desperately wants some? I believe the best description of the Spring gobbler, at least the finest I’ve yet read, was recently penned my friend Walt Hampton:



“Before we get too romantic let me inject a little reality into this tome: although the adult tom turkey is indeed a beautiful creation, showy, with gorgeous plumage and a regal bearing, the truth is that biologically he is simply a sperm dispenser. He is a coward, a bully and a misogynistic bastard; he will try to forcibly breed every hen he can find and will destroy active nests to get the hen to recycle so she can be re-bred. He will displace other turkeys from feeding or breeding areas and when confronted with perceived danger he will tuck tail and run. He assumes no responsibility for the rearing of the young and will actually kill and eat small poults if he can catch them. As soon as the breeding season is over, he abandons social interaction with others of his species and retires to the solitary, reclusive life of leisure. A grand trophy and fine eating, the old tom is a distinct challenge to hunt in a fair-chase, ethical manner because of his cryptic camouflage, his unbelievable hearing, his 270-degree, color-vision eyesight and his intimate knowledge of his home range. Calling an adult tom in to close range and killing him before he even knows that he has been fooled is the pinnacle of achievement in hunting success.”

So here I am sitting in an abnormally cold, clear morning going back and forth with numerous birds that are responding to my call. Most were far off and seem to have little interest in closing the gap. But the two up and over the rise in front of me, in a field, parading like they owned the world, held the best chance. I cannot see them or the field, but each time they gobble I know exactly where on that playground they are standing.

This stand-off lasted the better part of two hours without either party giving an inch. Alright, stubbornness aside, I decided to take the party to them. I pulled my two dummies, grabbed my chair and quietly ascended the hill in front of me. Once reaching the top I immediately saw two red heads standing along the woods-line. Dropping everything but my shotgun, I lined up the sights on what would have been a slam dunk shot. But there was no noise. No shot, not yet anyway. The birds in the field were on posted property. If I was going to shoot them, they would have to step over the invisible line where they then would become fair game.

For the next 45 minutes I threw every call I had at them. Oh, they would gobble back, but had no interest in crossing the invisible line. Maddening? For sure, but all part of the allure of hunting.



Time for a different tact. The duo had gone down the field slope and out of sight temporarily, which gave me time to position my breeder hen and Jake. Once accomplished, I decided to give my wing bone bark call a shot. Oh my, did that ever fire the boys up. Quickly, from my knees I began getting my chair next to a tree 15-yards away. Halfway to the tree and I see the pair are now marching directly at me, on my side of the line by more than a few feet.



The back bird had a better fan, but the lead one had a better beard. Beard, fan, beard, fan? Which one will it be? The lead bird with the best beard drew the short straw. From 8-yards distance I ended his career as a turkey, but oh what a hunt he provided me. Not that it matters other than to me, but his buddy flew off in a mighty hurry following his chum’s demise.


Dreaming Time

Three hours later and about a mile away I was set up against a huge blow down. In front of me was my hen and Jake positioned about 15-yards distance and 30-yards from the stream beyond them. The wind was blowing, the air was warming and with no response to my yelps, I became a candidate for a nap. With little to no sleep the night before and success after a highly energized hunt, I closed my eyes. But only for a moment, or so I thought. When I opened them, I had no idea where I was, or how long I’d been out.



The first thing I spotted was a turkey. Oh my gosh, there is a second one, only problem was, these were merely my decoys! Wow Bernier, what in the world are you doing? Stay awake, man.

I struck another series of yelps with no response. Okay now, keep your eyes open, I cautioned myself. But don’t we all know, when those lids get heavy it becomes nearly impossible to hold them in the upright and locked position. And sure enough, mine closed yet a second time.

Archibald Rutledge opined in his essay on Great Gobblers, “Every old hunter knows that a great chance comes just when apparently all chances are over and gone.”

As I became lucid once again following a two-minute siesta, I saw turkeys again. Only this time these two bobbleheads were actually moving and coming in my direction. As they dipped down the decline to cross the brook – and yes, I know, turkeys aren’t supposed to cross water – I raised my shot gun in preparation for their arrival.



As the first bird topped the near stream bank, I knew these were truly big bearded birds. Once the pair were side-by-side, the lead Tom took the path following the stream, which brought him broadside to my left, perfect, and in the words of Rutledge: “At what I took to be forty yards I let drive, the roar of the gun breaking in upon the stillness of the wood as if a war had started in a graveyard.”



In the space of three hours on opening day I’d taken two magnificent birds with two shots, ending my season. But then, I’ll take that win because well I know, as Casada writes:



“Every hunter knows them-those days when fickle fate sees fair to shine, however briefly, on his efforts. Such fleeting moments we cherish for their magic, even as we stoically acknowledge that there will be other times which by comparison seem tragic. The resiliency and selectivity of the human mind is such that failures are forgotten as successes stand forth with startling clarity. Mental gymnastics are an integral part of the turkey-hunting experience.”


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Posted in: Turkey