A Turkey Hunter Comes Full Circle

Posted on May 24, 2021

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“As you go through life, you will see that there is so much that we don’t understand. And the only thing we know is that things don’t always go the way we plan.” – The Lion King

 

 

Isn’t it funny how things in life have a way of repeating themselves? Now I’m not talking here about behavior or repetition, but events that you could never imagine happening again in almost the very same way, in the very same location.

As a hunter I have no control of where the animals come or go, and that is especially true of the wild turkeys. Now I can show up on a particular piece of real estate and encounter no birds at all, while those same birds could be at another locale and not encounter me or any other sport. And you know, that is why they call it hunting.

Nearly twenty years ago I finally drew a coveted turkey tag to hunt birds in my own state of Maine. It took a long time for this day to arrive. Excitement built as the season approached. Because I had a friend that knew turkeys like I knew whitetails, I summoned Bob and asked if he would join me on my inaugural hunt to call in what I hoped to be the first of many fine birds I’d take over the years to come.

 

 

I can remember that morning as if it were yesterday, after all, you never forget your ‘first’ of anything. In the pre-dawn darkness, Bob and I were slogging through a swamp, stepping over barbed wire fencing that was left long ago as the forest grew up around it, to follow the gobbles we heard in the distance.

As the forest began to be illuminated with the first hint of the sun coming over the horizon, the gobbling ceased. However, we had covered nearly a mile and although neither of us knew exactly where we were, there was definitely a field just in front of us. Peering over the stone wall revealed what we’d come looking for, turkeys.

“Sit down and get ready,” Bob said, “these birds are almost in our laps.” No calling was necessary as the gobblers worked their way up the field and towards us. My heart was thumping like a bad piston as this was all unfolding. After all, I was a green-horned novice at the fine sport of turkey hunting.

Once the birds were within what Bob felt was an acceptable range, he whispered, “take the lead bird.” Let it be said also, not only was I a rank amateur at turkey hunting, but I also had no real grasp of how lethal my shots would be out to say, 35-to-40 yards. It’s one thing to be hunting with my trusty Remington 760 and quite another to be shooting an 870 12-gauge.

 

 

With that info now out on the table let me tell you with a bit of embarrassment that I shot, and it was a big swing and a miss. I was initially perplexed as to why the bird did not fall over and obviously disappointed that he didn’t. Okay, now what? I thought.

Bob said, “let’s go.” I thought perhaps we were now done for the day, but Bob had another plan.

We went about 75-yards through the woods, and not just any woods, this was a beautiful oak grove. “Put your back up against that stone wall and be ready,” Bob uttered. He then put out a couple of decoys and began to speak the most eloquent turkey language I’d ever heard.

 

 

Within 15 minutes four Jakes arrived on scene and began meandering looking for the hen that made those sounds. It could not have been more perfect, as they were looking at Bob’s decoys their route took them directly past my position. It was the last bird in line to stop within the opening that I had, and from 18-yards I shot and killed my first Maine turkey.

 

Deja Vue

 

I’d like to think I’ve learned a thing or two about turkeys since my early days. And because I got started late, I needed to break the learning curve down quickly. Beyond Bob taking me under his proverbial wing, the camera has actually been the impetus that has given me a far greater insight into the life of a turkey and their many behaviors. I have spent the past 13 springs photographing turkeys for approximately two months prior to the hunting season. And no, although these birds captured within my lens are hunted, I personally never hunt in any area where I’ve photographed them.

So here I am, nearly two weeks into our current turkey season and the birds I’m hunting are behaving unlike anything I have witnessed. It has been entertaining, but equally frustrating. My long-time friend and hunting partner, the Silverback, has joined me to hunt this grand bird and at the half-way point of May, at mid-morning, we found ourselves atop a gorgeous oak grove.

 

 

Everything was dead still, not a gobble could be heard since fly down. Once we got set up and placed our backs against a sturdy, yes, you guessed it, oak we commenced to call. We had placed two hen dummies out, each just on the downward side of the ridge. All looked great…in fact, it looked vaguely familiar. As I peered around a bit more I whispered to the Silverback, “I believe I took my first Maine bird on this very ridge just a few feet from where we are sitting.”

Reminiscing is generally an enjoyable process, one where you never remember the ugly or horrible experiences but rather those that have brought joy and fulfillment. So here I was on that very same plot of ground calling birds for myself; it indeed was a contented feeling. And then directly following a series of yelps from me I was suddenly pulled out of my serenity by a gobble. Game on!

 

 

I gave one more hushed series of yelps that was quickly cut off by another gobble. Then I gave him a big dose of shut up. He wasn’t far away, maybe 75-yards. I first spotted his red head looking up in our direction. I whispered to Hart, “He’s on the stone wall.” It soon became obvious that it wasn’t just he, but a group of four.

Hart whispered, “Do you see him?” I replied, “There are four and they are right in front of me making their way up the ridge.”

It did not take long for them to get into shooting range, but as they did, something about the dummy hen spooked them a bit. They began to act really skittish, like they knew something was not right. And then that feeling came. The internal mechanism that says, okay, I’m going to shoot one of these birds. Having passed on more than two dozen thus far may have had something to do with this choice. Perhaps not having a bird after two weeks was pressing, or there is no sense in passing up a golden opportunity. Ultimately, I don’t think any of those reasons had any effect in this decision. I think destiny was at play.

 

 

The first two birds headed for the decoy, the third bird skirted around a fir tree, which left the last in line standing in a perfect opening, facing my gun at approximately 22-yards distance. I leaned into the stock, placed the bead at the base of his neck and fired.

 

 

As I sat in the leaf litter alongside my friend of 37 years, I could not have been more content. It was indeed an exciting hunt. The birds finally responded in a way that they are supposed to, if there is such a way. I got to share yet another experience with my hunting pal. But more than anything, this brought me back in time when I wore a younger man’s clothes and knew very little about the sport or the bird I had taken. But now, on that very same ground I had done exactly what I accomplished those two decades ago.

 

 

Now I have shot many birds over that span of time since that first turkey, but perhaps, just maybe, this bird is special, and is significant as a result of all of the circumstances being similar. If it were to be my last one, it would be memorably fitting. Yet, without diminishing the sentimental value of this, let’s hope that is not the case. After all, the circle of life is a thing you live.

 

 

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Posted in: Turkey