It was raining hard at 2 am and pouring by 3:30 am. Howling wind kept me awake most of the night. It was opening day of the spring turkey hunt. “I’d be happy to just go for a ride and stay dry and see what happens,” I offered. Steve, my husband, didn’t answer me.
We hadn’t seen toms within 10 miles of the house until Saturday, and then we saw just two, far apart. Plan A evolved late Sunday afternoon and included a tom and three jakes. It fell through very early Monday morning when we couldn’t find them. We had little time to hunt before Steve had to be at work. With no time to waste we left.
Off to Plan B. We drove to a spot where Steve had seen a tom Sunday morning. It was worth a try. We stopped to call in several places and got nothing. I looked up and down the power line and again, nothing. We headed off in the opposite direction and found…nothing. Not even a track in the mud. Steve took the bin out of the backseat of the truck and looked over the collection of calls. We have box calls, slates, owl, crow and even pileated woodpecker calls.
I told Steve I thought he should shoot the first bird because he has so little time to hunt. “Oh no,” he said. “You shoot it. That’s not a problem. Get your bird.” I silently decided we’d wait to see who had the best shot. He passed up a huge gobbler last year so I could get my first turkey ever, a small jake. I didn’t want him to pass up the opportunity for my sake again.
I wandered off a bit to a rough side road while he looked over the calls. No tracks there. The wind was still blowing hard but the rain had stopped.
Wait! Hey! Gobble! He wasn’t close. I didn’t know where he was other than far away. With my ridiculously keen sense of hearing I still barely heard him.
“Steve,” I whisper yelled. He didn’t hear me over the wind. “Steve,” I more yelled than whispered this time. He didn’t hear the tom. One gobble was all I needed. I didn’t care how far away it was, I was willing to hunt however far it took to find him or lose him. We drove a short distance up the road, parked, and Steve yelped. Gobble! He still wasn’t close enough to find a place to hide and wait for him.
Steve called a couple of times as we hunted on foot for the turkey. We turned down an overgrown tote road and pushed through raspberry and blackberry canes, and then followed a deer trail into the trees. Two toms gobbled after one yelp but we didn’t hear the second bird a second time.
Yelp, listen, walk. Walk, yelp, listen, walk farther. Sometimes he gobbled, sometimes he didn’t. I began to wonder if we’d lost him when we hadn’t heard him for a while. We were headed for the power lines when he gobbled again. We’d gone too far. After backtracking a short distance I saw him through the brush. He looked like something I’d be willing to shoot. I wasn’t after a “trophy” bird but I did want one bigger than last year’s 15 pound jake.
The work began then. Steve called and the tom gobbled. We watched to see what he’d do as Steve yelped to him with a Knight & Hale Wet Willy. The tom paced back and forth, gobbled, drummed, and looked for the hen he thought he was hearing. I was on my knees in a poor spot. It was the best I had at the time but it wasn’t going to give me much for a good shot. Steve was somewhere behind me, patiently doing an excellent job of keeping the bird’s attention. I got excited when I got a decent, clear third look at most of his body. His beard was much longer the jake’s I shot last year.
Fifteen minutes in, the tom was so upset or frustrated that he hissed. I learned on opening day that turkeys hiss. It’s an odd sound coming from a bird. I caught myself getting a little impatient and wondering if I should try a long shot through some leafless brush before we lost him.
Patience. Hunting takes patience.
He stopped strutting and drumming and started to simply walk away. I couldn’t stand up fast enough to take a shot at him as he walked away. Steve took the opportunity to move to my left, traded the Knight & Hale for a handcrafted box call made by David Pugh of Indiana (it’s a gorgeous work of art, a gift from wonderful friends), and got the tom’s attention. He probably thought he’d finally heard the hen moving.
The sound of Pugh’s Sylvan Seductress is a little different from the Wet Willy. Tom’s interest was renewed. I shifted a tiny bit to my right to take some pressure off the sore knee. The tom turned around and it all fell into place. Steve traded between calls and kept the tom coming in the right direction.
Rather than return to the spot he’d just left behind the brush, he walked straight down the deer path. I shifted again, this time turning 90 degrees. The best shot I thought I’d have was through a dinner-plate sized clear spot between two saplings 15 feet away. If he walked right there then maybe, just maybe, his head would be in that spot. And it was.
I was resting on my left leg and sitting on my foot, right foot up, right elbow resting on my leg, gun aimed in the oepning, watching what little bit of him I could see through the trees. I got one more good look at his body before his head moved a couple of inches into that small, clear spot.
I don’t know happened. He stopped suddenly and his head disappeared from sight. Had he seen me? Did he see Steve?
Two or three seconds later he took another step, his head and neck and came into view, I put the sight perfectly, absolutely perfectly, on his head and firmly squeezed the trigger. Feathers flew.
Oh no! Feathers flew! You’re not supposed to hit feathers. I lost my first turkey two years ago when I choked at the last second and aimed for the body, a bigger target. My 20 gauge knocked a couple of small feathers out and that turkey flew away, alive and well to live another day. If that sounds doubtful to you, you should take a close look at the dense feathers on a turkey. Those feathers are half the reason we aim for the small head (and to not ruin meat) rather than the big body.
I saw the feathers fly and the bird rise into the air then disappear. “I got him!”
I knew because of the amount of feathers that if I hadn’t already killed him he wasn’t going to live long or go far. I put the safety on and we went to look for him.
I listened, hoping I’d hear him in death throes on the ground or crash into brush as he tried to escape. No need to worry. He died instantly. His wing moved just enough for us to spot him less than ten feet from where I’d hit him, down a little bank and behind a clump of hardwood saplings. Steve retrieved him while I unloaded my 12 gauge.
We did it! He was quite a challenge. My hands shook a little as I pushed his feathers aside to see his entire beard. I thought it was at least eight inches long.
I don’t know if he moved up on his next step or if I dropped the barrel a little bit when I squeezed the trigger. When I move the barrel it’s normally because I’ve pulled up, not dropped down. I had a small spot to shoot through so I don’t think I dropped that much. Maybe he’d seen me and started to lift off in flight. I’ll never know. I ruined six ounces of breast meat out of the three and a half pounds of meat.
I slung him over my shoulder and we headed back to the truck. That turkey gained 10 pounds for every hundred feet I carried him. By the time we got back to the truck I’d traded which shoulder he was hanging over three times and was carrying him in both arms, shotgun over my left shoulder. I’m not bruised by my 12 gauge with a turkey choke and its 3” turkey loads but I do have a little bruise from carrying him over my left shoulder.
Steve told someone over that phone that “No, I didn’t carry it for her. She killed it, she carried it and she’s gonna clean it.” And I did.
We registered the tom at Waite General Store. He weighed 17 pounds, 12 ounces, and his beard was 9.5 inches long. His spurs, beard and tail are being mounted by Tad at Proudlove’s Taxidermy in West Enfield. I hadn’t shot even a partridge on opening day. This year I took my first turkey one hour and 25 minutes after the opening of the season. I’m going to try for the second one with my bow, and it will be my first bow hunt.