As seems to happen so many times, the gobblers were extremely active up to and including the last week in April. Then, just as if they had the opening day penned in on their calendar, they shut up.
A wooded point that held three to five gobblers just a day or two before suddenly went completely silent. The vocal, aggressive, trash-talking gobblers became as meek as babes in the woods instead of ringing with their throaty gobbles.
Oh, do I hate that!
With the silent treatment on Scott Neely and me, we spent the first week of the season futilely hitting areas we knew harbored gobblers. An entire week of 4 o’clock mornings with never one opportunity to work a bird?
Surprisingly, we weren’t discouraged after the first disastrous week and we were eager to start week two. There must be a little Rocky Balboa in turkey hunters — the more and harder you punch them, the more they like it.
The second week we started hitting areas we hadn’t scouted preseason, always a hit-and-miss proposition. However, die-hard turkey hunters remain optimistic despite the low odds of success. Sooner or later you tell yourself an answering gobble will make all the previous futile effort worthwhile.
Things began happening on Tuesday of the second week. As Scott and I climbed up upon a tall mound and hooted like a barred owl at daybreak, an answering gobble floated back from the dark valley. We looked at each other with big eyes and closed the distance as much as possible. A decent set-up and the calling began. It soon became obvious the gobbler was interested, but not enough to come any closer. Soon he moved away and went silent. With hens, no doubt, but we had at last found a gobbler willing to talk.
Later that same morning we drove a road previously untraveled. At the end we climbed out and I cranked away on my big box call. There’s something about that call that draws a gobble if the bird has even the slightest interest in answering. Across the valley a bird gobbled. Fantastic!
The next hour consisted of battling clearcuts, briars and blowdowns. We got close, but the gobbler stopped coming, turned and walked off into the sunrise. But, hey, two solid contacts the same morning. Things were looking up.
Wednesday we split up, each going after one of the gobblers we’d heard. It was pitch black as I walked very carefully down the old skidder trail leading to the area we felt he roosted. When you can’t see your feet or the ground you’re walking on you have to take it slow, the very next step could be a foot lower than the previous. The larger puddles of water gave off just enough of a glimmer to be visible, the smaller ones did not. I had a walking stick and it was a wonderful thing to be able to feel the level of the ground in front of you and tell firm dirt from soft, sticky mud. I also detected several branches across the path, saving me a trip or spine-jerking stumble.
When I reached the area I felt I should be, it was light enough to see slightly. Unfortunately, I was hedged in by the large, dark, looming shapes of large tree tops on three sides. Uh-oh, must have missed a turn. It’d be silly to be stumbling around in this mess, risking spooking the turkey, so I sat down and waited.
Slowly the trees took shape and I found I was at least 300 yards from my ideal position. The sky lightened, I hooted, but no gobbler answered. It was obvious the bird wasn’t on top so I retreated and picked my way out to the little point I originally had planned to sit on. Again, silence. Well, perhaps he was on the far side of the point, so I worked my way across and hooted loudly yet again. Suddenly, magically, a far off gobble was heard to my left, half way down the hillside.
Over the edge I plunged, slipping and skidding in the soft soil, trying to cut the distance before it became fully light. An other hoot and the gobbler answered, still some distance below and to the left. I sized things up.
The woods were open, but the rounded hillside shielded me from the bird’s sight. He gobbled again, still some 200 yards away. Looking below me I saw an old well location and the grown-over road running to it. It looked like the perfect area to call from and I hurried down to it.
Trusting my custom camouflage, I set up in the open in order to see below me and down the location angling to my left. Directly in front of me lay a thicket of green beech brush. I called and the bird answered me immediately, just below and in front of me some 150 yards away. When he gobbled again he was less than 100 yards.
He was coming and fast!
My heart was pounding, glasses fogging over, hands trembling. What a rush! A tiny cluck and he gobbled directly in front of me, very close. He had angled up slightly and must be headed for the location I was on.
I swung to cover the location and slipped off the safety. A slight movement, just the edge of the bird coming right at me behind a tree. Then the gobbler turned and stepped into the open, his head a brilliant red, big beard swaying. The gun seemed to go off by itself, the recoil and muzzle blast unfelt and unheard.
I only saw the big gobbler go down and suddenly I was running up to him.
What a beauty! He tipped the scales at 20 pounds to the ounce, had a 10-inch beard and sharp spurs just over an inch long.
The joy of success after all the early mornings and frustration is impossible to describe. You can’t buy such pure, bubbling joy — for it’s far beyond price.
(Wade Robertson is an award-winning outdoor writer whose articles have been published in Pennsylvania Outdoor News, Pennsylvania Game News, Fur, Fish & Game and other publications. His email is email@example.com.)