Perhaps the most entertaining aspects of spring gobbler season involve the neverending series of mistakes my friends and I make every spring.
This year is no different, and if you are a seasoned turkey hunter you will sympathize and laugh at the screwups which seem inevitable to happen.
The first day I was moving down a ridge top that had been selectively cut. Translated, there were briars and thorns everywhere and no large diameter trees to sit against. It was much more open than I was comfortable hunting, but gobblers had been heard the night before, and as every turkey hunter knows, you go where the birds are.
The ridge dipped, flattened out and looked less brushy than the area I just came through. Time to set up and call, so picking out a bigger tree I walked to it. Suddenly, a turkey gobbled immediately to my right and he was within one hundred yards, just down over the hill, beside a square of planted pines.
Trying not to panic, I made sure my face mask was down, my gloves on, calls out and facing the direction the bird gobbled from. My heart was racing, my hands trembling, my breath coming in gasps, fogging my glasses. You would think I had never shot a gobbler before I was so psyched up and excited.
I yelped softly and waited expectantly, but the gobbler didn’t answer. I hate situations like this. What was going on? Had the bird seen me, was he with hens or coming in silent? The minutes crawled by as I anxiously scanned the area in front of me. The gobbler could just have his head up, peering through a small hole in the brush with a perfectly clear view of my location while I could never see him. After five minutes I yelped softly again and a minute later a loud gobble sounded behind me.
Great, the stealthy gobbler had slipped by me and circled behind. I waited, afraid to move when he gobbled again further away. I quickly switched sides of the tree to be facing in the right direction, but even as I did so, I knew that was a big mistake. He might be further away, but he was probably walking so he could keep an eye on my location. Sure enough, he never gobbled again and I was left hating myself for moving when I knew I shouldn’t have.
Dumb, dumb, dumb.
MY FRIEND, whose name I will omit out of courtesy, was moving down a ridge. Coming to a likely looking spot, he called and was answered immediately by a gobbler very close to him. For some strange reason he decided he had time to put his decoy out. Now he and I had both made this same mistake before, swore we would never do it again and meant it. However, there is something about the explosive gobble of a big tom that does something to the logical, analytical part of your brain. In short, it often turns to mush and thinks most illogical thoughts. Instead of immediately sitting against a tree, my friend moved around placing his decoy. Did the gobbler see him? Of course he did, and suddenly the big tom had important business a couple of counties away.
Another set up was a big bust for me just a couple of days ago. After a long, hot climb I was trying to catch my breath when I heard a tom gobbling like crazy in the misty twilight of predawn. I closed the distance as much as I dared, chose my spot and sat down. Like most points, the ground sloped away from me, making it very difficult to see any distance, especially when you’re sitting. Thinking I might improve my setup, I decided to move just 20 feet forward to another big oak tree. Well, I could see much better when I sat down, but so could the gobbler perched in a big tree 200 yards away. He didn’t flush, we eyeballed each other for 10 minutes and when he flew down he never gobbled again. Why did I move?
SINCE I have a talent for discovering new ways of screwing up, I will share another hunt with you. Knowing four wise gobblers hung in a particular patch of woods, we snuck carefully in, set up and called. Well, the leaves were on, the wind blowing and when the designated caller used his box call, the other hunter and I had trouble hearing him some 80 yards away from him, 40 from me. After an hour we got together and discussed how the sound didn’t carry. I hauled out my loud box call and cut loose. Nothing answered, but rather than wait a few minutes we stood up and walked across a short stretch of pasture to the woods.
Suddenly, two big gobblers flushed from the tall grass some 15 yards from us, two others running away.
I was lagging behind and couldn’t shoot, Jim had forgotten to load his gun of all things and Dave had turned off his optical sight to save the battery. If we had set still five more minutes they would have walked right in. If that doesn’t make you feel brilliant.
I can’t wait for the season to progress; how many other innovative ways to mess up I’ll discover has me on pins and needles. But, it’s making the same mistakes time and again that bothers me.
Seems I will never learn, but it’s the tremendous excitement, exhilaration and anticipation of the moment that causes such errors and that’s why I keep getting up at 4 a.m.