Michael A. Sawyers
Tough, old bird
The third gobbler I killed was in 1990 while hunting on Pond Hill near McCoole. Relatively early in the morning I sent out a couple yelp calls. Immediately, 75-100 yards away, what sounded like three gobblers got into a fight.
Among the aggressive purrs and cutts were turkey sounds I had never heard before and have never heard since. This cacophonous battle went on for at least 30 seconds and then everything went quiet.
“Aha,” I thought. “We have a winner.”
Eventually I could see a gobbler circling above me and then turning in my direction. I tagged that 17-pounder with a 9-inch beard. When I skinned the gobbler I found shot in its keel and leg that wasn’t from my gun. I was using copper coated pellets and these were lead.
Talk about a tough, old bird. Although he had been previously shot, he whipped two other gobblers and went off looking for love in all the wrong places.
In the spring, Tom turkeys are so keyed up that they will frequently let fly with a gobble when they hear a loud sound. I’ve heard them shock gobble to train whistles or ambulance sirens. I’ve heard them sound off when car doors slam or when somebody pulls the trigger on a shotgun. They gobble when crows or pileated woodpeckers call loudly.
I know one fellow who actually put a metal garbage can lid near his blind and would strike it with a stick or rock every once in a while in an attempt to get a gobbler to sound off.
Well, one warm morning I’m in the woods, seated very comfortably against the base of an oak.
I had what Jim Goldsworthy has called in his column a flatulance event (I mean we all do it, right, it’s just that I am writing about it).
It was one of those that wouldn’t register on the Richter Scale, but might move the needle a little on a decibel meter.
Well, no sooner had I broken the silence of the woods than a gobbler sounded off. “Just chance,” you say. Maybe.
I never did see that bird. I’m told turkeys do not have the sense of smell, but I wonder about that.
The walking bird
The first gobbler I ever killed was dropped about 30 minutes after I missed the first gobbler at which I ever shot.
This incident, too, was on Pond Hill. It was opening day of the 1988 season, misty and cool. I walked relatively silently along an old logging road and as the sky lightened I made a couple yelps on a slate call.
Whammo! Not more than 20 yards from me, roosted in a tree from which I was obscured by heavy pines, a gobble made me jump. I didn’t know what to do so I sat down in the middle of the road and waited.
The gobbler flew down straight away from me and immediately turned and started walking back toward me. I was so excited that I shot too far and missed.
In fact, I missed three times, continuing to shoot at the bird as it flew.
Sure that I must have at least struck the bird, I began doing a grid search through the woods. The subsurface leaves were still dry and I was making quite a racket. This went on for a good long time and then I heard a gobble very close.
A bird with 1.25-inch spurs walked right to me and I shot it. I’m convinced the gobbler heard me and thought I was another turkey walking through the leaves.
My first gobbler of 20 pounds or more came in 1990 from Hampshire County, W.Va., on property owned by the late Jay Kidwell.
I had called this bird toward me in 1988 and again in 1999, but didn’t get to pull the trigger. The first time, hens with him got a bit fidgety and he refused to come around the corner of the hill that was well within shotgun range.
The second time, I watched him strut on the other side of a downed tree. He was coming to my calls, but when he cleared that tree he flew out of there like he was launched from a trampoline. I have no idea what spooked him.
The day I got the gobbler I was running late and not sure that I could wade the Little Cacapon River, climb the big power line right of way and slip into the woods before flydown time.
But I got there just as the May morning was beginning to brighten.
I used an owl hooter and the big boy went crazy in a not-too-distant tree. So I got positioned and yelped.
That really set him off. After the first bunch of gobbles the next one was muffled so I knew he had flown down.
Soon I could see his flashbulb head moving behind a fallen log. When he displayed his tail fan, his head would disappear. For a while I watched a fan-head-fan-head-fan-head show.
The only thing I can do with a mouth call is cluck. So I clucked and that was enough.
The gobbler cleared the tree and turned toward me. My father’s Winchester Model 50 is a tight shooting old squirrel gun, but on this day it sent #4 shot at a gobbler and it was tag time.
I can tell you without any doubt that the most excited I have ever been about the bagging of a gobbler was not because of one I shot, but because of one I called in for another hunter to shoot.
Mat Schartiger and I were out after them. I like hunting with Mat because he can hear gobbles that don’t reach my ears. That was the case this morning.
Mat set up against the base of a tree about 25 yards in front of me. I did the calling and he was to do the shooting. It was early in the season, so not many leaves were out and we could see a substantial distance.
Pretty soon, the gobbler that Mat could hear appeared about 90 or so yards out. He wasn’t gobbling any more, but he was coming, doing some of those little half-struts, shaking his wings and looking for the hen that was coming out of my Roger Latham box call.
When he got within range, Mat dropped the bird cleanly and I let out a war whoop hollering something like “hoooo, doggie.”
I know that isn’t a traditional war whoop, but it was what I came up with on the spur of the moment.
Each new spring gobbler season is a blank canvas waiting to be painted with crazy stories and vivid memories.