The Tale Of Ol’ Slick: Michael Waddell’s Hunt For An Old Gobbler
The story of how an old gobbler and a young man brought inspiration to this Realtree Pro Staffer.
I saw the white capped head appear over the crest of the hill at a distance of about 50 yards. It resembled a submarine periscope as it scanned its environment. I gave a few soft, subtle hen yelps mixed in with a couple of seductive purrs, and almost instantly the old gobbler that had earned the nickname “Ol’ Slick” tucked his wings and started his walk toward our setup. This made my heart literally skip a beat, because “Ol’ Slick” was no ordinary longbeard. He was an elusive Meriwether County gobbler that had caused me many restless nights during Georgia’s 1998 spring gobbler season.
Earlier in the season, Chris Kirby, the 1998 Grand National Champ and President of Quaker Boy game calls, and I had hunted this same tom. Only then he had a run-around partner. Chris and I had been hunting hard for a couple of days, finding that most of the mature gobblers had already had dates with the local hens. This made calling one in for the Realtree camera almost impossible; however, we finally got a break.
After making our way through a small green field, littered with dust bowls on the edge of a hardwood bottom, Chris’s yelping and cutting was rudely interrupted by two gobblers, and almost before we could find a tree and get the camera set up, the duo came at a fast walk toward the sound of the call. Through the lens of my camera I could see two longbeards, one of which was in full strut. His breast feathers shook as he spit and drummed his way closer to our set up. I could see the enormous length of his beard, and even though it didn’t look overly thick it had to be in the 11-inch range. With the attitude of a player he closed the distance in a cocky waddle, getting closer and closer to Chris’s comfort zone.
His buddy with him, however, didn’t have the same flaring personality. This rascal took every step as though he were walking on glass, constantly using his beady little eyes to scan the terrain that lay ahead of him. Cautiously he followed his strutting comrade.
They got to a distance of 30 yards, and Chris gave them a couple of quick cutts. Immediately, the toms responded with thunderous gobbles, and quickly following this was the sound of my shoot signal, the “kee kee.” This was not what the pair wanted to hear, and as promptly as they had come in they started to leave, giving sharp putts as they backtracked their way out. Chris did not hesitate to get his shotgun bead on one of the gobbler’s heads. His Remington 11-87 erupted, sending a load of fast-moving No. 6s toward the gobbler. Keeping it all in focus, I could see one of the toms fold and begin to flop. Seconds later I saw Chris come into my camera frame and retrieve his trophy.
We both were very happy, but Chris had not shot the boss tom. The bird he wanted got in some brush, not giving Chris a clean shot. So, with the camera rolling and the kill signal already given, Chris took the lesser of the two toms to ensure a clean harvest, leaving behind the bird which from that point on was called “Ol Slick.”
From then on Ol’ Slick was a different bird, the close run-in with death he had experienced had given him a serious attitude adjustment. No longer did he walk around in a full strut gobbling at any challenging noises or sweet gestures from possible girlfriends. His raspy gobble didn’t break the silence on those cool spring Georgia mornings anymore, but one thing he did do was use the same area.
About 100 yards from where his late amigo had been claimed lay a 20-acre field mostly made up of broom sedge and Bermuda grass. It was Ol’ Slick’s safe haven. He could roost on the edge and fly down directly into it, making him almost impossible to kill. Once in the field no calling could lure him from the center, he would just look toward the edges when sounds of my hen-talk could be heard and occasionally go into a half strut. His actions became so predictable that I finally gave up on him, since I was looking for gobbling birds to fill the frame on my Realtree camera.
The season progressed, and in time we had been fortunate enough to get plenty of good hunts on video, basically giving us comfort that we had enough film to produce “All-Stars of Spring VI.” Knowing this, all I could picture was Ol’ Slick half strutting in the middle of that 20-acre field. It was the last week in April when good friend and fellow Realtree employee, Dodd Clifton, called me into his office to share some information with me. He had come into contact with a young gentleman from his hometown of Albany, Ga. His name was Jeff Fulford; he was 15 years old. Dodd told me Jeff enjoyed all kinds of hunting, from squirrel and rabbits to quail and deer, but the one thing he loved most of all was chasing long-spurred turkeys, the same thing that was on the top of my list. Dodd told me how much Jeff enjoyed watching our television show and the videos we produced and how he had dreamed of getting an opportunity to hunt with one of the Realtree guys.
Dodd also told me about the rare bone disease that Jeff suffers from. Jeff was diagnosed at 14 months with a very unusual disorder called metaphyseal chondrodysplasia of the schimde type. The disease causes dwarfism and deformed bone growth and would require Jeff to undergo numerous corrective surgeries in order to avoid life in a wheel chair. Even at the age of 15, Jeff only stands just over 4-feet tall. His legs are so short that it makes it very difficult for him to walk long distances or at a fast pace, but none of this keeps Jeff from pursuing what he loves best, hunting.
I called Jeff and invited him and his Dad down for a hunt. I told him that we would give it our best shot, but not to expect too much. The season was winding down and most of my spots had been hit pretty hard. This information didn’t discourage Jeff.
So, on a balmy Monday morning, Jeff, his dad, and I found ourselves waiting for daylight on a remote logging road on my uncle’s property that I had hunted since I was a kid. I reflected back on all the times I had stood in the same spot listening to the pre-dawn song of the whippoorwill. It was this same logging road where my dad and I had stood on my first spring turkey hunt. I was 11 years old, and later that same morning I took my first gobbler. At the time my dad was a rookie turkey hunter, and on that morning all we had for equipment was a Remington 870 pump shotgun, a couple of high-brass Federal turkey loads, a Lynch Fool-Proof box call and the directions to perform the calls the hen turkey makes. The directions worked to a tee and my dad was able to hide them just before the fat jake came over the hill giving me my shot. It was right then and there that I was hooked on turkey hunting for good. On this morning I hoped to guide Jeff and his dad on a similar adventure to the one my dad and I experienced 14 years ago.
The sky started to glow, and soon after the birds joined in to celebrate the new light’s arrival. A barred owl in the distance chimed in and started his, “Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you all?” routine. Then it came — the long, hard gobble of a wild turkey. It gave me a chill; it was the same chill I got on my first hunt and still the one I get today. I glanced over at Jeff and his dad to see a smile start to come over their faces. The gobbler broke the silence again, and then another gobbler joined in with the first tom, both of them giving their positions away.
With no further ado we quickly came up with a strategy for the closer of the two birds and went to make a set-up. Squaring our backs to some big Meriwether County pines, I started talking to the lovesick gobbler with some soft tree yelps. He enjoyed the conversation, and he was very vocal in letting me know it. However, after fly down he had a loss of words and never made an attempt to come any closer. The second of the two birds had also lost contact with us, and no matter how hard I tried I couldn’t raise a response from either of the two. Jeff looked a little disheartened, but yet he seemed satisfied with all the gobbling he had heard. It was now 9:45 a.m. It was time to move on and hopefully find a willing candidate to give us breast meat for a turkey fry. We gathered our gear and headed back down the logging road we had listened from earlier that morning. On the way out, I told Jeff and his dad about Ol’ Slick, and how we were coming up on the field where he made his home. They seemed to enjoy the story, but wondered why it was so important for me to belly crawl up on the field and check to see if he was there. But I followed through with my plan and slowly slid my way up to the field’s edge. Just as I had figured, Ol’ Slick was there in his glory, chasing grasshoppers, only pausing every now and then to go up in a half strut to impress any possible onlooking hens.
I watched Ol’ Slick for a half-hour and wondered why he hadn’t gobbled on the roost earlier that morning. I guess he was smart enough to figure that the last time he gobbled it almost cost him his head. Watching Ol’ Slick I noticed one thing he was doing that we could possibly use to our advantage. He would work the field in a pattern, getting to one end then turning and using his same tracks on the way back from where he just came. At one time he came within 30 yards of the field’s edge.
This gave me hope, so I gently slid my way out and returned to Jeff and his dad where I found them kicked back and just enjoying the Georgia day. Hurriedly, I gave them my plan; Jeff was to come with me and his dad was to stay put to lessen the chance of being seen.
Jeff and I had to cover a half-mile to circle the field. In all the excitement I almost forgot about Jeff’s physical challenge, but Jeff, intent on taking Ol’ Slick home, kept up with me step for step, taking three steps to my one. By the time we got to the point of crawling on the field we both were soaking wet with perspiration, put on by the brisk walk and thick Georgia humidity.
The 70-yard belly crawl seemed to take an eternity, but in due time we made our destination. We had come out just where I was hoping, and in front of us was a slight incline in the field that went out about 50 yards before ridging out, blinding out anything past that distance. Jeff and I had to remain on our stomachs since there were no proper trees to lean against. I figured Ol’ Slick still had to be in the field, but there was no guarantee that we hadn’t spooked him on our attempt to get to the field’s edge.
Remembering how Ol’ Slick was half strutting gave me the peace of mind that he was still interested in “women.” So, I made the decision to start the softest hen yelps I could muster up on my trusty 4-reed cutter mouth call. Jeff and I laid on our bellies for over two hours, soft calling on and off the whole time, and just when our patience was wearing thin and our comfort was more than we could bare, there he appeared. It was Ol’ Slick, his big red and white head breaking the crest of the hill first, and then the all-familiar long beard that had a cork screw appearance to it.
I couldn’t believe what I was seeing, Ol’ Slick was actually working to the call, stopping to show the would-be date a half strut. I could hear Jeff’s breathing speed up as though his body needed more oxygen when I told him to push his safety off. The anticipation of what might happen almost caused me to have a nervous breakdown, but controlling myself I calmed down and spoke to Ol’ Slick, in the sexiest, most confident hen talk I could imitate. It was working; Ol’ Slick’s head suddenly sprung up and started reevaluating the situation, almost like he knew he was making a mistake, but just as quickly as it had come up it went back down, and he continued his walk toward our set up. This allowed my heart to start back beating, and my confidence to increase.
It was all on Jeff now; the monster longbeard was at 30 yards and closing. My last words to Jeff were, “Get your head on the stock and let him have it whenever you’re ready.” With these comments going into Jeff’s ear his 20-gauge scatter-gun broke the silence with a loud-snapping explosion. Before the smoke could clear I was on my feet running toward Ol’ Slick, who was flopping everywhere attempting to escape, but it was too late. The No. 4 shot from Jeff’s gun had done its job, and so had Jeff. Ol’ Slick was dead and Jeff was the new proud owner of his long beard. Eat your heart out, Chris Kirby.
I grabbed the still-flopping turkey by the legs and noticed the huge spurs on Ol’ Slick. They had to be at least 1 1/4-inches long. We had killed the legendary Ol’ Slick. No more would I have to lie awake in bed and wonder how in the world I could get him within gun range. Jeff had secured me a good night’s sleep and was taking home a turkey dinner.
Jeff insisted on carrying the bird out, since he was the one who had shot him, and I proudly permitted it. Jeff’s father had started our way when he heard the sound of the shot, and his smile could be seen a mile away. It was the same smile my father had given me when I met him with my first gobbler. We all let out a few whoops and hollers, passed around a few high fives, then made our way to the truck.
It was now 12:35 p.m. We had been at it since daylight, and I was worn out. Then, the thought hit me. If I was worn out, how was Jeff? He had matched me step for step and grunt for grunt, never giving a word of complaint. Everything that I had done had to have been twice as hard for Jeff. I realized right then and there what I had to be thankful for, and what so many times I had taken for granted. It is easy to forget the gifts God has given each of us from the world we live in, to the land we hunt, our health and well being, our loved ones and much, much more. And for me, I thank God I had the opportunity to meet and hunt with Jeff Fulford. What an inspiration he was to me!
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