First Day Trials And Tribulations In The Turkey Woods
Unhampered by the burden of too much turkey-hunting experience, this father-and-son team had a memorable, remarkable opening-weekend hunt going after gobbling birds.
Opening day of turkey season is a date that every turkey hunter in Georgia looks forward to each year. For my dad and I, the 2004 season was only the second year we had looked forward to opening day of turkey season. We are both active deer hunters and my dad, Jeff Sr., is a very accomplished bird hunter, hunting quail and pheasant. But our first year of going after gobblers didn’t go so well. The whole season we didn’t even hear a single turkey.
In our second year of hunting we had some land in central Georgia up in Treutlen County to hunt on. We were assured the land contained some large turkey flocks, and there had been virtually no hunting pressure on them. Dad and I drove up on the Friday night before opening day and tried to settle in, get our gear ready and get to bed early. However, our excitement at the prospect of a successful opening-day hunt kept us up for quite awhile.
Finally, after a few hours of sleep, 5 a.m. came around. We geared up and were on our way across the back roads of Treutlen County, down another long and winding dirt road through a mead- ow and then into the middle of a stand of pine rows, which finally opened up into a large cut field. It was still dark as we left the truck and made our way into the open field. I dropped down on the forest edge, unfolded my blind and placed my decoys out in the field. Dad moved about 25 yards down from me around a hump in the treeline and did the same. We made sure that we were well aware of each other and not in one another’s line of fire. I’ve hunted with my dad for years now, both hunting quail and stalking deer. We trust each other implicitly, but I always give him a little ribbing and tell him to make sure not to shoot me.
As dawn broke and it started getting light, we heard first one gobble then another. Then came another right behind us down a hill toward a small creek. Just hearing the turkeys made the long drive worth the trouble, but what I came for was the prospect of getting a shot.
Early on, dad started working his slate call, probably around 6:45 a.m. He was turning out short clucks and purrs. He has a nice Primos brand Ol’ Betsy slate call and has gotten quite good. I reached for my call thinking two is always better than one. That’s when I found I had left my vest with my calls, and more importantly my cushioned seat, back at the hunting cabin. I knew that I was in for a long morning, sitting on the cold, damp ground. I also realized I had to sit there quietly and rely on my dad to call up some turkeys; I only hoped he could get one close enough for me to take a shot. I felt sunk right there. However, I kept hearing the turkey behind us gob- bling, so I knew there was a chance at him since he would have to cross in front of me to get to the calling source.
Around 7:25 a.m., I noticed three dark shapes about 300 yards away on the far end of the field come out of the tree line and move into the field. Turns out, three good-sized jakes were out for a morning stroll and looking for a hen in the field. Just behind the jakes, and much to our surprise, a huge tom came out. He was keeping his distance from us preferring to let the jakes come in for a look- see. Dad had seen them first since he was about 25 yards closer to their entry point. He was now working the slate call more softly so as not to give his position away. The three jakes were moving in a wide arc in the field and began making their way right for my dad’s position. The large tom, in full strut, swept into the field but stayed about 25 yards out of range just behind the other three.
The jakes picked up the pace as dad called, coming closer and closer to his position. Dad noticed the trio coming into range but was obvious- ly trying to get the big tom’s attention. The oncoming trio was almost on top of him all the while in what seemed like a full sprint right past his hen decoys toward his blind.
Just a few seconds from being busted, dad let loose a blast from his shotgun at the leader of the trio… and missed.
Seems in his attempt to wait out the big tom, the other three had come in too close, probably about five yards, which didn’t give his shot pattern enough time to spread out. I can’t fault him for taking the shot. Another second or two and all three of those jakes would have been up close and personal with him.
The jakes stopped dead in their tracks at the sound of dad’s 12-gauge and probably the whistling of turkey shot past their heads. They looked in three different directions trying to figure out which way to run off to. The big tom had dropped his fan and was intently scanning the treeline in our general direction. I heard the chunking of a shotgun shell being ejected and another shell being chambered from dad’s shotgun.
Now, before all of this excitement, I had drawn a bead on the trio of jakes but had backed off from shooting as they got closer to my dad’s position. I was hoping the big tom would sweep in a bit closer to my position or rush the jakes once they got close to the decoys. At the sound of him chambering another shell, the three jakes spun 180 degrees and were on the move away from his blind. At that point, I slipped off the safety, drew a bead on the straggler and pulled the trigger, downing the last bird in line of fleeing turkeys.
The remaining two jakes were in full retreat and actually caught up to the big tom as they disappeared into the woods at the far end of the field. None had taken flight as I thought for sure they would. I guess they preferred to stay low on the ground and just run it out. I had my first wild turkey just before 8 a.m. on opening day.
I could tell that dad was not happy at the prospect of heading in for the day, but we guessed every turkey within 50 miles had headed for the hills by now. We walked back to my Jeep, got some water and had a good laugh at the whole experience. Just as we were thinking about packing up and heading in for a few hours of rest, we heard a gobble. It came from the direction of the gobble I had noticed earlier in the morning from the woods behind us and down toward the creek.
Just for fun, I picked up the slate call and popped out a few clucks. The bird gobbled right back, with a bit more enthusiasm. I made a few more clucks, and the bird continued to gobble right back but he did not seem to be moving. Not being very experienced turkey hunters and not knowing any better, we talked it over and decided to go down and get him. I slung my shotgun and started working the slate call while dad started angling his way down toward the direction of the gobbling.
Every time I sent out a cluck, I got a gobble right back. This continued for about 30 minutes as we slowly worked our way down the hill. Dad started moving to the right trying to flank the bird while it was focused on me. We seemed to be get- ting in real close when a flash of white caught my eye. I looked to my right and couldn’t believe my eyes. Standing just a few feet from my dad was an old broken-down hound dog slowly making his way in the same direction as we were, in other words, toward the turkey. He saw me just a few seconds after I saw him. That old dog gave me a look like I had just come home and caught him sleeping on my bed. He looked even more surprised when my dad, decked from head to toe in camo, moved a bit forward. Dad hadn’t seen the dog and neither had the dog seen him. Funnier yet, dad wouldn’t even know that the dog had been about 10 yards from him until later that morning when I told him.
The dog spun on his heels and took off back in the direction he had come from. After the dog left, I made a few calls but got no response. I started thinking that the dog may have gotten us busted, but then I saw the dark shape of the turkey’s head moving through the trees. He was intently scanning from left to right trying figure out where that little hen was that he kept hearing. I couldn’t tell if dad had seen the old gobbler or not until he took a few more steps and raised his shotgun. He stood frozen for what seemed like minutes, gun held high, before letting loose his shot. The next thing I heard was the flapping of what turned out to be a huge ol’ tom turkey with a bright blue head.
Not knowing that it can’t be done, we had stalked a wild turkey in thick pines and had gotten close enough to take him down — all in about 45 minutes. The tom weighed in close to 23 pounds and had a beard measuring about eight inches. The spurs, though, were worn down to the nub. I’d like to mention that we only felt comfortable stalking the turkey in the woods because we had been assured that no- one else was hunting anywhere on the property. I wouldn’t suggest trying to move in on a turkey on public land, where the chance of walking up on another hunter and the opportunity for an accident is much higher.
We decided to stay in the field during lunch and then get back to working the field for another shot at that big one that had gotten away. Sometime in the mid-afternoon, I went back for my vest and seat while dad took a quick nap.
Later that evening, we were able to call up that big tom again. However, he stayed just out of range. He would walk around and as soon as he heard my hen call would pop out every feather he had putting on a magnificent show for my foam hens. But, no matter how hard I called or didn’t call he stayed out of range and eventually headed back into the woods. Our rangefinder later determined that he was about 95 yards out from my position.
The next day we had hard luck for most of the morning. We heard several gobbles from deep in the woods. We couldn’t get one turkey to show up in the field. Feeling that we had done pretty well for ourselves, we decided to call it a day around 10 a.m. and head back home. It was my wife’s birthday, and I had promised I would be home early enough to take her out to dinner in Savannah. Just as dad and I were meeting up to walk back to the Jeep, he suggested we try just one or two locator calls before heading out. So he scratched off a few clucks. Wouldn’t you know we heard a very aggressive gobble from the woods. Immediately, my face mask came down along with my shotgun. Figuring we had nothing to lose again, dad and I walked on into the woods toward the gobbling.
This time dad was working the slate call, and I stalked on down toward the turkey. I didn’t hold out too much hope for bagging it though. Dad is a much better stalker than I am. He’s taken several deer with his ability to sneak up on them. I maneuvered through the pines as slowly and quietly as I could. After about 15 minutes, I had gotten to a point where I thought I had to be right on top of the turkey. So I stopped and tried to focus on the general direction of the gobbling. That’s when I saw him. I couldn’t believe how big he was. His head was virtually glowing crimson red. I knew he was hot for a hen and would be sharp eyed but probably a bit reckless also. I was about 35 or 40 yards away and barely had a shot through the woods. I raised my shotgun as slowly as I could and only when he seemed to be looking in another direction.
For a second I debated whether or not to try to get in for a better shot. The trees were thick, but I did have a decent line of sight. I thought better to see him now and take a shot rather than risk stepping on a twig or having him catch me moving. So I pulled the trigger. Next thing I saw was him flapping for a few seconds and then becoming completely still but in an upright position.
I chunked in a new shell and moved in warily for a closer look. Dad came in from behind me and as I covered him, he dispatched the old bird quickly. The time was just around 11:30 a.m. I found several shot pellets in his head and neck later on after plucking the bird, so I’m unsure why he wasn’t killed outright. But regard- less, we each had our big tom turkey, a successful hunt and good time hunting with each other.
My gobbler weighed in at 23-lbs., 4-ozs. and had sharp spurs just a hair over an inch long. The beard was surprisingly short at 4 1/2 inches. Interestingly, it was a very thick beard with the diameter about the same size as a 50-cent piece. In the end, dad and I were just happy to head home looking forward to wild turkey in the smoker.
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