Strutting His Stuff

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Published on: Mar. 2, 1998

Last revision: Oct. 28, 2010

opposite direction, not slowing down until he was safely inside a woodlot across the field.

I realized this must be one of the birds I had shot at the previous morning. Maybe he heard the sweet voice of the same hen that almost had lured him to his death the day before and was a wiser bird for the experience.

It was still mid-morning, and experience was telling me that some of the best hunting was yet to come. I mentally reviewed the roost sites of the gobblers I had heard earlier. Then I decided to sit on a ridge directly behind the woodlot into which the tom had just ran. I was not far from a big oak, where I'd heard a quartet of old toms gobbling at dawn.

I quietly situated myself and placed a decoy on a rise in the shadows of the ridge. This time I pulled out my favorite box call and chalked it. I made two series of loud and lonesome lost calls.

My strategy was to let anything within a quarter of a mile know I was there and then call sparingly. Ten minutes passed before I gave another call, a soft cluck. I was answered by a similar but deeper cluck of a mature gobbler. I answered with three soft yelps and didn't call again for another 10 minutes.

Sometimes not calling at all is the most effective way to bring in a cautious tom.

I soon heard a questioning gobble from the field edge about 60 yards away. Cautiously peering in that direction, I could see two tail fans. I didn't answer their gobbling. They were cautious, strutting back and forth on the field edge for more than 20 minutes before gobbling again. I responded by scratching in the leaves and giving three soft yelps over my shoulder, just loud enough for them to hear.

Finally both gobblers committed to searching for the unseen hen. Their bright red heads peered over bushes along the field edge. The sky was dark blue, and the redbud and dogwood trees were in full bloom, spilling their fragrance into the air.

The birds stepped into the woods to take a closer look. Soon they dropped into a ravine and disappeared from sight. Gun at the ready, I sat motionless. Any movement on my part would end this battle of wits in a second. Nerve racking minutes passed before I heard a welcome sound: Pffest. One of the gobblers was close and in full strut. I estimated that he was about 30 yards out. He was hidden from view in some brier bushes. The other gobbler was holding back, so I knew this one had to be the boss bird.

Even at 20 yards I had no shot. By this time I knew that if I didn't have a shot soon, I would scare him with my sporadic breathing and thundering heartbeat. Then, almost as if answering my prayer, he appeared just 12 yards in front of me. One eye was on the decoy, and the other was looking right through me.

There he was, standing before me in a ray of sunlight. He was a wise old bird, but this time he had been fooled. My gun roared, and a long but rewarding hunt was over.

Before me lay a true monarch of a bird. He had four beards and weighed 25 pounds. I heaved him over my shoulder and walked back to my car.

I knew that the next morning only a trio would sing where the quartet had serenaded the hens, but by next spring, the offspring of this bird and the others would add their voices. The country choir would continue to ring loud and clear through the river bottom and, once again, I would be back in these woods admiring their music.

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