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Surprise Ending

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Published on: Apr. 2, 2006

Last revision: Nov. 23, 2010

Huge smiles fill our faces every time my good friend Brian and I talk about our turkey hunting outing. We had a storybook hunt. And, like a good story, we enjoyed it more because we could never have guessed that it would turn out the way it did.

Our hunt actually began Friday evening when we arrived at Brian’s parents’ farm in northern Missouri. We quickly threw on our camouflage and headed out into the woods, hoping to hear some gobbles as dusk faded into night. Unfortunately, all we heard were zillions of mosquitoes buzzing around our heads—until a sharp “putt” sounded directly behind us. I slowly turned to see the dark outline of a turkey melting away into the brush.

We waited a few more minutes but heard no gobbling. When Brian and I drove back to the house, our minds were full of uncertainty and questions. Where would the gobblers be in the morning? Was it a tom or a hen that we saw that evening? Was it going to rain tomorrow, as the weatherman had predicted?

As we ate our cereal the next morning, Brian and I both looked out the kitchen window with the same anxiety that we’d felt the night before. Thankfully, it wasn’t raining yet.

We planned to return to the same area we had visited the evening before, primarily because Brian’s family had seen lots of turkeys there in the past.

It was a short drive to our destination. Remembering the night before, we applied insect repellent before beginning our trek across two open fields. Brian carried his shotgun, and I carried a hen decoy. We were crossing a ditch between the fields, when we heard the first birds begin to sing. I suggested that we hurry so we could be in the woods before the turkeys woke.

Our plan was to walk about 150 yards along the forest edge and position ourselves near the corner of a cleared wheat field. The field edge faced a stand of timber on a hillside that we hoped would hold roosted turkeys.

We couldn’t find a tree large enough for us both to lean against comfortably, so we shared a 6-inch redbud, which was better than nothing. Thankfully, we had some ground cover in front of us to break up our outlines.

Before we sat, I set the hen decoy out in the field about 7 yards from the tree line. I had just returned to the protection of the woods when we heard the first gobble of the morning. The gobbler was about 150 yards across the corner of the field in front of us.

Three more gobblers soon sounded off. We smiled, and then giggled like teenagers as double and triple gobbles rolled across the clearing.

We weren’t too confident, though. The year before—Brian’s first season of turkey hunting—we’d encountered a similar situation in almost the same place. We’d heard but never seen turkeys. The noisy gobblers had followed hens away from us after flying down. They never entered the field.

After about 30 minutes of gobbling, a male turkey glided down into the field about 100 yards away. He stared at the decoy for more than a minute without moving. A hen then flew down and joined him, and two more gobblers trotted into the field from the woods. Another hen materialized, making three gobblers and two hens. We were in for a show. It turned out to be a long one.

For nearly an hour, the gobblers remained out of range. Sometimes they seemed to be moving away from us, and sometimes toward us. Using both my box call and diaphragm call, I tried to entice them closer to our decoy, but the hens seemed to call them away.

The hens finally broke the stalemate with the decoy. They started moving to our left, but slightly closer. The gobblers followed them for a bit but then, inexplicably, their attention turned to our decoy.

We were set up about 10 feet inside the field edge, and our decoy was about 7 yards out in the field. Because the gobblers had moved so far to our left, they were only about 5 to 10 yards out in the field from the woods. At the angle they were approaching, they would have to be very close before Brian would have a clear shot.

The trio of gobblers didn’t run or appear to be in a hurry, but they never hesitated either. All three were in full strut, and they took turns cutting each other off by walking in front of the other two as they moved toward the decoy.

When they were within 15 yards and still slightly to our left, I began to get a little nervous. They were in full strut, and I told Brian not to shoot until a gobbler stuck his head up. I thought about “clucking” to get them to stick their necks out, but I chose to remain silent.

Finally, and perfectly, one gobbler separated himself from the other two, stopped, and stuck his head out to look the decoy over. Brian had a shot and he took it.

Bird After Bird

He made a good, clean shot. I couldn’t believe it, but the other two toms seemed attracted by the commotion and ran over to where the other tom lay dead.

Brian quietly handed me the Remington 870 so I could fill my tag, too. That kind of opportunity doesn’t come along every day.

Something was wrong with the gun, though. I struggled for what seemed like a minute to get a shell chambered so I could shoot. Finally, I took aim and fired, but nothing happened. The gun wouldn’t fire. The two remaining gobblers were getting more nervous by the second.

I decided that my only choice was to eject the second shell and try chambering another. I knew this would create a lot of noise and commotion, but I had no choice. The sound seemed to rattle through the woods, but the shell chambered smoothly. One gobbler was running away, but the other remained standing right in front of me. I put the bead on his head and pulled the trigger. Finally, two birds were down.

Brian and I picked up our birds and admired them, and I silently gave thanks to God for making such a morning possible. Not only was this Brian’s first gobbler, but it was my first, too. I had spent nearly a dozen years calling in turkeys for friends and for fun (on wildlife refuges and private land), but this was actually the first bird I had shot.

It was a wonderful shared experience. After more than an hour of watching wildlife courting rituals and feeling the suspense and uncertainty of the hunt’s outcome, two friends managed to bag their first turkeys. Even the forecasted rain held off until after we’d checked and cleaned our birds. Whenever we get together we still reminisce about our turkey hunting adventure with its storybook ending

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