Turkey Chronicles
by Jerry Springer
Photo by Diane Springer

Dead Turkey Walking I

They had gotten the best of me two mornings in a row. One morning they were roosting in the trees above me as I got out of my vehicle; the next they had flown down into a field other than the one I was set up on. In both cases the turkeys had easily managed to stay out of shotgun range — I had been humbled. All those turkey videos, seminars and the experience I had gained from prior successful turkey hunts just hadn't produced for me on either morning.

OK, Regis, I would like to use a Lifeline. I want to call a friend...

In reality I called my brother in Oregon. After telling him how the turkeys were two up on me, we decided to switch my strategy.

A couple of days later I stopped the car 300 yards from the roost trees. It was 5:30 a.m. I pulled out my crow call. It had been just three days since my last hunt, but the knowledge that a gobbler was around drew me back like one of those balls attached to a rubber band.

I blew the call... nothing. I blew the call again... gobble gobble gobble. It was my lucky day — a gobbler was in the trees again but this time I would try a different plan.

After observing turkeys over the years on this property, my brother and I believed that they would probably use the same route they had used three days earlier when they fed away from me. The plan was for me to make a wide arc around the roost trees and come in from behind, setting up at the end of a natural funnel off the field that was close to the roost trees.

With no moon and not wanting to use a flashlight, my walk in the dark took me a little longer as I tried not to get a stick in the eye, trip or make too much noise. After I reached the far end of the funnel, I pulled the hen Feather-flex decoy from my back pouch and placed it in the open area of the funnel. I was hoping any turkey that flew down in the field would be able to spot the decoy which was about 100 yards away.

Then I moved to one of the oak trees just up slope from the decoy and sat with my back against the tree — with some poison oak adding to my cover. It was still before shooting time and I was sitting facing the open field — what I hoped would be the landing spot for a gobbler.

Using my box call, I let out a couple of soft tree yelps and a purr. I got a gobble back. Then a real crow called and I could hear more gobbles in response. While waiting for shooting time to arrive I had identified three different gobblers in the roost trees and a couple more farther away.

It was about 10 minutes after the start of shooting time when I gave a couple more soft yelps. Just then I saw a turkey come sailing to the ground and it was quickly followed by another one. They were both hens. I now heard a gobble from the other side of the barbed-wire fence on the far edge of the field. The gobblers had apparently flown to the other field but my worry lasted only seconds as two gobblers came strutting toward me from the other side of the fence — they knew the hens were on my side. It wasn't long before the hens, four of them, started feeding their way toward me. The gobblers crossed the fence and then did small, slow circles in full strut. They looked just like Thanksgiving turkeys. The hens fed out in front of them, seeming to pay no attention. A few minutes later another turkey came across the fence and went into full strut. It appeared just a bit smaller than the other two.

The four hens were now working their way into the funnel and the three gobblers trailed far behind. It wasn't long before two of the hens crossed in front of me and moved close to my decoy, which was at a right angle to me off my right shoulder. Moving just my eyes I watched the hens feed near my decoy only 15 yards away.

The three gobblers were moving up the funnel when one of the first two chased the the smaller, third gobbler into the woods with the other gobbler following the chase. For a moment I thought all three gobblers would move off into the woods, then just as quickly the two original birds came back out and continued to strut up the right side of the funnel into the field. What a beautiful sight! It was like I had them on the end of a string and was slowly pulling them hand-over-hand to me.

It had now been at least 20 minutes since the first turkeys had landed in the field and all this time I had the forearm of my shotgun resting in my left-hand on my bent knee and the butt-plate next to my shoulder. I wanted to make as little movement as possible when it was time. As the gobblers worked in closer, I put my cheek to the stock and sighted on the bead at the end of the barrel in the direction of the two gobblers.

The lead gobbler crossed a shallow gully created by years of winter runoff. As he reached level ground once again, I hoped he would relax for a second and raise his head but he didn't, he stayed in full strut. At this point he was facing straight toward me. I had waited long enough — the quiet morning exploded with the sound of number 5 shot being blasted from the barrel of my 12-gauge. The gobbler was knocked over backwards into the gully and gave but one wing-flap.

At the sound of the shot, the other turkeys jumped a few feet into the air then landed, looking around trying to figure out what had so loudly disturbed the quiet, beautiful spring morning. Then just as quickly the hens closest to me returned to feeding while the other gobbler clucked and made a semicircle around my position. If the limit in California had been two gobblers a day I could easily have added him to my bag. Instead I stayed still and enjoyed the scene of the turkeys up close until they finally moved away into the trees.

I paced off the distance — 37 yards. The gobbler had a thick 10-inch beard and 1-inch spurs but was surprisingly light for his looks — only 15 pounds.

The plan could not have played out any better; everything had worked prefectly. A grin came across my face as I picked up my gobbler. I was already thinking of the other two gobblers and the fact that this was only the second week of turkey season.

The Turkey Chronicles continue next issue with "Dead Turkey Walking II."

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