Standing on a towering bluff hundreds of feet above the river, Bobby Whitehead, Rick Story and I stared across an enormous expanse at two longbeards strutting in a lush field of green just before dusk.
“I’m going over there in the morning,” I said.
“How are you going to get across the river?” Whitehead asked.
“I brought my fishing waders. I’m going to walk across,” I said.
“Ah, good thinking, Jack,” Whitehead replied. Whitehead calls everyone Jack.
At 5:30 the next morning, I stood in water up to my ankles on the edge of the river at an old road crossing. Whitehead assured me the farmer takes his tractor across the river at this point, so it couldn’t be “too” deep. It was the word “too” that had me worried.
With my shotgun slung securely over my shoulders, a bag of decoys in my left hand and a walking stick in my right, I eased out into the current sliding one foot in front of the other without ever losing contact with the bottom. Thankfully, “too” deep never amounted to more than my waist. I reached the other side safe and sound with eager anticipation of the approaching dawn.
I crossed the end of the green field in hurry. If there were any turkeys roosted on the edge of the field, I didn’t want to give them the chance to figure out I wasn’t a deer.
Once I reached the edge of the woods, which doubles as the base of a nearly vertical cliff, I struck out west toward the field the gobblers had been strutting in the day before.
The field I was in and the field I was headed to were segmented by a thick hedgerow. A few hundred yards shy of the hedgerow, I popped my decoys up about 20 yards out in the field, and I settled in among some briars at the base of giant, old oak.
Conditions were perfect. The sky was finally clear after a day of intermittent showers and overcast. Temperatures were going to soar close to 80 degrees. Surely, gobbles would be coming from every direction this morning. Wrong.
As the sun peaked up over the horizon, I’d only heard two gobbles, and they were a mile off in the distance. My hopes had diminished.
After an hour of sitting still, I had to move. I figured “up” was my only option, so I clawed my way up the bluff behind me. Once I reached the top and had caught my breath, I slowly starting easing down a logging road, calling sporadically. Finally, one of the gobblers sounded off again, and he was closer, much closer, but was down below me.
I dropped back down off the bluff and made my way to the edge of the green field. I called. He answered. I moved through the woods to a possible point of intersection.
I called. He didn’t answer. I called again. He didn’t answer. A few moments later, I slowly turned to ease back into the timber to make my way in the direction of the last gobble, and pop, pop, pop.
I spooked a gobbler I called in behind me. I quickly raised my shotgun, but the running bird was gone in flash.
Dejected, I figured I’d go collect my decoys and work in the opposite direction toward a deep holler I’d heard birds gobbling in the day before. I made my way down the bluff just inside the woods on an easy to navigate deer trail. About a hundred yards before reaching my set, I peeked out into the field, and two gobblers were messing around in my decoys.
I slipped down a deer trail running just inside the wood line. When I was about 75 yards from the gobblers, I squeezed in between two trees and softly struck my slate. The purring was too much. The tom turned my way and started his death march. Every 10 yards or so, he’d look for a lustful hen but never spotted her. My load of 4 shot leveled him at 15 yards.
The beautiful gobbler sports spurs of an 1¼ inch and a 10-inch beard. He’s going on the wall as full body mount. Last year I decided I want to have all six subspecies of North American turkeys mounted. He will represent the Eastern turkey subspecies and is the second of the six completed.
See you down the trail.
Brandon Butler’s outdoors column appears Sundays in The Republic . Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.