Whenever I go turkey hunting on my own, the moment I hear a gobble, my mind starts racing and I begin looking for a spot to set up and call. I’m wondering where is the best place for me to sit so the bird can hear me, but won’t be able to spot me very easily. I’m constantly second guessing my choice, saying to myself “he’ll be able to see me, or I’ll never be able to get the gun on him here.” Yesterday morning’s hunt was no different.
I had been crossing a field to the west and entering the woods downhill from a road bed that winds its way through the property. The road more or less encircles the area where the turkeys tend to roost. This morning I decided to enter from a different direction and go straight up the slope to the top of the ridge. But by the time I got out of the truck, the sky was already growing lighter and I knew I needed to get into position quickly if I was going to hear a gobble before the birds pitched down.
Once I got to the top of the ridge, I heard a faint gobble far off downhill to the east. The chances of this bird hearing me and coming in were pretty slim, but without hearing any other birds at the moment, I found a place to sit, get comfortable for a while, and call a bit. About 10 minutes later, I heard another gobble in the distance, this time to my west. It sounded closer than the first bird I’d heard, so I decided to get up and move. I walked along the old roadbed just below the crest of the ridge listening as I walked. As I got closer, I could hear more clearly and realized that it was not one, but two gobblers. I gave a quick call and they answered, so again, I started to wonder where to sit. “Where can I sit so I can see him, but he can’t see me?” “Where is the best spot for me to get a shot?” I finally plopped down at the base of an oak, on the right side of a dead, fallen pine just below the roadbed where there is much more cover and I would be facing downhill toward the Toms. However, I knew if the birds got above me on the road, I may not have a good opportunity to get a shot.
I called again, and the birds were coming, and fast! I could tell they were doing just what I hoped they wouldn’t. I heard them gobble again as they moved to my left and above me. Of course they got on the road and started strutting and coming closer. My only chance for a shot, was to move around to the left side of the tree, where I could look up the road toward the birds and either shoot through the pine brush in front of me, or wait until one of them passes it and is in the clear.
My heart was beating faster and faster, knowing these birds were going to be in my face in seconds. I watched them through a bit of a window in those rusty, old dead pine needles. The brush was thick with branches, so I chose to wait until the first bird cleared the brush. The old gobbler was no more than eight steps from me when he finally stuck his head out and I pulled the trigger! He immediately fell and the other tom flew out. in a hurry.
As I mentioned, I’m always second guessing my choice of set-up. Even though I may get a bit flustered and worried how the hunt will turn out in the heat of the moment, things can always work out for the best. If I had decided to set up anywhere else, those turkeys may have been able to spot me. Once I sat next to that brush, all I could think about was how this was another mistake that would hinder me from seeing the birds and/or getting a shot. When in fact, it worked to my advantage. I’ll chalk about 40% of this hunt up to luck.
Perhaps the best part about this turkey hunt, was that it was the first time that I’d been hunting alone where I was able to call in an adult gobbler, and successfully harvest the bird on my own. I’d hunted alone before and called birds in, but I’d never been able to make it happen on a big gobbler by myself. The tom weighed 16 lbs, had a 9-7/8” beard and 3/4 “ spurs. This was also the first spring gobbler season in VA where I’d been able to fill all three tags! Needless to say, I was pretty proud of the accomplishment.
Friday was the birthday of a friend of mine, so a few others and I decided to take him to see a live band in Roanoke, VA that evening. Unfortunately, I wouldn’t get to put my birds to roost for saturday morning’s hunt. Even worse, I didn’t get home until 3:30 Saturday morning, approximately 2.5 hours before sunrise. I went straight to bed and maxed out the volume of my alarm. Needless to say, when my eye lids finally popped up, I was disappointed to find the room filled with the morning’s light already shining through and my alarm blaring.
By my count, the birds had likely just hit the ground as I was leaving the house. I decided to head to a spot where my dad, “Rudy,” had heard a bird on friday morning. At 6:45 a.m. (30 minutes after daylight) I put my vest on and headed to the top of the ridge, I heard the bird gobble about a half a mile away. With plenty of time left to hunt and the bird still gobbling really well, I set out across the hollow toward the him.
It took me about 20 minutes to reach the gobbler after fighting through some thick laurel and crossing a couple of ridges. As I came to the top of the next ridge, I heard the bird gobble in the hollow on the opposite side. I soon realized that he was still about 200 yards up the mountain from me. I find that it is typically tougher to call a bird down the mountain to you because they tend to find a good vantage point above you and lock up until they see movement. With this in mind, I knew I need to move around the mountain and get at least parallel with the bird, if not above him.
Once I got where I could hear the bird straight across from me, I eased to the top of the thick laurel ridge and peaked across the hollow to where the bird was gobbling. The bird had moved into some wide open hardwood timber about 125 yards away. It would be impossible to get any closer and the mountain laurels and rhododendron that I was in, would make it tough to see the bird approaching until he was within 20 yards. I found a tree near the crest of the ridge, set up, and gave a couple of loud yelps to ensure the bird could hear me. He immediately cut off both calls with a thundering gobble. He was coming!
It wasn’t long before I could see the gobbler strutting toward me from across the ridge. He paused to strut and I thought he may hang up out of range, so I gave one more call to let him know where I was. He gobbled and came out of strut and committed in my direction. However, as I looked around at my set up, I knew it was going to be tough to get a shot off before the bird would pick me out. I couldn’t see more than 25 yards due to the slope of the ridge and the thick brush. The bird had shut up and had made his way into the thick hollow just over the ridge from me.
I wasn’t happy with the set up and was trying think of something quick to improve it. With the timber on the backside of the ridge behind me being open hardwoods with no cover, I decided to just back up about 30 yards. This would give me a little more room to let that gobbler home in on my previous position. Turkeys have a knack for being able to pinpoint where a sound is coming from, so I knew there was a really good chance that the gobbler would come straight to the tree that I had just left.
After sitting there for about 15 minutes without so much as a gobble, I was beginning to worry that maybe the bird had heard my retreat and knew something was up. However, I also knew that he was likely working his way in silently so I didn’t want to move and risk busting him out. Finally, I could hear the bird drumming just over the ridge. It took a few minutes, but I suddenly picked out the red/white/blue head and the tail fan coming over the ridge. The bird popped up right beside the pine tree where I had originally sat. Once he reached this point, he stood there and gobbled, looking for the hen he had just heard. I gave one soft call to let him know where I was and he soon turned in full strut and began working his way down the ridge to me. At 30 yards, I put the red dot in my Tru-Glo scope on the waddles of his neck and the pulled the trigger. The Federal Flight Controls blew him over on his back without so much as a flop!
I looked at my watch and it was 7:30 a.m. At 17 lbs, 13 ozs with a 8.75” beard, it was definitely not my biggest bird, however, it was an enjoyable hunt and I was looking forward to the turkey sandwiches and getting back to bed!
On Thursday, I decided to hunt the National Forest in a valley in which we had heard several birds earlier in the week. However, we knew they were being hunted pretty heavily and I wasn’t sure if they would be gobbling. After checking on a few locations without any responses, I was down to my last spot before hitting the road to work. Listening intently for a few minutes, I finally heard the bird sound off about 800 yards up the mountain. I didn’t have much time to hunt so I only cut the distance by about half before setting up on the bird. It would be a long way to travel if that bird was going to make it to within gun range in time.I called for about 30 minutes with bird answering my calls about every time. However, he was not closing the distance quickly enough. Once I realized that he was content to just stand up there gobbling and waiting on me, I decided to back out and save the bird for the following morning. I knew that there was a chance that he would work his way off the mountain to my calls and be closer tomorrow.
That evening, I decided to try to roost the bird to help determine where we needed to start out early the next morning. When the bird finally gobbled just before dark, he had moved several ridges to the east but was still near the top of the mountain, 800 yards above the road. I spoke with Kevin that night and learned that he had not had any luck with his birds either. So I told him I knew where to find one and to meet me at our usual meeting place at 5:15 the next morning.
We left the truck behind and started our quiet ascent. We were waiting at the elevation where I expected the bird to be roosted 45 minutes before it began cracking daylight. It had been several minutes after daylight and we had not heard anything. I was beginning to get a little worried that perhaps we had spooked the bird on our way up the mountain. Finally, we heard a faint gobble and I knew what was happening. The bird was less than 200 yards from us across the next ridge, however, due to the steep slopes, the sound was not making it out of the hollow. So Kevin and I grabbed our gear and moved around to the next ridge to where the bird was roosted.
As we neared the top of the ridge, we were probably within 70 yards of the bird on the roost and the gobbles began getting louder and louder. If we continued to the crest of the ridge, the bird would likely spot us, so Kevin and I decided to set up about 20 yards short of the crest on the opposite side of the ridge from the gobbler. We chose 4 small oaks, which had grown up in a circle, for cover. I sat in the middle of the oaks while Kevin sat in front, allowing me to video over his shoulder and direct the calling away from the bird.
Just before we figured the gobbler was about to fly down, I gave a couple of soft yelps, directing my calls down the mountain. The bird immediately cut me off. Not wanting him to pinpoint our location right away, I didn’t call anymore and we sat quietly waiting for the ol’ Tom to come searching for us. The next time the he gobbled, he was on the ground about 40 yards above us, just over the crest of the ridge. If the bird circled in above us, he would have a good vantage point from which to spot us and likely bug out before Kevin could get the gun turned on him. So again turning my ahead down the mountain and away from the bird, I gave a couple more soft calls which he immediately cut off. Soon we could hear the bird drumming just over the bank and just out of sight. Kevin took the gun off safety as I picked up the bird’s tail fan just over the crest of the ridge. He was coming straight to us!
The bird was moving through heavy laurel and Kevin was having difficulty seeing him, but I had a good view with the video camera as the Tom strutted and gobbled his way closer. Finally, at about 18 yards, the bird gave Kevin a clean shot and he took it. The big gobbler never flopped (until Kevin picked him up). At 20 lbs 2 oz, sporting a 10 1/8” beard, and almost 1” spurs, it was Kevin’s biggest bird to date.
Another textbook hunt.