This morning’s alarm seemed louder and more harsh than what I remembered it to be. I guess maybe that is because it rang in my ears less than an hour from when I finally closed my eyes and fell asleep. After staying up way too late to finish watching Duke beat Michigan St in the NCAA tournament (only interest is supporting the ACC), and settling my 14 month old back down for the night, I myself laid down on the couch so that my under-the-weather wife would not be disturbed when I got ready to leave. But my mind was racing with the thoughts of how the morning would unfold and would I be able to find a gobbler.
This was my first trip out to the Georgia turkey woods this spring. Opening day was last week and some heavy thunderstorms rocked the area all weekend, so I decided to just sit tight and wait until today. I arrived at the pull-off for one of the many government roads closed to vehicle traffic in the Redlands WMA well before daylight to beat the rush of other anxious hunters. As I sat there in the dark, I meticulously checked my gear to be sure I had everything and swallowed my last swig of coffee.
I eased the car door shut and started out to the same little hill where I had called in a bird three weeks earlier and prior to the prescribed burn that charred 3,800 acres of the forest floor. The ash and soot under my boots was definitely more quiet than the crunchy dried leaves but the fire had changed the landscape profoundly since my last visit. With my Mossberg 835 over my shoulder, and the scent of smoke still lingering in the air, I leaned against a young pine, hoping he could still take my weight, listening for a turkey to give away his position.
The sky was growing lighter and the birds had started their songs when I gave a blow on my owl call. The blackened forest stood silent for a moment and then resumed its chorus of sounds without the addition of a gobble. In the distance I heard another hunter disguising himself as an old hoot owl as well. And a soft gobble hit my ears, and apparently the ears of a few others. That one little gobble really lit up the woods as more imposters started chiming in, almost begging and pleading for another gobble so they could home in and attack. By now the sun was working hard to penetrate the tips of the trees and heavy clouds. I had all but given up on the spot, when I thought to myself “be patient, and give it 5 more minutes.” I once again give my best impression of an owl and finally an old Tom woke up and gobbled hard, less than 200 yards out on top of the adjacent hill. I remember thinking and maybe even saying out loud “we’re in business, baby.”I slip about 50-60 yards further down the hill and setup in front of the only tree large enough to break up my silhouette. The fire had burned all the low brush, limbs, and ground cover so the forest was now wide open with very few places in which to hide. I gave a few yelps with no response. Did he see me? Is he gone? I decided to get a little aggressive and call again with a few cuts added and bam! He gobbles, and I could tell that he had pitched down from his roost but it sounded like he landed on the opposite slope from my setup. So I call again with another mix of excited yelps and cuts. For the next twenty minutes or so, I call occasionally and he answers but it doesn’t sound like he is interested in closing the distance, so I decided to sit quiet and not say a word.
At about 7:40 am, I give a short series of yelps and he hammers hard from the top of the hill. Before I could finish my next set, he cuts me off and gobbles again. “He’s coming,” I told myself. Suddenly I pick up movement on the slope across the low hollow in front of me. “There he is!” The gobbler makes his way down into the hollow, then stops, gobbles, and starts to strut. I give just a few more soft yelps and he comes out of strut and starts working his way in up the hill. He is moving to my left in front of me, so with each passing tree I swing my gun barrel praying he makes it to within range.
When he reached 35 yards, he stopped and half strutted. As he was about to pass behind one last pine tree, I shifted my barrel over to get a shot when he emerged from the opposite side. But I guess I anticipated his step and moved just a hair too early and he spotted the slight movement. When he turned and putted, and at 40 yards, I unleashed the 3 1/2″ Winchester waiting in the chamber and he dropped like a stone!
This bird is very special to me for several reasons. First, because it is my first gobbler that I have ever killed in Georgia. Second, its the first bird that I have ever called in and killed on my own. I called in Kevin’s first long beard and called in and killed several big birds while hunting with Adam in Virginia, but this is the first one that I harvested completely on my own. Today has given me a great sense of accomplishment and confidence as a turkey hunter and I shall never forget it.
So I guess the game warden who said that the birds will come back after the fire was right!
Click the middle photo for the turkey’s stats