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.