Turkey Trek: Shouldering the Load
Every turkey, hunter has demons that fight epic inner battle
The gobble rang out somewhere in front of me in the foggy dawn at exactly 7:19 a.m.
I had no idea where I was, so knowing exactly where this gobbling bird was sitting was out of the question. What I did know: This turkey was gobbling close enough to hear and I was sitting on the edge of a wood line in Central Florida close enough to call to him.
In some ways that’s about all any turkey hunter needs to know. Until you have to move. With a thick blanket of fog covering the terrain and already in unfamiliar territory, your options become very limited.
In any other place in the world I would have been on the move. But this was the first hunt of OutdoorChannel.com’s Turkey Trek, so there was no room for mistakes.
Turkey hunters have demons. You may not have known that even if you are a turkey hunter. But there are demons that sometimes affect the way we chase our turkeys.
In the movies we often see them as little people sitting on the shoulders of a person needing to make a difficult decision. On one shoulder sits a white angel, representing conscience and espousing things that are right and good. On the opposite shoulder, sits another effigy, this one either in red or black, looking like the devil, whispering all the naughty or wrong things you may want to do, but are wrestling with. He is temptation. Each side sounds good in its own good and naughty way.
Those same little guys sit on every turkey hunters’ shoulder, constantly forcing a battle with the wits of a hunter deciding what to do next. But the thing in turkey hunting is, both of them are in camouflage so you really don’t know which side is the good side, which is the bad. You just know there is a wrestling match taking place on your shoulders.
That battle was very real as I sat looking out into the pines, oak hammocks and thickets in front of me. I had spent the week at the Bassmaster Elite Series event, so any semblance of scouting went out the door. The best I could do was getting some pointers from Lance Peck on where to hunt on a mutual friend’s property.
You may be familiar with these type directions: “Just go through the gate, walk about a quarter, go around the pond, find the road, walk to the edge of timber and listen from there.”
Those actually make sense at the moment. Relay them in your head in complete darkness with a fog building and questions start bouncing around. Never mind that I worried about alligators lurking around the pond, or that I took a wrong turn, I eventually made it to edge of the woods.
All I knew when I got there was that I could probably get back to civilization. When the sun came up I might be looking at Disney World or more woods. I just didn’t know.
Ask any good turkey hunter to give you a tip on killing more turkeys and he’s likely to include in his recipe “know the terrain.” That tip was also thrown out the window. But it didn’t matter. I was turkey hunting. That’s all that mattered.
Then the turkey started gobbling and half the fibers in my being wanted to get up and move closer. The other half wanted to sit where I was and wait things out: let the fog lift, let the birds get on the ground; make sure there weren’t other birds close by. Just be able to see and know where I was going.
The battle on my shoulders had begun.
In previous hunts in Florida I had learned that if you could hear a gobble the bird was close. This turkey sounded like he was 150 yards or more away. But in Florida, he could have been 75 or closer. My brain-filled head sticking in between either shoulder couldn’t settle on which it was.
The first salvo from those little devilish suckers had me in a quandary. Do I move? Or do I stay?
The battle was so intense, I sat there wrestling, doing nothing. A short tree yelp scratched across my slate call didn’t help matters. The gobbler that had opened up the morning responded, followed by a second and third bird scattered around in front of me.
The little devils started again: “Get closer, move into a cross fire between these birds and reap the rewards.”
While the other little guy simply said: “Sit still you big lumber head. Every one of those turkeys knows where you are. Besides you still don’t know what you are getting into.”
It was well after daybreak, but the fog had just gotten thicker. As the minutes passed the gobbling became more intense. It was obvious the tom was on the limb, you could almost hear him twirl on the branch as he gobbled one direction, then the next and then the next. The other two birds threw in an occasional “atta-boy” gobble in their respective locations.
I sat and listened to them and the battle on my shoulders.
Then things went quiet. The fog thickened and I could only guess that they were on the ground. For minutes I listened to nothing but the tweets of birds fluttering around and the steady rumble of traffic on a nearby highway. The battle on my shoulders was getting intense.
A more energetic yelp produced an answer: A single gobble, followed by a second and third from the two counterparts. They weren’t closer, but they were answering.
“Maybe I should move,” whispered one side of my brain, while the other insisted I “hold tight. You have all day, wait until the fog lifts. Don’t screw up early.”
This was not the way I like to turkey hunt. I like being aggressive, but I like being smart and aggressive. At the moment I was still ignorant and being passive. The little guy on my shoulder that wanted me to move was starting to win.
But the little guy on the other side was equally insistent. I opted instead to stay still and become more aggressive with my calls. I yelped loudly with my diaphragm. All three gobblers immediately answered the coarse yelp, with an additional Jake gobble thrown in.
Things were starting to look up. But I had been in this situation before. It was easy to tell the birds were on the ground. There was enough hesitation and quiet time to know they were with hens. How many hens was part of my ignorance factor. If it was a bunch of them, then I would be sitting there all day, while they sat over there and gobbled all day, unless I could peel one of the boys away from the group.
Or I could slip, belly crawl and do whatever it took to get close to the expected wad and ambush one of those suckers. It didn’t matter to me. This was my first turkey hunt of the season. I just wanted to put some feathers on the ground.
So, the battle continued with the little guys on my shoulders. The fog kept me at bay. The unknown terrain kept me confused. My second coarse yelp, though, produced a double gobble and answering gobbles from the others.
I like double-gobbles, especially when they cut my calls, even if they are 150 yards away. Things were looking up. And the two little fellows on my shoulders offered even more opposing views. “Slip over there before those hens carry those birds away,’’ said one. While the other said simply, “Stay put, idiot.”
I dropped to my stomach and belly crawled about 20 feet in front of me so I could see further down the dirt road in front of me. When I got there all I could see was about 100 yards down the road before the fog swallowed it up.
“That’s like a smoke screen,’’ the little guy said, “they’ll never see you.”
“But they will,’’ the other little guy said. “The ground is too open and you have no idea what is on the other side. If it’s even more open, where will you hide. Your only plan is to run into the fog?”
I slipped back to my earlier position and half in frustration, half in desperation I produced another set of coarse yelps, followed up with a “cutt, cutt, cutt.”
The world started to look level at the moment. It produced a triple gobble, then a double gobble and in the shadows of the fog I could see movement coming down the road. A gobbler was practically running toward me.
He would stop every 10 yards and gobble. Then pick up his pace for the next 10 yards, stopping to gobble. As quick as you could slap a little demon from your shoulder, there was a tom skidding to a stop in a foggy, dust cloud.
Normally, I might have played with him a second, getting him to gobble, strut and act like a fool. I had no patience for such nonsense and quickly dropped the bird at 12 steps. The 3-year old weighed around 20 pounds, with 1-1/8th-inch spurs and 10 ½-inch beard.
Every 3-year old is a good turkey. What’s more, I swear when it hit the ground, I saw two little turkey effigies leave its shoulders, no doubt one of them having spent the morning telling that turkey “hold your ground, she’ll come to you,” while the other way saying “run on down there and get you some.”
There are demons in turkey hunting. Sometimes they work for you, sometimes they work against you.