Two long-beards strolled through the Black Angus grazed pasture with about two hours of light remaining. Only a mile later, we turned to the east on White Oak Road, a gravel road, with a sign and arrow pointing to White Oak Lodge. Bobwhite quail flew into a locust tree and young rabbits darted from the road into the ditches. A dark wooden farm house rested in a well manicured lawn overlooking a deep blue farm pond.
It was Friday evening April 29th, when Jana and I arrived in Edina, Missouri. We were the guests of Darrell and Lois Huchteman. Darrell had coached Laden Force, who at the time of our hunt was the pro staff director of Mothwing Camo, during his football days at Knox County High School.
Laden and pro staff member, Adam Gander, would be our cameramen and guides for the next two days while we chased Eastern gobblers. The 2,000 acres that Darrell and Lois farm and manage had abundant populations of deer, turkey, and waterfowl.
Cody, the Huchteman’s son, offered to put some birds to bed for us (for all you that are not turkey hunters, that is turkey hunter language for — find out where the turkeys have gone to roost to spend the night). First, he returned to his house to retrieve an archery target for my daughter, Jana, and I to shoot to make sure our bows were still sighted in accurately. About a month ago, Jana had taken her first animal, a wild boar with a bow, now she was dead set on arrowing her first turkey. It had taken me nine years of trying before I even made it to full draw; I hoped her luck would be better.
I wanted to make some final adjustments to switch from the two-bladed 125 grain Eastman Outfitters’ First Cut broadheads that we had used for wild boar hunting to their 125 grain Stiletto, a wide-cutting mechanical broadhead that opens to 2.5 inches when the two blades are locked into position.
As the sun was setting, the sounds of the evening got louder and louder Canada geese honked in unison in the wetland bottoms located three to four hundred yards to our northeast. A crow intruded and created a commotion with the geese with his nuisance caa caa. Sounds coming from the woods lot beside the corn field were the familiar flaps of turkey wings flying to roost followed by gobbles of a mature male wild turkey. The V of geese had risen from the marsh and relocated in a ready-to-be-disked picked cornfield. The resident comb frogs announced nightfall, making a sound mimicking someone running their fingers over a comb’s teeth. With the hooting of a barred owl, came the gobble of more toms. A very loud lone gobbler repeatedly double and triple gobbled in a woods lot to our southwest. He was obviously the closest bird to our cabin location.
Adam took a break from watching Jana and I shoot to get a specific location on the loud hot gobbler. The gobbling was coming from a point just south of a large red barn. The thought of hunting the bird from the upper level of the barn was discussed. This gobbler would be the subject of my dreams.
The alarm sounded at 3:00 AM and woke me from a deep sleep. I woke Jana then fell back asleep. Being a teenager, she had to do some primping to get ready to hunt. At 4:45 AM, I heard a knock on the door from the guys. The bad news was that the store would not be open until 5:00 AM; so, chocolate milk, vanilla coke and Dollar Store Little Debbie Star Crunches and Cake Roll-ups replaced the bacon, egg, and cheese biscuits, I had ordered.
At daybreak, we were still walking across the open field to the point of trees at the opposite downhill side of the pasture field where the turkey had roosted. We quickly set up the twin Hunter’s Specialty portable ground blinds that the guys had bought the previous evening. These would have to do; since, Jana’s Ford Mustang just didn’t have enough storage space for us to take all of our regular equipment. In 2004, I had taken a turkey grand slam with my bow using portable ground blinds (Venture Blinds or Magnum Blinds) made by Eastman Outfitters, but there just wasn’t enough space (next time something else will stay at home) to put them in the car.
Adam placed two hens and a jake decoy between 10 and 15 yards from their blind then he began calling. We heard gobbles from all directions except the point where our bird had roosted. Over an hour later, he still hadn’t gobbled. A quail flew into the bush just behind Jana’s blind, causing her to gasp for breath, but no turkeys came to our field.
At 8:00, we decided to explore a heavily wooded section of the farm where food plot fields had been recently disked. Just after we got out of the truck, we heard a turkey gobble on the opposite side of the field near the woods. While walking across the field, we spooked a large flock of turkeys that had been feeding near the same woods where we had planned to hunt. We watched six gobblers strutting along a fence row in a pasture about 300 yards to our north. We set the two blinds in the edge of the woods with the food plot between us and the barbwire fence along the CRP fields. Adam began calling. Immediately, turkeys gobbled in all directions. The closest birds sounded off in the woods behind our blinds. The gobblers sounded off at Adam’s calls. Within 15 minutes, I spotted a hen entering the field just down the hill from us. She fed around the field, totally ignoring the decoys and the gobblers, but occasionally clucking and yelping.
During the next two hours, we exited the blinds on four occasions, but each time the gobblers behind us sounded like they were getting closer.
On several occasions, I heard gobblers drumming, but couldn’t see them. I remembered that I had a new slate call in my Buckman hip hunter. I removed the call, sanded the glass side, blowed off the dust, and began calling. I had a glove on my right hand and my Fletcher 44 Magnum release aid strapped to my wrist. I gripped the wooden striker and attempted a call. I sounded horrible. The release aid was interfering with me holding the striker at the proper angle, so the sounds coming from it were a poor imitation of a hen turkey. Much to my surprise, every sound produced a gobble or two. Laden also tried the call, but without a lot of luck.
We were laughing at our turkey calling, when I had a strange sensation on the left side of my body. I could feel a turkey drumming. I told Laden. He agreed I know that sounds strange, but I could really feel the gobbler’s presence. Then I heard the soft cluck of a hen. Laden looked out the window and saw two gobblers strutting and drumming within 10 yards of the blind that Jana and Adam shared.
The turkeys had come from the woods behind our blinds and walked down the field road that separated the woods and the CRP land. The birds then crossed a gap in the fence and paralleled the fence row. Laden said, “I don’t know why Jana isn’t shooting.” But as the birds progressed down the fence, he said, “Draw if you can before they get out of range.” That is when the Chinese fire-drill began. In my attempt to draw the bow, the stabilizer kept hanging on the front wall of the blind. It was a good thing we were hidden inside the blind because of all the commotion I created.
After several tries, Laden pushed the cloth front wall outward, so I could completely draw my bow. I put the pin on the second bird and fired the shot.
What a shot! What a horrible shot! The arrow landed four feet to the left of the gobbler that I was shooting at, almost hitting the hen.
I quickly grabbed another arrow and moved the adjustable Trophy Ridge Titan V-Drive to my 35 yard mark. I repeated the same frustration as before. When I tried to full-draw the bow, I again caught the stabilizer end on the blind. Each attempt to raise the bow and place the sight on the turkey, resulted in the stabilizer picking up the front of the blind. Laden eventually pushed out the blind again and I aimed the fiber optic pin on the center of his back. This time the arrow flew straight at the bird, but he twisted just before the impact. The long-bearded gobbler jumped straight into the air about six feet as a couple of cut feathers floated to the ground. The other birds began moving away from the boogers. Laden and I grabbed the call and attempted to lure them back. It didn’t work.
After the birds ran off, we had a meeting of the minds with Adam and Jana. Why hadn’t Jana shot when the turkeys were so close? Jana said, “I couldn’t shoot. Adam couldn’t move the camera where he could film the turkeys.” Since we were filming for television, she did not want to get in trouble with the outfitter for shooting a bird that we didn’t get on film. Adam kept trying to get her to shoot, but she refused. As soon as Laden had spotted the turkeys, he began filming them, and so we probably would have gotten the turkey on film had she chosen to shoot. That’s why they call it turkey hunting not turkey killing. Nothing is a sure thing turkey hunting, especially when you choose the handicap of bowhunting.
After looking for my arrows, we returned to the blinds. After a few calls, we decided to abandon the blinds and go into the hollow after the birds that had gobbled behind us all morning. We had walked maybe 20 yards when we heard a hen putt and no more gobbles. I suggested that we scope the open fields from the edges and look for the gobblers that had been so vocal.
About 400 yards later, the guys spotted a long-beard strutting around a single oak tree at the east end of the big pasture. We circled the field edge about 20 to 30 yards deep in the woods. The guys checked our position in reference to the big oak when they spooked a hen. She had putted, cackled, clucked, and yelped while Adam lay on the ground by a tree and called back softly to her. The hen walked within five yards of him before finally calming down and walking away from his soft calling. We again moved down the creek to the fence line on the hillside adjacent to the open field with the oak tree. Jana followed Adam, then me and Laden up the steep hill. Adam stopped and called to locate the tom. Immediately the toms came running toward us, but a ditch along the fence line separated us. The two toms gobbled and strutted, but refused to cross the ditch. Adam was snuggled flat on the ground, but Jana got stuck kneeling. I stood on the back side of a small tree and peaked around the side. Laden ran the camera while he leaned against a tree. The pacing went on for almost 30 minutes.
The turkeys started to leave and Laden and I moved down the hill to attempt to get in front of them if they continued to walk down the point. We walked a game trail then followed it under the fence. We sneaked along the edge of the ditch, below the big ridge out of sight of the turkeys. About 150 yards from the fence, we climbed up a draw to position ourselves to wait for the turkeys. I only lacked about a foot being behind a big oak, when I looked up and saw the red headed gobbler walking straight toward me. I couldn’t move. I couldn’t draw the bow without getting caught. I just watched until he got behind my tree then I drew. I told myself, “Hold, hold, hold.” I finally have to let down. As luck would have it, the bird’s head finally appeared about two inches above some two-foot shrubs. He disappeared only to reappear about 30 yards further down the ridge. I drew the bow again, but this time he saw me and shifted into overdrive before gliding into the woods. The second gobbler appeared at the same spot and repeated the move. My arrow sailed through thin air.
We walked down the ridge to recover my arrow, when we spotted an own or hawk dive bombing the turkeys that just flown from the field
The next day’s strategy was to get in the blinds from the previous morning before daylight. Jana and I would hunt together. Adam staked out the decoys and began calling. Gobblers answer, but not as close as the birds had been the previous day. Shortly after, daylight, I begin hearing drumming coming from the north side of the plowed field, just out of our line of sight. Jana and I watch about 20 deer cross the plowed field and began entering the woods within 5 yards of our blind. They keep looking over their backs at the gobblers that we hear drumming. Twice we hear the strutting bird gobble, but eventually after an hour and a half the drumming becomes faint. Laden sneaks out of the blind then hides behind a tree on the fence line and peeks over the hill to find the turkey. The gobbler is 50 yards over the edge of the CRP field hillside. We all move to Laden when he motions for us. We agree to belly crawl for about 30 yards and peer over the hill. The gobble is now 80 yards out We crawl closer, but since we keep seeing hens in the CRP field, our approach is hampered. Next we spot him 130 yards away following a group of hens. He strutted, drummed and spun in circles for over an hour with us watching. We watched hens and more toms in the CRP field, but no close opportunities.
At 10:30 AM, we agreed to walk back to the truck and gather up our gear. On the way to get our blinds, we see the drumming long-beard headed toward our field. This time he is hunting us. If only we had waited, he may have come back looking for those lovely hens he had left in the plowed field. Too bad we weren’t in the blinds. Too bad he didn’t find our decoys. There will always be next time. I guess that is why it is called turkey hunting, not turkey killing.