First, we want to apologize to Mike and Tom Haire. We are sorry that we had to shoot one of your cows, but it was a battle out there.
Easter weekend during the April turkey season, Bill Booth and I went turkey hunting on Mike and Tom’s farm in Rutherford County. Getting one turkey is a pretty big deal. They were nearly extirpated from this country during the end of the last century from over-hunting. Many old timers rarely, if ever, saw one. Fortunately, the NC Wildlife commission has done a yeoman’s job of reintroducing them. Also, turkey are reputed to be the smartest creature in the forest, with the best eyesight and hearing. So, many avid modern hunters have not gotten one.
Frequently, a single hunter cannot shoot a turkey, because he has to use his hands to work the calls. Then when the turkey is close enough to shoot, it can see the hunter, so the hunter cannot move to pick up his gun. So a second hunter is needed to do the shooting. Also turkeys are famous for slipping around or behind a hunter, so a hunting teammate is needed to watch the shooter’s back side. Often, turkey hunting involves sitting somewhere in the woods and barely moving for a couple hours. Then one or two birds are called in, after which there is no moving for long stretches of time.
At the beginning of this trip, Bill and I enjoyed a symphony of calls from about 10 birds spread over 75 acres. Around dawn we heard some gobblers way off to the right, in the lower woods behind us. We also heard at least one big gobbler, ahead of us to the left, in the upper woods. In between were three big fields, broken by fences, buildings and gulleys about a half mile distant.
We saw three hens come out the woods from out right and walk, clucking, through the ground fog. They went purposefully towards the big gobbler in the upper woods across the three pastures. After a half hour waiting, we got up to follow them. No sooner had we stood up than three gobblers tracked the hens from our right across the same fields. We waited another half hour. We kept hearing so many different kinds of turkey calls that we assumed there must be another hunter or two nearby. It turns out there were only us and the birds. Eventually, we hiked uphill and joined at least seven turkey in the upper woods. We set up again at the edge of the field.
More turkey talking ensued. Thinking we were calling one gobbler to our left, Bill was surprised to see our three gobbler friends from the lower woods, looking straight at him on his right. He could not move. He never spoke to me, so I did not know what he was doing from there on until the end of the hunt. After about 10 minutes, the gobblers turned their heads and Bill slipped into the woods behind us. For another 20 minutes, he stalked the birds, on his stomach like a military sniper. He kept calling very softly. Occasionally his calls would be answered by a loud, crashing gobbles and struts from the toms.
This whole ordeal is difficult because, in nature, the hens come to the toms. That is why the toms gobble loudly, display and strut. But the hunter must fool the tom into thinking the hunter is a hen, who is invisible, and make the tom come looking for the hen.
Finally, Bill was able to get a shot through a narrow crack between two logs. I heard the “boom” and waited for about 5 minutes, when I assumed the action was over. I got up and walked to Bill to congratulate him. Unknown to me, Bill was watching two more gobblers staying in range. He wanted badly to shoot a second turkey for himself, which the little devil on his one shoulder kept telling him to do. But Bill also wanted to let me get a shot, which the little angel on his other shoulder kept telling him to do.
As I came over the ridge, to my astonishment, the two uninjured gobblers had attacked the shot but still thrashing gobbler and were trying to fight him. Apparently the shot gobbler was the dominant tom in the “pecking order” and the others were getting revenge. Like a blind hog finding an acorn, it took me about half a second to figure out that this was a rare opportunity.
My body was blocked from the view of the gobblers on the ground by a small ridge. To attack their former adversary, the live birds had to jump up and down on him. As each of the lively toms sprang up in the air, it exposed his head to me over the top of the ridge. At the apex of one jump, I fired at the exposed head.
Two harvested turkeys were on the ground. A neat feat! We took the birds home in my Bronco and cleaned them in Bill’s driveway. Just this afternoon (a week later) I washed the blood off my tailgate. We got four large, firm, fresh chunks of breast meat, which we will grill soon. We also kept the tails to make displays.
As if the day were not good enough, we later went fishing for bream in the Green River. I had a better day catching good size fish than I have experienced in several years. I love that electric feel when the first fish of the year grabs the hook and makes the line vibrate!
Then, to make the day superb, we went target shooting. With Bill’s expert coaching to keep my cheek on the stock, cover the target with the barrel and feel like the gun is an extension of my body –as if I were pointing my finger – I was able to hit the targets. The idea is basic and easy to describe. But in the heat of a real hunt, like grouse exploding under your feet or dove flaring overhead like fighter jets, it is hard to execute. I had the best day shooting clay pigeons in my life.
Is this a great country, or what?