The big tom gobbled and gobbled, spitting and drumming, putting on a show worthy enough for the whole world to see. As the hills of southern Tennessee slowly awoke, he was our alarm clock, letting us know it was past fly-down time. From the opposite hillside, my hunting partner Eliza and I glassed him in all his beauty and wonder, envious as we sat in the wrong venue.
“Wanna give him a shot?” I said.
“I’m game for whatever,” Eliza said.
Despite our 11:00 lunch reservation at the world-famous Miss Mary Bobo’s in Lynchburg, we headed back to the house for my truck.
I knew we’d have a trek ahead of us, driving down to the adjoining TVA (Tennessee Valley Authority) property to park and then head straight uphill through a cedar thicket. A hen was with him earlier and I doubted he had much interest in leaving his field to find us in the dense woods.
We eased up through the thicket, watching every step, always looking for the slightest movement, until we were adjacent with the bird’s strut zone in the open field on the hillside.
Thirty yards from the fence line that separated the field from the thicket, I set Eliza against a shabby cedar tree.
“Take my gun,” I said, trading my Mossberg for her Browning Belgium. “At this distance you’ll need the extra-full choke and the knock-down power of a 3-1/2-inch shell.”
I hoped to pull him to the one spot in the fence where there was a clear opening for a shot. As usual, the odds were in his favor. I propped Eliza’s Browning against a tree, an absurd thing to do, and slowly retreated.
On hands and knees, I crawled away about 50 yards, and began calling to draw the turkey down to the fence. Instant response. In fact, he answered every call while he was in the field. At 100 yards, I stopped and lay down on the ground, not having heard him for several minutes. I couldn’t see the field or Eliza, but had a feeling in the pit of my stomach that the Mossberg’s report would bring on the conclusion. But it didn’t.
I was momentarily paralyzed not knowing what to do. I softly yelped on my diaphragm and a gobbler answered, but confusion instantly covered my brain. Were we working two birds? As I sat, facing downhill, the field was to my left. The gobble I’d just heard was to my right. Panic struck when I realized that the tom had somehow gotten past Eliza…and myself. He was looking for his hen and there I sat, without a gun!
With my options few, I quickly and quietly moved back through the thicket towards Eliza. Luckily, he was well below a sharp incline in the thickest part of the grove, which gave me a fair chance of moving undetected.
“What happened?” I asked as I crawled the last few yards on all fours. “Did you see him? Did you hear that gobble behind you?”
“He came down the fence, but he was too far out in the field for a shot and then he disappeared,” she said. He had gotten by us.
“Alright. Turn around and face the other direction and get ready.”
I’d picked up her gun on the way back and now tried my best to conceal myself behind her. The set up was not an easy one. Thick brush made a V in front of us and it would give the gobbler one of two lanes to walk down if he decided to do so: to the left, he was Eliza’s; to the right, I would have to take him. She had the only tree wide enough to support the back of an average-sized human being.
Again, I yelped softly and he gobbled right back and I knew he was on his way. Now, had my years of turkey hunting been 10 years less, I might have kept on calling. But tried and true experience took a hold of me and I sat there silently, knowing he’d stroll on by directly.
Eliza was leaning against the cedar, the Mossberg ready across her knee. I lay in the grass in the near-fetal position, trying my best to make my form disappear. Her dad’s old Browning Belgium lay by my side.
Movement caught my right eye as I was trying to watch the other lane with my left. I looked at Eliza, her head slowly angling back and forth, not having seen the turkey. His head was up and red, a slow burning fire of romance for his hidden lady. I waited another ten seconds, not able to move, hoping Eliza would look to her right, but as luck would have it, she did not. With no more time to spare, I slowly raised the shotgun to eye level, clicking off the safety in the process. I centered the bead on the gobbler’s head, and squeezed the trigger.
As most of us know, he was beautiful in the early light. Fluorescent greens and dark purples showered us with the most angelic sight of the morning. I wanted it so badly to be Eliza’s bird, but she hugged me instead and told me to shut my mouth, that it had been a great hunt no matter what.
I am not a professional by any means, but here are two things I’d learned from experience, which I incorporated on this hunt. First, the gobbler was holding that hillside for himself. He’d been there a long time that morning because it was a perfect perch to sit and watch and do a little courting. I knew for us to have a chance, I needed him to want to find us. As has happened so many times before, had I only called from where Eliza was sitting, he probably would have continued to carry on in the field, hoping to invite us on out. However, I was able to make him think that I was a bit stuck up, not that interested, and prompted him to do the chasing. Because I mean, guys, let’s face it, don’t we do the same thing?
Secondly, and perhaps most importantly, I didn’t overcall. I let him come to us after he had committed. Yeah, on TV it looks like they call turkeys to hell and back, but that stuff is for show. If you want to close the deal, remain elusive and be patient. Anxiety is the leading ingredient for ending a hunt unsuccessfully. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve revealed myself too quickly and blew the whole operation.
And in case you’re wondering, we made it right on time to Miss Mary Bobo’s–a place definitely worth checking out if you ever find yourself in southern Tennessee. A meal of fried chicken, meat loaf, pinto beans, fried okra, whiskey apples, new potatoes in butter, cornbread, and of course sweet tea wasn’t a bad way to end the morning.
Images by Hunter Worth