Run and Gun Gobbler: My First Longbeard Turkey Wasn’t Looking for Love
Russ Chastain 04.06.17
Turkey hunting is a heck of a thing. It’s fluid, it’s frustrating, it’s fantastic. Traditional methods didn’t do much for us on this hunt, but luck and fast thinking put two birds in the freezer.
Like so many of my turkey hunts, it began slowly. The toms weren’t gobbling much, and on opening morning I only heard one distant gobble. When the rain moved in, I decided to head back to camp to stay dry. Why not? After all, I had nine days to hunt.
Sunday morning brought more rain, so I happily slid back into my sleeping bag and zonked off again. The weather improved later in the day, so I headed out with my longtime hunting buddy John, with whom I’d been hunting more than twenty years. John and I started hunting together when he was a teen and I was in my early twenties. While everyone else stayed home, he and I were always ready to hit the boondocks to hunt for some hair and feathers.
This time, we went in style. John brought his hotspot-enabled phone and laptop and we set up in the tower at the clay range around 3:00 PM, sitting in comfort and staying connected. A chance for us to do a little work-related communication and still be out there where the birds lived. Laugh if you like, but it beat sitting around back at camp.
Eight minutes later, we heard the first gobble. Laugh no more.
The gobbler was ahead of us and it did come our way, but he turned long before he got there. We also heard a lot of gobbling from the woods behind us. An hour and a half after settling into the stand, a tom snuck in silently from behind and busted us. We did some walking later and turned up a hen, but nothing else.
The Hunting Heats Up
Monday’s weather was horrible, and I spent some hours in the woods but never heard a bird. The 45 MPH wind gusts didn’t help. Tuesday morning was windy again, but I did hear some turkeys. None were nearby and none would come to call, but at least I heard something.
Come early afternoon, John and I decided to head back to the clay range; he had heard some birds that morning and was hoping they’d return. He headed out in a hurry a few minutes before I did, so when I parked my UTV near his Jeep, John was nowhere in sight. I grabbed my gear and started walking down the narrow driveway towards the clay range.
As I walked down the road, staying off of the gravel for stealth reasons, I thought I heard a distant gobble in the breeze. When I got about halfway to the range, looked up in the tower and failed to see John. That was odd.
I eased up closer and spotted my friend. He was down on one knee near a corner of the food plot with his shotgun shouldered, looking around a corner at something I couldn’t see. He was clearly onto something, I just couldn’t tell what.
A Friend’s First Longbeard
I stepped into the cover of the woods and slipped through them to get closer to John, who kept his gun up and never looked back–and couldn’t have heard me coming anyway due to the wind. At one point, he scooted up closer to the corner of the field, and when I got about 40 yards behind him I hunkered down, threw on my face mask, and produced some plaintive yelps on Dad’s old Lynch World Champion box call. I was hoping to pull the gobbler–which I still couldn’t see–closer to my buddy.
Less than a minute later, I watched as a hunter I’d had a part in training dropped the hammer on his first wild turkey. Turns out, John had been on his way to the tower when he’d spotted the bird strutting in the field; the tom hadn’t noticed as John faded back out of view and closed the distance, then closed in again. John called a little (you already know that I did too) but the gobbler never did come any closer. John finally got a good clear shot at the bird’s head and nailed it at 40 yards.
Lucky? You bet. But also a great example of making the best of a situation and taking the initiative to get the job done. That longbeard was his first wild turkey, and I reckon he was happier than I was–but not by too much.
We took photos and had a good old time after some hugs (manly, of course) and back-slapping, then took a long walk to check other fields for gobblers. At one point, John spotted a turkey in the trail ahead, but it was gone in a few steps, and that was that.
It had been a great day.
Running for a Tom
On Wednesday morning, John joined me for an hour’s hunting before he had to head home. We heard many gobbles, but no birds came our way. After John headed out, I did some walking and sitting but saw nothing and heard precious little. In the afternoon I made a big loop through the woods and managed to spot a couple hens in fields, but that was all.
Thursday was a non-hunting day, but as Friday dawned clear and cold I greeted the day alone, listening for gobbles at a high point on the property. At 6:54, I heard the first gobble and was unsure of the direction. I turned my head and heard another gobble, which seemed to come from the other way. Pretty soon, I knew I had to make a decision because I was hearing birds in opposite directions.
I decided to head down Red Road, so I quickly grabbed my gun and gear and headed off at a fast walk towards the lovely but distant sound. As I quick-stepped along I dug out and donned my camo gloves and face mask and couldn’t help but recall a morning about ten years previous when I’d headed down that same road following gobbles and had failed miserably. Needless to say, I was hoping for better luck this time.
I would hustle down the road a ways, then stop to listen for gobbles. At one point it sounded as if I’d gone the wrong way, but I pressed forward around a corner and the gobbles beckoned me to keep going. As I neared Tower Road, the bird sounded like it was right down that trail, so I quickly unfolded my seat and flopped down against a tree where I could see down that road.
It was 7:08, and in the 14 minutes that had passed since hearing the first gobble I’d heard several more, decided which way to go, snatched up my gear, fast-walked a half-mile up and down hills, and gotten into position. I quickly gave a few plaintive yelps with my box call. I immediately heard a gobble and some wings just down the road to the north and got ready for the gobbler that had just flown down to sashay up the trail and pose for me, but he didn’t do so. Nothing happened for a very long time, perhaps as long as a minute.
Then a crow flew over and cawed and the gobbler gobbled–and that dirty double-crosser was going east. Deja vu, all over again. I tossed out a few yelps trying to turn him, but of course that was no use. He gobbled back over his shoulder, but kept going east.
I’d been in that situation before, and I knew that my only chance was to go east myself–fast–and try to head him off somehow. I figured he was headed for the bottom behind the East Gate plots, so I grabbed up my stuff and hustled that way.
I sped eastward on Red Road, trotting on Georgia clay. Crows cawed and the gobbler gobbled, steadily heading east through the woods north of the road.
As I neared a curve in the road, I heard yelps up ahead. Was I to be busted by an errant bird before I could intercept my quarry? Meanwhile, the gobbler was hollering his head off as he continued to hurry east. I eased around the corner, saw no birds ahead, then did as Dad used to say and “turned on the haul-ass.”
There were two small food plots where I was heading; one abutted the north side of the clay road I was on, and a smaller plot beyond could be reached by a short winding trail through the woods. By the time I got to the front plot, the gobbling was loud and furious in the smaller plot behind it. It sounded as if two tinkled-off toms were there, and I knew I had to act quickly before one or both of them went farther east onto the neighbor’s property.
I fast-walked into the front plot a little ways, turned left into the woods a bit, and quickly knelt behind a light screen of brush where I could see the trail to the other food plot. I quickly dug out Dad’s old Lynch box call and hit some loud yelps on it. Immediately I heard the equivalent of a loud cussing-out in turkey language emanating from the rear plot.
By then I was running on pure instinct and adrenaline. I threw out a quick gobble and some loud raucous cutting and yelping on the ancient Lynch box and tossed it aside. The filth with which the gobbler answered doesn’t bear repeating. I shouldered Dad’s old Browning over/under shotgun and concentrated on the spot where the gobbler ought to emerge. I began looking for holes in the brush through which I could shoot.
The gobbler fussed and cussed as he quickly came my way, talking in terms calculated to turn any sailor red-faced. You didn’t have to know the language to get the gist. Within a few seconds, he arrived at the plot and looked around for his challenger. His foot itched for some gobbler tail feathers to kick, and he paused when he saw none. Patriotic head of red, white, and blue. Long beard dangling down. My heart refusing to beat, then pounding against my ribs.
“THERE HE IS!” screams my brain. Find hole in brush. Aim. Fire. He goes down and begins flopping!
Sprint to him, try to do as my buddy Wes says and contain his wings so he doesn’t spoil himself as a trophy. Fail. Get right wing in right hand, immediately lose bird and retain handful of wing feathers. Lunge again and make a grab and manage to snag him by one foot — pick him up and hold on, bracing myself for a good spurring which never came. But holding 18-plus pounds of lean, mean, death-throe-flopping bird by the foot is not easy, so drop him a few seconds later. Then make another lunge and place my rubber-booted foot on his funkadelic head while he winds down.
Oh. My. God.
The time: 7:20. Twenty-six minutes after I’d heard the first gobble. A measured 0.7 mile from where I’d been then. His beard was ten and a half inches long; his spurs were about an inch. And he was mine!
I have been happy before, but there’s not much that compares to a day when you do everything right on a turkey hunt, call one in that previously eluded you, and bag it. Ah, me. I will cherish that for a long, long time.
As with John’s bird a few days earlier, this hadn’t been a typical “make-hen-calls-and-a-randy-gobbler-will-find-you” hunt. I’d been spurned by enough birds to know that this tom wasn’t going to turn and come to my calls once he’d started heading away so deliberately. That’s why I knew to go east. When I got to the front plot and heard him beyond it, my knowledge of the terrain told me where he was likely to emerge if I could get him to come.
He’d already proven he wasn’t interested in hen calls; this guy was looking for a fight and I needed to give him one. My initial loud yelps got his attention, and I hadn’t even finished making the following gobble and loud cuts and yelps before he was yelling back at me again.
I felt sure that he was coming, so I got rid of the call, shut the heck up, got the gun up and ready, and began making sure I had holes in the brush through which I could fire with some hope of getting plenty of shot into him.
Once the bird got there, it stopped because it didn’t see the gobbler it had heard. I didn’t waste any time. If I had waited much longer to shoot, the bird would likely have spooked and left.
It was a rare situation in which I did everything correctly on a turkey hunt.
The following morning, I was in the woods early again. I heard many more gobbles and a pile of yelps, and utterly failed to do anything right. I didn’t even lay eyes on a bird.
That’s what I’m used to.