Uncle Jimmy’s Gobbler
Russ Chastain 04.03.18
It was early in the 2018 spring turkey season, and things hadn’t been going well. That is to say, things were pretty much normal in that the birds were simply not cooperating with me. I’d begun hunting on Saturday, and by Tuesday I hadn’t even gotten close to a gobbler that I knew of. That evening, I simply sat in a deer blind near a food plot and rested my weary feet. As dark approached, I heard some turkeys fly up to roost nearby, and decided to come back in the morning.
I did so, and those turkeys treated me just as they had the previous afternoon: They ignored my calls entirely. As I sat there hoping for the best, I got the bad news that Uncle Jimmy’s health had taken a bad turn and he’d been rushed to the hospital in the night. This, of course, put things in perspective. A lack of turkeys while turkey hunting is not a problem; it’s a mere inconvenience. But Uncle Jimmy had problems.
This is a man I’ve grown up respecting, who always had a ready smile and hearty “attaboy” for me. Who has provided moral support and encouragement, as well as a positive role model, all of my life. He’s the man who gave me a hefty tome titled “The New Hunter’s Encyclopedia,” among other things, when I was a much younger man than I now am.
So anyhow; some tears were shed that day in the woods.
After a while, I grew weary of sitting there, so I moved to a small food plot nearby, and hunkered there. I was just cold-calling; call, wait, repeat. And then I overlapped a gobble atop a series of yelps, and heard a lonesome gobble from the wooded creek bottom off to my right, and I perked up.
A couple more gobbles indicated it was possibly coming my way! Being right-handed, I’d prefer to shoot to my left, which is where the plot was. But I swapped my gun around for left-handed shooting, and waited.
After a few minutes, I began to wonder if this bird was going to act like most others, and simply walk away without coming to me. So I slowly reached down with my right hand to make a little cluck on a push-pull call to see if I could get him to reveal his position with a gobble. Just as I reached the call, I caught a movement and spotted the beard, neck, and head of a gobbler off to my right — looking right at me!
It was a moment I’m not likely to forget anytime soon.
It appeared that he knew I was something odd and, as a turkey, it was his bounden duty to act suspicious and depart, but he wasn’t in a big hurry. Remember, I only had one hand on my gun at this point, so I eased my right hand up towards the scattergun. Meanwhile, the Tom took a few steps and disappeared behind a gob of brush. And although he wasn’t rushing off, I was pretty sure he was about to leave me, especially when he didn’t emerge from the other side of the brush. He was on his way out of my life.
I’d been down that road before, and decided I must be bold. I stood and swapped the gun to my right shoulder. Searching through the brush, I spotted the gobbler’s head and neck sticking up as the bird paused for a split second. I laid the blood-red shotgun bead on it and fired my late father’s old Browning Superposed over/under 12 gauge.
The world exploded.
The eruption of sudden commotion behind the screen of brush was to be expected. Totally unexpected, however, was to see a big turkey take wing and fly away through the treetops! As it departed and the sounds of its wings faded away, silence settled in. The big Tom had flown away, rather than flopping on the ground like it oughta.
How had I missed? I reloaded and went over to the spot where I expected the bird to be lying, and there was nothing. Nothing was flopping anywhere. I didn’t see a feather.
Argh! Turkey fever had gotten me again! I must have rushed the shot, I thought. But then, the shot felt good and when I rush them it doesn’t. But there’s no accounting for turkey fever, and it was apparent that I’d screwed up yet again.
As I stood berating myself, something started flopping nearby, farther down the hillside. Lo and behold, there was a nice big 22-pound longbeard in its (slightly delayed) death throes!
My outlook changed dramatically.
The gobbler I shot must have flopped its way down the hill as a second bird scrambled away and took to the air, then lay quiet for a bit before beginning to flop again.
It was a morning of lows and highs, and in the end it was clear that although I’d pulled the trigger, this wasn’t my gobbler. It was Uncle Jimmy’s bird, and always will be.