A Chance and a Chase: My First Gobbler

   04.09.19

A Chance and a Chase: My First Gobbler

The year was 2012, and I was just getting into turkey hunting. Well, sorta. I’d been spending time in the woods during spring gobbler season off and on for a couple decades, but had never really gotten into it. Let me back up a little.

Turkey Beginnings

The first time I hunted turkeys was anything but arduous. I was a teen and Dad didn’t much care about killing a turkey, so it was more of a reason to go to hunt camp and hang out, and spend some time in the woods during the day. No biggie.

In the early 1990s, I decided to get more serious about turkey hunting. My only shotgun was a 410, so I borrowed my father’s ancient 16-gauge double-barrel shotgun and his Lynch World Champion box call and went to the woods. Whether I hunted alone or with others, I generally managed to find creative ways to screw up on those rare occasions when I got close to a turkey. My enthusiasm faded, and every time I’d try again, I’d either come up empty or screw up again, and that was no fun.

Then came the hunt that changed everything.

Off to a Slow Start

On the morning of the hunt, I headed off to hunt a hunk of private land in Georgia while four other hunters did the same. Gobblers began to sound off before I could even gather my gear, and before long I’d hustled off into the woods and set up to call. I heard plenty of gobbles, but the only living thing I saw was a raccoon that wandered by.

This was no surprise. I’d become well-accustomed to failure during turkey season.

On that same morning, though, a friend managed to nail two longbeards from separate setups, one at 8:13 and another at 9:45! Wow.

Wes got two longbeards in one morning!
Wes got two longbeards in one morning!
(Photo © Russ Chastain)

I hunted with Wes the next morning, and we did hear some gobbles and had a hen almost run us down, but that was all. I learned a few things from him and that turkey-hunting spark grew a little brighter. I hunted alone the following morning, hearing many but seeing none. We didn’t even hunt for two days, then Richard and I hunted together on Thursday morning.

Coming in Close

We heard a bunch of gobbling and headed that way, stopping and calling while still a good ways out. The gobblers were having none of it, so we eased on down into the hardwood bottom and set up about ten yards apart. We each made a few soft yelps and were immediately answered by a bunch of loud yelps and even a gobble!

From where I sat, the turkeys were on the far side of Richard. He readied his shotgun as I called softly behind him, drawing the birds right up close in front of him. Unfortunately, the gobbler was nowhere to be seen and all he saw were hens, which soon strolled away. And although we didn’t bag anything, it was a pretty great experience and it stoked the turkey-hunting fire a little more.

Repeat Performance

On the next morning I asked Richard, “Same as yesterday?” to determine if we would hunt together. His answer:, “No! This time, let’s get a gobbler.” Well all right!

After hearing a few gobbles, one in particular from the same area we’d hunted the day before, we began to head that way. Even before I’d walked very far, I spotted an interesting hunk of stone on the roadside. It was an arrowhead! Awesome.

As we neared the gobbler, crows triggered it to shock-gobble, which allowed us to keep tabs on its location. We slipped into the woods and set up a little ways up the hill from yesterday’s setup, in hopes that the extra cover might hide us a little better. 13 minutes after we’d heard the first gobble from that tom, we were set up. This time I was a touch in front of Richard. Anything down the hill and to the right was fair game for me, and anything that might arrive to the left would be his.

We sat on low cushions, each leaning against a tree on the slope facing the hardwood creek bottom as we peered through intermittent brush into the fairly-open leaf-strewn woods below.

I yelped lightly with my Gobbler’s End red cedar box call, Richard softly called with his mouth call, and within moments I heard movement to the left, whispering to Richard in case he hadn’t heard it. Shortly thereafter, I saw something moving below me — and to my utter amazement, it was a turkey!

I slowly shouldered my late father’s old shotgun and whispered “I see a bird.” A few seconds later, it moved across another small opening before it stopped behind some brush. I waited, heart pounding, hoping it would step into view so I could get a shot if it turned out to be a gobbler.

The Chance and the Chase

As I mentioned, the shotgun I grasped had belonged to my late father. For many years, he had cherished the old Browning Superposed over/under, just a few years younger than he, and he refused to hunt with any other scattergun. Ever since he’d passed away, I had done the same. So, even though I could have reached out farther with a different shotgun and extra-full turkey choke, I chose to carry the old twin-stacker with fixed full and modified chokes.

The ammo I used that morning was Remington Express Power Piston 3″ magnum loads of number 4 shot, which had also belonged to Dad.

As I sat there waiting for the turkey to reveal itself, I heard some turkey talk which sounded as if it was not coming from the bird I’d spotted. About that time, another bird stepped through the first opening in the brush, and its blue-white head told me instantly that it was a gobbler! That bird also stopped behind some brush where it wasn’t visible, so I sat there waiting for one of the birds to make a move.

Just as a third bird eased into partial view, the second one stepped forward and gave me a pretty good shot. I took my opportunity, loosing the top (full-choked) barrel at the gobbler. Right then, everything sped up and slowed down at the same time. Funny how time can do that when you’re hunting.

Two of the three birds took wing and flew to my left in the direction from which they’d come, and I could tell that at least one was a gobbler. Another took off running to my right — the one I’d shot, and obviously hadn’t cleanly killed.

Next thing I knew, I was on my feet and running down the hill after that bird, with every sense on high alert. It is difficult to adequately describe the experience and my condition, which can only be created via adrenaline. I was operating on primitive instinct that acted as a sort of autopilot.

I began to close the gap between me and the bird, although it was running well and I couldn’t always see it. I had to rapidly cover some distance, then pause to look and listen. I would receive some sort of cue that would tell me where he was, then I’d sprint ahead again.

I stopped and spotted him dart across a slope on the other side of a creek and disappear, going downward. I dashed along the brushy creek bank, then stopped to look and listen. I heard movement in the creek bed and ran forward to an opening in the creekside brush, just in time to see him running along the shallow creek itself.

Still on autopilot, I shouldered the scattergun and gave him the remaining round from the modified-choke barrel, which put him down right then and there.

Amazingly, only eleven minutes had passed since we had set up to call. I guessed that the route of our zig-zag chase had covered 100-150 yards. I happily clambered into the shallow creek to retrieve my quarry, still super-jazzed on adrenaline.

My first turkey was just a jake, but I didn't mind.
My first turkey was just a jake, but I didn’t mind.
(Photo © Russ Chastain)

My First Gobbler

It was “only a jake,” but there’s nothing wrong with taking a jake as a first turkey. I sure was pumped! Using Dad’s gun and ammo to take it was even better, and it was very likely the first turkey that gun had ever slain.

As for the whole sprint-and-shoot aspect, well I just figure that anytime I hunt turkeys, I should always expect the unexpected.

My first gobbler with arrowhead, shotgun, shells, and Gobbler's End box call.
My first gobbler with arrowhead, shotgun, shells, and Gobbler’s End box call.
(Photo © Russ Chastain)

But Not My Last

This hunt was a turning point for me as far as turkey hunting goes, and I haven’t missed a spring season since. I always have more lows than highs, but in my experience that’s the nature of turkey hunting. It takes tenacity to keep at it day after day in pursuit of that one shining moment among the rubble of failure.

It’s the “try” that makes a turkey hunter. And believe me, I’ve put in one heck of a lot of “try” since that delightful day. Eventually, it always pays off.

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