Turkey Hunting: Pride In A Former Apprentice

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The morning started slow as our daylight prospect had decided to go tight-lipped on this particular morning. The skies were gray and the air was thick and heavy, leaving the skin almost damp to the touch. The season to this point had been poor from the gobbling perspective.  Not much was being heard by anyone in any of the three physiographic regions that converge within the bounds of Noxubee County, Mississippi.  Tales of a turkey gobbling more than thirty or forty times in a morning had to be heard firsthand from a reliable source to be believable.
I was joined on this particular hunt by Mr. Bob Coleman, a man who had helped to spark the unquenchable passion for turkey hunting in me at an early age.  We decided to hunt together on this morning to change the luck being had by the party as a whole.  Bob was one turkey behind me on the season, to this point, and if the opportunity knocked, then he would be the one to meet it at the door with a load of number fives.
We had visited every credible location known of between the two of us, only to be greeted with the unwelcome brutality of silence at each. We decided to retire to a location where I had scouted a particular group of gobblers during the preseason. This group of gobblers had been cordially “given” to one of the retired local game wardens. This man was in lack of a piece of property that sustained a huntable population of birds for long enough during the spring to be called a place to turkey hunt, but as he was to later find out that desperate times call for desperate measures.
Arriving at the final stop of the morning, we parked on the edge of a second-thinned pine plantation, and approximately a quarter of a mile from a mature strip of hardwoods that was close to fifty acres in size. The spring mid-morning wind had risen, which added to the already present difficulty of hearing a turkey. No sooner than we eased the truck doors shut, we heard him. The volume of the birds gobble was slightly adjusted by the wind, but the bird sounded to be near a woods road that ran through the plantation and into the strip of hardwood to our north. With the gobble we advanced our position up the main road to the head of the woods road on which we believe the turkey was traveling. Upon arrival at “checkpoint B” and seemingly on cue we were greeted with a gobble. Wind speed, vegetation density, and separating landforms were factored into the equation, which showed the separating distance to be no more than two hundred and fifty yards, still on the woods road.
When we left the main road, I called just loud enough to pierce the wind and was rewarded with another gobble.  The bird was just beyond a blackberry vine-covered loading ramp, near the edge of the open understory of the mature stand of hardwood. The woods road skirted the loading ramp and proceeded to wind into the hardwood stand, only to eventually play out, mid-way through.
We continued up the woods road for approximately another one hundred yards where we found a bad sign.  The woods road was covered in fresh tracks, strut marks, and fresh scat.  This was a bad sign because this indicated that we were simply following the bird, and the seasoned, battle worn gobblers of east central Mississippi don’t figure on touching the same piece of dirt twice in the same morning for much of anybody if his mind is on traveling- especially when he already has a respectable party of lady friends to keep him busy.
We set our taste buds for what would likely be another piece of humble pie, eased as close to the loading ramp as cover would allow, and set up there. This put us within one hundred yards of the gobbler and his hens. The philosophy behind this was- maybe he can justify coming back to pick up stragglers, if it’s not too far. The thick loading ramp was situated directly between us and our adversary, which means it serves as friend and foe. It’s friendly in the sense that the gobbler will have to close the distance to shotgun range before he will positively be able to prove that there is no hen there. The foe part comes from the fact that, in order for the setup to be a success, the gobbler would have to walk the thirty yards back to the loading ramp, skirt the loading ramp around the outside to avoid the briars, and search for hens that cannot keep up on the other side, and all of this would be done on ground that he had already covered. Not the perfect set up, but far better than the one that we posed from the coffee shop, nonetheless.
The distance between Bob and I was close to ten steps, and he was just to my right. I began the first sequence of calls with a soft cluck and purr which received no answer, so I followed up with a yelp that was rewarded with a gobble from the bird and a rude ground cackle from the boss of his harem. I knew that in order for the gobbler to grace us with his presence, I would first have to deal with his prize possession of the morning.
I immediately cut her off with a couple of sharp cutts and a three-note yelp, to which she mimicked abruptly.  I returned the favor, and she got louder. This went on for the next two or three minutes and when all was said and done the hen was less than 30 steps and just beyond the thicket in the loading ramp. I hushed. She continued trying to make me make the next move and I wouldn’t give her anything, and before we knew it she had flown over the thicket and was standing directly between Bob and I, and not over 5 steps from either of us.
She was right over my left shoulder and just outside of the peripheral vision of my left eye.  Bob was now in a stare down with her, but what she didn’t know about him was that he possesses an uncanny knack for imitating a bush.   The untraceable stagnance that he can portray while seated against a tree is almost unnerving.  So, she eyeballed him for a second, never making eye contact, accepted the “bush that she had never noticed” against the pine on the roadside and continued her search for the hen who was number one on her “people to whip” list.  She looked behind every tree and under every rock in our setup before she made the move that Bob and I wanted. When she finally made it a step or two past Bob on her trek down the road, he quietly scared the living daylights out of her. She never had time to sound the alarm “putt,” and quickly became airborne and disappeared into the timber behind our setup.
The whole time this is going on, the gobbler was stood within five steps of the same spot, probably a hundred and twenty-five yards from our setup, and gobbled at every cricket that made a sound.  Knowing that the woman for whom he searches was not going to be coming back anytime soon, and that the last time he saw her she was leaving him headed our direction, the odds had shifted to our favor.  I never made a sound for close to ten minutes while he stood in the same spot and made an absolute fool of himself.  I just knew any minute his curiosity would get the best of him and he would have no choice but to come see where she had gone.
….. I should have known better.
I assume that most of him wanted to, but the work involved in clearing the thicket that separated us from his position was undoubtedly deemed too much, and he continued his trek up the woods road thru the hardwoods in pursuit of the rest of his harem. I didn’t try to coax him across; rather I just let him put enough ground between him and the loading ramp to allow us to make a move.
When he neared the three hundred yard mark, we made the move. When we made our next stand we were forty yards on his side of the loading ramp, with nothing but open hardwoods and opportunity separating us, and just off the left side of the woods road on which the group was traveling.
My first call was cut off by his answer and I hushed again for a minute or two to let him think about what he wanted to do.  Well he didn’t ponder on it for too long because his answer to my next call showed that he had cut the distance by a third and within the next thirty seconds the distance was cut in half.  Bob was in front on this setup and was the premeditating the murder of this old bird.  My position was just behind Bob by three or four steps and looking right down his gun barrel toward the gobbler’s approach.  Neither the gobbler nor I uttered another sound for a two minute eternity until the silence was broken by the spit-n-drum of the old bird from within forty yards, but neither I nor Bob had laid an eye on the turkey at this point.
When the gobbler emerged into sight, his approach was one to remember, as he marched thru the greening understory like a well-trained foot soldier. The bronze iridescence of the gobbler was almost blinding in the mid morning sunlight. He was locked in nearly a full strut and every feather hanging low between his breast shook with each step, and the beauty of his patriotically colored head is a sight that never gets old.  
The turkey was angling toward our setup on the opposite side of the woods road from us.  It became apparent to me at this point that the angle at which the turkey was approaching was likely to handcuff Bob before he could get a shot, so I slowly raised my shotgun as backup in case this became an issue.  “Kill him when you get a chance!” I said.  I wanted Bob to kill this turkey very badly.  “Two more steps and I got him!” he said.  Before I knew it he said- “He got thru my hole I can’t go any further to my right! You kill him!”
“No! I want you to kill him!” I said in an aggravated whispered. “I can’t move no further!” he said. “Don’t you let him get away!” My gun was on my knee with the stock under my arm proving that I was in no way where I needed to be to kill this turkey, but somehow there was enough vegetation separating us to allow me to shoulder my gun without him seeing enough to spook. 
The turkey reached a gap between two saplings and stopped to survey the area, because he knew that the last time he heard his missing acquaintance she was near this spot.  I eased the safety off as he stopped and telescoped his neck when I touched the trigger Bob and I both were to the turkey before the wad hit the ground.
A thick bearded, beautiful true bronze color phased Mississippi flatwoods gobbler.  His beard was a paintbrush, one of the thickest I had ever killed at the time and it looked as though it had been cut off with a pair of scissors perfectly straight on the tip and just past the nine inch mark. He had sharp, curved inch and an eighth spurs that were turning white near the base. The limit filler of the season was one to be proud of, as is any in my opinion.
The high fives and excitement Bob and I shared after the shot were bittersweet for me in light of the way things unfolded. I wanted badly for the person who was responsible for sparking my greatest passion to be the owner of this turkey, but the more I thought about it, I was nearly positive that he purposely passed on the shot, that he had to put the turkey on my hands.  He knew I wasn’t ready.  Was he giving me a test?  Not likely.  I honestly believe that he would have rather me miss the turkey than for he to kill him and take the opportunity away from me.  Sure, I had killed them in countless numbers since he kicked me from the nest and made me start learning from my own mistakes, but, truth be known, I believe that he took great pride in seeing his former apprentice win the game the right way one more time.                       
Matt Persons
Matt Persons is a forester and member of the Tenth Legion from Macon, Mississippi. Matt has been passionate about turkey hunting and guiding in the hills, hollows, and river bottoms of east central Mississippi for over 20 years. Email: persons_matt@yahoo.com Twitter: Matt_Persons
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