Outdoor Articles

North Meets South For Gobblers

by Pursue The Outdoors on November 30th, 1999 in Turkey Hunting

Spring of the year 2000 brought with it an incredible turkey season to the clients and guides of our hunting operation at Old South Outdoors. We ended the South Carolina season very successfully, yet not quite satisfied: we wanted more turkey hunting, and this time, we wanted to be the guests! After arranging a hunt with some outfitter friends from Albany, New York (Northeast Outfitters http://www.greathuntin.com), I prepared to introduce two born and bred Southerner friends of mine to the New York wilderness.

An all-night drive through some of the largest, most populated cities in this country had my hunting partners, David Bryan and Gregory Epperson, Jr., less than convinced of my sanity. New York City at night is downright scary to us Southerners, and certainly not what a turkey hunter is seeking. “Just over the mountains boys,” I would say, “lies some of the best turkey hunting I have ever experienced in my life.” It was the truth.

We arrived at the lodge at 3:30 A.M. Our host, Dave Abrhams, was waiting for us with plenty of hot coffee. He seemed somewhat surprised to find us getting our camo ready after 14-hours spent driving through the night. Nevertheless, we started to make our plans for the morning’s hunt.

Daybreak found my flatland feet and lungs fully unprepared, and my mind seriously concerned about surviving the rest of the trip. I was huffing and puffing ,and not very sure of my ability to produce air enough to power my diaphragm call. I felt reasonably certain that Greg and Dave were also suffering the pains of these Catskill foothills.

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A few birds gobbled well from the roost that morning, but we could not turn them towards us. We stayed with our set-up, waiting in vain for any quiet birds that might be sneaking in, then made plans for our next move. Paulie, that morning’s guide, made us climb a ridge to an oak flat where he had seen several gobblers during the late morning hours. We set up there — Paulie on camera — while Greg and I prepared to stage a mock hen fight. Greg cranked up first using a custom-made Widowmaker box call. I followed suit on my Quaker Boy “Old Boss Hen.” The sounds of a phony ‘hen war’ filled the Albany woods.

After 30-minutes, I began to question our strategy. As slid over to confer with Paulie and Greg, in true wild turkey fashion a 20-lb+ longbeard slipped in on us unannounced. Score one for the gobblers.

Later that morning , David Bryan, co-owner with myself of Old South Outdoors, connected with a fine 20-pound tom. The bird had a 10-inch beard and 1 1/8-inch spurs. Dave had set up in a low area near a corn field. A liberal dose of patience helped him harvest his first New York gobbler and helped convince him that New York was more than just a big city.

On day two, I set up on a ¾;-mile long ravine just behind the lodge. With Paulie manning the video camera, I broke out my old boss hen call. Some soft yelping at just the right time resulted in three tremendous gobbles that came from about 150-yards down the ravine. I added a fly-down cackle for good measure.

Two-and-a-half hours passed. Booming gobbles continued to sound from what turned out to be three old longbeards. Paulie and I were pinned down by the toms from where the birds were strutting on a shelf in the ravine. The toms weren’t budging and we were to timid to move. Eventually, our gobblers grew tired of the “hen who wouldn’t cooperate” and left.

Paulie and I made a quick tour around the area as I mentally planned my strategy for the next morning. That evening Greg Epperson, Jr. and I returned to the ravine to roost birds. Greg made a few serious fly-up cackles, while I flapped my hat both in the leaves and upon my chest. This tactic has worked for us in the past. We felt confident it would again. Little did I know how well.

The next morning I set up in total darkness. Dave Abrham was accompanying me, mainly because he’d never before seen our fly-up tactic and was interested to see if it would work. I waited anxiously, wondering what my tree yelps might bring. Right on schedule, a mature gobble pierced the stillness of dawn. One bird! I’d expected three! Not to worry. I focused on the gobbling bird and started cranking him up. Louder yelps, clucks, and then a healthy fly-down cackle. This bird was coming in.

My turkey nerves came alive. Ten minutes passed as the tom and I carried on a regular conversation. Double- and triple-gobbles frazzled my nerves. Suddenly, from out of the uppermost branches of the tree where I’d set up on, flew two longbeards. My missing gobblers! A few putts later and this game was kaput. How quickly we can be sent back to nursery school by a longbeard! Dave asked what my plan was now. “Whatever you have in mind,” I said. “You’re the guide.”

Dave chuckled and said, “Come on.”

We hiked up and up and up some more. Here I’d thought I’d planned my way onto an easy bird and now look at me. Dave led me over hill and dale and then down into a swamp where we set up in the thickest, nastiest woods I’d seen yet. Although it wasn’t the open ridges I’d journeyed to New York to hunt, I believed the odds were now in my favor. I know swamp birds!

Dave and I blind-called for forty-five minutes. The recipe was simple, but deadly: cluck and purr. The still morning air came alive. One, two , three, four different gobblers, all of them telling us that the boys were coming in and eager to have a good time. One bird seemed especially attuned to the old boss hen, so I concentrated on him. I met each gobble with a furious yelp and cluck combination. Seventy-five yards and closing. “Yelp, yelp, yelp,” and then an honoring gobble.

I knew this bird now felt he’d come close enough. A little ‘shoving’ was needed. So, I threw him a short, sweet and sassy cackle. With no further hesitation, the bird spitted and drummed to within twenty feet of us. I was a wreck: shaking , sweating , and loving every minute of it. When my shot rang out there was silence: no flapping , no running, nothing. Dave asked, “Did you hit him?” It hadn’t occurred to me that I might have missed.

A quick shuffle of our feet and there lay the second biggest gobbler of myhunting career: 21 ½;-lbs, with a 10 ¼-” beard and 1 ¼”-spurs. A regular spitting and drumming machine. I was elated, and grateful that my guide had had a great back-up plan.

Dave Bryan finished up the morning’s action by scoring on yet another longbeard high on top of the ridge. His second bird weighed 19-lbs, sported an 8″ beard and ¾;”-spurs.

Greg never did harvest a New York bird, but it certainly wasn’t due to lack of opportunity. He didn’t know it, but David and I were silently rooting for the gobblers, since Greg had already harvested four huge longbeards in South Carolina and needed to be humbled a bit.

All we can say in conclusion is this: “Thanks, Tom. You haven’t seen the last of these three Southerners.”

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