Outdoor Articles

A Morning Class Interrupted

by Pursue The Outdoors on May 8th, 2005 in Turkey Hunting

Turkey hunters are usually charged with the challenge of making decisions based on the workings of a pea brained, hormonally over zealous idiot, called a tom. Reasonable thinking may apply, but more often than not, hinting notions and vaudeville performances are required to topple his majesty. Some toms seem to beg to be killed, but come with a series of lucky mishaps that routinely save their neck. Those are the best tests and the greatest of toms! Follow us along, on a springtime teaching by Professor tom, at Paradise Valley Hunt Club.

A light drizzling rain was falling as south Floridian, Rick Johnson and I slid quietly through under and around a maze of 25 foot high planted pines. Rick and I were making a move towards the back of a hidden cypress bay, long since surrounded and blended by the surrounding South Carolina Low Country pine plantation. We had a destination in mind, but as anyone knows who has ever trekked through un thinned planted pines in the dark knows, we were hoping to come out into the bay close to where we hoped, but weren’t counting on it. Navigation in these tracts can be tricky before the sun comes up, add overcast skies hiding dawns early light and we were lucky to find the bay at all. A bit of relief hit me when I could verify the open skies of the cypress bay; a familiar tree loomed ahead we moved in to set up.

Rick and I were hunting out of Paradise Valley Hunting Club in the low country of SC http://www.PVHC.net on a fantastic piece of low country land that was holding a super tom in a cypress head at the moment. Michael Scott, a turkey guide for Paradise Valley, had worked this tom he previous day, and seen his exit from the bay. The two of us swapped information, narrowed down the roost area and fortunately, a scouting trip later that same day had given me just enough know how to get right to where we needed to be. Rick and I set up, on the edge of a small grassy opening on the edge of the bay.

I eased out into the opening under the cover of darkness and planted a feather flex hen in a squatting position 17 yards from Rick’s position. My hopes were that the gobbler would use this rare opening in the middle of the thickets to land. At worst I hoped he would see the hen deke and set his sights on her as his first love of the day. A sharp cluck, woke me from my turkey hunters wandering mind. Perched 15 feet above Rick’s head, the real deal, Mrs. boss hen. I could barely make her out huddled tight against the trunk of the pine. Her feathers brushing the coarse bark made an unmistakable sound, I’d been found out. With nothing to lose, I eased back under the tree figuring the hen would certainly spook. She didn’t.


In almost every turkey hunt a line is crossed where, the pre test is over, it’s final exam time, and you are handed a list of questions to answer that while having a wide variety of possible answers, rarely has more than one right one. Decision time, blow the hen out or hope she settles down and can’t see us through the wax myrtle bush hanging over us. I made the call to spook her. Despite the cover between us I felt there was little chance of calming her down enough to insure she wouldn’t spoil the hunt. With plenty of darkness left, over cast skies, intending to keep the birds on the limb later than usual I answered question one with moving until she flew out cackling. Nothing else stirred, that bothered me. Did I make the right call? Silence set in and the rain continued to drizzle.

Fifteen minutes had gone by, and now we were quickly approaching the time that makes a turkey guides mind race, gobble time. Nothing stirred, no birds made a peep. Second guessing the scouting report from my co guide, my decision to spook the hen early, and my always lingering grass is greener syndrome, another cluck woke me up from my minds wandering. 45 yards to our left, one hen clucked again then made three weak tree yelps. In a nervous manner that only a turkey hunter would know, I forced air from my diaphragm to make a cluck of my own. Time to ante up, and get our name in the pot. Out it came in poor rendition, but no one could hear the nervousness in my call, thunder rolled before the sharpened of a finished cluck could be heard! Perched 35 yards directly in front of us twice the distance of our deke, was our tom.

Down the line came a new flurry of final exam questions. Can he see us in our location? Can he see the hen deke? Are there more hens? Are there more gobblers? Should I call again? Should I let the hen fly down to him or try to coax her to the deke with a wing flap and purring? One by one I made my choices as follows. Due to the evergreen nature of a wax myrtle bush we had good cover I assumed that from a perched position it would be extremely difficult for any bird to see us from any angle. This tom had been seen with several hens the day before and with no reason to expect any different today. I had to assume there were several more in the immediate vicinity. I was doubtful that there were anymore toms close by this was due to the fact that this tom was holding so many hens days prior and it wasn’t likely this early in the season that any tom would pick that fight with so many willing hens. Calling was going to be dictated by the hen to our left. I decided due to our position between the birds, the favorable landing area in front of us and the deke that short of answering her every note, there was no need to coax anyone to the gun, it would happen naturally. My only charge was to keep that tom aware that I wanted the tom first by cutting her off each time she spoke.

There is not too many noises in the woodlands during springtime that can match in volume and sheer excitement than a wild turkey gobbling from the limb. At 100 yards it dominates all sound, speeds heartbeats, and crushes pure nerve. At fifty yards, rib cages rattle and the physical function of a gobble can be heard plainly. At 35 yards, it’s almost too much to take, scary in fact. The tom now turned around on the limb, nailed scratching bark, gobbled on top of us repeatedly. We were afraid to move or make a sound. He gobbled again, making the blood pressure rise steadilly. This is the time that the questions begin to become second guesses. 21 seasons of turkey hunting has never landed me a surefire set of rules for how to act when encountering a tom up close and personal. Patience is the only answer when in doubt, do nothing, fly by the seat of your pants. Many times I’ve said to myself, “if my hunters ever knew just how totally unsure I am about what to do next, they would leave me at the truck”. Old gobblers have a way of making you feel like that regularly.

Minutes went by, and then there was silence. No clucking, no gobbling, something was about to happen. With a quick flurry of wing beats, the hen to our left sailed down through the pine limbs in between our deke and the tom. With her approval, all hell broke loose in the pines. Silent hens launched from all around us, all steering for the base of the toms tree. As turkey hunters, we were golden right at that moment! Right in the mix, sure to be a part of the pie, in perfect position to tumble tom minutes into his morning. The boss hen scooted quickly to the base of the tom’s tree purring excitedly, completely ignoring our stationary deke.

There’s probably nothing more appealing to a man than a willing lady at his feet, gobblers take no exception. With one rattling gobble and two wing beats to slow his descent and soften the landing, the tom broke his limb strut and hopped off the limb, obviously focused. Squatted 30 yards from us, slightly obscured by brush the hen waited for the smashing she was about to receive. As if rehearsed by circus acrobats, the two adjusted position, one by air one by ground until with a resounding thump the tom landed directly on her quivering back. Covering her up with his wings he bred her, seemingly, before his feet hit the ground. It was first class wild turkey porn, we were peeping at the scene from the bushes, not guilty in the slightest.

A fully involved full grown eastern wild turkey in your midst deserves a name. He demands notice, he screams until you hear him, and up close his authority is hard to deny. Standing up and turning towards our deke with a wrestlers look, he flexed his shoulders, blew his feathers out and triumphantly gobbled as he chose his next rape victim. I can only liken it to the victory screams of Godzilla after a defining victory over an opponent in a cheesy 70’s monster flic. He was center stage, he was the star, and we were absolutely impressed as was he in himself. We should have killed him at that moment, top of his game, king of the spring, glorified beyond reason, Godzilla was 35 yards away and the hens were closing fast.

In a record paced flurry of breeding no less than 1 dozen hens from all directions moved to the tom. In turn he covered them, bred them and stood for the next hen. Rick Johnson, steadfastly held his gun on the tom, waiting for just the right moment and opening to slip a load of number sixes into his head. Brush, hens, and adrenalin blurred yardage were blocking the shot. At the lowest tone and volume a human can muster we discussed the shot and both said confidently he was still out of range despite the fact we both knew better. We held off the shot and waited.

Back to the questions and final exam we were taking. Shoot or don’t shoot? Now or never? With no reason to suspect that any of the turkeys had seen us and the position of our deke we were secure in thinking it was only a matter of time until Godzilla came and flattened the old feather flex hen. His previous day’s route had taken him this way and with an absolute certainly he knew the hen was there. Answer, wait for a better shot, it’s only a matter of minutes until it happens.

Jakes make a three yelp run that sounds like the hoarsest boss hen that’s ever called in the woods. Calking, is a sound that thrills fall hunters and on this day disappointed two spring hunters. From behind us, out of the very pines we walked in under came a troop. Not a jake, not two or three, but 15 or more stiff bearded 13 lb jakes eased into the bay, now chock full of turkey. Some split left towards our hen deke some stopped 10 feet in front of us, and still others rushed ahead interested only in the toms doings. It seemed, in the numbers they showed they felt it was time to stop this absurd dominance of the Godzilla. They moved in. My heart started to sink, our opportunity was about to be over. I began to suspect I had made a wrong answer.

In a protected retreat, the tom eased away from us half strutting. Rick and I spent the next hour and forty five minutes trying to muster enough vengeance to kill one of the jake offenders. Anything less than Godzilla that morning just wouldn’t suffice. We let what eventually turned out to be 21 jakes walk through and watched as they moved behind that tom the rest of the morning harassing and taunting him. It was an incredible morning at Paradise Valley we weren’t disappointed in the least.

Each spring I go to the woods with another year of experience in turkey school behind me, each year new tests are given and some of them I fail to pass. On this morning, the test had been an intense one and a simple, adrenalin charged misjudgment in yardage caused a wrong answer to emanate from my lips. “Don’t shoot, he’s too far.” That simple answer wrong in fact, let Godzilla live another day and in fact survive the rest of the spring turkey season. Godzilla is well and good at Paradise Valley and has sired a whole new generation this spring, we will play again. Class dismissed!

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