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My first spring turkey hunt

Outta' the Woods

Monday, April 01, 2013

Media contact: Tony Young, 850-488-7867

My interest in hunting the quirky-moving, nervous-acting, but beautifully colored wild turkey was piqued about 12 years ago by an old high school friend and band mate, Todd Bevis.

Todd’s a turkey-hunting fanatic if I’ve ever seen one, and the excitement in his voice that’s apparent every time he tells a hunting story played a big part in my getting the fever to experience spring turkey hunting myself.

My former in-laws owned a nice tract of land in northern Franklin County with a half-mile of deep creek frontage on a major tributary of the Apalachicola River. Over the years, I enjoyed deer hunting there and took a few fall turkeys, but bagging a good long-beard in the spring takes a bit more skill.

I was now ready to learn how to call-in and harvest my first spring gobbler. All I needed was the know-how, and I figured I could get that from Todd and from watching Saturday and Sunday morning hunting shows on TV.

Todd encouraged me to get a box call because he said it would be the quickest and easiest call for me to learn – and the spring season was approaching fast. He taught me how to do some basic yelps and a single-note cluck and said if I had birds on the property that had really never been called to before, and, if I could sit still long enough, I just might be able to call one in.

But Todd warned me, “Don’t make the mistake some people do in calling too much. Let ’em know you’re there, but let ’em come to you. Less is more.”

With that advice in mind, I set out early opening day. I needed to get there a half-hour before first light so I could set my three decoys in place and get situated.

While carrying two hen decoys and a jake in one hand, I toted my shotgun, camo seat cushion and small flashlight in the other and made my way in the dark down a trail that weaved through the patchwork of saw palmettos toward a spot where I often saw turkeys.

The setup was near one of my favorite deer stands, on a ridge that jutted out between the creek and a ravine. It was where turkeys roosted most every evening amid juniper, tupelo and cypress trees hanging over the water.

Before I could even finish setting up my decoys, the sounds of gobbling echoed in the darkness from the creek bottom below. The strange vocalization of three, maybe four, birds was something I’d never heard, and it fascinated me.

I picked out a large pine tree to lean back against to hide my silhouette. Then, I used a pair of hand pruners and began to snip some of the surrounding native vegetation of gallberry and titi and used the clippings to construct my make-shift ground blind.

I settled in against the tree – my gun across my legs and my box call in my lap – and the sound of gobbling continued to fill the otherwise quiet pre-dawn.

When it was light enough to see well, I picked up my box call and made my first yelp to make those gobblers think there was an interested hen nearby.

A reassuring gobble answered me right away!

I was so excited I couldn’t believe it – a gobbler actually had responded, just like on those hunting shows.

What am I supposed to do now, I wondered? I remembered Todd telling me to try not to call any more often than every 15 minutes. So I sat quietly in anticipation for what seemed to be the longest 15 minutes of my life. When I glanced down at my watch, only five minutes had elapsed. After another five minutes of real time had passed, I couldn’t stand it any longer and made another call.

Another gobble immediately followed, but this time it was louder.

This bird actually was coming to me!

I sat just as still as I could for another 10 or 15 minutes and called out for a third time.

The “GOBBLE, GOBBLE, GOBBLE, GOBBLE” reply sounded like it was being screamed into my ears. This Eastern turkey was right on top of me!

I couldn’t see him, but he had to be just out of my sight behind the brushy terrain.

A few moments later, the longbeard stepped out from behind a gallberry thicket in full strut, and my heart started pounding. I couldn’t see its legs because its gold, iridescent feathers were covering them, but the bird seemed to glide like an apparition as it cautiously made its way toward the decoys.

The way its head was changing colors from red to blue and back again and the show this gobbler was putting on were truly a sight to behold. Now I realized what Todd’s and so many other turkey hunters’ infatuation was all about.

Its instinctive, ritualistic courtship dance was so beautiful I almost didn’t want to end it, but the big tom was getting too close, and I knew I’d better take the shot soon for fear he’d spy me.

The opportunity to raise my Remington Model 870 pump 12-gauge shotgun came when he went behind a palmetto clump at 12 steps, and I fired just one shot when he stepped out the other side.

What a rush!

It was my first spring gobbler, and it had a 9-inch beard. Now what was so hard about taking a spring turkey, I thought. After all, it was only 8 a.m., and I already had my daily bag limit after calling just three times.

But like every turkey hunter knows, spring turkey hunting rarely happens that way. Maybe it was beginner’s luck, but whatever it was – I have been hooked ever since.



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