Monday, April 28, 2008

Calling In A Bunch Of Turkeys

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The scene was one of widespread pandemonium. Kay and I had eased our way into a woodlot, set out a hen and jake decoy, and waited patiently for the day to dawn.

The gobblers and hens were up, awake and greeting the pre-dawn pink glow in the easter sky. One gobbler roared like a freight train going through a tunnel, and the sound seemed to shake the earth. Kay was waiting patiently, and then a hen started cutting. The same gobbler joined in, and then five other gobblers sounded off.

What’s a guy to do? I yelped once, and all six gobblers exploded with blast of loud calls. The hens kicked in, and I yelped softly once more, scratched around in the leaves like a feeding bird, and watched as one hen pitched down to the ground 75 yards away. A longbeard rattled the air with a double-gobble, and I cutt and yelped back at him.

Again the birds gobbled their brains out and we could see them lift off their roost branches and head for the ground.

“They’re coming,” I whispered to Kay. “Get ready for a shot.”

An old biddy hen started cutting, and sassing at me. It took only a moment to realize these gobblers were henned-up, and there was no sense in being shy. Calling like you’d work a single bird wouldn’t impress these turkeys. Aggressive calling techniques were needed.

I yelped with a loud and raspy “yowp, yowp, yowp” on an aluminum call, and followed the yelps with some purrs, whines and cutts. The old biddy was still yelping at me, and I began getting even more aggressive. Every time she would call, I’d call louder, harder and faster, and would call over top of her. It was easy to tell she was getting mad, and her calling became more urgent, and I stepped up my aggressive calling one more notch.

I’d rake my fingers through the leaves, hammer back at her, and all this time the big gobbler was hitting me with a series of gobbles and double-gobbles. Had anyone been nearby, they would have found it impossible to believe that turkeys could make so much bird music.

We spotted the snowball-white head of the adult gobbler at 60 yards. He would gobble, go into full strut, dance around in a little circle, stop, throw his head forward and make one of the loudest gobbles I’ve ever heard. I’d yelp softly, purr and whine, and then beat up on the lead hen with louder and more insistent calls.

I could see that Kay had her 12-gauge, 3-inch magnum, up and across her knees and cheek to the stock. The birds kept coming, and at 30 yards there were so many turkeys standing nearby, that it was almost impossible to count them. There was the big gobbler, six hens and five jakes, and all were sounding off in retaliation to my hard-core calling methods.

My method is pretty simple. I knew they could see my hen and jake decoys, and I was switching from a raspy box call to a sharp-edged aluminum call, and I’d often kick in a purr, whine and yelp with the diaphragm call, often using two calls at once. The tension was mounting, and finally they stopped at 25 yards. The gobbler rattled the trees once more with a deep and raucous gobble, and all of the hens kicked in. I whispered “Shoot that gobbler when I putt.”

I putted once with the diaphragm call, and the gobbler lifted his head as if on cue, and Kay shot. The other birds had stepped aside as they closed to 25 yards, and Kay could shoot without endangering another bird. Her gobbler went down, and never wiggled. The others burst into panicked flight, and I thought one bird was going to fly right into me.

We carried our gear out to the car, and I shouldered the gobbler. He had a nine-inch beard, and the weight was even more impressive. I walked the quarter-mile out with the bird in one hand and my shotgun in the other. I’m thinking this is the heaviest Michigan bird I’ve ever handled since the turkey season first began in 1965.

We drove home, and weighed her bird on accurate bathroom scales. It’s feet and lower legs, head and neck, were off the scales and the longbeard weighed 25 pounds. Friends, any Michigan gobbler over 20 pounds is big. A 25-pounder, though hardly a record, is a huge bird.

Kay had her fun taking this large bird, and I’m still tingling all over thinking about calling in one gobbler amidst a group of 12 wild turkeys. For me, shooting a bird is anticlimactic. The purest form of enjoyment from hunting wild turkeys comes when calling a gobbler to the gun for someone else.

Killing the bird is nothing more than the end of the story.

Posted by Dave Richey on 04/28 at 07:57 PM
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