Monday, May 11, 2009
Updated: May 12, 10:46 AM ET
Stubborn old birds
By Steve Bowman
This is final story a six-part series chronicling Steve Bowman's six-day chase of one elusive turkey.
Follow Bowman's Turkey Trek: 6 | 5 | 4 | 3 | 2 | 1
Every sports fan has had the fantasy.
It's the waning minutes of the game or it's the bottom of the ninth.
They all play out virtually the same way.
You are at the plate. The game is tied, bases are loaded, count is full and you haven't even seen the ball whizz by you in the last four at-bats. But you will be the hero before you wake up.
It is, after all, your dream.
Thing is reality makes that situation a little more humbling.
This would be the last day to hunt my turkey and its booming gooble. It was the final day of the season for the zone where this bird roosted every evening. I had already spent an inordinate amount of time chasing him, time better spent chasing down easier stories, easier gobblers.
But I had become mesmerized with this bird. It had a unique gobble that started out like a whip cracking and rolled into a booming bellow. Leaves and limbs shook and for some of these mornings, it just seemed as if the whole turkey hen world was compliant to it.
It had already spread its genes to a bunch of hens, and you can never be sure he would be around for 2010, so it was make-it-or-break-it time. I was going to hunt the very same turkey on the last day that I had started the season with on opening day. In all, I had hunted this turkey five times over a 21-day period.
You might say I was desperate. Or would it be stubborn?
Both I suppose. I had spent the previous day walking and calling through the hills and bottoms of southeast Mississippi, where the gobbling was starting to slow measurably. I came home empty-handed, intent to get to my turkey as fast as I could.
After a full day of turkey hunting and a 7-hour drive, I arrived home at midnight. And I was up at 4 a.m., for this last-ditch effort. Billy Chapman, a good friend who had killed his first bird a week or so earlier, wanted to tag along just to watch.
I thought he would certainly be in for an auditory treat. But my turkey didn't gobble as much as he did on the last hunt. A full day had passed, so I assumed his harem was shrinking rapidly.
I was slipping through the pines when I heard his first gobble. It was well to the left of where he roosted on the other mornings. I knew immediately I could, for the first time, slip unseen into his backyard, into the bottom where he spent most of his gobbling time.
I actually set on the same tree I had set on three previous hunts that produced turkeys each time.
I made a mental note of how spooky that was.
As the morning broke I had hoped for the raging gobbles I had heard two days earlier.
No such luck. My turkey crack boomed from the roost, but over a 10-minute span he only gobbled maybe 10 times before hitting the ground. About 30 percent of what I had become accustomed to.
The one time I tree-yelped, he answered. No double gobble, just the crack, boom that said 'Wait right there and I'll be coming."
Once he hit the ground, he bellowed again. I answered with a yelp and laid everything down. Put my gun in place and waited.
It couldn't have been but seconds later I saw the slipping, slinking movement of a turkey in the brush.
My heart quickened a bit. No matter how many times this game plays out in front of you, it still excites even the deadest of hearts.
The movement materialized as a hen, scratching and pecking her way toward me. The crack, boom let me know the gobbler was close behind, but he was still out of sight.
He was on the edge of the waterline.
The hen meanwhile was practically in my lap. I did my best to not pay any attention to her, just be aware of where she was. This is the type situation that can get you in trouble. Get a hen putting around you and the jig is up.
After all the days on this one bird being ever so careful to not even let him know I existed, the thought crossed my mind that this would be another perfect screw up.
My gobbler though was on the move. I caught just a sliver of movement out in front. Another hen popped into view from the right of that movement, but I focused on the sliver. Like magic, it grew into a strutting tom, stepping out from behind the thick bushes.
He was killable at that moment. But he was strutting, so I didn't have any kind of great shot. Besides, I started actually thinking, "I'm not ready for this to be over."
Glutton for punishment I guess. My gobbler crack, boomed, running his head out and startling everything around us.
I thought for a moment I had missed an opportunity. He was 50 steps and I could have killed him at that moment.
I waited. The turkey danced, then spit and drummed. He twirled and I waited.
It seemed like forever. The second hen was in my lap, and with the other hen leading the gobbler straight to me. He would take a step, twirl drum and repeat the process.
It couldn't have been more than five minutes that I concentrated on this bird. It seemed like an hour. He was moving inches per minute, not feet.
At 35 steps, he was facing me and I saw the little tic of his waddles that gave me a hint he was getting ready to crack, boom right in my face. I literally squeezed the gun tighter to brace myself.
I almost laughed when he ran his neck out and let one of the most pitiful gobbles I had ever heard.
It struck me for just a moment how weak it was. But he followed it up by slightly slicking out of his strut and raising his head.
I couldn't stand it anymore and pulled the trigger. He never even flinched.
This hunt for all practical purposes was over.
He was almost everything I thought he was. He weighed in at 22 pounds, not bad after three weeks of servicing a big harem of hens every day. His beard was a perfect, full 11 inches and his spurs (some of the sharpest I've ever grabbed) measured 1 1/8-inches.
In all, the hunt lasted just a few minutes. If you didn't take into account the previous five days, it was like I knew what I was doing.
Those are the hunts that keep you coming back, make you think you are better than you are.
From here on every easy turkey I get on I will remind myself it was probably a good thing I wasn't there for the 21 days previous.