FREDERICKTOWN, Ohio He sat next to me against the base of a large oak tree, my .12-gauge pump gun across his lap. This was my younger teenage son's first wild turkey hunt ever, and we had been fortunate to locate two gobblers in our own north-central Ohio woodlot, both the birds sounding off at first light.
Together, Pete and I slipped silently to within 75 yards of the gobbling birds, set a hen decoy several yards in front of us, then took our seats. The toms liked my calling, but I didn't give them too much while still on the roost. Once they flew down, however, I got more aggressive with clucks, yelps, and purrs, and we could hear the pair approaching quickly, their gobbles getting progressively louder.
"Get the gun up on your knee," I whispered into Pete's right ear. "And point it at the decoy ... "
The pair of jakes came into view within seconds, immediately going into full strut upon spotting the decoy, their four central tail feathers longer than the rest of their fan. Strutting up to the Judas bird, they no longer gobbled, just slowly turned their fans back and forth, trying to impress the brown piece of molded plastic.
I could feel Pete tensing for the shot, but didn't want to give him the go ahead just yet. The birds were so close together I was afraid he might kill two with one shot.
"Wait until one separates itself ... then shoot," I whispered.
I clucked several times on a diaphragm caller in an attempt to get at least one of the jakes to come out of strut, but both were so focused on the decoy there was no persuading them. About that time, however, the closest tom took a step or two forward, and I whispered Pete's final instructions.
"Aim for the base of his neck," I said, "and squeeze the trigger, don't jerk it."
Within seconds, the blast from the exploding three-inch shell rocked my son back against the oak, and his first wild turkey gobbler dropped in its tracks just 13 steps away. That was opening day of the Ohio spring wild turkey hunting season in 1995.
Fast forward to 2010
Pete sits close to me again in the turkey woods, only this time on opposite sides of a beech tree. Now 30 years old and a father himself, the demands of Pete's young family and a new job make our few days spent turkey hunting together each spring very special.
"I enjoy turkey hunting for the chess game it is," Pete opined. "I like trying to figure out where the birds are, either by roosting one the night before or locating one first thing in the morning by its gobbles. Then it's the challenge of trying to decide where they might go once they fly down and how close to set up. It's all good ... all exciting."
But, unfortunately, yesterday morning was less than exciting. Hunting the same woods we are today, we heard no gobbling. The only interesting aspect of the hunt was an angry hen that flew down near us from her roost tree, came to our calling, then flattened the decoy in front of Pete by flogging it with her wings. She walked off in a huff, and we laughed.
This morning, there is also no gobbling at sunrise. But undeterred, Pete and I begin softly calling back and forth to each other on our slate calls. About 20 minutes later, I move my head slowly to the left and see a spot of red in the woods that wasn't there the last time I looked. My pulse begins to race as I recognize that the spot of red sits atop a coal-black body. A gobbler is standing about 35 yards away, staring in our direction.
About that time, the turkey begins walking from left to right. He's cautious, not spooked, but I'm convinced he's not coming any closer. I decide to take the shot and let the slate call and striker fall from my hands as I slowly grasp the 12-gauge lying across my lap. I hiss at Pete who is still calling and has not yet seen the bird.
"Pete! Gobbler! Don't move!" But because he's calling he can't hear me, and the gobbler is getting even more nervous, walking faster.
The bird continues to move to my right, but must walk behind several trees before getting out of range. When he walks behind the second tree, I raise my shotgun, and when he steps out I aim for the base of his neck and pull the trigger.
"When your gun went off, it scared me half to death," Pete said later. "I had no idea a gobbler had slipped in on us silently."
The turkey turned out to be a 16-pound jake, a year-old tom with a three and a half-inch beard, its six central tail feathers longer than the rest.
The last chance
Pete and I returned from the check station about mid-morning, and since it was his last day to hunt for the season, Pete decided to go back to the woods for a few hours. We both knew his odds were long at that time of day, and that legal shooting hours ended at noon. But Pete was determined not to spend the last few hours of his spring hunting season sitting on the front porch.
"I'm going to stay home and clean the jake," I told him. "But I'll have my cell phone on, so call me if you kill anything."
To make a long story short, my phone rang about an hour and a half later. "I got him!" Pete said, his voice excited. "A longbeard! I'm standing on his neck right now!"
I looked at my watch and it was just a few minutes before noon. "Stay where you are," I told my son. "I'll bring the camera and be right there!"
Arriving in the woods where Pete had killed the bird, I found my son high on a ridge near an old maple sugar camp. The gobbler was a two-year old tom with a nine-inch beard and spurs a little less than an inch long.
"It was a very exciting hunt," Pete said. "I heard the bird gobbling about 11 a.m., then saw him only about 50 yards away in some brush. But he wouldn't come to my calling. He kept gobbling, but walking away. I knew with time running out I had to do something, so made a quarter-mile run to get around in front of him.
"I had to belly crawl the last few yards to get into a blow down, but made it just in time. He came strutting down a ridge and then into a small valley. When he popped up in front of me he was still in strut and close!"
How close? Pete killed the gobbler with one shot from his Remington 12-gauge pump at just 17 steps.
My son and I have been turkey hunting together now for 15 years, but have never both killed gobblers on the same morning. To say the least, it was a very special day in the Ohio turkey woods, one we will never forget.
Ohio allows hunters to take two gobblers during the spring turkey hunting season, but only one bird per day. Pete and I always stop after one. And there is something new during the Ohio season this year. During the final two weeks of hunting, May 3-16, hunters may hunt all day, until official sunset.
Depending upon how that regulation change goes this first year, Buckeye gobbler chasers may be allowed to hunt all day all season in coming springs.
Stay tuned to ESPNoutdoors.com, and we'll let you know if that regulation change becomes permanent.
W. H. "Chip" Gross is a frequent contributor to ESPNoutdoors.com and author of the classic turkey hunting novel "Home, At Last, Is the Hunter." To comment about this article or to order a personalized copy of his book, contact Chip through his Web site: www.chipgross.com .