The season opened April 11 here in Central Illinois. My wife and I were planning on going opening day, but I had forgotten about turkey season coming up and scheduled a doctor’s appointment three months in advance.
We are both retired so it really didn’t matter much, we’d go the next day. Opening day happened to be a rainy day anyhow.
My wife doesn’t hunt, but after we bought this farm in McDonough County for me to hunt on, she decided she’d like to go along on a turkey hunt. Now we’re in our third year, and I’m beginning to think she might have a little jinx on her about watching me kill a tom. She’s a trooper and doesn’t move or give up, but I have yet to kill one when she is with me.
We stayed in our little cabin shed the night before, and we were sitting against an oak by the next morning when the sun rose. She likes to see the sunrises in the woods, going from dark and spooky to brightly lit mornings. We haven’t had the fun yet of having a pack of coyotes “ring the morning” in hooting and howling like they do. Sometimes they can be fairly close, but so far not while she has been with me.
True to our earlier experiences, the turkeys were treed on the eastern side of our hunting grounds. No gobbling nearby. After waiting about an hour, we decided to make a move to where they were gobbling. We have made friends with the farmer next to us, and he happens to let me turkey hunt on his property. We made our way to a ford in the creek that runs through his farm. It hadn’t rained much yet this spring, so the creek wasn’t running too deeply. That was very pleasing for us. Last year, it was about knee deep when I crossed it, but now it was only shin deep and running clear.
We made our way to my favorite tree where I have made a small blind out of logs and fallen limbs. We sat there for two hours calling every once in a while, but never heard another gobble. I believe if we had stayed, one could have shown up. But after sitting that long, it becomes more work than what it’s worth. The last one that I took there came in without gobbling once. In fact, if he hadn’t putted a couple times, I might not have woken up to shoot him.
But not today. We moved to the east a little overlooking a pasture where I have seen them strutting in the past. We called for a while, but nothing. We then moved about a quarter mile to the west overlooking the creek bottom we had crossed earlier and found a pretty grassy knob. Two years ago I had three toms and several hens come to my calling from this knob while I was on the other side of the creek. After much calling and trying my “cutting” call, the toms had rushed down the little knob and flew across the creek.
This year, I thought maybe I could bring one the other way. We had heard one gobbling in that direction earlier. After two sets of calls, about two hundred yards away, out pops a turkey in the tall grass on the creek bottom. It looked like a big black bird. I was sure it was a tom. It started making its way through the tall grass and around the dead falls and tree tops from last year’s logging operation. I told the wife we were finally going to get her a tom. If it came to the edge of the creek, it would be about forty yards… plenty close for my 3-inch, 12-gauge double extra full choke. Sure enough, it popped up right where it needed to be… only to prove itself to be a big hen. To say I was disappointed would be a huge understatement. My wife really didn’t like to hear most of the words I couldn’t hold in.
I thought we were going to do a two day hunt, but for all the trooper she was, she had “had it”. I tried to convince her that the creek is never this low and the weather is going to be nice again tomorrow, but after that, it’s supposed to rain for several days. However, my efforts of persuasion failed.
I took her home and had a quick shower before heading back to the little cabin. I came back just in time for me to get ready for bed.
I got up really early and made my way across the ford in the dark to set up in the little ground blind we were in the day before. I actually got there about an hour too soon and had a long wait for sunrise. I was glad the wife went home because three raccoons came along and climbed a tree about 10 yards from where I was sitting. If anyone has spent any time in the woods, they have heard the screaming and terrible sounds these little critters can make. Part of me wanted her to be there, but another part was glad she wasn’t because I’m sure that would have been the last of her “after dark” outings.
When it finally got light enough for the turkeys to gobble, there weren’t any. Another “given” in the turkey hunting woods is if they gobble here today and you go there tomorrow, they will gobble where you were at yesterday.
Sure enough, they were roosted on the ridge where we were the first morning. There was a time when I would have gotten up, charged over there and try to get into position to call one of them in. But I’ve done it enough times to know you have to have patience and see what happens. A turkey doesn’t have to be gobbling for him to come to a call. I think that’s why sometimes when you move to a new spot after calling to no avail, a turkey will call from the exact spot you just left. I think the bird shows up and sees no hen there, so he starts gobbling looking for the hen.
Well, I stayed put this time, and the birds flew down off the ridge into the open pasture along the creek bottom where we called in the hen the first day. They took a step in the right direction, closing the distance to a couple hundred yards, but the creek was still between us. Now was the time I think I could have made a move to the little grassy knob overlooking the creek and valley, but I thought, “Let’s see if they are coming this way or not.” After calling for another 15 minutes, I could tell they were coming towards me for sure. I say “they” because there were definitely two gobblers. One sounded like he was in the pasture on the right and the other straight west in the grassy, brushy creek bottom.
Then, to my horror, there was either a hen calling or another hunter had snuck in from somewhere. The sound was coming directly from my right to the north about one hundred and fifty yards away. Either way, it wasn’t a good thing. I didn’t need any competition, whether it pooped through feathers or not. I really felt like making a move then, but I decided it was a real bird and no sense in spooking it trying to make a move.
While I was trying to decide what to do, the toms came across the creek. Now, I didn’t have to try to figure out what to do… all I had to do was not move and get ready to shoot. The one on the right was gobbling at each call I made. I got turned a little to get my gun pointed in the right direction, or so I thought.
I still could not see, but they couldn’t see me either. There was a small rise coming up from the creek bottom that I was on that flattened out onto a mature oak grove. It was fairly open there but full of goose berry bushes towards where the turkey was coming from. The one on the left quit gobbling, and I was beginning to think maybe there really was only one. I am hard of hearing and wear hearing aids, but that doesn’t help me think any better. I don’t think I can remember a tom gobbling as much as this one did as he came. It’s just what you want. I could tell where he was all the time. I just couldn’t see him. He was right there behind the last of the bushes before it opened up to the big woods.
Between my wet feet and the cool morning, I was shaking like a leaf. Maybe a little nerves there, too. I was glad my wife wasn’t there, but at the same time, I felt really sad that she wasn’t.
All of a sudden, I caught a movement out of the corner of my left eye. The other gobbler had strutted in silence and had crossed under the fence from the neighbors to the south. He was only 20 yards away. I’m sure he was in plain sight for the last 15 minutes, but I was concentrating on the other bird so much, I hadn’t noticed him. He never did gobble, but I could hear him “drumming.” He had won the race, but he was going to get a different prize than he was expecting. When he strutted behind a small sapling, I moved the gun in his direction and got a good view of him in my red dot scope. The dot was even still lit up. At fifteen yards, I was beginning to worry he was too close. With my double extra full turkey choke, I’d have a ball of lead going down range about the size of a cue ball.
I never was any good at shooting pool. I think the wad would have got him at that range. He was a mature bird with an 11-inch long beard, 1-inch heavy spurs and weighing in at 20 pounds. I could have sworn he was a 24-pounder, but he must have been in prime fighting shape with no extra fat.
It was a long walk back to camp with the bird in my vest, but one that is always a labor of love. Weeks earlier, I had rotator cuff and cartilage work done on my right shoulder, so I really didn’t know what the gun would do when I shot it. I made sure I wasn’t leaning back against the tree and everything was alright.
I can’t wait for the next season to start. I have two more permits.