Sharing some humbling events from hunts this season so far . . .
When you try to be a turkey stalker you might end up with mud on your face
Things got off to a pretty messy start, with Opening Day temps in the mid-30s, high winds, but no rain. For weeks, I had put a plan into action in anticipation of this very day. The sheer excitement I felt, along with my nervous energy, were hard to contain.
I listened intently, hoping for that magical sound of the first gobble of the morning. Silence. Actually, there was very little bird activity at all, not even the usual sounds of crows. The wind swirled through the leaves and branches, providing what sounded like a symphony of white noise that was lulling me into a trance, and I felt my head nodding as I tried to keep from falling asleep. That 2:30 a.m. wake-up call was now my enemy.
The turkeys were not gobbling, and I knew it was time to move. I noticed a very deep ditch just a few feet from my setup, and decided it might be a good strategy to make my way down the ditch to get closer to the woods line. I was thinking about how clever this was going to be—the ultimate stalk! I emptied the shells from my shotgun—the safest practice for crossing ditches and fences—and set out without knowing what was ahead.
The ditch was perfectly dry, considering the time of year—or so I thought—and the many dried hoof prints made it obvious that wild hogs had traveled it. But the bottom of the ditch was overgrown in some places, and I had to weave myself around small trees and limbs. I was impressed with my agility, and I loved the fact that the ditch was so deep that I was completely hidden as I crept along. But suddenly, splat! Just like that, down I went when I slipped in a low spot covered with wet leaves. Not only was I covered in what smelled like pig mud, but the muzzle of my shotgun had mud jammed in it, a deal-breaker that made the gun unsafe to shoot and prevented hunting until after it was cleaned. Not a good start for Opening Day, and I hoped this was not a sign of things to come.
Don’t injure a body part you might need when turkey hunting
We had arrived at the hunting lease early, as we typically do, so that we could enjoy the peace and quiet around us while we made our final preparations for the hunt. We always try to stay as quiet as we can so as not to draw attention to ourselves, knowing that there was wildlife all about. I slowly and deliberately closed the truck door so as not to slam it, and a shudder ran through my entire body at the moment when I realized I had caught my thumb in the door. Since the intention was to quietly shut the door, I gasped and held in what should have been a blood-curdling scream and some expletives as I opened the truck door again to release my already blackened nail and swollen thumb. The throbbing began almost immediately.
My first thought was how this injured thumb would impact my hunting, since it was on my right hand, and loading my 12-gauge would not be much fun. But, not wanting to seem all girly, I sucked it up and tried to make little mention of it the entire day. Luckily, we had some ice on hand, and I was able to ice down my thumb for an hour or so. It’s hard to hide a black nail, so I figured I would put a little camo nail paint on it so no one would be able to tell. How’s that for girly?
Turkey down! Nope, turkey not down . . .
Being invited to hunt a new area with very little pressure from other hunters—plus talk of four- and five-year-old gobblers—is an opportunity that no turkey hunter would ever turn down. One of our friends, a highly skilled turkey hunter and guide, had it all lined up for us, and we were pumped! We arrived an hour before first light and listened carefully as we walked about the dark woods, straining to hear any gobbling.
Hoo-Hoo-Hooooooooo! My head swung around toward the sound, and I realized that the bigger-than-life owl call was coming from Jeff, our guide. Clearly, he has done this before a time or two, I thought, laughing to myself. Jeff’s owl shock calls did not produce any gobbling, so we continued on for the morning, looking and listening for turkeys. After a while, Jeff decided to take off and do some scouting, and my husband and I continued to try to call in turkeys on our own. A short time later, we heard some loud whistling and saw Jeff standing down the dirt road, waving at us to let us know he was getting close to our setup. As all good guides do, Jeff was always mindful of safety first! He was quick to tell us that he had scouted some turkeys, and we needed to move quickly.
We traveled down a long dirt road and then worked our way to a cutover, where Jeff had spotted two toms and some hens about 300 yards away. The cutover provided little to no concealment, so I belly-crawled to a spot where I felt like I could get set up, knowing that remaining perfectly still was going to be imperative. Jeff expertly called to the turkeys, and when he no longer had them in sight, he whispered, “They must have spotted us!”
Remaining still for what seemed like an eternity, we continued to watch the cutover. Jeff decided to check the dirt road, and there they were, and they were coming our way! We scrambled to move from the cutover to get into position closer to the road. There were two toms in the group, giving both Trippett and me opportunities to get a bird. I realized that, in my haste, I’d gotten into a shooting position somewhat obstructed by brush, but it was too late to move—the hens were already close.
And then it happened. I took one look at that red-and-blue gobbler’s head and I lost my headand pulled the shot! Clearly, I had fired too soon. If I had waited 10 seconds longer, I would have had a clear shot, and not only would I have killed a big tom turkey, but my husband would have had a shot at a second gobbler. Yes, I was 100 percent sure I had the shot lined up, but I fired through some brush, which disrupted the shot pattern. But there was no excuse, except turkey fever—I should have waited, giving us botha chance to score a big tom!
The bird went down, but was able to cross a ditch and make its way to a thick brier patch, making it impossible to find him, which is not to say that we didn’t try our hardest. I couldn’t help but think of the story of Brer Rabbit in the dense brier patch outwitting Brer Fox. Being bloodied up from angry thorns, with gaping holes in my leafy turkey suit and with boots full of water from crossing the ditch were all just salt rubbed into the wound for me as we searched for this bird. Jeff worked the area for the longest time and tried to console me—I was overcome with disappointment with myself.
Without a doubt, losing a bird was the low point of the season. My first miss, and one I will never forget!
There is nothing easy about turkey hunting, but I love everything about it. The answer to the question of whether or not I did get a 2019 turkey is…… NO! Today was my last day to hunt turkeys this year and though it was a wonderful day in the woods, no turkey answered my call. Tag soup for dinner!
AS WRITTEN FOR WACCAMAW OUTDOOR MAGAZINE – MAY 2019 ISSUE