Backcountry Strutter… Part 2

Part 1 can be found here

I had bought my hammock the evening before at Wal-Mart, which was Mistake #2 .  We set up our hammocks up aways from the fire ring and started laying out the plans for the morning. Brandon talked about how it might be difficult to get up and get back to the spot we heard them fly up at. I laid down and put my fleece blanket over me. Mistakes 3 and 4  are together right here. I brought a fleece blanket, not a sleeping bag. Because I “didn’t wanna burn up” and guess what? I didn’t! I froze! It was 37 degrees that night with a nice crisp wind. And to add to it, I didn’t have any form of insulation between my back and the ground. Just the hammock. I laid on the hammock with nothing underneath me.

I tossed and turned and then got up to put ALL my clothes on. And then a lone whippoorwill noticed me. It decided I needed company, and began to talk to me. He had some buddies come over as well. It was 2 am and I was shivering and listening to a chorus of Whippoorwills as I tried to sleep. It did not work. After fighting it, I decided my wake up time would be at about 4 am. Sun still had some time to come up, heck, Brandon and Johnathan still had an hour so before they wanted to be up for breakfast. So I just walked around. I wasn’t happy. I was freezing. I had a newly found hatred for nocturnal songbirds.

Brandon woke up soon after, because I was tromping around. Johnathan got up when he aimed to and we had a quick breakfast and I believe some coffee. We got our packs and gear and guns and started up to the spot. Not gonna lie, I was not in great spirits. I wanted to go home and sleep. I already assumed this hunt was going to be horrible. Mistake 5, I assumed.

Upon arriving to the edge where we had “pinned” some birds, we got a few things out and started waiting on some of the woods to wake up. We agreed to a 15 minute window between calls if nothing was gobbling. We then went silent as the tomb. On private land, we probably would not have been as cautious or quiet. We knew what to expect there, however on this part of Pisgah, we had no idea what to expect. Sun came up. Nothing. Johnathan let out some light yelps. Nothing. I did a bit of a fly down and we roughed up the grass behind us. Nothing. Brandon started yelping. Nothing. We then went to my favorite move. Before I tell you the move I want to lay something out. We had done every hen call and action you ever hear. We yelped, did some cackling, a kee-kee run, ruffled leaves, all of it. Yelped while another yelped and another just kept doing occasional clucks. It was the 3rd week of the season. This was public land. I opted for a Hail Mary. I told Brandon to start yelping and I pulled out my favorite call. It is a walnut Down-N-Dirty Outdoors Haint Gobble call. When Brandon started his second cadence of yelps, I thundered over him with a gobble. He started into his 3rd and I hammered the call again. Across the far distance we heard a lonely gobble, Im talking every bit of 200 yards or more on the other side of a huge draw with lots of timber. I started to look to Brandon when I heard another gobble that came from right at our camp. All 3 of our eyes lit up and we took off running towards camp. While we were running I told Brandon and Johnathan to set up while I threw some decoys out on a logging road.** I know, not smart to use decoys on public land. I know, some of you view decoys as cheating. Come here and hunt. Ill guide you. Then tell me about how unfair it is, or unsafe** Johnathan and Brandon set up along the bank and I put the ole trusty Funky Chicken and 2 hens out on the logging road and got back behind them. The bird gobbled again and I told them I would get further behind them in the case he hung up at when he saw the decoys. Maybe I would be far enough behind them that he would come in closer.

I called and the bird fired back one more time and then he stopped talking. Brandon and I texted back and forth and after about 45 minutes I got the “We are going to go look at the last place we heard him” I responded that I was going to hunt back near where we started that morning out. I eased back and found a spot where I assumed (refer to Mistake 5) I could see and be fairly concealed. After about 10 minutes I let out a yelp. I waited and was about to grab my slate when I heard that Thunder we all chase. He had to be in the 125-175 yard range and I answered with a gobble while yelping on my slate (slate was on the ground, one hand running the slate, the other working the Haint. Its tough, but a blind squirrel finds a nut every now and then). I hadn’t even got the call out of my mouth when he gobbled at 70 yards and I started to look in his direction. My shotgun had been resting across my midsection down to my toes and was nowhere near being ready to rock. Only thing I had in my favor was that it was aimed in the general direction the bird just gobbled in. I grabbed and started easing up when I saw the tip of his fan, coming up the hill. The tail dropped and his head crested the hill, staring right at the tree I was at the base of, and probably right at me. He started to do the head bob that anyone who has chased these birds knows all too well; he was about to putt and take off.

The second I recognized  that he was wise to my presence, I went into a zone. It seemed time slowed for him and gave me just a hair more speed. I remember getting the bead on his head. I assumed (#5) 55-60 yards. I punched the trigger, didn’t squeeze. I could see him then I couldn’t. He disappeared from sight and I jumped up. While I was getting up and looking I heard “whoosh, whoosh, whoosh” and watched as he started gaining altitude. I didn’t even think of my gun, I didn’t even think of giving it a pump and drawing up on him. My heart sank as he hit about 30 feet off the ground. I assumed ( yep, #5 again) that I had just hit him bad, if I even hit him and that he was flying off. Then, he started a rapid uncontrolled descent as only one wing seemed to be working. He hit the ground about 90 yards from where I stood in a tree line. My heart bolted back into my chest and a primal surge pulsed threw  my body as I hit my knees and started giving thanks! I had just killed a bird on Pisgah! I assumed (#5) he was down and began to bow my head. As I was closing my eyes I noticed a black blob limping up the hillside from the treeline to some big timber. That joker was running with one wing flapping in the wind! That sucker had about 90 yards on me and I started sprinting!

In most seasons, you have to have a plug in your shotgun. I keep a plug in mine, so I only had 3 shells. One had been spent already, so I had 2 left. I got to what I assumed to be 35 yards (#5) from the gobbler and fired. He never stopped. I ran and got right at 15 yards and let that Remington sing out and rolled him.

Where he took his last breath

I walked up prepared to use the 870 as a club in the case he was still with it. As I sat there reflecting, I became aware of a buzzing from my pocket and grabbed my cell phone. “You alright?” ” Yea man, I got one!” “Awesome! did you miss or something? We thought you were under attack or something.” “Ha. Close. Ill meet you guys where we roosted those birds” I hung up and called my buddy Jordan. He answered and I told him all about the hunt. We laughed and I still couldn’t believe it. Had to call Daniel and my wife as well. I took the turkey and my vest and shotgun and set them at the spot I told Brandon to meet me at and started back to get my shells. When I started heading back, I saw that I incorrectly assumed at the vantage of the spot I chose to sit at. That bird had all sorts of cover coming from the bottom of that hill. I didn’t realize how much it dipped off. I walked to my 3rd shell and picked it up and passed by where the bird was when I missed with the second shot. I stepped it off to where the 2nd shell was and saw that I was off by about 10 yards on that shot…. I guessed 35 and he was dead at 45. I walked back to the tree I sat at and walked off to where I found feathers. Lets just say, it was in that moment I realized why I didn’t kill that bird with his first shot. When you are shooting a bird while assuming it is about 55 yards off, when it is actually 70 yards off… it isn’t going to go how you planned. Assuming, it will get ya.

Pisgah Bird before we headed out.

Brandon and Johnathan arrived and the high fives and back pats commenced while I laid everything out about the tale to them. We started hiking back to camp to break it down and stopped and grabbed my decoys. Johnathan carried the bird a little ways and then Brandon switched back to it. Between the 2 of them we determined the bird was probably in the 18-19 pound range and his beard was just short of 8″. His spurs had just started to turn at 7/8″. He was a two year old bird, by no means the biggest or oldest I have been blessed to kill, but he was my first bird on NF land. Getting him out was a bit of a chore as my pack is not conducive to game recovery. I had to call and get his number before I could start cutting on him so we strapped him to my back and I gained a new appreciation for awkward pack outs.

A little string and some prayer.

Remember how I had been freezing? Well, I put on a lot of clothes, and a lot of warm ones at that. In the picture above I am wearing fleece lined pants, a t-shirt with a cold gear base layer, than my sweatshirt. I had been wearing a jacket and some pants base layers prior to the harvest, but took them off and put them in my pack after walking around to get my shells. I had no other pants and no other shirts with me. I took off what I could and started the trek out… Spring time here the temps swing pretty good. I got up that morning in the 30s and hiked out in the high 50s/low 60s. Needless to say, it was a hot one.

Had my wool socks pulled down and my pants pulled up while we headed out. Unbearably hot.

When we got to the parking lot, I remembered I had jeans and a t-shirt in Brandons 4Runner. The “parking lot” here was the end of an old dirt road with a turn around and a spot to pull off the road. We all started loading up and changing while I knelt down and called in the bird. With my knife waiting patiently I scribbled the letters down as Johnathan and Brandon changed. After writing down my confirmation number I exclaimed “Alright, time to cut this sucker.” Johnathan laughed and Brandon smiled, but the couple who were hiking on the AT and happened out of the woods at that moment gasped. They walked on a burly man with a beard half naked, with another man in mid change and a flunky on his knees with a knife about to cut into a turkey. We all smiled and the husband looked nervous as he asked the proximity of a town off the AT that a lot of hikers frequent. I think he then tried to make some small talk about the turkey, but the look transfixed to the face of his wife is what held our attention. She looked from Johnathan to Brandon to my knife to the turkey. I almost committed Mistake #5 again before she spoke up and said “Thats a good bird” with a smile on her face. I put the knife down and started putting my tag and license up as they went on their way. After they were gone we started cleaning the bird and found a few BBs in the breast. A very few. But that wing that was broke bore the brunt of the Winchester XR Long Beard. Broke in 2 places, one from the shot and the other from the fall. After getting the breast out and the legs off, we wrapped the rest of the bird up and headed out. I looked back to the woods we had just left and heard Brandon say “See you next year”. Truer words have never been spoken.

Get out amongst it folks. Its no elk hunt in the great vast wilderness of the West. But it is a freaking good time. Follow it up with some fishing and you have a great weekend for the spring. Look forward to hearing from calla bout any turkey adventures this spring!

Also, don’t assume, practice yardage, think for warmth…