Thursday, May 5, 2011

The Legend of the Golden Gobbler

Several years ago, my oldest son and I headed into the Pisgah National Forest for opening day of turkey season.  Neither of us had ever taken a turkey.  I was trying, as usual, with my trusty compound, and Turner, as usual, had the old Ithaca 20 gauge side-by-side in hand.  We had purchased some turkey load a few weeks prior for the 20 gauge.
I had been on a bear hunt in the Mt Mitchell Bear Sanctuary on a permit I drew that previous winter, and was impressed with the number of gameland gobblers in the area.  While I did not bag a bruin, I did get some scouting time in on the turkey.  Note: I didn’t go empty handed, but I did get skunked on the bear hunt, but we’ll save that for a future column.
I printed a satellite and topographical map of the area from the internet, and had my gamelands maps as well from North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission.  I gave a copy of the maps with some ‘pink’ sharpie coloring the area we would be hunting and sleeping in to my beloved wife along with our hunting plan.
I have to tell you, Turner was beside himself with excitement.  We were going to rough it for the weekend, sleeping in the woods each night starting that Friday, hunting all day Saturday, then do some scouting Sunday for future hunts in the area.  Turner was just excited to be in the woods, and frankly, so was I.  We had very poor cell service, and that suited me just fine.
We got in the field, an approximate two acre area of grass with a few small trees in the center, early enough to beat any other hunters that had an idea to go there.  I set up the ground blind in the back left corner, and set Turner up under one of the trees in the center.   The hen and jake decoys went to the left of the field, where Turner would be shooting toward the south, and I would be shooting to the southeast from the blind.  I hit the decoys with the rangefinder (more for me than Turner) from each of vantage points, and Turner had a 35 yard shot, I would have a 25 yard shot.  Both distances were well within our comfort ranges.  After day break, I would hit a crow call occasionally, and eventually heard an answer.  Once the gobble had sounded, I began hitting the cluck.
After what seemed as several hours, we could hear the tom getting closer, but could not see anything coming in.  Turner dozed off for a bit after the initial excitement of the turkey gobble had worn off.  I continued to cluck, and all went silent.  No gobble, no real hen clucks, NOTHING.
That’s when it happened.  A jake (the beard was maybe 3 or 4 inches) appeared about 50 yards from the decoys.  The jake had a golden brown body and tail feathers, while the wings were dirty white.  I wondered if it may have been a cross between a domestic and wild turkey. The jake would not come any closer to the decoys, and only stayed a few minutes.
The Golden Gobbler
Turner and I continued hunting throughout the day with no luck.  We decided to pull out about an hour before sunset and packed up the blind and decoys and headed back to the truck.  Instead of going back to the campsite immediately, we drove towards the edge of the forest, and saw in a fenced pasture a couple of dozen turkeys.  One large tom with a beard dragging the ground strutted around his harem of mates.  A few yards from the group was two jakes, one of which we had seen earlier that day.  Turner and I got out of the truck near a group of bushes and filmed about 10 minutes of strutting turkeys and hens pecking.
We drove away and stopped at a pull over on the creek side several miles into the forest.  There we met a father and his children fishing.  “Turkey hunting?” he asked.
“Yes sir.”
“You didn’t happen to see the golden gobbler did you?” he continued.
“Yes we did!  You’ve seen him too?”
“People have been trying to get that bird for years.  Don’t let the beard fool you.  He’s been shot at plenty.  He’s old and wise.  He’ll make a beautiful trophy one day.”
The gentleman was correct.  He made a beautiful trophy, just not on the wall.  The memory of the hunt will stick with us for a long time.
Bill Howard is a Hunter Education and Bowhunter Education Instructor , a Wildlife Representative and BCRS Program Chairman for the North Carolina Bowhunters Association, and an avid outdoorsman.  Please forward any pictures or stories you would like shared to

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