The morning started early. Three a.m. early in fact. I showered to clear the cobwebs from the deep slumber, got dressed in the day’s work attire which would consist of greens and browns, and woke my daughter up. She jumped up with the speed of a sloth to get dressed herself, having fallen asleep on the couch in the den while watching television late just a few hours earlier.
It was going to be a long day, simply because of the two hour drive time, set-up prior to light, and the expense on our bodies from the days before. The family had been on spring break in South Carolina, and I joined them that Wednesday evening. I wasn’t going to experience vacation time with the family though; it just happened I had a two day business meeting in the same coastal city. A business meeting full of seminars, instructional sessions, and a vendor trade show. Although I was present and paying attention, even learning a few things, my mind mostly looked forward to the weekend trip with my daughter.
By quarter of four, we were on the road and Julianne was dozing back off in the passenger seat. I ran the coming day through my mind several times. Mental preparation is as important as physical preparation and I wanted to make sure I had everything in line for the hunt. I played several scenarios consisting of seeing no birds to seeing plenty and from getting no shots to missing a shot to making the shot.
We arrived at the land around 5:30a.m. and received a brief description of the layout. We were shown where the birds usually roost, where they come from and go to, and where the best places were to set up decoys and the blind.
After walking a couple of hundred yards to the opening, we doubled back, grabbed our gear and I began to explain the setup to Julianne. I opened the pop up blind and told her what to put where while I counted off yardage and placed three decoys nearby. We were ready.
As the sunlight began to peek through the tops of the trees we heard crows, woodpeckers and owls. All three of these species calls can be used as locator calls for turkey. I listened carefully. No turkey yelps. No turkey gobbles. I told my daughter they could just be silent, but we would see what we could do.
After a while I hit my mouth hen call for a few clucks. No answer. I told her to just sit back and relax and get some more rest.
Finally, around nine, I heard something very faint in the distance. I wasn’t sure if my ears and mind were playing tricks, so I decided to blow the mouth call and listen for a response. Looking back, I probably should have informed Julianne first. After the initial startle of the cluck blasts, we both heard a very distant gobble. It was time to work.
Over the next hour, the thunder chicken and I exchanged sweet nothings. Mine consisted of several yelps; his consisted of a powerful gobble blast. As his courtship calls became close, he stopped responding briefly. We sat patiently, waiting, watching. I just knew he would exit the woods to our right, come strutting toward the decoy spread, and offer the shot.
After a few minutes of silence, I let out a few soft yelps. Before I could finish the third blow he already responded. Behind us. He circled the opening completely and came in behind us through the hardwoods. My daughter’s eyes lit up like a three year old on Christmas morning. His gobble shook the blind with its power.
The problem with him behind us is we had no windows on the backside of the blind and the combination of woods and foliage would deflect the arrow depending on the tom’s location.
I quietly unzipped the door in the back to reveal a small opening where I could peak through as well as get a camera lens with an unobstructed view. It took me a few seconds to spot him, but there he was. I had to tilt the rangefinder sideways to get an idea of the distance. Twenty-five yards. A little long for Julianne’s range, but again, she had no opportunity to shoot out of the back anyway.
I motioned for Julianne to take a peak so she could see her first long beard. I clucked while she was looking and she could see the outstretched neck of the ole tom as he gobbled in reply.
We played with the bird for over an hour with him behind us. He would strut, gobble, and even lay down for a brief moment. But he never would come into the opening. He hovered between 20 and 25 yards throughout the entire episode. Then he left.
While I was disappointed she was not able to take the shot, the look in her eyes when she heard the first gobble is forever etched in my mind. The excitement we had together, the time spent, is as precious as any other moments a parent could have.
Thankfully, the season has just begun and we have several weekends left to hunt together.