We All Make Stupid Moves Some of the Time
Sometimes while turkey hunting, you just do stupid stuff.
First, we scattered the big Wyoming spring flock after a long, steep climb on a skinny game trail to the top of a mountain. Accidentally. The guide groaned. An avid fall turkey hunter — a tradition where intentionally breaking up flocks is used to gain a tactical advantage before trying to call birds back to the setup — I thought, Hey, this might just work.
I explained this to the guide. He grudgingly shrugged, rolled his eyes a little and obliged my request to set up (instead of moving on), despite being unpracticed in the art of flock scattering.
Truth is he looked at me like I was crazy.
I called. We waited. I called some more. The guide looked as fidgety as a road-trip puppy needing a rest-stop break.
And then I heard it: pfft-duuuuum. Spitting and drumming, the sound when a gobbler struts. John James Audubon is credited with first calling this a "pulmonic puff." Turkey hunters just know it means a strutter is close.
Like right-over-the-edge-of-the-cliff close.
I somehow communicated to the guide the turkey was right there, on the cliff edge. Again, he looked at me like: Are all you turkey hunters from back East this deranged?
At that, I began inching in the direction of the spitting and drumming. Coursing the sound, it was really close. As I snake-crawled over there, I slowly lifted my head to see a full-fan gobbler strutting on a little bench the size and color of a pool table top. It had a jake standing nearby, watching.
Somehow I got away with it. The moving. The inching closer. Seeing this. I waited for the dominant mature gobbler to wheel its full fan in my direction to get the shotgun up. I clucked. The strutter put its head up.
And then I shot it.
It crumpled into a sack of feathered laundry, but with enough weight and tilted elevation and post-shot flopping to roll to the edge of the pool table and begin its fall.
Down the cliff, it disappeared.
And I followed, fast. As a kid, I'd skateboarded, but never snowboarded, and this was something else entirely. I jumped, skidded, slid and even rolled a bit in my descent, as gravity did its work on my longbeard.
And there at the bottom, near a winding creek, I found my bird. The fall probably killed it if the shot hadn't first.
At least I lived to tell about it. After I climbed back up the cliff to the top again.
The guide just shook his head. Whatever it takes.
Hurts So Good
Hunt turkeys long enough and you're going to mess up. And there's really no kind of psychic pain like it.
Missing a turkey is particularly punishing. No matter what you say after your turkey bud misses will really help either. You've got to live with it until you get another chance.
Spooking a gobbler when it's in range will mess with you too. Maybe you blinked at the wrong time. Maybe you moved the shotgun when the turkey's head wasn't passing behind a broad-trunked tree.
The mistakes are classic, tragic, laughable to a non-hunter and mentally disturbing to the rest of us who chase these birds.
Relax. Maybe you did nothing at all and the most paranoid game bird on the planet simply found you out.
But there's other dumb stuff you do, or will do, or have done. Just wait.
Failing to tuck your cheek tight to the stock. Pulling the trigger at the wrong time.
Shooting errors are particularly correctible but also unavoidable given human nature.
Your leg might be asleep after waiting an hour for the gobbler to arrive. You might look like a participant in the old-school game of Twister. Shooting sessions under controlled conditions at the gun range are one thing. But you're not there now . . .
Patience, we all say, kills turkeys. Until you run out of it, that is.
A good seat cushion and turkey vest can help.
More Dumb Stuff
Standing after you've thought the gobbling bird has hung up and walked away, only to find it was right there behind you, looking, waiting you out.
Failing to purchase stuff you need.
The list goes on . . .
Miscalculations of leaving decoys in the field at your setup only to return to find live turkeys there with the fakes, with you standing a football field away.
Decoys spooking turkeys.
Wild turkeys will teach you everything about doing it right. And wrong.
And, as the sound of alarm putting echoes in your ears even as you drive home, you will vow to never make that mistake again.
But you will.
In truth, it's all good. Especially after a season or two passes and you can look back with a little wincing nostalgia.
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