The evolution of a turkey hunter
In recent years I've become convinced more than ever that experience may be the biggest factor contributing to success in the spring turkey woods, and if that's the case then by the time I'm 138 years old I should have a pretty good handle on things.
But it's true. How else could you explain my run of luck in recent spring gobbler seasons where, if I haven't filled my own tags, I've assisted others — kids, my wife Paula, and buddies just wanting to see what it's all about — in harvesting what in many cases is their first tom?
Sure, I suppose luck can play a role in that success. But I'm more inclined at this stage, after several superb seasons, including this spring where I was involved in three kills in three days, to think it's something more than that.
And the only difference I can really point to is experience. My calling hasn't changed a bit; I'm still a decent yelper with a good sense of rhythm, but not nearly as good a caller as several friends, particularly those who can cluck and purr and do the kind of soft calling that really seals the deal. I still use the same Mossberg 835 I've toted for over 20 years now, although the Hevi-Shot loads I swear by today are a far cry from the 6 shot of yesteryear.
No, it's something else. After 35-plus years in the turkey woods, after tagging scores of gobblers, watching plenty of others being taken, and making seemingly every mistake possible and being reminded of my inept ways by a boatload of gobblers, I've become at home in the turkey woods. Fewer and fewer scenarios are encountered that I haven't previously dealt with. I'm usually able to keep my wits about me and dig into the turkey-hunting archives that exist in my brain and determine what to do next, and what not to do, because, chances are, I already did that somewhere in my tom-chasing past.
All that has, finally, translated into better setup positions, better decision-making on when to call and when to shut up, knowing when to make that final move that's often the difference between toting a bird over your shoulder and wondering why the longbeard decided to bail.
All those points came to light on the first Saturday of the New York season when Paula and I roosted a gobbler the previous evening. The following morning, the setup was near-perfect, perhaps within 100 yards. The bird responded on the roost; I called just enough to get in the game and let him know we were there, did a little scratching in the leaves to simulate a feeding hen as he closed the distance. I predicted where the gobbler would arrive, on a little knoll where he could strut his stuff for any hens in the neighborhood.
He did just that. And when he gobbled, then stopped and craned his neck to look for the hen, I assured Paula he wasn't getting antsy, just looking for the arrival of his date.
Paula handled the rest a few minutes later, flattening at 32 yards what was the biggest gobbler I'd ever stood over. Twenty-two pounds, and a run-down 22 at that. Legitimate double beards of 11 and 10 1/8 inches, both of them so thick I dubbed them Beard No. 1 and 1A. Spurs of just under an inch. When and if Paula registers her bird with the National Wild Turkey Federation, it will stand as the second-best ever taken by a woman in New York.
There was a time when I would have blown it. Called too much with the bird still on the roost. Set up in the wrong spot. Moved a little too much at entirely the wrong moment.
But not now. At least, not this time. And we had taken our third gobbler in as many days. Monday, Tuesday and, after a three-day break while Paula was unable to hunt, Saturday.
If turkey hunting is, as I'm beginning to believe, all about experience, I can't wait 'til I'm 100.