-By Randy Cooper
I, along with so many of my friends and hunters I know, have a passion for turkey hunting. It started a long time ago and has only grown. When deer season ends, I begin wearing my wife out with non-stop practicing of my turkey calls. I even go outside right at dark and use my owl call to try to call up the barred owls that I can hear near my house. My neighbors probably wonder what all the noise is about.
I was able to turkey hunt for the first time this year on a farm that I hunted during deer season. The owner told me it has birds on it. It is very near my home, so I decided I would spend opening day trying to get a gobbler into shotgun range. Prior to opening day, I spent about the same amount of time getting things together and making sure I didn’t forget anything just as I did before the opener of deer season. My family knows something is about to happen because I “go missing” in my basement for about four afternoons straight until I’m done. Among other things I have patterned my gun, washed my camo, prepared a special “TURKEY HUNTING TOTE” for all my turkey equipment, tried out a variety of new and old calls, and crammed everything I thought I might need into my vest. By the time I was through with that little chore the vest weighed about 10 pounds. All that I needed now was good weather on opening morning. Blowing wind makes turkeys shut down and become silent.
As always before an opener, I couldn’t sleep. I kept tossing and turning, anticipating the alarm to go off. It’s a different sensation than waking up for work. I don’t know quite how to explain it but I’m sure every hunter reading this knows what I mean. By the time the clock did go off I was already wore out from lack of sleep. Man, I didn’t want to get up and I questioned my sanity once again. I reasoned with myself that the location was close and that I didn’t have a two-hour drive to dread going or coming back. I got myself together, ate breakfast and took off.
After the “long” 10-minute ride, I arrived and loaded my golf cart; placed my vest in the bed and my shotgun on the gun rack. I made my way to the end of an old logging road. There, in the pink light of predawn. I followed the trail I had made during deer season to a high ridge. I wanted to be on the highest place possible to call and listen for a response. Along the way I could hear barred owls calling with the cadence of, “WHO COOKS FOR YOU, WHO COOKS FOR YOU ALL!” I really love all types of raptors, but owls are by far my favorite. Of them, the barred owl means the most because it’s such a part of turkey season each year. They are so vocal in the woods at this time of year.
As I stood still and listened, one owl would call and then another that seemed so far away would answer. This went on for several minutes. Another one even closer chimed in and the whole woods woke up. I could hear the first birds, and in the chill of early morning I was thankful to be alive and have the opportunity just to be here witnessing it all. I looked up between the branches of the bare oak tree I was standing near and said a thoughtful prayer of thanks.
Just then, I heard a faint gobble in the distance. I did a barred owl call and he gobbled again. It was as if he turned and faced me to gobble this time. I took off as fast as I could to close the distance between us stopping about every 75 yards or so to call again. Each time I did, he answered and I knew I was on the right track. The last time I called, it sounded like I was within 75 to 100 yards of him and he was still on the limb. I found a big oak tree wider than me that looked just right. I quickly sat out my jake and hen decoys 25 yards in front of me and went back to the tree to settle in. I put my mouth call in and pulled out my favorite slate call. I began doing a soft tree call. After a couple of series of these I did a fly down cackle with my mouth call while beating the side of my pants leg with my gloved hand to simulate a hen pitching off the limb and flying to the ground. The gobbler cut me off in the middle of the call with a double gobble. I then heard the distinct sound of him flying down. Using my mouth call and slate at the same time I started yelping and cutting to make the old bird think there was a flock of hens where I was. He gobbled again and again.
I knew he was on the way. What I couldn’t have known though was that he and I were separated by a big creek that was about 15 yards wide and a good 60 yards away. I watched the tom through binoculars come right down to the creek, display his full fan and strut back and forth on the other side. From that distance he couldn’t see my decoys. All he could do was hear the hens that were on the other side.
Long story short, after 20 minutes of being hung up on the other side of the creek and me being pinned down against the oak tree, the tom moved off and the game was over. I left the woods with a smile on my face anyway. Turkey 1, Coop 0. That’s why they call it turkey HUNTING. It’s okay though, we WILL meet again. He got a pass Easter Sunday because of a family get together, but next weekend I’ll be back to match wits with this old tom and once again it will be GAME ON!