-By Randy Cooper
This past weekend was rainy and cold, not great turkey hunting weather. After not seeing anything in the woods I started thinking back to a particular season about 10 years ago and the lesson a wise old Tom turkey taught me. My son and I had been hunting the “Leffew farm” for deer and turkeys for years. We had been told about this huge gobbler that was touted to weigh over 25 pounds and had a beard so long that he could step on it. To boot, he had spurs that were almost 2 inches in length. When the landowner first told me about seeing this bird one day while he was plowing a field I was skeptical. I told him “that would have to be some kind of record. Turkeys usually don’t get that big or old enough to grow spurs that length.” If it was true, he must be an old man.
Knowing there was a turkey of these proportions on the property set me on fire. I couldn’t wait for the season to start. I had been fortunate to take some really good birds on this place and my son Jeff had taken 3 jakes up to this point. I had hoped to call up a really good 2 or 3 year old bird for him. Jeff was learning to call using a slate and a mouth call. The season started and we were seeing plenty of hens and young birds but nothing we wanted to take home.
I’ll never forget the first time we encountered the huge gobbler that I named, “THE BOSS.” I knew where a good roost tree was and so Jeff and I headed for it literally feeling our way down old logging roads and through an open pasture with a creek running through it. As the sky grew pink we could hear hens making their soft yelps. As it got lighter I heard about the loudest gobble I think I’ve ever heard coming from the tree. I waited as long as I possibly could before they flew down to make my fly down cackle and start yelping like an aggressive hen. If the Boss was in that tree I wanted him to turn around on the limb and face me after hearing my calls. This way he would pitch off in my direction instead of away from me and by that I would have my best chance of calling him the rest of the way in. I had set out my mating pair of decoys and all was ready. We were well hidden sitting side by side against a couple of cedars at the edge of the pasture.
The hens began flying down. There must have been a dozen of them. By now the Tom was gobbling every few seconds. He finally flew down and as soon as he hit the ground I started a long string of yelps and cutting to try and draw his attention. He double and triple gobbled every time I called but he wouldn’t come an inch. I guess there is something to the old saying about “It’s better to have one in the hand than 2 in the bush.” This old bird fit the description Bud Leffew had given me and I knew I was looking at “THE BOSS.” He was no dummy. He stuck to those hens like glue. We spent the entire morning following him everywhere he and his flock of hens went. I knew the land well enough to be able to put a move on him two times that morning by guessing where he was going and then circling around to get in front of him and set up to try to intercept as he went by. Both times I couldn’t call him away from those hens. He was surrounded and I couldn’t get a clean shot for anything.
One of the times we circled him, we actually crept out onto a power line that I suspected he would be crossing and sure enough a few minutes later he and his flock of girlfriends popped out about 100 yards away up hill from us. We watched through binoculars and saw something I never thought I would ever see. I actually saw him mate 2 hens there in the opening. We left there that day tired and sore from all the running through the woods. We were amazed at the huge turkey we had seen and had the opportunity to follow him unnoticed and peer into the life of a true Boss Gobbler to see how he acts and what he does.
I was so infatuated by this monarch of Leffew’s farm that I did something really stupid. I was working the 11pm to 7am shift and on my last day I got off that morning and drove two and a half hours through downtown Atlanta traffic just to get to the farm and try for this old Tom again. I reasoned that even as henned up as he was, when those hens went to nest at about 10am he would be all alone and looking for a girlfriend. That’s when I planned to make my move. I finally got to the farm and got into position by sneaking along the pasture fence in the woods. I knew where I thought he would be cruising the pasture. I set up just inside the woods about 25 yards. Compared to the lit up pasture, the woods were dark. I got completely ready because I knew that when you make your first call a turkey could be right on top of you and pin you down. Then all you can do is watch. I had my gun up on my knee and my mouth call in. I started by yelping and went right into some aggressive cutting. I was cut off nearly as soon as the first note came out by a loud gobble. I cut as hard as I could, yelped loudly about 6 times and then became quiet.
In less than a minute I could hear him spitting and drumming. From where I sat looking out into the pasture, there was a small knoll. As I watched, I saw his huge, beautiful fan first come over the knoll followed by his brilliant red, white and blue head. In the morning light, all of his iridescent colors were beautiful. He was a wonder to behold. “THE BOSS” walked right up to the pasture fence and like most gobblers are so good at doing, that’s as far as he would come. It was a barrier that he could have flown over but he wouldn’t. He paraded back and forth. The whole time, I had my sight right on his neck and was just about to pull the trigger when I thought. “Now that I’ve got his number, I’ll wait until next weekend and bring Jeff back and let him kill him.” I just watched this special turkey strut for me for about 5 minutes. He got disinterested and turned around, took a couple of steps and flew across the pasture away from me.
We went back and hunted him hard. We would hear him gobble one time and then he would shut up and never gobble again. I did everything I could think of to trick him into gun range but we never saw him again. That old bird was woods wise in a way that we can’t even begin to understand. He was suspicious of a bird calling that he couldn’t see. He seemed to know a decoy was fake. It was like he was making conscious decisions. He made all the right moves except one. I should have killed him that day when I fooled him into gun range. I wanted Jeff to have the same joy I’ve had so many times and I didn’t pull the trigger. In doing so, I “EDUCATED TOM.” He became call shy and wouldn’t come to anything I tried. That legendary turkey with the long hooks probably lived to a ripe old age and became a good supper for a coyote or a bobcat. Take some good advice, just like hunting a cagey old buck that’s seen a few hunting seasons, these turkeys are as slick as they can be. If you have an opportunity at a big Tom, you’d better take it. You may not ever get another chance.