Opening day of turkey season in South Carolina has become a personal favorite holiday for me. Since 2002 Aubrey Goettee Jr. and I have hooked up for some absolutely epic hunts on Goettee Brother Farms. We start prepping weeks before the season actually starts; discussing blind locations, asking his Aunt Annabelle lots of questions, reviewing game camera footage and essentially exciting us into incurable insomnia. Annabelle doesn't turkey hunt, but she watches the birds for us on her farm. She is the unsung hero of our successful hunts. Besides the good Lord above himself, no one plays a bigger part. It is said, God speaks to us through the advice of wise council. For us, Annabelle is chairman of the turkey hunting counsel. It isn't all our fancy calls, camouflage, pretty decoys, and well-concocted schemes. If she says they are over here at such and such a time and over there later, the hens are still in flocks, and the gobblers are in groups, you can take that to the bank. She pays attention, keeps an eye out for them and shares the information with us because she loves it when we succeed. I believe she loves us both and that affection is reciprocated.
Aubrey Jr. has been working the NWTF Woodlands program on these lands for over 10yrs. Planting chufas, letting immature birds walk and control burning when needed. That is just a fraction of how hard this man works to make these farms the best habitat possible. The dividends these efforts have paid on the quality of turkey hunting on these properties have been fabulous. I thank the Lord I have such a good friend willing to share the fruits of his labor with me. He has potential to grow a state record bird here. I really believe the possibility is quite real.
The day before the opener I show up, on schedule. Aubrey Jr. and I shake hands and slap shoulders. Here we go again. You simply can't understand how happy the two of us are unless you have such a good friend. If you do, I'm glad for you. If not, please keep trying. There are few things in life as good. We go to Annabelle's. There are six jakes in the field by her house. We try for several minutes to will them into growing longer beards before our eyes. It doesn't happen. Annabelle fills us in with what she has seen. We listen with intense, serious interest. What she tells us is always useful. We stash chairs in the blinds and drop the decoys off where we plan to hunt.
Aubrey is taking a niece tomorrow morning on Annabelle's farm. I'm hunting his farm. Both of our chosen particular blind locations have a tremendous amount of sign nearby. My money is on him connecting in the morning. His is on me. That is how it is with us. We both think better of each other's chances than our own. Either way, we are gonna be happy dudes if one of us succeeds. The birds are positively using these areas. We have no doubt. They aren't gobbling much right now. The "Strut" isn't quite in full swing. Experience has taught us this valuable lesson. A spot that is showing regular activity is worth an extremely long sit. We will both pack in for a marathon hunt in the morning. We each plan to tough it out from daylight to 11:00 a.m.
We get back to the house and positively stuff ourselves with shrimp, sausage and white corn from the garden. In spite of my uncontainable excitement, I sleep well. A good meal helps.
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At 5:30 a.m. the alarm impolitely tells me to get up! Aubrey's niece shows up, right on time and after a cup of coffee and my daily handful of medications. I am ready. I'm walking from the house so I load my gun. Somehow the rear fiber optic sight on my gun falls off in the process. I express an unrepeatable comment. Aubrey has some glue. We stick the sight back exactly where it appears to have been before. I believe it simply must be close enough. We glued it right back on the imprint it had left when it came off. I feel good about it. Aubrey and his niece take off to Annabelle's and I start my trek to my chosen blind for the morning.
I start my trek. I remember being in a wheelchair part of 2003. Thankfully, I'm walking now. I'm going to the blind under my own power. It's a blessing, this is a big deal to me. I still have limits, but I can do this.
I know this land. I can get to this blind with my eyes closed. So, of course, I did what seasoned hunters familiar with the land they hunt inevitably do, I took a wrong turn. Halfway on my journey I realized I just doubled my walk. This isn't that big a deal to most folks. For me with severely limited walking stamina, this was a disaster. I started thinking up alternatives if my strength failed me before I got to my chosen destination. The cut-through box was tempting. I had killed a nice gobbler there before. That would be my halfway point on my miss-directed journey. I made it to that box, seriously considered it and decided I had more in me. I pushed on. Perhaps, under the backfield old oak tree... Never killed a gobbler there but had run several gobblers out of the backfield by that tree in years past. That tree called me hard! No, I was determined. I must make it closer to the roost area. I make it to the "turnaround" called that because this is an area we can turn vehicles around in to get back out. Otherwise it's a forward or back out journey with a vehicle. I killed a good gobbler two years ago there. A friend called his father's first bird in there just last year. The "turnaround" is a really good spot. It is one of the best on the farm. I tell myself this place is a proven performer. I muster up more energy from somewhere. I've made it this far I told myself. Miraculously, I make it to "Doc's line blind".
I'm really hurting and shaking a little. My eyes start to cross some as they do when I'm really tired. A remnant of my nearly fatal accident in 2003 rudely reminds me that I am still not completely whole. I remember thinking. I'm gonna pay for this extra effort. I remind myself, I am committed to be here quite a while, and I did make it, take advantage of this time to rest. Chalk another one up for those who say, "you can't" and deal with "I just did!" I manage to get the jake decoy I had repainted myself for this season set up. My wrong turn had cost me fifteen minutes. I'm grateful the timing of my departure gave me thirty minutes of "what-if" time. I'm settled in with the camera in place by 7:00 a.m. If we hadn't stashed some of the stuff in the blind the night before I would not have made it. This was no small victory for me. I was thankful.
Some other hunter on "Doc's" property was making it down the border. I saw his flashlight winking down the line. In spite of my slowness, I still had beaten him. Thank the Lord for an early start. I flashed my light at him. He now knew where I was. He moved to the other side of "Doc's" field.
At 7:15 a.m., the first bird gobbled. He was to my right in the swamp. I was around one hundred yards from him. This is excellent, I thought. My extra effort was absolutely worth it. Then another and another, three birds in front to the right. This was fabulous. Adrenaline started to uncross my eyes. Then unexpectedly, a gobble came from behind at "Doc's". That gobble had to have been right about on top of that other hunter, I remember thinking. Bet he's glad he saw my flashlight now.
The clock strikes 7:30 a.m. BANG!!! "Doc's" hunter just scored. Good, competition is now gone. He had to have been almost underneath that bird this morning. I smiled, I know he probably moved because I was where I was. Five years ago I had killed a nice gobbler from the same blind. The hunters on "Doc's" line saw me then too. When I succeeded, I held up the bird and I taunted them. I sang, "Nobody does it better!" Looking back, I probably shouldn't have done that. In the moment though it felt like the right thing to do. But it wasn't. It was payback time. I knew it. I deserved it. I'm okay with that. Congratulations to that hunter. If it was the same guy, I honestly don't know. I bet it was pretty sweet for him regardless.
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Meanwhile I have at least three different birds answering me from the swamp line to my right. I'm happy. Odds are seriously in my favor. I hear these birds working the number seven food plot strip. They are answering. I can hear them moving back and forth on the strip. Literally, they work away from me and then back to me. This goes on for an hour. I recall my younger less patient days when I would have uprooted my set-up and given chase. The run and gun days are over for me. Nowadays, I admit, I lack the energy and I feel that I have gained a little insight on chasing these birds. In my twenty plus years of turkey hunting I've learned one crucial lesson. It's if they answer you, stay put! These birds had answered. Answered a couple of times. I had no doubt they were responding to my calls and knew where I was. I had to have confidence in that.
An excruciating thirty minutes of silence ensues. Doubt creeps in. That's the way it is, I remind myself. I really don't believe chasing them would have produced more than just fatigue. They are gonna do what they do. They like this spot where I am. Aubrey's homework is legitimate. I've killed two birds here before. The evidence is blatantly clear. I remind myself of this. Surprisingly, I don't feel bad at all. I'm good with my decision to stay put. I really am. Even if nothing pays out today, a hunt on the number seven field in the morning might produce. I can chalk this morning up to scouting if nothing else. In my book that's one serious step closer.
The ten o'clock hour comes. The boys are on the backfield I walked through on the way here this morning. They are gobbling hard. I think to myself, I almost stopped there. I try calling with my homemade slate. It's a killer. Birds here really like it. These don't. I reach into the call vest for my ridiculous single reed Perfection Call. I say ridiculous because practically no one believes this single reed call has any attraction ability whatsoever. It's called "Regular Red". Not fancy, no sexy rasp to it. It's just a quality crisp clear single reed call. Over the years I've gotten serious respect for this single reed call. It's turned the trick on more than one occasion. "Cluck", "Cluck" is answered. I wait. "Cluck", "Cluck" is answered again. This time they are at the "Turnaround". I almost stopped there too, I recall. They are coming now though. My heart speeds up a little. "Cluck", "Cluck" with some yelps and cutting. I'm rewarded with another response. They are excited. I try the slate. It's often a deal closer. They ignore it! It's an all red day! It's pretty clear, the single reed will be the deal closer. "Cluck", "Cluck", "Cluck" more yelps and cutting. That's what they want, they reply with enthusiasm! I turn on the camera. There they are. One, two, three… no way four gobblers storming in! Big ones too. All of them are shooters. Talk about a wow moment. They see my jake decoy and come charging in.
How incredible is this?
I carefully take aim at the rightmost bird. The camera is running, I'm gonna get this on video! I squeeze the trigger. The Browning Gold 3 ½" sends a very angry swarm of number fours at this bird. I don't see what I expect to see. Instead of experiencing the dream, I see every turkey hunter's nightmare:
No time to think. I may have hit one but I sure didn't hit two. In South Carolina we can kill two per day. So when one hit the ground running, right in front of me, I figured he was the best bet at being the initial target.
I duck hunt with the same shotgun so my instincts took over on a running target.
The pine tree took some of the pellets. There was no time to use the sights. It was all a reflex. My instincts centered the pattern on the gobbler's head pretty well. Down he went. Incredibly, I managed to call the remaining three back into range again though not all together. So, I still thought I might have a wounded one or another dead bird was on the ground just out of view. I had a few more opportunities like this to get a double; but because I didn't know for sure if I hit the first one I held off.
After reviewing the video, I saw for sure what happened with the shot and the condition of all three remaining birds. The gun was shooting very high. There is a puff of dust on the pine directly behind the rightmost gobbler almost a foot over his head! Clean miss, no doubt. Apparently the gun was shooting high. I guess the quick sight fix in the morning wasn't so precise. The slight taper on the back of the rib towards the receiver made the back to front location of the sight crucial. I admit I wasn't thinking about this at “dark thirty” in the morning. I must have stuck it back a little bit forward causing me to raise the front more and not realized it.
After watching the video. The three birds finally showed themselves at the same time. None was injured. The closest one is right at fifty yards. That's a doable shot for this gun but not today.
How far off was the sight? I'll never know. Both sights fell off on the next morning's hunt. The front sight on the way in and back sight on the way out. I noticed the front one was gone when the sun rose. I knew I'd have to aim real low on a bird if it came in and not to shoot anything inside of thirty-five yards. At that distance the pattern size would make up any difference. I was quite angry with this, but I decided to make do. Nothing came in except hens. When Aubrey and I got back to the truck the back sight was gone too. He offered to try and find the sights this week. I told him if he did they'd just go in the trash. I've never had problems with "glue-on" sights before but these were never going back on a gun I owned. Replacing them will be with a clamp on model or a red dot scope.
So, which bird did I get? The third from the right, the one strutting in the first photo was the one that came back down for the second shot. I think the one furthest right had a double beard. I can't tell for sure, but it sure is long and thick. By comparison, the one I got had a 10-1/4" beard, 1-1/16" spurs and weighed an astonishing 21 pounds. Far and away the heaviest gobbler I've ever harvested in South Carolina. Aubrey believes it's the heaviest ever taken off his farm as well. It goes a long way to justifying his hard work with the NWTF Woodlands program. All in all an absolutely incredible hunt in spite of it's surprises and hardships. It was physically, mentally and emotionally draining. I was really glad Aubrey came to pick me up in his truck. I was done. Finished. Toasted. I spent the afternoon in bed. Aubrey and his niece neither heard nor saw a thing. That surprised me. I still fully expected him to top even my incredible morning. He will. I just know it. And like any good friend I'll be glad when he does.
About the Author: Leo has been fishing ever since he can remember and hunting since 1980. He has hunted and fished for several different species in many different places over the years. Leo graduated with a B.A. in Mechanical Engineering from Auburn University. He understands the mechanics of equipment and the processes it takes to manufacture it. Leo has been happily married since 1995, he and his wife have no children. Besides hunting and fishing Leo likes to take pictures, read and play guitar. You can contact Leo via the Hunting Resource Forums.