With the closing out of this Spring Turkey season, I thought I would share the story of last year's opening hunt.
Job 12:7b "...or the birds of the air, and they will tell you;"
Time seemed frozen, like I was being removed from the physical involvement to capture fully the mental aspect of the images before me. The PA Spring Turkey season had been ushered in one hour earlier and two of us were experiencing an awesome moment on top of the western ridge.
The hunt had begun coming together a few weeks earlier when Judd Gabel had joined our camp and expressed a desire to try for his first Spring Gobbler. A small group of us agreed to hunt the opening morning at camp. Eric had confirmed that gobblers were sounding off from a couple different roosting areas on the previous Saturday and felt we should split into different groups to hunt on the opening day. He would hunt the 1/2 acre clover patch at the log landing on the first ridge and Judd would accompany me. "Woodhick" and "Woodhick Jr." would try somewhere close to the campers.
Even though I've been Blessed with success in harvesting gobblers on several spring hunts, I sure appreciate the Lord's Favor because my abilities as a hunter fall into the "Jack of all trades, Master of none" category. I have to rely on scouting and applying a little "Woodsmanship" into getting a gobbler, not on my calling prowess. I had spent some time the evening before ghosting along the ridge searching for a few specific things to help me determine where to set up the next morning. The woods were bone dry this spring and trying to move through the woods quietly and get ahead of moving birds would be almost impossible, so we would have to choose wisely and remember the golden rule of turkey hunting... Patience!
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I spotted several "scratchings", but two areas of turkey activity portrayed repeated visits by having "dusting" sites close by. Also, the circular feeding scratchings were from many different days as was indicated by the dryness of the exposed dirt in each. Satisfied that the birds would be up on the ridge the following morning, I headed back to the camper to fire up the blackened camp skillet and enjoy a meal of sizzling fish fillets and home fried potatoes.
"Woodhick" had a nice campfire going and we got to visit awhile, waiting for the rest of the crew. True to form, Eric arrived with his ever-present laughter sounding in the darkness before his truck door had even closed. Judd was right behind, grinning away and adding an air of merriment to the gathering. Words can never adequately describe the enjoyment hunters feel as they sit around a campfire sharing stories, concerns, and life views with folks of like precious faith. The "Legend of RD" remained alive as the banter continued after bunks were climbed into with the intentions of actually getting some much needed rest. I think I nodded off about 1:30-ish.
At dawn, Judd and I hiked around the big hollow and out past "Grammy's Rock" to try for a bird. At 6:20 three gobblers sounded off, one behind us, another down off the side below us, and the last was on the opposite ridge in front of us. Almost immediately we heard Eric shoot from his location 1/2 mile to our left on the east side of the hollow. The Toms' near us gobbled several times before flying down, but clammed up once they were on the ground. As I leaned back against the oak tree, enjoying the Sun's rays slowly pushing the temperature into the upper 30's, I heard a hen calling from behind us. Judd was five yards to my left, staring in that direction and hissed a whisper that he could see a turkey. I could not see the bird from my angle but a few moments later, heard birds walking in from the opposite direction.
Looking to my left, a scene was unfolding that was almost magical to experience. Judd had shifted slightly to his left and had his gun raised. Beyond him I could see a big red head sticking up like a periscope, searching for the "hen" that had been yelping moments earlier. A few soft clucks on a slate call were all I dared, but it seemed to do the trick. Two more red heads suddenly appeared behind the leader as they closed in on us. It was so awesome; hearing the leaves crunching with each step, black shiny feathers glistening like sparkling jewels dancing in the sunlight as the morning breeze caused them to ruffle slightly. The brilliant red heads bobbing back & forth with flashing black eyes searching everywhere. At 13 yards away, the leader crossed a log and continued in my direction, while his companions jumped up on the log and stood together for a few moments. All three were "Jakes" with cigar stub length beards. I was not sure if Judd would shoot or not, so as they started to ease away I whispered to Judd to take him, in case he was waiting for me.
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This was "The Moment" for me, a first time Spring Gobbler Hunter choosing to pass on a sure thing. What an awesome experience to share, every bit as fulfilling as if he had chosen to harvest one of the Jakes. I eased over and could see the huge grin showing through the camo face mask. He said the first bird he had seen was a longbeard strutting about 100 yards away on the logging road, but that it disappeared from view, probably led away by the hen I had heard moving in from that direction.
We had no intention of leaving and one hour later I heard Judd hiss that a big Tom was on his left. I could hear the bird walking back & forth but it was not gobbling. I could not see it to be able to tell what was happening. Eventually I could hear it "Spit and Drum" and occasionally catch glimpses of movement through some low hanging pine branches. It just would not close the gap enough to present a shot. Suddenly, I heard birds behind us and the three Jakes came back clucking and one gobbled before disappearing again. After the birds wandered off, I walked over to find out what happened. Judd said two Longbeards had come within 60 yards and strutted back and forth for a 1/2 hour, but there were real hens just down over the side calling to the gobblers. Three hens came over between us and the gobblers, leading them away. We headed back to camp to see how the others had fared, walking into yet another group adventure. The afternoon was filled with shooting muzzle loaders, bows, & busting clay birds.
As I thought about the time spent with these guys, I thanked God for bringing them into my life. Judd's choice on the ridge reminded me about decisions one makes while hunting. If I had one verse from the Bible to describe this hunt, it would be Proverbs 24:32..."I applied my heart to what I observed and learned from what I saw."
Thanks, Judd, and the rest of the "CASTERS" for making an impact in my life!
About the Author: Phil has been successfully hunting PA White-tails almost four decades with longbow, recurve, compound, pistol, rifle, and muzzleloader. He is also an avid turkey hunter of 15 years. A certified PA Hunter/Trapper Education Instructor for 7 years (now retired), Phil also founded C.A.S.T.E.R.S. (Children Accepting Salvation Through Efforts of Religious Sportsmen) Hunting Club in 2000. Devoted husband and father, Phil has been employed in the Automotive Technologies field for 30 yrs. Phil can be reached via the Hunting Resource Forums.