As spring turkey season 2009 approaches, I thought it appropriate to reflect on the story of the Spring 2008 season of a good friend of mine that OTH introduced me to. His name is Jim, better known to old time Zoners as West Virginia Mountain Man. Nearing his retirement, Jim took time off from work in Spring of 2008 to embark on a whirlwind trip to hunt many of the east coast states with the company of his wonderful wife Donna.
His first stop was Florida, where FLH and I guided Jim and his wife Donna on one of our favorite WMA's. The first morning found Jim and I moving in on a roosted tom in a field where we'd worked birds in years gone by. Slipping within 100 yards, using tall trees for cover, we got set up. Only a minute later we saw the gobbler step around some bushes 75 yards away. He strutted and gobbled, but wouldn't come in. Instead, he headed across the field for some unknown rendezvous. He wasn't coming back, so we pursued him, using trees and the fog for cover. We closed the gap to 50 yards, and I spotted him ahead in the fog. We knelt behind a tree, and I called to the tom. As he turned and looked our way, I clucked and purred. Thinking the hens he had seen were coming to him, he turned back towards us. I continued purring and let out the occasional cluck. When he got to 20 yards and was fixing to come around the tree, I whispered to Jim to get his gun up. The tom stepped around the tree, saw Jim through the fog and raised his head trying to figure out what he was.
Jim's gun roared, and I anticipated the familiar flapping of a bird down. I heard flapping, but it was the tom's wings flapping as he flew away. Jim had missed. We kicked the dirt, grumbled a little, then laughed at ourselves, packed up and headed to a new spot. We spent the rest of the day chasing birds. We saw several toms, they gobbled at us, but would not cooperate. Still, we had an awesome day of hunting.
The next morning found us back at the scene of the previous day's encounter, but no one was home. We set off in search of birds. After two more uneventful set ups, we settled into our 4th set up of the morning. We put out the dekes, and settled in with our backs to a thick hedgerow. We had barely floated out our first set of yelps when....GOOOOOBBBBLLLLE!!!! He was there, and he was close, somewhere behind us. For the next half hour, we sent out soft calls, and listened to him gobble. Sometimes close by, sometimes further out. I imagined how he looked, strutting and gobbling behind us, waiting on the "hens" to come to him. Finally, we heard the all too familiar, PHHHT!!! DOOOOOOOOOOM!! He was right behind us, and he was CLOSE!! For 15 minutes we listened to his drumming, afraid to move, but he slowly drifted off. We yelped to him, and he eagerly gobbled back. This happened a few more times, yet he continued to drift away. We decided he was with hens and changed tactics. There was a cypress head behind us, and from the sound of his gobbles, he was moving around it. We got up and moved part way around it and set up. He afforded us the occasional gobble, but continued to drift away. More position changes did not bring any different results. By now he sounded as though he was nearing the other side of the cypress, headed back to our original set up. We backtracked and set up again, but the tom had gone silent. We slipped out to the dirt road, and caught a glimpse of a tom walking away from us at about 200 yards. We took off after the gobbler. Understand that it is hard for Jim to hunt with me like that, because he is old school, and was taught much more conservative tactics. But, he deferred to the local knowledge and off we went, using terrain and cover to hide our approach. When we reached the area he should be, he had given us the slip and was gone in the brush.
By now it was nearing the end of legal hunting time. We slipped along the road, headed back to our last set up. More enjoying each other's company than hunting, we walked together, side by side, quietly recalling the day's events. As we approached one last curve in the road, I made my usual maneuver and slipped up to peek around the curve. To my astonishment, there they were, the birds we had been after the last 3 hours. Two toms were walking down the road in the company of 7 hens. I motioned Jim up, and had him squeeze into a tall bush with his gun over the top, while I hunkered down behind it. I glanced at my watch and it was 12:57. We only had 3 minutes to go, and I hoped the toms would be within range before we ran out of time. As the hen got closer and closer, I slipped my diaphragm into my mouth, just in case. Finally, a mere 5 feet from us, the hen spotted Jim. She flushed and ran, putting as she went. She bolted by the other turkeys, and they froze, wondering what had spooked her. I employed a tactic that has served me well in the past, and matched her putts with the same speed and intensity, as if I were another spooked turkey. Quickly though, I calmed my calling down and switched to clucks and purrs. Once again, the tactic worked, and the rest of the turkeys resumed their march down the road. It was now 12:59. A few moments later Jim's gun roared for a second time, with seconds to spare, and this time I heard the flapping I knew spelled success!!
It wasn't Jim's best turkey, or even his best Osceola, but it was a sweet ending to an exciting two days of hunting!! The tom was a 2 year old, weighing 13 lb's, with a 8 inch beard and ¾" spurs. But, he also had snow white legs, something that neither of us had seen before.
The third day of the hunt did not yield any more birds for us, and the ladies did not get a bird either, though they saw many birds every day, and had some exciting memories. It had been a wonderful get together with cherished friends, and the memories made while afield were etched into our brains forever. I was simultaneously happy to have spent good times with my friends, while I was also sad to see them leave. But I waved good-bye and wished them the best of luck on the rest of their trip.
Their next stop was Georgia, at a WMA that Jim had never hunted before. He scouted and found good turkey sign, and was blessed with beautiful weather. Then 3 times in 3 mornings, he enticed a bird to his gun with some sweet calling. He was on a roll, 4 birds down in 2 states. His Georgia birds were all dandy turkeys. His first Georgia bird weighed 20 lb's, had a 10-5/8" beard and 1-1/8" spurs. His second Georgia bird weighed 20 lb's, 7 oz., had an 11-¼" beard and 1-1/8" spurs. His third Georgia bird weighed 19 lb's, 7oz., had a 10-¼" beard and 1-1/8" spurs.
On to the mountains of Tennessee, he hunted a WMA he had been to before. He scouted, especially in an area he'd had encounters with birds at previously. True to form, he bagged a nice tom on the first morning of hunting. This Tennessee tom weighed 24lb's, his biggest ever weight-wise, and sported a 10-½" beard with 1 inch spurs. The next morning, Jim found himself at the base of the same tree a gobbler had whooped him at the previous year while hunting this WMA. He soon found himself in a similar scenario with a stubborn tom. Determined not to let this hunt unfold the same way the last one did, he decided to change positions, which required picking his way through thick brush. When he made it over to where he had heard the bird gobbling, the tom gobbled again, this time back towards where he came from. He double timed it back there, and got settled in just in time to drop the hammer on the bird when it stepped into the clearing. Was it the same bird as the previous year? He'll never know. But the tom was his, weighing 19 lb's, 13oz., had a 10-¼" beard and 1 inch spurs. A few days later, he scored on a third Tennessee gobbler, this one weighing 18lb's, 12oz., with a 8-½" beard and 7/8" spurs.
Then he was off to a Kentucky WMA, to hunt some more mountain birds. It didn't take him long to get on the birds, and soon a nice Kentucky gobbler fell to his gun. The tom weighed 20lb, 1oz., had an 11-¼" beard and 15/16" spurs. The next morning, as had happened so many times on this trip, he bagged another tom. This one weighed 17lb, 4oz., had a 8-¼" beard and 7/8" spurs.
Finally back home, Jim hunted private land - his own property, for the first time in the season. Home field advantage, and Jim's stubborn patience, ruled the day, and he eventually won a hard fought stand-off with a fine West Virginia gobbler that weighed 17lb, 1oz., had a 10-3/8" beard, and sported needle sharp 1-½" long spurs!! A true limb hanger! Continuing his pattern of success, the very next day, he connected once again with a fine West Virginia gobbler. This tom weighed 20lb, 2oz., had a 10-¾" beard and respectable 1-5/16" spurs.
His spring to remember continued, this time taking him next door to Ohio, a place he knows well and has hunted many times over the years. It didn't take him long to bag a nice Ohio gobbler with a fat rope of a beard. This tom weighed 20lb, 10oz., had a 10-¾" beard and 1-5/16" spurs. He could not have imagined a better season, filled with such good fortune. He still had one Ohio gobbler to go, and a trip to New York planned.
Then his whole world came crashing down upon him. His loving wife of many years, his best friend, and his hunting partner was diagnosed with cancer. Having lost his mother the previous year, he was devastated with the thought of possibly losing his wife. But Jim and Donna are strong people, and relied on their unswerving faith in God, and their love for each other to pull them through this together. Jim wanted to end his season to stay home and care for Donna, but Donna insisted that he keep hunting. They reached a compromise, and Jim tried for his second Ohio bird, but cancelled his last hunt, the trip to New York. A few days later, with the rain fittingly pouring down upon him, he called in a jake. It wasn't the bird he wanted, but he knew what he had to do. He pulled the trigger, ending his season, and went home to take care of his wife.
The next few months were tough on Donna, but she pulled through and made a full recovery. Jim commemorated his trip with a plaque of the states they hunted together, to which he attached the beards and spurs of the birds he harvested. This spring they are headed out again, with Donna's cancer in remission, the two best friends will go afield again, hoping to replicate their success of the previous season, and also hoping to get Donna a bird as well. With any luck, I will meet up with them in North Florida, and spend some time with my friends.