Well finally bagged my first bird of 2012. Killed a nice 2-3 yr old on Saturday morning.
I was taking my brother in law out for his first season of turkey hunting, hoping to find some action if nothing else. It was a great hunt. The property we had permission to hunt is bordered by a forested ravine with a small creek running through the middle which is the boundary. The ravine is pretty deep (50-75 ft in places) steep (45 degree or greater in most spots) and about 100 yds across. There are only a few places where you can easily get down (in one fairly intact piece) to the creek bottom. I wasn't able to roost any birds the night before (didn't get into town until 10 pm), so we decided to start off in a small meadow that borders the previously mentioned ravine/creek bed on the far end of the property.
We are in position well before first light, and as birds begin to gobble i think we are in business. I can hear at least 4 different birds, and two of them are within a few hundred yards. It appears they are all roosted in the thin strip of hardwoods on the other side of the ravine (here we go again, more birds just off the property). They are all pretty chatty on the roost, but after fly down two of them shut up and are not heard from again. The closer bird gives a few half hearted gobbles every now and then when I call, but the further of the two is hammering back at me, so i decide to focus on him. I start escalating my calling, and his gobbling becomes even more intense, often cutting me off and double gobbling. By this point I'm yelping and cutting at him almost constantly on a mouth call, and while he is pretty worked up, I don't think he is coming any closer. I still think hes at least a couple hundred yards away, and seems to want to stay there. after awhile I start toning down the calling and eventually stop. The woods have quieted down considerably by now, with an occasional distant gobble floating down the wind.
After sitting for a bit thinking about our next move, I've decided that we should take a little walk over to the other end of the property where we can hear an occasional distant gobble, when the aforementioned bird rips one from directly behind me at the opposite edge of the ravine, maybe 70-80 yards away. I do love a good surprise (awfully considerate of him to march all the way over here), and our plans of taking a walk are cancelled. Now I REALLY start to get on the call. I am cutting and yelping constantly on the mouth call, switching to cutts and yelps on a slate when i need to take a breath, then starting back up with the mouth call again, then running them both simultaneously. I've never heard a bird so fired up. The gobbles were coming back about as fast as I could send out the yelps. He walked back and forth on the other side of the ravine, gobbling like it was all he knew how to do. The problem here, of course, was the ravine. In this location it was particularly steep and deep, with a dose of thick brush thrown in for good measure. 10 minutes and 100 gobbles (give or take) later I was about wore out from the marathon calling session the morning had been so far. We couldn't simply cross the ravine to his side, as we didn't have permission to hunt that property. He wasn't going to cross the ravine here, so we started easing along our side seeing if we could pull him to a more accessible spot. If we could make it about half way to the far edge of the property i knew the ravine opened up a bit, and there was a 4 wheeler trail leading down into the creek bottom and up the other side.
We'd slip 50 yards along the ravine and I'd throw out some cutting to keep him fired up, then move another 50 yds and do it again. It seemed to be working, he was still double and triple gobbling at me and was tagging along on his side. about 400 yards from our original set up we hit the trail, and began to ease down into the creek bottom. Our little tag along was still keeping up with us on his side of the ravine, so we quickly grabbed a seat in the bottom and i sent out another series of yelps and cutts. He screamed back from where I thought the end of the 4 wheeler trail should be on his side of the ravine. a minute later I yelped at him again. he cut me off on the second one, CLOSE, and more importantly, in the creek bottom. I got the gun up, whispered for my brother in law to get his gun up, hold still, and hang on.
I had set my brother in law up where he would have a good view of the wheeler trail, because I was sure that bird would follow it down his side of the ravine and right over to us. I was staring at the wheeler trail intently when i catch a flicker of movement off to my right. I slowly turn my head, and there he is, sneaking along the creek bank. He steps behind a huge oak, and I steadily shift my gun over to cover him as he emerges. he's 40-45 yards away at this point, but deliberately making his way towards the wheeler trail. When he emerges from behind the oak, I'm covering him with the bead the rest of the way. He looks like he is going to walk right across the trail, giving my brother in law a great shot at ~25 yards. The bird is taking his time, dropping into strut, taking a few steps, then dropping into strut again. I can hear him spitting and drumming. He covers another 10 yards in the next 15-20 seconds (though it seems like hours). Suddenly he stops, and stands straight up, staring right at us with his beard dangling a mere 30 yards away. The bird does a quick about face and takes one quick step. I don't give him a chance to take the second. Suddenly everything is very quiet, except for the sound of wings thrashing in the fallen leaves.
He's a good bird (aren't they all?) 24 lbs, 10.5" beard, 1.25" right spur and a broken off 1" left spur. Its only 8:30 AM, and we feel like we've been at it all day even though first gobble was only a little before 5:30. Later on we drive over on a road across the ravine to see where he was roosted. It was further than I thought. The bird must have been in some hardwoods in another creek bottom on the far side of the road. To get to us he had to fly down and climb out of his creek bottom, cross a field, the road, another field, a fence row, and finally our ravine. We estimate the straight line distance between his roost and our initial set up at 600-700 yards. Add in the 400 he followed us along our ravine before climbing down, and he just about walked a mile for a camel (or in this case some federal #5's). Quite a bit further than any other bird I've been involved with, including merriams in the hills.
And that wraps up another (apparent) spring tradition; gopherlongbeards writing a novel about the first bird of the year while loopy from lack of sleep. If you've made it this far, I hope I didn't bore you