It was well into the third week of turkey season in Wisconsin when my buddy Jason and I sneaked out of work early and raced towards his family’s farm in Buffalo County.
We got down to their farm Friday night just in time to see two big toms by the pond below the farm yard. We rushed into the house and put our camo gear on but by the time we got back out they had already moved up into the field behind the barns with some hens and all we could do was sit and watch them work their way up to the woods and fly up to roost.
We got some good footage of them and we thought that one might have had a double beard but it was hard to see in the video. As soon as we stepped out of the farm house Saturday morning we could hear thunderous gobbles all around us. We set up on the tip of a finger of woods that jutted out into the field next to where the birds had come up from the pond Friday night. I started in with some tree yelps and when it got close to fly down time I pulled the old hat trick fly down call.
Soon after, birds started rocketing down from the ridge and into the field. It was difficult to tell if they were toms or hens but one bird in particular was very easy to make out. The big tom landed towards the middle of the field and immediately went into full strut. This time I could clearly see not one but two nice thick beards that were probably close to ten inches long. My heart started pounding out of my chest when I realized that this was most likely the bird of a lifetime and he was headed straight for us!
I let out a few yelps on the mouth call and he broke strut and started trotting towards us. He slowed and started to strut again and eventually worked his way over to our left and met up with the second tom who had flown in right next to us but remained hidden behind trees.
Meanwhile, the hens had moved to our right and we were in the perfect position; the toms to the left, hens to the right, decoys in the middle and the gun at the ready. I started in with some clucks and purrs on the sassy glass and was immediately rewarded with ear drum shaking gobbles. It was clear that both birds were very close and coming even closer. I managed to slip the gun around a tree that was in the way in front of me and slid the safety off.
By this time both toms were clearly in sight and I was astonished at how huge they looked in full strut. Everything was going just as planned, they were working their way towards the decoys when one of them suddenly stopped and raised his head nervously.
I thought at any moment he would turn and run and he along with the other tom would be out of my life forever.
At that moment I made a split second decision. I thought that they were no more than 35 yards, an achievable shot with the 3 inch turkey loads. I settled the bead on his neck and squeezed the trigger. It felt like I swallowed my throat when to my bewilderedness, he flew to the other edge of the field and sprinted into the woods, no worse for the wear.
I couldn't believe that I had just blown my shot at possibly the biggest bird that I will ever see. I was sick to my stomach.
I had made one key mistake that morning; I normally pace of the distance from the decoys back to where I'm sitting so I can better judge the distance. I obviously forgot that morning because I later paced out to where the toms were and it was 50 yards or better. At that distance my shot pattern is probably the size of a Geo Metro! Devastated, I had no clue what to do next until we heard gobbles coming from the field at the top of a huge bluff.
It was quite a hike up the "bluff road" to get to the field but the sound of the gobbles getting closer and closer pushed the burning sensation coming from my thighs and calves far from my mind. As we neared the top of the road and got closer to the field we decided to crawl the last 100 yards or so in case the birds were in sight of the entrance to the field. It turns out the only thing that spotted our approach was a heard of horses who had escaped from a neighbor's farm.
We could tell by the gobbles that the turkeys were on the opposite edge of the field. I decided it would be best to stay on our side and attempt to call them to us rather than take the chance of spooking them while trying to get closer. I set the decoys out and we melted into the brush a little ways from the edge of the field.
I threw out some sweet sounding yelps from the sassy glass mixed in with some clucks and purrs. I was answered by double gobbles and realized that there were two toms making their way towards us.
After about 5 minutes of calling, we spotted two white heads bobbing just on the other side of the hill. The white heads soon materialized into two great looking long beards. My heart started its usual dance as the pair looked towards the decoys and went into full strut. They continued to work closer to us but hung up at about 60 yards as turkeys all too often do. They didn't seem to like something about the decoys and leisurely skirted past us never coming closer than the 60 yards no matter how much I pleaded with them on the sassy glass.
Sunday morning found us on the opposite end of the farm where we had watched birds go to roost Saturday night. We set up in the field that we expected them to fly down to but that apparently wasn't in their itinerary for the day. They proceeded to fly down in the exact opposite direction into a cut power line and worked their way up the ridge instead of coming our direction.
At this point I was in great despair and was convinced that I was going home empty handed. We were unsure what our next move was but decided that a weak plan was better than no plan at all and decided to head back up to the bluff in the hopes that there would still be a lonely long beard wandering around up there.
We were both pretty tired and worn out from hiking all across the country so we decided to take the 4-wheeler half way up the bluff road and walk the rest. As soon as we killed the engine on the wheeler we heard another engine; it was the drone of a tractor working the very field we were headed.
We both had a sinking feeling that we were doomed but as the tractor made its way to the far edge of the field and grew quiet, we both heard gobbles from the opposite end of the field. We decided to go ahead and try our luck. We located the birds in some open oaks a little ways off of the field and set up on them. I was able to coax just two gobbles and a whole lot of hen talk before the crowd went silent. It was clear that the hens were not about to let some new comer steal their boy from them and moved off with the tom in toe.
Feeling beaten and depressed we were once again at a loss as to what to do next. The tractor had left in the mean time after planting the field with corn. A big part of me hoped that the turkeys would return now that it was quiet to feast on what the farmer had just left behind.
About that time we heard a gobble from the corner of the field where the tractor had been working. We decided to work our way around the edge of the field to where the bird was and try to be as inconspicuous as possible. As we were about to crest a small rise in the field Jason put out his hand and stopped me dead in my tracks. He had some how spotted a tom fanned out in a corner of the field that was only a 100 yards away. Thank goodness for his good eyes, two more steps and that tom would have busted us for sure!
We backed down the hill a ways and tucked into the woods. Three yelps on the mouth call were answered quickly by a deep roaring gobble. I slid the sassy glass from its pouch in my vest thinking this big guy was going to need some clucks and purrs to convince him to come in.
As I did, I let out a few more yelps on the mouth call and about jumped out of my skin when he let out a gobble that reverberated through me and I realized he had already closed the distance more than half way and would be visible any second. I set the sassy glass down and told myself it was cheek to stock time!
Just then the beautiful tom appeared in full strut not 20 yards away and pounded out two more gobbles. I was in awe at how beautiful he looked in full strut but quickly came to my senses as he stretched his neck out in search of the hen who had enticed him over with her sweet words.
The shotgun roared as I pulled the trigger and the big tom collapsed. Jason was the first to let out a hoot and we commenced with back slapping and high fives with giant smiles on our faces. We marveled at the tom lying in front of us and talked about how it had been such a roller coaster of emotions during the last day and a half of hunting. The tom was a great bird with a 10-inch beard and 1-inch spurs. It weighed more than 20 pounds, though I didn't get an accurate weight. He was a great bird by anyone's standards.
I'll never forget the costly mistake I made on ole' double beard and how things could have ended so much differently.