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Persistence and Luck

As we set up on the gobbling that was breaking the early morning silence like a thunderclap, my mind kept telling me everything was wrong. My hunting partner was wearing his work clothes and had never called a turkey before, we had driven too close, we didn’t have time to put out our decoys, and it was late in the season. But by the end of the morning I had learned that a turkey hunter’s two most valuable tools — persistence and luck — can’t be bought.
When the turkey population started to soar in southeastern North Carolina several years earlier, my younger brothers, Chris and Wesley, started hunting them with success.
“You gotta try it,” Chris told me after shooting his first turkey. “There’s nothing like a gobbler in full strut coming to the decoys. Your hands shake and your heart pounds until you think it is going to explode. Nothing compares to the rush.” 
Finally, one Saturday morning I took him up on his offer. We heard some gobbles and saw a jake, and I was hooked. In the next three years I had a number of close calls but I hadn’t had a gobbler in my sights. 
As the 2006 opener approached I was as excited as a kid on Christmas Eve. Chris and I were in the woods before daylight and everything was right — we had roosted two gobblers and they were putting on a concert for us. We had the perfect setup in an old deadfall and were working the birds. Then we heard the sound that gives a turkey hunter that sinking feeling — the cluck and purr of a real hen as she led the toms away from us. 
The standing joke with my brothers became that I was bad luck, and the turkeys could “hear me coming.”  
One afternoon late in the season, a co-worker, Donald Robinson, asked if I wanted to hunt with him on his land. He told me he had been hearing and seeing some birds and wanted to try his hand at calling one before work. I met Donald about 5:30 a.m. We drove a few hundred yards onto his property and stopped to try a locator call but got no response. We drove a bit farther and tried again. This time we got an immediate answer — and it was close! We would have to move quickly.
Donald wasn’t wearing camouflage and there wasn’t time for him to put any on, so we hurried down a logging road to where we thought the gobblers would show. Donald set up to call in some thick bushes while I went around a bend in the road, about 30 yards away. I hunkered down, hidden by a pile of brush and dirt. When I reached for my decoy, I realized I had forgotten it, so I settled in and hoped for the best.
Donald hit his box call and was cut off by a gobbler, which set off three more. Considering all the things I thought we had done wrong, these gobbles sure sounded right. Every call was answered by a crescendo of gobbling. When the gobbling stopped I surmised the toms had flown down. I figured at this late point in the season they weren’t interested in breeding or our calls. A half-hour later I glanced down the road and saw a turkey only 75 yards away. I got my gun up and ready, but when the bird walked to within 50 yards I realized it was a hen. That old feeling of disappointment begin to rise in my gut. 
She clucked and purred and closed the distance to about 20 yards. Meanwhile two more turkeys materialized farther down the road. Gobblers? Now the hen was only 10 yards away. I knew if she came any closer she would recognize one of us and the game would be over. Minutes passed. Donald didn’t see the other birds, and I was unable to signal to him to stop calling. The next time he hit his box call it was met with a triple gobble, followed by a tom charging out of the pines and going into full strut only 25 yards away.
At that moment everything I had read and been told came true. My heart beat so fast I thought I could hear it, my hands began to shake and I was glad that my gun was solidly rested on the dirt mound.  I couldn’t move because of the hen, so I lowered my cheek to the stock, eased the safety off and waited for him to come to me. After what seemed like hours, the gobbler started toward the hen. Finally, I got the bead on him and squeezed the trigger. The bird dropped instantly. I’m not sure who was more surprised, the hen or Donald. The hen rushed back down the road toward the other two birds, which I could now see were gobblers, and all three ran out of sight.
As I claimed my trophy, a 2-year-old bird with a 10-inch beard and ¾-inch spurs, I thought back to all the times I had been so close, all the early mornings, long walks and mosquito bites. Then I realized the dues I paid were all worth it. I knew in that moment that if I never kill another bird, I am a turkey hunter.
After a round of congratulations and some pictures and measurements, I called Chris. As soon as he answered I said, “You won’t believe what just happened!” After I told my story, he laughed and said, “You must be lucky.”

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