“I’m a great believer in luck, and I find that the harder I work, the more luck I seem to have.” — Thomas Jefferson
I have always observed that turkey hunters curse their luck far more often than they bless it. Such behavior, I believe, arises from the truth that, in the sport of turkey hunting, every turkey hunter has been whip-pee more than he’s been the whip-per.
In fact, our batting averages are generally so appalling that to retain a modicum of self-respect we must constantly attribute our poor numbers to luck, that is, bad luck.
It is with the concept of luck in mind that this chapter begins, and despite the batting averages, we shall see that luck does not always have to be of the bad variety.
While scanning though my old hunting journal recently, I came across the details of an interesting adventure that occurred at Ship Island over twenty years ago, a hunt whose participants included two old friends, Lady Luck, and me.
The story begins on a day in mid-March, the opening day of spring turkey season. Accompanying me at the hunting club were two long-time hunting comrades, Willard McIlwain and John Eddleman. McIlwain is better known in local hunting circles as “Mall-ard Will-ard” because of his affinity for both eating and shooting ducks.
Similarly, Eddleman responds to the nickname “B.M.,” a name from his penchant for bass fishing. Frivolous nicknames aside, however, these two can be turkey-tough.
As so often happens on opening weekend, we were greeted with sparse gobbling. Most years, the opening of spring hunting season is practically a waste of time for those hunting in north Mississippi, who tend toward the purist side and prefer hearing gobbling over taking a shot. On opening day, there is little motivation for males to gobble-up hens because every feathered lady in the woods has already taken a number and is standing in line, waiting her turn.
Since the beginning of egg-laying is still at least two-and-a-half weeks away, almost every hen in the woods is hanging out with one gobbler or another, from go-down to go-up.
Because of an elevated river level, my friends and I were forced to boat down Tunica Cutoff in order to access the ridges we intended to hunt. After disembarking and scrambling up 7 feet of steep lake bank, we headed off to different points of the compass, each hoping to locate a sweltering-hot gobbler and avoid the overwhelmingly negative odds typically prevalent on opening weekend.
No exceptions to the rule were experienced by us, however. As usual, silence reigned supreme all morning, at least in turkey kingdom. Since the forest was still gray, open, and wintery-looking, we stayed put, never roaming after initially setting up.
We knew that it would be counter-productive to explore in wide-open woods; such behavior would have only made turkeys more difficult to deal with later in the season.
However, even though we patiently remained in place until 2 p.m., our combined efforts provided us with little more than a nature seminar.With much of the titillation associated with the opening of spring season still intact, we again ventured forth before sunrise the following morning.
Although skies were fair and winds calm, once more we failed to hear any roost gobbling.
As on the previous morning, we struck out in separate directions, planning to conclude the hunt at noon and call it a weekend.Early that morning, the sole adventure was Eddleman’s, who experienced something unusual at first light.
While creeping alongside a flooded slough, a hefty lump ker-plunked into the backwater right beside him. Thinking it might be a turkey dropping, he immediately gazed skyward, only in time to witness the thunderous exit of a longbearded bird from a limb above him. The cold-natured gobbler had never uttered a sound.
As planned, we met at the boat at noon. After shedding some gear and unloading our guns, we paused near the top of the lake bank to briefly share “G-2” (“G-2” is the section of an Army responsible for intelligence information. Members of the old OK Hunting Club used the term in referring to intelligence reports on turkeys).
I was the lone member of our party who faced north as we chatted, so neither of my buddies saw what happened next. Behind them, a dark object suddenly stepped away from the high bank of the lake and crossed the lake road. The object turned out to be a gobbler of sizable proportions which was moving laterally into the woods.
Whispering for my buddies to freeze, I reached into my coat pocket for a shell. McIlwain happened to be the only one whose gun was still loaded. When he noticed my stunned expression and saw me groping for a shell, he instinctively whirled around to take a look.
Just as he finished turning, the big gobbler was emerging from behind a large cottonwood tree, and Willard reflexively snapped off a shot. Although the bird was 49 steps away, he fell with hardly a flop.
The gobbler’s age was four years, and he weighed in solidly over twenty pounds. When we autopsied the dead bird, we discovered that a single number-six shot had struck him, but its mark had been deadly – the right eye.
After the dust had settled, we attempted to reconstruct what had occurred, trying to understand why such an old gobbler would uncharacteristically leave himself so vulnerable.
Healthy four-year-olds simply don’t brazenly promenade in front of three people standing beside a road.
We theorized that, simply by chance, the bird had been slowly feeding along the edge of Tunica Cutoff. Since the water lay 7 feet below the crest of the lake bank, the gobbler had apparently failed to notice us as he approached.
Most likely, when the old bird was about 50 steps away, he noticed our boat tied to the bank, and its unnatural appearance caused him to veer away from the lake, climb the bank, and amble into the woods.
The stars lined up correctly that day, making our little adventure a case of being in the right place at the right time. It had simply been a stroke of pure, blind luck.
On this occasion, however, the type of luck encountered was not that which is typically associated with turkey hunters.
It is disheartening that we turkey hunters experience good fortune so infrequently. Indeed, such occurrences are so rare that, when one transpires, it is worthy of inclusion in a turkey-hunting book!