I never knew he was there.
My hunting partner Terry had watched a group of turkeys for about a week here in Tennessee and told me where I should set up for a shot with my bow. The first morning, I had a perfect setup and a near miss, shaving feathers off the back of a nice gobbler at 26 yards.
The second morning, Terry and I grabbed the blind and bows and headed back to the same area. The birds gobbled just like they were supposed to, so we settled in for the hunt. It was a perfectly cool spring morning to be in the field.
Our setup was in the middle of a very large field bordered by a river to our left, a few smaller fields surrounded by woods on the right, and the frontage road to our backs. The turkeys were roosted at the river and would likely filter through our setup to reach their destination.
The first gobbler that gave us a peek came within 40 yards of our decoys. Having missed the day before, I was reluctant to take the shot — a decision I thought I might regret.
He made his way to our right and walked away as two hens joined him. We watched for another 30 minutes until another gobbler appeared about 400 yards away across the field to our right. The hens noticed him and left the first tom alone, heading to the other end of our field to the second bird.
Jealousy got the best of the lonely guy, and he went to get his girls back. The last 30 yards of his walk, he struck an aggressive posture. Just as he got in the face of bird No. 2, he made a loop and disappeared, following the hens.
Now, the second tom was alone, strutting and gobbling on a little rise, still almost 400 yards away. We gave him a few minutes before calling. He could clearly see our decoys: a strutter, jake and two hens.
Finally, after some soft talk, he came off the high spot in the field toward us, but only about 25 yards from where he started. During the next hour, he strutted, gobbled and strutted some more, each time getting a little closer. When the turkey was about 125 yards away, I saw a secondary beard. When he got in a low area and popped up about 90 yards away, I saw what looked like a triple beard.
At 75 yards, the gobbler tucked his tail, pulled in his wings and committed to our setup. I readied my Mathews Z7 and put a little tension on the string loop. At 40 yards, Terry whispered, "He definitely has multiple beards." He coached me with the yardage, whispering in five-yard increments: “35, 30, 25, 20, 15 — shoot him."
I had drawn my bow when the gobbler was at 30 yards and was following each step he took. He walked past the hen decoys, and just as he stepped in front of the first jake decoy, I squeezed the trigger on my release. I actually picked a feather, and at nine steps, my arrow hit its mark and slammed hard into his shoulder, breaking both main wingbones and taking out his vitals.
I high-fived Terry and hurried out of the blind and over to the gobbler. When I rolled the bird over, I couldn't believe what I saw — not two or three beards but five. I yelled back to Terry about what I’d found, and we celebrated with more high-fives and pats on the back.
I got the gobbler home and started taking pictures. I must have rolled him just right, because the second and third beards separated to expose a sixth beard. Now I was really excited and I started sending pictures to my hunting buddies. One of them said he believed that I might have shot the new state-record archery turkey. After some research, it turned out to be true. The bird will be the new state-record archery gobbler and also No. 9 in the country.
When all the paperwork is filed and processed, the bird will score about 115.625. The beards total 42.75 inches (9.5, 8.25, 8, 6.25, 6.25, 4.5). The gobbler weighed 22.10 pounds, and he had .375-inch spurs.
When we set out after the turkeys Terry had scouted, we never knew that gobbler was there. I might never kill another bird close to that one, but that won’t stop me from turkey hunting every spring the Good Lord allows.
Equipment used: Mathews Z7, Spot Hog sights and release, Mathews drop-away rest, Easton Flatline Surgical arrows, Innerloc Tuners 100-grain broadheads, Nikon binoculars, Leupold range-finder and Bloodline signature call by Commando Hunting Products.