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The Learning Curve

A dark cloud hung over my head as I drove to my hunting lease, which, ironically, wore the moniker, “Turkey Creek Hunting Club.” The name itself seemed to taunt me. You see, I’d been turkey hunting for 10 years and still hadn’t killed a bird. Through this troubled period I’d had my posterior handed to me on a platter in every imaginable way by our feathered friends. I learned from my mistakes, and every year I seemed to get one step closer. However, I was seriously starting to doubt my sanity.

As I stepped out of the truck, the dark cloud lifted as a gobble echoed through the hardwoods. I eased down the logging road toward the sound, and I was so focused on the gobbler that I failed to notice the hens roosted in the sweet gum trees to my right. The woods erupted in a flurry of wing beats as they sailed toward the old monarch’s sounding post. I couldn’t tell if I’d spooked them or if they were just sailing into their daily routine.

After the woods settled back down, I continued walking until I found a good place to set up. I placed a decoy about 25 yards out in front, arranged my calls in strategic order and backed up against an ancient cypress.

I gave a fly-down cackle on my old box call and followed it with a series of seductive yelps. No sooner had I set the box down before turkeys seemed to materialize out of nowhere, stepping into view from the wispy fog that hugged the ground. There were at least 15 hens with the big tom.

This presented a problem, though. I couldn’t get a clear shot with all the hens surrounding the old boy, and I could tell all of the hens were keying in on the largest hen in the group. Whichever direction she moved, the rest followed suit, almost as if they were all part of an elaborate ballet. After a few minutes she led them all away with the tom in tow. I sat in disbelief. The excitement of the moment took hold and coursed through my veins, making me shake uncontrollably.
I couldn’t believe it! This was the closest I had ever come to taking a turkey, and I wasn’t about to give up. I followed them, found another good tree and offered a series of yelps and cutts, mixing in a few soft purrs and clucks for added flavor.
After 15 minutes I caught a glimpse of two silent jakes checking out what all the commotion was about. I picked out the leader and sent a load of No. 6s his way when he presented me with a shot.
His wings beat their death throes in the decaying leaf matter, and the weight of 10 fruitless years was lifted off my shoulders. He was a double-bearded 15-pounder, and I was as proud of him as I would have been of any limbhanger.

I took the turkey home to show him off, and my wife couldn’t believe it. I jokingly suggested that she had probably thought I was having an affair after all those years of never bringing anything home but a bruised ego. For the entire night my mind kept going back to that big tom strutting in the hardwoods, and I knew I’d have to go back and try him again.

The next morning, clouds of a different kind hung over my head — real rain clouds. I gathered my gear by the glow of the truck’s dome light and decided I would take another route around where the hens had roosted the morning before, based on the chance they had returned.

I meticulously made my way back to the same exact tree where I had killed the jake. I removed my box call from its holster, gave a fly-down cackle and promptly placed the call back in my vest as raindrops began to sprinkle down from the heavens.
I had barely rested the gun on my knee when the gobbler stepped out from behind a thick stand of pines.  Everything happened so quickly that I really couldn’t believe it. I hadn’t been away from the truck for 10 minutes, and the next thing I knew I was hefting a 22-pound boss gobbler over my shoulder! 

I attribute my long, drawn out, unsuccessful start to not having a mentor to teach and guide me in the right direction. I was forced to learn by trial and mostly error.
I’ve learned a lot of lessons since that first, long ago day in March, and every turkey season that rolls around I go back to school — but I’m not the only one in class. I’ve made it a point to help anyone willing to learn from my experiences and hopefully cut back on their learning curve so they don’t have to wait 10 years before showing off their first wild turkey.

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