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Remembering Turkeys That Never Rode in the Truck

It seems like some folks are increasingly concerned with the number of turkeys someone has killed.

That can spawn a raucous debate. And although that’s fun sometimes, I’d prefer to avoid it and focus on something to which every turkey hunter can relate: turkeys they didn’t kill.

Yep, no matter if you’re a 100-plus-bird expert or absolute beginner, you have a story about a memorable turkey that eluded you. And as cliche as that might sound, you remember those birds more than gobblers you killed.

After a few years on your buttpad, you begin to string together a list of memorable failures. I call it my “kick-me list,” because every time I think about one of those birds, I want to kick myself.

Case in point: In Spring 2001, I joined the Primos gang at Alabama River Lodge on a sweepstakes hunt. The first morning, a guide and I arrived late at our hunting area; a small wooded creek bottom surrounded by huge cut cotton fields. A turkey was already hammering when we exited the truck.

“We’d better get going,” the guide whispered.

We did, and believe it or not, we slipped to within 100 paces of the hard-gobbling longbeard. As we sat, several hens started tree-yelping behind us. Unbelievable! We were between a red-hot gobbler and his hens. It could be a quick hunt.
Just before the sun peeked over the horizon, the gobbler crashed to earth and continued hammering. We called softly, and he responded immediately, moving slowly to our right. Perfect.

After a few moments of silence, I yelped softly again, and the bird fired back, about 80 steps out. Now and then, I glimpsed the top of his fan above the brush. Soon, he’d be in range.

Then, without warning, the gobbler jumped six feet in the air and flew out of our lives forever. What? The guide and I accused each other of moving, but neither of us had. We guessed the bird had stumbled upon a snake or unseen coyote, but we never confirmed it.

Later that week, I tagged along with Will Primos as we hoofed through some of the prettiest Southern river bottoms you’ll ever see. Nothing answered that day, but I felt privileged just to see the legendary call maker do this thing.
As we neared the truck, talking and laughing loudly, Will suggested that we call one final time. Sure, why not?

After his second yelp, a thunderous gobble blew our hats off. The bird had to be standing next to the truck, if not atop it.

Of course, we scrambled for whatever cover we could find, which wasn’t much. Will and the guide dove into a creek bottom, and I crawled to a brushy outcropping several feet away. He called again, and within seconds, I heard the turkey walking and drumming behind me.

Dang it, he was going to Will’s calling. I needed to call to lure the turkey toward me. Trouble was, I had thought the hunt was finished, and I’d put everything back in my vest. Desperate, I scrambled to find a diaphragm call and pop it in my mouth. When I tried to yelp, however, nothing came out. Somehow, I’d torn the reeds.

Just then, I heard the gobbler walk past Will and the guide, putt a few times and booger off into the sunset.

“Man, I hate it that we didn’t kill that turkey,” Will said later.

Yes. In fact, whenever I review my list, I still hate it.

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