After three remarkably unsuccessful seasons spent trying to kill my first turkey, I figured it wouldn't be a bad idea to attend a state-sponsored turkey hunting education program.
I still remember the lessons from that event: what a strut zone was, how to cluck on a box call and the fact that turkeys have short memories.
"You can scare a bird away from a field, and he'll have forgotten about it an hour later," the instructor said.
Hmm. That seemed to be all the knowledge I needed. When April rolled around, a friend and I asked a farmer friend if we could hunt turkeys on his place. He agreed, and we were set.
The first morning, we set up in the corner of a hayfield, called a bit and heard nothing. We figured we'd head across the road to check out a stubble field. Sure enough, as we topped a small hill, I spotted three or four strutters and several hens at the edge of the woods. We ducked, but the birds spooked and rubber-necked away.
"No problem," my friend said. "We'll just go back tomorrow."
And we did. Well, he did. I went to the hayfield again and heard nothing. At about 8 a.m., however, a shot rang out from the stubble field. Then a second ... and a third.
I raced across the road and saw my buddy standing over a flopping longbeard. It was the first either of us had a hand in killing.
It had been a classic hunt. My friend, who worked second shift, had set up at a big white oak and promptly fallen asleep. He was jolted awake by an annoyed hen cutting while circling his crude decoy. His movement spooked the bird away, but when my buddy looked back toward the decoy, he saw a fan appear over the hill. The gobbler marched in to 15 steps. The first shot had killed the bird, but we'd never seen a turkey flop, so my buddy — accustomed to water-swatting crippled ducks — pounding two more rounds into the gobbler.
The hunt seemed to confirm everything our turkey education instructor had said. Obviously, I had to set up at the field edge the next morning. Had we been hunting deer or ducks, I never would have returned to a spot where we'd killed something the previous day. But this was turkey hunting — it was different!
So I planted my butt next to the white oak the next morning and prepared to wait all day. And believe it or not, the tactic worked. At about 9 a.m., a hen popped out of the corner and walked in front of me. Two minutes later, four gobblers appeared and marched toward my decoy.
I was paralyzed with fear, but I somehow managed to inch my gun toward the rear bird and shoot him ... four times. (Did I mention we'd never seen a flopping turkey before?)
What an accomplishment! My buddy and I had taken two great longbeards from a tiny field edge. We were certified turkey hunters who knew the secret to success. I intended to use my newfound knowledge for years to come.
And of course, that's the last time anything like that ever happened to us. The next season, I began the long, slow process of learning about turkey hunting by receiving repeated tail-whippings.