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Article for March - April 2006

Record Unbroken
by Julius Leary

Turkey box callI have always felt that turkey hunting should be more about the enjoyment of the outdoors and fellowship among friends than actually taking the gobbler. A tremendous amount of pleasure and fun comes from competing with an experienced turkey hunter for the same bird.

It was the last day of the season, and my good friend and avid turkey hunter, Bob, was just dying to spend one last day in the woods. Unfortunately, he and I both were working, and it appeared that Bob’s two-year span of not killing a turkey was going to turn into three years. However, on this particular morning, it so happened that he and I both finished our work by 11:00. Bob enthusiastically called me on his cell phone.

“Let’s go turkey hunting. I’ve got to go try one more time.”

We jumped in the truck, changing into our leafy camouflage, making our plans as we drove down the road. We would try a nice hardwood bottom about ten minutes from the office, since we had to be back by 1:00.

Although there had been a fair amount of hunting pressure in the area during the season, this particular bottom seemed to have been abandoned for the past couple of weeks. The birds had begun feeding on the acorns and new sprigs primarily during the day.

An old roadbed ran along the entire length of the top edge of this wide hardwood bottom. I could let my friend out at one end of the bottom and circle around to the other end about two miles away. We’d work toward each other quietly and carefully until we met on the road, staying on top of the ridge for safety reasons.

I parked the truck and closed the door quietly, then began working the bottom toward my friend. The woods were quiet, and the mid-morning dew was still moist on the leaves.
I had covered almost half the distance when I heard a big bird in the hollow. At first, I could not tell what was provoking his gobble, but as I moved quietly toward him, I could hear Bob seductively yelping. He had struck a bird in less than fifteen minutes of hunting, mid-morning on the last day!

The old gobbler was slowly but surely working his way toward the crest of the hill. I sat quietly and listened a minute, enjoying my friend’s calling the bird and luring him to gunpoint. However, as I listened, my competitive nature kicked in, and I wanted to become involved in the hunt. It occurred to me that if I allowed the bird to go straight to Bob, his two-year stretch of not killing a turkey would be ruined! How could I just let him break such an unimpressive turkey-hunting-season record while I just stood by? I immediately grabbed my box call and started aggressively calling the old gobbler.

Bob and I were approximately 100 yards apart; I could clearly hear his call, and I knew he could hear mine. This confused the old bird tremendously, and he began answering both calls. Bob would call and cut, and the gobbler would answer. I would cackle and yelp, and the big old tom would answer back. I could almost picture the bird turning in every direction trying to find the hens, confused but excited and gobbling hard.

At some point in time, I knew, the bird would choose only one hen to pursue. Unfortunately, he chose Bob. Even with enthusiastic, almost begging-type yelps from my Neil “Gobbler” Cost box, the bird would answer me but steadily move toward my colleague. This caused even more anxiety on my part, knowing that my call would not lure the bird away from him.

You could almost pinpoint when the bird would be within gun range by the position of the yelping and the gobbles sounding through the hollow. That is when I came up with Plan B. I waited quietly until I knew the bird had to be within a few yards from his final gobble. I retrieved my cell phone from my vest and quickly called my turkey-hunting buddy. The ring from the cell phone was deafening. You could hear the distinctive ring echo all through the hardwoods—probably all the way to the office.

The gobbler heard it also. Immediately I grabbed my box and began with a set of aggressive cuts and cackles. The response could only make for a great turkey-hunting story. The old gobbler, wise and wary, immediately turned from my friend and started heading right down the hollow toward me. Even with very soft yelps, he was aggressively gobbling and heading right toward my trap.

My friend was frantically calling after him, but to no avail. I was laughing the whole time. Not only had I preserved my friend’s two-year turkeyless record, but I had turned this big gobbler right to me. This bird was surely for the cooker. The more I thought about it the harder it was to steady my gun, both from my chuckles and in anticipation of the kill.

The old longbeard was now within 35 yards heading straight up the ridge toward me, gobbling as hard as he could. My safety was off, and I was in perfect position just waiting for one or two more steps into the open area. The old saying, “you reap what you sow,” became a reality again. All of a sudden my cell phone rang! The ring and echo through the hardwood bottom seemed ten times louder than when I called him.

“Hey, Doc! Whacha doin’? I think it’s time to go to work,” was Bob’s message to me. The old, wise and previously warned bird immediately knew what was happening. He turned 180 degrees, gobbled one more time and walked away straight down the hollow, never making another sound—all the wiser for the next year.

Bob and I have laughed about this hunt over many occasions, and in spite of my robbing him of breaking his two-year record, and his ironically returning the favor, we both consider this one of the best turkey hunts of the season.

Dr. Julius L. Leary is a practicing gynecologist in Greenwood. He has served as chairman of the Neil “Gobbler” Cost chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation in Greenwood, as well as vice chairman of the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources Board.

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