Asheville – Last year was a record turkey harvest for North Carolina. Most attribute that to the Covid lockdown with people having more time on their hands than usual. I didn’t get out until late in the season and met with no success in the last week. This year was different. I was determined to get out early and was able to do so thanks to a friend.
I missed opening day because of work. But my friend Pat said he had access to a farm in northern Buncombe that was loaded with turkey. His daughter killed one there on the opening day of the youth hunt. He had bagged one earlier in the week with a crossbow and assured me there were still plenty around. I consider Pat a turkey hunting expert, we’d be out before and took him at his word. We planned for a Wednesday hunt.
We arrived and walked in the early morning darkness to the pre-positioned blind well before first light. The blind was backed up to a tree line on a ridge overlooking a draw with a grassy finger extending from a larger field. He’d seen birds there before and had not hunted it yet. We whispered about the set-up in the pre-dawn darkness waiting on the first gobble from the roost. About 15 minutes after the first rays of the day arose we heard one big tom gobble about 50 yards behind and both a jake and older tom about 80 yards in front of us.
Pat made a few calls to let them know there was an anxious hen out there and we waited. Later than usual, the two toms across the draw from us finally flew down. Naturally, with our luck they attracted hens and we watched as they strutted and gobbled from the far ridgeline. A few hens moved into the draw in front of us, seven at one point. That gave us hopes their presence would draw the toms over. No such luck.
About an hour later he got a text from his Dad hunting about 200 yards away that a big gobbler had just passed by 50 yards away headed in our direction. Pat said there was a trail to the right that the bird would probably follow to our field. He hit a few yelps on his slate call to see if he could get a response so we could at least locate the bird. Nothing.
Despite the videos on TV of hunters shooting big gobblers in full strut, turkeys sometimes slip in unnoticed and surprise hunters. The big tom suddenly appeared in the draw to our front near the tree line about 45 yards away. At Pat’s “There he is” I raised my gun but could still not see the tom. He then whispered, “Shoot soon before he moves into the trees away from us”. I responded, “I don’t have a clear shot” so Pat shot at and missed the bird! As the bird ran up the far ridge, now over 50 yards away, he shot again and the bird went down. We watched it flop on the ground until it went still. The morning was still young and more toms were out there.
About 45 minutes later Pat’s Dad texted again, “Two jakes headed your way.” Again a few calls to draw them in and then quiet. These birds we saw early. One poked his head up in the trees to our right. He stood motionless for several minutes. I began to wonder if it was having second thoughts. After about ten minutes we noticed both birds moving down into the draw in front of us on the same path of the first tom. As they drew closer I raised my gun again.
Finally, the lead jake started into the field from behind a small pine. Pat watched him through binoculars and said, “He’s 42 yards away. You can take him now or he might come further into the field.” As soon as I heard “42 yards” I clicked off the safety. When the young tom raised his head I centered the sights on his neck and pulled the trigger. The bird dropped as the sound of the blast echoed through the draw.
They say in flying there are hours of boredom punctuated by moments of excitement. I guess the same can be said about turkey hunting. The season ends May 8th. Hope everyone gets to fill their tags. I’ll try.