Looking for Tom

Looking for Tom

Turkey Season.  Opening Morning.  Temperature 56 degrees.  Overcast.   The alarm went off at 4:00 A.M., three hours before sunrise.

My son John and I got our gear together and we ate breakfast on the go.  We drove to a Wildlife Management Area (WMA) “destination top secret.”  Once arriving we had to sign in at a WMA checkpoint.  Then we drove to our spot, hoping to beat other hunters that might have had the area picked out.  The small field we wanted to hunt was up the mountain about a mile away from where we parked.

As we walked up the mountain I was reminded that I was walking with a Marine.  His days in the Marine Corps made simple hikes like this seem like a walk in the park.  He opened up a huge lead on me within the first minute and several times I had to run to close the gap.  A few times he had mercy on me and stopped and waited for his old man.   I was breathing hard by the time we got to the top of the mountain.

We timed our journey perfectly as the daylight was just breaking. The small opening in the woods matched up perfectly with the aerial view on John’s Google Maps.  John put his decoys in the field and we set up on the west side of the field about thirty yards apart from each other.

As light began to break, John began to make circle motions over his slate, making some soft, “yelp, yelp, yelps.”  When there was enough light to see the decoys, I took my hat by the bill and shook it hard back and forth.   This gave the distinct sound of a turkey flying down from the roost.    This is a trick we learned from a master turkey hunter in South Georgia.

John and I worked the field for 90 minutes and finally a hen came down the road and into the field.  Strangely though, she seemed to be spooked instead of enticed by the decoys.   About 35 yards out, she darted into the woods, circled around behind me and came within 15 yards of me before disappearing into the deep woods.

Later I decided to switch to a diaphragm mouth call.  This call fits in the roof of your mouth.  With your tongue pressed over the plastic portion of the call, you blow air over the diaphragm, making it vibrate.   It makes a sound like a hen.  You can make “cutting” sounds, as hens sometimes yelp in staccato fashion.   This is as much art as it is ability and turkey hunters take great pride in being able to make the mating sound of the hens, enticing the big toms to come in close.

On this day, my charm seemed to work.   After we had been in the woods for about 3 hours, a gobbler finally answered.   Dr. Dolittle could talk to the animals, but a hunter has his/her ways, too.

Deer hunters can stop a deer with a grunt call, but deer don’t usually answer back.   You can call duck, moose, coyotes, hogs, and squirrel, and they do answer back, but there is nothing like the dance between a turkey hunter pretending to be a hen and a hot gobbler that is coming in looking for a date.

Most never get very close.   Some require a lot of coaxing.  But when one begins to get close, the hunt gets very exciting!

With each gobble I could hear the tom getting closer and closer.  Knowing the hen come down the road, I knew the tom was coming down the same road.  I could not see it, but I could hear it.  I repositioned myself for a shot.

When the tom came around the corner he was almost in a sprint.  His head was cobalt blue.  His beard was proudly poking from his chest.   He was within range but I was practicing some patience. Besides, I’d have to shoot through some branches.  Just a couple more steps and I’d have a clear shot.

Then, without warning, the tom stopped.  He clucked once, then again and made a dash for the woods, and just like that, the hunt was over.  He never circled around.  He never answered another call.

What happened?

I began thinking of our turkey expert in South Georgia.  He has killed so many turkeys that he does not shoot one anymore unless its beard is nearly dragging the ground.  He only goes for trophy birds.   In order to entice the really big toms, he has to make them mad—jealous.  The way you do that is by making the tom fight for his hens.  So he puts a gobbler decoy with his hens, one with a complete fan.

Jakes will not come near this decoy because a mature tom will jump on a Jake (young male bird), and use its spurs and wound it badly.  I’ve seen Jakes fly off the roost and land in a field beside one of these decoys and immediately run for the woods.

Apparently, as the tom that came into the field and saw the tom decoy it was in no mood for a fight.  He was looking for some cheap love.  The mating season is young.  Apparently that tom was thinking, “There’s plenty of time to prove my manhood.  For this day, I’m a lover, not a fighter.”  We were counting on that tom being a fighter.

He lived to see another day.   John and l left the woods without a turkey, but not totally disappointed.

There’s great satisfaction in planning a hunt and bringing home game.  Outsmarting a tom is extremely difficult to accomplish.  That’s why it’s called “hunting.”  To get a mountain turkey to come within 15 yards of you is incredible and the image of seeking a gobbler coming around the corner in full trot gobbling will be with us for a long time.

Putting the tom decoy in the field may not have been the best choice.  Not taking a shot when I had a chance was a missed opportunity.  However, the real missed opportunity would have been if we had stayed in bed and not gone hunting at all.   We would have missed the opportunity to create memories together.

Every time I get to hunt with John I feel like it is a bonus.  It is something I never knew I’d have the opportunity to do at this stage of life, and it is something that can be taken away at any time.

Hunting is a great way to experience nature and to find ways to spend time with people you love and to build memorable experiences together.   You can also do that with a camera, backpack, fishing rod, or binoculars.   You just have to find something you are passionate about and get out of bed or the chair and go do it.

Nature is a wonderful teacher and it’s good for the soul.  Just hearing the stream flowing and feeling the cool mountain air was invigorating.  While you are sitting there listening for turkeys, it’s amazing how easy it is to hear the voice of God.  What are you waiting for? Go experience nature.  Go experience God’s world with someone you love.