The Better Part of Valor
He yelped a few times, then unleashed a flurry of cutting. Three plump gobblers headed straight for the decoy, teased by a flirtatious floozy that was in reality a nationally recognized caller. They really put on a show. Drunk on lust, the gobblers left jakes and even hens in their wake. They trotted toward us with their fans displayed in peculiar fashion, apparently trying simultaneously to strut and sprint to the deke. The more animated the birds became, the more forceful Brad was on the call. They strutted within 20 yards of us and I took aim at the fattest bird while easing off the safety on my 12-gauge TK2000 Knight Muzzleloader. It was just a chip shot; missing now would be a joke ... like striking out in slow-pitch softball or losing an argument with Sarah Brady.
"Chalk, chalk, chalk," Brad yelped.
Smoke from the in-line filled the air. When it cleared, a Merriam's with 1-inch spurs and three beards-one just over 9 inches long-lay motionless. I was sipping coffee by 6:30. (Outdoor Expeditions International is committed to preserving rural land by selling it to conscientious outdoorsmen. Want to buy a prime hunting property? Check out oeionline.com or call 800-211-8638. OEI's TV show, "Outdoors Expeditions," airs on The Men's Channel Fridays at 8 p.m., Saturdays at 5:30 p.m. and Sundays at 3:30 p.m.) -Kyle Wintersteen, Assistant Editor
Don't Try This At Home
I would've cursed myself, if only I could've curled my lips without the bird seeing me. As it was, I stood perched precariously on one foot, balancing on the top wire of a barbed-wire fence, with only one sorry excuse for a tree limb providing the balance point to the fulcrum that was my big toe. My legs were quivering, mentally I was cashed-out and I had an itch on my nose that, if left unattended much longer, would surely drive me insane. Desperate, I summoned all my remaining mental power to command the bird to stop looking at me. But of course that never works. Ego and future lineage aside, if I twitched, fell or sneezed, my (overly) aggressive effort would be foiled.
So I did what any true, albeit slightly insane, turkey hunter would do: I vowed that it was either him or me. Failing to see the irony at the time, I stonewalled him. I just hoped the fence had the same unwavering commitment to my startlingly simple plan.
At this point, it is not unreasonable for the reader to inquire how I got myself into this pickle. Well, the gobbler I first heard on the roost that morning dodged my calls all day, so I decided to race around him. When the dust settled, I was on the edge of an open field surrounded by the fence. The field of millet was obviously the object of the bird's desire, so I was surprised when I scanned it and failed to spot him. There was, however, one depression in the middle of the field that I couldn't see into from my 5-foot-too-short-to-matter, bi-pedular stance. Though my vest contained no ladder, I had an ace up my sleeve: With an athletic feat rivaling the marquee move of Randy "Macho Man" Savage, I climbed to the top wire and unwittingly met eyes with the gobbler.
By all things merciful, or more likely, by the whim of an animal having a brain the size of a walnut, the turkey took me for the harmless lunatic standing on a barbed-wire fence that I was and finally dropped his head below the contour of the sloping field. Not having a safety net either, I crashed to the ground, grabbed my scattergun and rested it on the second wire. The timing couldn't have been better, because the turkey began walking toward me. At 35 yards, I employed the most aggressive tactic of all: slight pressure on the trigger. (For a top-rope Kansas turkey hunt, call Jay Verzuh of Colorado Elite at 970-245-6293) -Jeff H. Johnston, Associate Editor
The Second-Chance Tom
The tom gobbled wonderfully, then hit the ground. The cameraman filmed, I made believe I had a gun, and even said, "Bang!" as Tom pranced by craning his neck to see the unarmed fools playing hunting. The gobbler went on to outfox a troop of properly armed sportsmen throughout the spring.
Now here we were again, in position before the stars lost their glow. Crickets chirped and owls held conversations without any songbird interruptions. We headed for a lone black locust tree at the base of the ridge, a tree the cameraman and I actually pruned clear the year before. The morning grew to loud song of the whole forest loving spring. A dozen hens yelped the morning a hearty welcome. The big sultan strutted on his limb, spitting and drumming.
"This is how you kill henned-up, white-headed toms," whispered Drury. "You have to be aggressive. You have to get in their landing zones in the soupy dark before dawn. Or you have to sit in their strutting areas mid-morning. You only call once, to make them stretch their neck out so you can shoot it off."
Hens started to drop from the trees like winged crows. Then the old tom whooshed down. He landed in strut on our left. Hen eyes were all over us. I couldn't turn. Then he did-his fan pivoting, hiding his eyes. I swung the barrel, and Drury swung his camera. Then the tom turned back around, showing off as if on a turning pedestal.
Drury made just one yelp, the gobbler stretched his neck, I shot and the old bird rolled out of sight. A dozen hens took flight; wings flapped everywhere, and in the melee Drury cried, really wanting to know, "Did you get him?"
"I sure hope so," escaped from my lips.
But he was down and dead. A year of plotting had come to a sudden, smashing halt. Sometimes you do get second chances. (Check out Longbeard Madness 11: $14.99; 800-990-9351; druryoutdoors.com.) -Frank Miniter, Executive Field Editor
Experts at Work
I'd hunted with Alex Rutledge before. He's a pro staffer with Hunter's Specialties who's called and killed more birds than me, but by 7 a.m. I was convinced he was delusional.
Yelp, yelp, yelp, went Alex. "You hear that? They're coming."
Inevitably, we'd move to another tree to set up on another tom I was sure was another mile away.
"We should get closer," I whispered.
But by mid-morning it looked like the long-distance stuff would pay off. "There he is," hissed Alex. "Shoot him. Shoot him before he gets away. Shoot that bird!" It was too late when I finally saw it: to shoot I had to lean right and swing left.
We broke out in laughter.
Two days later, as Alex sped toward home, Darrin Bradley, owner of IMB Outfitters, shot me a sneaky grin. "Let's go get a bird. I know where they are. Let's see which is more important: expert calling or knowing the terrain."