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A Bird in Hand

A Bird in Hand

Come on man, we gotta pack up and hurry to get in front of that bird before he leaves the farm. This is our last chance of the season.” As I watched my 52-year-old hunting buddy begrudgingly pull himself up from his comfortable seat, I heard his disgruntled grumble, “Really, again?”

This bird was a late talker—you know, one that responds when you are about tired of quietly yelping at trees and decide, “What the heck, one more set of long, hard strokes on the box before heading in.” Sure enough, we got the tom to fire up on the neighboring property just before we called it quits.

Soon, we pulled him onto our land only to have a few terrain features limit his travel. By the time we worked our way around the ravine and ridge, the last gobbler of the year decided he was better suited for a long-distance relationship. He skipped town only to let us know his whereabouts, across the neighboring fields we first pulled him from, ending the 2014 season.

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Several weeks and pitfalls prior to the season’s close, the same hunting buddy and I had a plan, and a really good one at that. Our hunting lease comprises rolling farm fields with cattle, mixed agriculture, hardwoods and wetlands. When hunting the place with other parties and especially during turkey season, it is best for everyone to be on the same page but not reading the same word—or in this sense, hunting the same bird.

After several missed opportunities with early-rising and chatty gobblers, I pulled my mental map of every gobbling bird we roosted, two of which were almost a mile across the farm. Since we split the farm in two, another party hunted the western part and my buddy and I went to the eastern half. We made our way to the northeastern corner with the noon hour approaching only to stumble across our western friends departing on an ATV. It was apparent they wanted nothing to do with their side even after our safety plan. With an hour of legal time remaining we decided to go ahead and hunt those same birds the other guys had given up on.

Nestled and comfortable, decoys deployed, my slate call laid out a long series of yelps in hopes of pulling a flock together for midday feeding. We followed with a few kee-kees, and suddenly I saw over my shoulder two giant longbeards fighting each other en route to sire our decoys—75 yards and closing. We sat perfectly still and waited for the two birds to cross the woven-wire fence we were leaning against.

And then my phone began to vibrate uncontrollably in my pocket, continuing for what seemed like minutes. Focused on the two birds—especially the one with a beard touching the ground—I whispered to my middle-aged hunting buddy, “It’s about to happen; your first bird and maybe a double!”

I felt my phone vibrate again and soon heard the sound of an approaching ATV. Smoothly, I answered the phone while hidden by a large fence post, hoping those two gobblers wouldn’t see or hear me. Fortunately their focus was pinned on the hens in our decoy spread and not our Mossy Oak camouflage.

Over the phone I heard, “Hey, we are coming back to get the pack we left at the log crossing,” and of course 20 yards to my right I noticed a lone pack awaiting its owner. Soon it was obvious my hushed response of “NO! We have birds on top of us …” was overpowered by the sound of the caller’s ATV. Less than 50 yards from us, both birds quickly departed when the threatening ATV entered not only their comfort zone but ours as well, leaving us empty in both hand and heart.

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Shoot or don’t shoot? We all face that anxiety-laden question, especially on a season opener. That morning’s first gobble spread up and across the mountainside with an excited rebuttal of what sounded like 50 different birds. I knew success would soon follow as I hurried into position.

Gobbles, yelps, cuts and kee-kees were in the air as I tried to pin down which set of birds were closest and most responsive to my few immature yelps. It didn’t take more than a minute before a bachelor group of jakes began to crest the hill at 40 yards, quartering to me.

Shoot or not? Shoot or not? The question raced through my head as I slowly turned while keeping the bead of my Mossberg 500 on the largest jake. With the safety on and off several times, I finally decided this may not happen again. I squeezed off a shot, dropping the tasty bird. Had I known the rest of the season would be filled with empty-handed exasperations I wouldn’t have hesitated.

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