Wednesday, May 23, 2012

5/20/12 Last Day. First Bird. Putting the "chase" in "fair chase"

Before even getting into the details of the day, I need to first say "Thank You" to my buddy Mike for getting me out to hunt with him on the last day of the season. He'd already filled one tag on a giant turkey a few weeks back which weighed in at 21.5 lbs, measured an 11" beard, and sported a pair of unreal spurs that stretched the tape out to 2". In fact, Mike actually left another good buddy's annual spring bash to drive home, catch a few hours of sleep, and wake up to me anxiously sending text messages from his driveway at quarter till 5:00 in the morning. To say I'm thankful for the opportunity is an understatement. "I really appreciate it buddy, next time out I'm the designated driver and you even get to control the music!"

With the sky still trying to hold onto the darkness, the morning light was starting to win the battle on the horizon as we made our way along the familiar path, pausing on top of the greened up ridge to listen to the woods starting to come alive. Every hunter knows that feeling of experiencing the outdoors awaken, and those that haven't felt the sensation won't be able to truly understand. I simply live for being a part of that awakening, and actively stepping in to participate in nature's life cycle is a driving force that's difficult to explain. As we both stood in silence listening for the first Tom to break loose we heard a gobble way far off in the distance. We waited some more, hopefully to hear some closer calls from the roost, but after a few minutes and with light gaining traction above, the decision was made to slip down the hillside to set up along a two track that cuts across the block of woods.

As we eased downward, a bird decided to leave the roost. Maybe from us bumping it, maybe not. We quickly continued onto the path and set up the strutting Tom decoy along with a hen. As we were getting into position a Tom fired up directly in front of us, about 100 to 150 yard away. Moments later another gobble cut through the warm spring air as Mike & I nodded at each other, acknowledging the good sign of at least one bird close by. This went on for quite a while, with the Tom hearing Mike's calls and answering back, but not giving up any ground. We agreed to wait for his next gobble and if the bird was still holding his ground up ahead of us, then we would give up some of our ground and try to close in without being picked off. The Tom lit up again, still standing firm. We quickly and quietly moved into the new position ahead, leaving the decoys behind, but still completely visible along the path for a passing bird.

Mike gave a few soft yelps on his diaphragm call to let ole Tom know we've come a bit closer. What a difference a slight adjustment can make. By slipping in closer, and letting the birds know we were there, the response was almost instant. In what seemed like only seconds, there were turkey heads bobbing through the thick underbrush along the edge of the freshly cut hay field, weaving their way in to investigate the new party crasher. Closing the gap to head off the intruder were a pair of nosey hens that appeared suddenly at about 15 yards! As if on cue, your body knows not to move a muscle or twitch your nose, then because of this awareness for some reason your leg automatically starts to fall asleep, your forearm is cramping up from holding the gun, and of course your butt is sliding off your seat as you're fighting gravity sitting along the side of a hill.

Mike keeps whispering, "It's gonna happen man, it's gonna happen" as my heart rate starts to increase and the steam is escaping from my face mask. Suddenly two Toms, with glowing red heads, and prominent beards pop into view along the path at 40 yards. "We're gonna try and double" Mike says, "let the first one walk by and take the second." The plan's coming together as we sit like granite statues surrounded by birds.

Then, for some reason, the Toms' 6th sense knows that something just doesn't feel quite right about this situation. The birds are instantly nervous. You can see it in their body language. Scanning the woods constantly, on edge, they decide to take a turn and head out to the field behind them. Mike gives me the green light, "They're gonna leave man, take the shot if you've got it." I can't move though, they need to walk behind the cluster of tree trunks to their left in order to give me the split second needed to shift the 870's barrel into position for a shot. Then just mere moments later, they follow the script, allowing me to make a deliberate swing, click off the safety, and take aim. Everything goes silent except the heartbeat that sounded like its coming from my ears, the sun seemed to filter down through the glowing green canopy above like a stage light onto the bright, red, dome of one of the Toms while the bead on the end of my barrel matched up with him. A slow squeeze, followed up by a loud boom, and the woods erupted with birds running, flying, and getting the heck outta dodge!! My bird lays up ahead, flapping and flopping around. "You better run up and get him!" Mike says...

Double checking that the safety was back on, I was off on a slow jog, hopping over a logs and brush on my way over to claim my bird. As I got closer though the bird struggled to gather himself, flapping in a circle before somehow gaining his feet and looking wobbly standing there just inside the woods along the field's edge. The 870 met my shoulder, safety off again, bead on the bird at 15 yards, finger pressing the trigger, "click". Oh crap, I never pumped the forearm and ejected the spent shell!! Quickly racking the fore end up and back on gun, the hull flies out, and I assumed that the gun chambered another. That's what normally happens right? "Click" again. What the hell!? I push in the gun's action bar lock, and cycle the fore end again to cycle the third round into the chamber. That should do it now. "Click" Oh what the HELL now!?

Suddenly the Tom decides to impersonate a road runner. I swear I even heard a "meep-meep" as he headed out into the open field. "GET HIM!!!" Mike cheers from the spectator stands (or at least that's how my brain processed it) as I dashed out after him. Luckily my lightening quick reflexes had me over him in short order, like a hawk swooping in from the heavens. Only as my grasping hand reached down and swooped the bird up, he flapped free again, and into the open. There was no one else to beat as he broke for the end zone (or at least that's how my brain processed it again). Tossing the piece of junk single shot aside, my inner Troy Polamalu unexpectedly surfaced as my body was rocketing horizontally, almost Superman like, toward the touchdown Tom. As the cloud of dust, hay, camouflage, and feathers cleared I had secured the victory... and probably gave Mike a cramp from laughing so dang hard. Hey, he passed on a bird and gave me the shot, the least I could do was to try and make it entertaining for him right? And besides, I figured I didn't have the funds to pay for both a full body turkey mount and a new shotgun, so a nice DIY tail fan wingboard mount will have to suffice.

I can see a new spring time addiction has taken root.

11" beard

1 3/8" Spurs

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