90 Second Longbeard

© Copyright 2005, Mike Joyner. 

This story brings back many memories as I recollect the details of what would be my shortest hunt to date. At least from the aspect of time elapsed from gobble to gun! This hunt has in common as with many of my other hunts, the backside of Dawn & Jeff Zarnowski’s place up on the hill. Along their northern border begins an old logging road that travels the borders edge and eventually follows along the lower corner of the main ridge and out to the back twenty. There have been many times I had been either skunked or unable to work birds making my way out thru the logging road to the back twenty. On the way back more often than not, I would raise a hot bird or even the same gobbler from earlier, only with a different attitude! As you may hear elsewhere, it pays to hunt your way out with the same effort as you do going in.

The beginning of this hunt overlaps some with a story about a gobbler I named “The Ghost” which I cover elsewhere in another chapter. I had spotted “The Ghost” in a field one evening in front of the northern boundary of the property I now own. He was a difficult if not impossible old gobbler to deal with, and now I thought I had an edge. It was getting close to roosting time, and I was sure I knew where he would roost as he headed up toward the top of the field. I would be waiting on him bright and early the next morning.

The next morning I drove down from Syracuse, and was set up long before daylight in an effort to finally put a tag on this old gobbler. It was a cold morning, very brisk for early May. As the sky began to change, a group of gobblers opened up with the first gobbles of the morning. It was then followed up with a chorus of gobbles. That was all well and good, until I realized they were across the road just below Dawn & Jeff Zarnowski’s property. For ten long minutes, I waited to hear the one I came for, and then it happened. He blasted out a gobble, and the group of wanna-be’s went silent. My heart sank, the old gobbler was nowhere near the tree I had him figured to be in. In my frustration, I discovered that instead of going straight to his roost from where I last saw him, he must have circled back after entering the woods. “The Ghost” in his usual fashion, came back down the hill along the field, and roosted by the creek. What a game plan I had now. I had hens between him and I, and he was a good three hundred yards away. That was last I heard of him that morning.

I had stayed put for two hours just to see what might develop. I did manage to get the hens fired up for a short while, and the wanna-be’s chorus struck up the band, gobbling up until 7AM. “The Ghost” won yet another round, and I decided to try out the game on the other side of the road. Twenty minutes later, I was up on Dawn & Jeff’s logging road, and it was quiet as it could get on a spring day. The sun was out, and it began to warm things up. As always, another good day to be in the turkey woods.

As Murphy’s Law would apply here, everything was silent when I got there as far as turkeys are concerned. I knew that the group of birds were somewhere out in front, and below the logging road. I felt that I would have some advantage being above their position. I have done this routine many times of going out past the corner of the property with no response, and striking up a bird on the way back. I had to be to work before long, so I would work my way to the corner, then work it back. Not out to the back twenty, as I would normally do.

I slowly worked my way along the logging road, all the way to the corner with no responses other than crows & chipmunks. I sat at the corner of the road for a few minutes, and decided to float out a few calls from there. In the past if I raised a bird there, I would usually finish him back along the road from the way that I came. I pulled out a box call, and again, no response. I got up, turned to leave, and stopped myself short. I decided to give it one more try with the mouth call, just in case. It was one of the itchy feelings you get sometimes, more like a hunch. Right then and there I was cut off with a huge gobble, and boy was he close! I made a quick survey of things, and sat down in the corner of the old logging road up against the base of a wide tree.

It was then I realized I had a bad setup. The sun was just over the treetops, and directly in my face. I was lit up like a Christmas tree. Realizing that I was stuck for the moment I would just have to play it out. A couple of quick cutts, and the gobbler cut me off again. This time I knew the gobbler was on a dead run, and he was covering ground fast. I just got my face mask up, and from below me a jake was running up straight at me along a little side trail. Twenty-five yards out the jake came to a screeching halt, and did the sideways look thing that turkeys do. The jake had spotted me right away, and started twirling, and making light putts that they do when they get nervous. I was beginning to think I was busted, as the jake was not staying there much longer.

As luck would have it, along comes the longbeard running up towards me. Instead of coming up the trail as the jake did, he chose to come straight thru the brush with his tail fan up, and it was a real treat seeing the gobbler in such a hurry. He was swinging his beard with every stride as he ran up the hill. The gobbler pulled up along side the jake and at that instant saw what was making the jake nervous. As I had hoped, the gobbler periscoped his head up to do the same as the jake did. I placed the crosshairs below the gobblers head, squeezed the trigger, and down he went. The jake took straight to the air at the shot.

I had looked at my watch when I heard the bird’s first gobble. A quick glance at my watch again after the shot, and it all happened in ninety seconds. No more, no less. Had I not sat right down, I would have been caught standing there. Plain and simple, this two-year-old gobbler woke up that morning with a death wish, and came right on in, running straight to the gun.

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