“Come on down to headquarters this April for a turkey hunt,” P.J. Perea, editor at the National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF) e-mailed me. Before I hit the reply button to accept, I already marked the trip on my calendar.
Working as the Field Test coordinator for North American Hunter magazine, I have become friends with folks from several wildlife conservation organizations and I felt very lucky when P.J. invited me down to South Carolina. Not only did I want to hunt, but I always wanted to visit the NWTF Center and Winchester wild turkey museum.
When I arrived I met up with P.J. and Matt Lindler, another editor. Joe Mole, a cameraman, Brian Chatham, a biologist, Paul Rackley, a staff writer; and Sharon Boney, a graphic designer, would also hunt with us. This was Sharon’s first year turkey hunting and everyone was excited to try and help get her first bird. She was ready.
They all were hunting public national forest land near the NWTF Center, and the hunting had been tough so far. Birds were gobbling on roost and then a few times on ground before shutting up for the day. But there was one bird that always seemed to gobble in the same area every day. This bird earned a reputation for eluding them a few times. For this, the crew lovingly nicknamed the elusive gobbler, “Ol’ B (for Bastard).”
Roosted and Mad
It was in fact tough hunting. On the first couple days, P.J., Sharon and Paul had run-ins with Ol’ B. Once they got too close and busted him out of his roost. Another time, the bird came in to their calls and hung up at 70 yards, then skirted around them.
On the third day, Paul, Joe and I set out for an evening hunt. We went straight to Ol B’s playground, setting up in different spots to try and cut-off the gobbler as he approached his typical roosting area.
When Joe was setting up, a hen saw him and flushed. Then we all heard a loud gobble! But the gobbler may didn’t follow the hen. He just stood glued in his tracks, about 70 yards from Joe, gobbling his head off to get his hen to come back. She never did. Eventually the bird circled away from all three of us, and flew up to roost in his usual area, alone.
At dusk, we snuck close to roosting area and hit an owl call to pinpoint the gobbler’s location. Because the Tom was still worked up about missing his hen, he gobbled at us 20 more times. That bird was mad.
But we were excited! We started plotting our next morning’s ambush. “OK, I think that gobbler might be Ol’ B,” Paul said. “We’re going to call in more guns, so he won’t escape this time!”
Five of us showed up the next morning; Paul, Joe, Brian, PJ and me. We needed to safely plan out our multiple-gun surprise attack. The guys knew the area very well. Because of the terrain of the land and their experience with this bird prior to this hunt, there were only a few possible directions this gobbler would go. We’d have the bird surrounded.
We chose four setup locations that were at least 200 yards apart, a safe distance from each other. We agreed that once we heard one of us shoot, we’d quit hunting, unload our guns and meet at the location of the shot, to avoid any accidents. Since I was the guest, the guys gave me the prime spot and Joe, who won the US Open calling tournament in 2003, would come with me.
Our set-up location was a strut zone near where the gobbler last saw his hen. Joe planned to call the bird using a “pendulum” calling tactic. It works like this: The shooter (me) faces the roosted bird. The caller (Joe) hangs out about 100 to 150 yards behind me. When Joe hears the tom gobbling in the distance, he moves in the opposite direction. Meaning, if gobbler moves west, Joe moves east. And if the gobbler moves toward Joe, Joe moves farther away: This way Joe’s calls are always teasing the gobbler and forcing him to chase the sounds, while always keeping me in between the gobbler and Joe.
After I settled in and calmed down, I concentrated on looking for movement in the woods. Soon I could hear Joe’s yelps. Then I started hearing soft yelps and clucks behind me, but opposite Joe. This was perfect! I had both a champion caller and a real hen behind me.
It didn’t take long for the gobbler to start sounding off. He was still mad. Soon his gobbles sounded closer and Joe’s calling sounded farther away. The pendulum calling tactic was in full swing and working. At 70 yards, the big bird entered into my field of vision. But this time the Tom did not hang up. Joe’s calls kept going in the distance, so the gobbler kept coming. Then Ol’ B stopped in an opening of the woods 33 yards away. BOOM! The bird piled up. Success!
As I stood with my trophy in hand, the four other happy hunters approached from all directions, with smiles big as if they pulled the trigger themselves.
We all stood around celebrating and reliving the excitement. Then we headed back to NWTF headquarters to show off the gobbler to Matt, Sharon and others at the office. Sharon seemed to be the most excited, as she really wanted somebody to bag the bird that eluded her on several hunts.
Before I rushed off to catch a plane home, I toured the 100-acre NWTF Center, walked through the museum and admired the largest turkey call collection in the world. I also stopped off at the front of the building to snap a photo of my Tom in front of the NWTF sign. The trip was a dream hunt that was especially rewarding because we harvested a big gobbler using teamwork.
To learn more about the NWTF, and for information on touring the NWTF Center and Winchester Museum, visit www.nwtf.org.