Hunter fells trophy gobbler in breathtaking fashion

Posted: April 16, 2017 at 2:16 a.m.

The writer called in this gobbler from a long distance Wednesday with a collection of Arkansas-made turkey calls.

The writer called in this gobbler from a long distance Wednesday with a collection of Arkansas-made turkey calls.

TULL — All of my great turkey hunts have started with reluctance and a providential mental lapse.

These two elements are so consistent that I’ve come to recognize them as portents of greatness.

So began Wednesday, when I woke at 3:30 a.m. It was the third day of the spring turkey season, and I flat did not want to go.

An illness knocked out Tuesday’s hunt, and I was still piqued over an uneventful hunt on opening day Monday. I had been looking forward to that day since the 2016 spring season closed, and all I got was chigger bites.

“Nothing’s going to happen this morning, anyway,” I said to myself. “I’ll sleep in and hunt this afternoon.”

I was still wide awake at 4:30 a.m. I was only irritating Miss Laura, so I dragged myself out of bed, made coffee and trudged out to the truck. The sky was clear, and the air was cool and calm.

“If they’re going to gobble, it’ll be on a morning like this,” I thought.

Reaching my intended hunting spot requires driving a certain route. Inattention routed me to a different spot. Absorbed in thought, I didn’t realize the error until I was halfway there. I was momentarily angry, but I considered the possibility that the lapse was one of those “God” things that sometimes welds us to destiny.

It’s happened many times before, so I accepted my lot and began figuring out how to play the hand I was dealt.

On Monday, I struck a single gobble from a turkey shortly after flydown. A nearby logging crew prompted that bird to seek quick refuge in thick woods. That was the last turkey sound I heard until about 4:15 p.m., when a bird with the same voice gobbled three times while returning quickly to its roost area near the logging area.

My route would take me to within about a mile of another spot that contains the prettiest section of woods in that part of the Old Belfast Hunting Club. Great thickets border two sides, a young cutover borders another side, and a 4-year-old cutover borders a fourth side.

My pretty section has abundant cover and food, and open areas for a gobbler to strut and display.

It was already light when I arrived, so I placed two hen decoys conspicuously in a firebreak, a move that nearly proved grievous.

I put on my ghillie suit and my gloves, and I unpacked a collection of calls that included an Eddie Horton box made of black walnut with a bloodwood lid, a Bill Rhodes chinaberry box and a small chinaberry/slate pot call made by David Taylor of Sheridan, along with a David Taylor custom striker. I also stuffed a Patrick Frachiseur (pronounced Frazier) Premium Game Calls diaphragm in my mouth. It’s easy to blow, and its raspy tone is ideal for thick woods.

These calls were all made in Arkansas because — say it with me — we believe in Arkansas calls for Arkansas turkeys.

At about 6:40 a.m., I started scratching the Taylor slate. Its high, dulcet tone is loud but not overbearing, and it carries well in piney woods. From nearly a quarter mile away, up near the logging area, the chuckle of a distant gobble pricked my ear. The Lumberjack had reported to work.

That was the first time I ever played Horton’s walnut box in the woods, and the opening note made my heart leap. It was rich and clear, with a hint of rasp and a finishing bite. I scratched out a few plaintive yelps, and then made a counter call with the diaphragm.

Another gobble crackled through the pines a few minutes later. It was closer.

A “search” gobble has a distinct, interrogative timbre. The gobbler is looking for the call source, but this is a dangerous time because it’s also when a real hen is most likely to pick off a searching gobbler.

From closer still came a third search gobble. I made one more series of yelps on the box and then followed with a series of clucks. I followed that with a long series of purrs on the slate.

The next gobble sounded different. It had the assertive tone of a bird that was locked in, and he was coming fast.

This is a critical moment when you can easily do the wrong thing. Should I be quiet, aggressive, or somewhere in between?

I chose the latter. I clucked and purred with all three calls, with an occasional yelp on the slate.

And then came the sight that stole my breath.

Facing the sunrise, I looked down a straight row of tall pines that split the light into two distinct shafts that swirled like molten crystal in the mist. Through my persimmon-tinted shades, the effect was like stained glass.

At the top of the rise, about 150 yards away in the middle of a firebreak, the buff tips of a gobbler’s outstretched fan glowed like a fiery halo backlit by the sunrise.

The Lumberjack heralded his arrival with a cackling gobble, and then he spun, pranced and swayed down the illuminated firebreak.

Heart racing and fighting hyperventilation, I mustered up enough saliva to purr the mouth call.

The Lumberjack pulled in his feathers and trotted 10-15 yards and then displayed again. Then he thrust out his neck and belted out an entirely different kind of gobble. It was deep and resonant, booming basso and bluster.

He continued his triumphal march. Sixty yards. Fifty. Forty-five. Forty … Come on, baby, come on, come on …

Inside my Winchester SX3 were three 3-inch Winchester Long Beard Extra Range shells packed with 1 7/8 ounces of No. 6 shot. I patterned them out to 60 yards with a Trulock .660 constriction extended tube. I also zeroed a Truglo fiber optic site to 30-40 yards.

I waited for The Lumberjack to top the rise, but it all nearly fell apart when he finally saw the decoys.

I’ve noticed that two gobblers together mingle with decoys, but a single gobbler expects hens to follow him, so he will display at a distance and then veer away.

The Lumberjack did precisely that. Shielded by a tree, he stopped and eyed the motionless hens suspiciously. He intended to turn back downhill and drift into a thicket without offering a clear shot.

I blew a fighting cackle on the Frachiseur diaphragm, followed by a fighting purr. The Lumberjack displayed, then pivoted and walked about three yards into the open toward the decoys. He stopped, pulled in his feathers and stood up straight.

At 29 yards, the mass of the load slammed The Lumberjack like a cornerback leveling an inattentive receiver. The shot buffering material coated his feathers like talcum powder.

His beard was 9 ¾ inches, and his spurs were ¾ -inch. I didn’t weigh him, but he was about 19-20 pounds.

The time was 7:10 a.m., about the time my daughters board the school bus.

I wished them as fine a day as mine and began the long walk back to the truck.