Ella Anderson, 13, of Russellville, went multiple rounds with one of the toughest turkeys in his neck of the woods and came out the winner.
Not a bad way for a young woman to begin her turkey hunting career.
Assisted by her father Tye Anderson, Ella encountered a big gobbler on May 1 that her uncle Ray Anderson had seen near his deer stand. The gobbler arrived on schedule and strutted about 100 yards away, but he wouldn't come closer.
"He sat there and looked a few times," Ella said.
That was Ella's first 'hang-up,' the maddening propensity of gobblers to plant their spurs well out of range and refuse to budge. If you can see a turkey, the turkey can see you better, so moving is out of the question. A hunter can only pray for another opportunity, but that gobbler captured Ella's fancy.
"I really wanted him, but he wouldn't cooperate," she said. "I wish he would have come a little closer, but I'm glad he got close enough where I could actually see him."
"That's a four- or five-year old bird," Tye said. "He was really smart. He's probably been through that a few times."
Fortunately, Ella and Tye didn't spook the gobbler, so he was still in play on May 2. For the second round, Ray Anderson, an accomplished turkey hunter, joined Ella's crew to add his skills to the effort. On the second morning, the group sat where the gobbler strutted the day before. They heard a turkey fly down from its roost.
"We didn't know what it was," Ella said. "Uncle Ray said 'Get ready.' We looked and looked and looked to see if it was a gobbler or a hen."
It was a hen. Ray taunted the hen, and the hen responded forcefully.
"They had a long conversation," Ella said.
A gobbler butted into the conversation, and two others offered their opinions, as well, Ella said, but the big gobbler from the day before was absent. Her heart was set on that bird, so the group prepared to relocate.
Experienced gobblers have another maddening propensity to eavesdrop on conversations silently from a distance. If something doesn't sound quite right, they watch until something justifies their suspicions. Usually, their instincts are correct.
"We were going to get up and go around, but when we got up, he saw us and turned around and walked off," Ella said. "He never said a thing."
"The day before, he gobbled his head off, but on Day Two, he says nothing," she groused, repeating a complaint that every turkey hunter has uttered.
As Miles Davis once said, it's not the note you played that's wrong. The next note you play makes the first note right or wrong. Likewise, a premature move doesn't necessarily wreck a turkey hunt if it's the right move.
Ella said the group walked a wide arc through the woods to the spot where they sat the previous day. The spot is beside a road which is clear on both sides. The only cover was a lone stump. Ella sat beside a stump. Ray set a jake decoy in the middle of the road and then began calling.
"We heard one up the road dragging his wings," Ella said, describing a gobbler's drumming behavior. When gobblers strut, they emit a deep bass sound and drag their wingtips on the ground.
"I could hear rocks popping," Ella said. "He was that close, but we couldn't see him. There was at least one, but Ray said there could be as many as three."
Two hens passed the group, but one sensed something wasn't right and began putting.
Tye told Ella to get ready because things were about to go really wrong or really right.
The gobbler drumming up the road materialized a mere five steps away from Ella.
"He peeked at the stump and said, 'Nope!' " Ella said.
The gobbler turned to leave, but it's one mistake in that chess match was terminal. At 6:50 a.m., Ella shot the bird at 13 steps with a Franchi Affinity 20-gauge loaded with 11/2 ounces of Browning 7 and 9 blend Tungsten Super Shot. The turkey weighed 20 pounds and sported a 93/4-inch beard and 1-inch spurs. Half of its tail feathers were missing.
"I thought Ella shot his fan off, but that wasn't the case," Tye said. He speculated that the gobbler lost its tailfeathers fighting, or from an encounter with a predator.