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Saturday, June 04, 2011

What I Learned From a 500-Mile Gobbler

by Steve Sorensen
(Originally published in the Warren Times Observer, June 4, 2011.)

Tension mounted, but Dad’s whispered
words kept my thinking clear.
20½ pounds. 9-inch beard. 1-inch spurs.

That’s not one of the gobblers I shot this year. That was my first, way back in ’73, and to this day he remains the most memorable for the lessons he taught me. The hunt remains vivid in my memory, and hooked me forever on spring gobbler hunting.

I drove more than 500 miles, arriving home from Boston late at night. I tiptoed into the house and up the stairs. My vigilant parents were lying in bed wide awake, waiting for me to arrive safely home.

Dad had told me on the phone that he had located a gobbler, but as I stood in the doorway to their bedroom he said, “It’s raining. Do you still want to go?”

“That’s why I’ve been driving for the last nine hours.” I wasn’t worried at all that a Dad who would do anything for one of his sons would cancel our hunt.

A few hours of sleep were enough to erase my fatigue. I downed a bowl of Cheerios and dressed in my old woodland camo. When I discovered that the slide on my pump shotgun was broken, Dad handed me his old Ithaca double. We climbed into the International Scout and headed up Cobham Park Road through pelting rain.

By the time we stood on the hillside in the darkness the rain slackened to a drizzle. Two hundred yards downhill a throaty gobble broke the silence. We were novice turkey hunters but knew enough to close the distance, so we descended about a hundred yards to set up.

The root ball of a storm-toppled black cherry offered the perfect backdrop for father and son. I sat almost in Dad’s lap, and once we were comfortable I squeezed some air across the latex reed on my Penn’s Woods diaphragm call. The yelp was realistic enough to trigger an instant gobble.

That old boy spent the next 45 minutes cautiously putting one three-toed foot in front of the other, advancing toward my amateur calling. Tension mounted, but Dad’s whispered words kept my thinking clear. I enticed the gobbler to about 40 yards, and he began circling to our right looking for the hen that existed only in his imagination.

I followed him with the shotgun, so slowly the movement was undetectable. I twisted my torso as far to my right as I could and then inched the buttplate of the shotgun across my chest from my right shoulder to my left. When I realized I needed to take the shot, I was looking down the barrel with my left eye.

From that awkward position, I fired the full choke barrel on the antique shotgun. I remember running toward the flopping gobbler and putting my foot on his head.

Turkey hunting lessons are sometimes tough to learn, but that hunt eliminated several myths I had believed up to that point.

Myth: Gobblers clam up during the rain. Not so. Rain doesn’t bother them a bit. In fact, if it’s a thunderstorm that’s keeping you out of the woods, you’re probably missing some great turkey hunting action.

Myth: Your calls must be perfect to get a gobbler to come. False. I was certainly no expert caller then, and I’m not now. Some real hens are surprisingly awful, and gobblers come to them every day.

Myth: You can’t move when a gobbler is in sight. That’s fiction. Movements are always a calculated risk, but at times you can get away with very, very slow motion. More than once since then I’ve pulled them off successfully.

Myth: Some days you’re better off staying in bed. Usually wrong. Although some things are more important than hunting spring gobblers, rarely is staying in bed one of them.

Myth: Nothing is better than lugging a longbeard over your shoulder. At the top of the hill that day, we met a couple of hard-core turkey hunters who were also after this great bird, and it really felt good to be the one carrying the trophy. But Dad’s point of view was the right one – nothing is better than watching your hunting partner be successful, especially when you’re passing the hunting tradition from father to son.


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