I arrived at the farm at 5 AM, just as Ed was rounding up the cows to go in for morning milking. After a brief talk with him I headed across the fog shrouded pasture in the light of the rising sun. The long grass was wet with morning dew and it promised to be a hot one later in the day. I loaded the shotgun as I crossed the first pasture of rolling ground. When I reached the far end I of the pasture I took out my slate call and gave a few clucks, hoping to hear a gobble to help me decide which way to go. There were fields in both directions and we had seen turkeys in both over the past few weeks. No gobblers sounded off so I cautiously edged up to the next field and scanned it for turkeys. The ground was hilly with pastures bordered by woods where the ground is steepest. The rough ground gave the opportunity to creep up unseen, but it also hid any birds that might be just out of sight in any direction.
As I eased over the rise and scanned the field of uncut hay steaming in the morning fog - Good Heavens! There was a turkey. There might have been two but I couldn’t be sure because as soon as I saw a bird I ducked behind a bush so that they didn’t see me. Peaking between the branches I could clearly see a hen turkey 300 yards away at the far end of the field. She was only about 50 yards from the woods and headed toward it. I called again and she stopped to listen but showed no inclination to come my way. In fact, she started edging toward the woods.
Hens are not legal game in the spring turkey season, but she might be with other birds and I reasoned that even if she were alone she might bring in some toms. So I didn’t want to let her get away. I got low and backed out. I worked my way into the woods. Using a gully and tree cover to keep something between us at all times I hustled to her end of the field and when I figured that I was within 60 or 70 yards, I cautiously made my way slowly and quietly up the slope and through the woods to the fence line at the edge of the open ground. A stout 3 foot page wire fence kept the cows in my side, but beyond the fence the open ground of uncut hay field rose to a crest about 30 yards away. Suddenly she was there. A long turkey neck topped with a slate gray head popped up out of the 18 inch grass at the top of that rise. Oh man, I thought for sure I was busted. I froze just inside the tree line in my head to toe camo and waited. After an eternity (2, 3, maybe 4 minutes) she FLEW straight at me and directly over my head to the tree I was standing under. She took a roost 20 feet directly above my head.
Well NOW what do I do? I can’t move or she will see me. I can’t try to call toms in or she will surely spot me when I make noise. Well – what CAN I do? Wait. I reasoned that there is absolutely no better decoy than a live hen and even though she was completely silent, I couldn’t call without giving myself away. Alarming a hen would sure as heck scare any other birds away. So, I waited staring at a turkey but and hoping that she’d break her silence and call some toms in. About 20 minutes later (after she almost pooped on me!) she flew right back down to where she had been and began hunting bugs. I could hear gobbles a half mile away off to my right, but I hated to leave this live hen within 30 yards. So for the next 20 minutes she fed in and out of sight in that high grass, over the ridge and back time and again. I could hear those toms from a long ways away but they just weren’t getting closer. Meanwhile, the hen fed away and came back. Fed away and came back. Fed away and came back this time with a red head! What the heck? A silent tom had approached across the field!
I reached for the shotgun….and he clucked, putted, and ran away! I was BUSTED. The hen was no where to be seen. The tom was on to me and ran off out of sight. I had a 3 foot fence uphill from me between us to get over. I had NO chance of running after him. DRAT!
I climbed over the fence and all the while watching for the birds I had just scared, worked my way to the far corner of the field closest to the distant gobbles I heard. I began calling. I was listening for the far gobbles to tell me which direction I should go next. But instead of the far gobbles I heard “PUT” from back across the open field I had just emptied of birds. I called again. “PUT – PUT-PUT” It was closer. The field was 100 yards wide with a rise in the middle of it from this side. Beyond that was a patch of woods and in that patch of woods the gobbler I had just lost was calling back to me.
Judging by the sound, over the next half hour he worked his way back to the tree-line but wasn’t willing to come back into the open. After 3 weeks of turkey hunting without a shot, I wasn’t about to give up because he wouldn’t come to me. I dumped my gear except for the shotgun and call and began crawling toward him through the high grass. I expected to see a turkey head pop over the ridge and spot me every foot of ground I covered as I slowly moved forward. I crept all the way to the ridge crest then barely hidden by the top of the rise, I called “cluck cluck cluck” and my turkey gave the first gobble I had heard from him. Now that I knew where he was I pocketed the call, double checked my Browning’s safety, stood up and took two steps forward over the rise.
He was 50 yards away right at the tree line. He swapped ends and headed for cover just as my load of #5 shot dumped him.
He was not a heavy bird. Only 15 pounds with a 7 inch beard and ¾ inch spurs. I’d think he was a young tom except that his wing feathers are all ragged and he was really a big bird despite not being heavy. We had a hard time getting him in the roaster! But he is delicious. I invited my folks up for Sunday dinner and we had Thanksgiving in May. Roast turkey, mashed and sweet potatoes, green beans, grilled bread, turkey gravy, cranberry jelly, and a lemon pie for dessert.
The KY. season was a good one here, plenty of bird,s but they were quar about the way they gobbled this year. I nailed a jake the only one i got this year. Meat that's whats its about for me. Real nice bird there i love the color of those birds down there.
Turkeys are not much more difficult to raise than chickens. We have 27 of them out in the yard getting fat.
Heirloom birds (old breeds coming back from near extinction) are much smarter, taste better and can breed with no help from us. (The commercial Broad Breasted White sold in grocery stores has had the ability to fly and the ability to breed bred right out of them. They are raised in large overcrowded barns in stinking conditions. The breeding stock is artifically inseminated and the young are all raised in incubators. To add insult to injury, they are injected with salt solution that is usually 10% of the total selling weight! Read the label this Thanksgiving.)
It is a smart idea to be in charge of the protein source your family consumes. We raise our own rabbits and turkeys. We know what they eat and know that they have had no antibiotics or growth hormones slipped into their chow. We don't use chemical fertilizers or pesticides around our place, so we know they don't have to eat that stuff in their grass and clover.
Small critters are a good choice. In the event the utilities aren't functioning, a family can consume an entire rabbit or turkey before it spoils. You can't do that with a steer!