First, I always find it hilarious that Stoke City is an actual Futbol (but, you know, not like actual football) Club in Europe, and every time I hear that name I have to chuckle. Makes me picture a big stadium full of super chill, albeit very stoked, surfers, rather than a stadium full of super rowdy, destructive, drunken English hooligans. I also have decided to use it as a descriptive term for a state or place where the overwhelming sentiment is stokedddddd. Second, I have to apologize for my extended disappearance from the blog. Trouble is that I had been in a prolonged drought. Luckily, that drought has since ended but it would be misleading for me to only posts my highlights… So, in essence, this post is my preemptively airing my dirty laundry before getting to the stokeeeee, bra.
Last Spring, I had a pretty well thought out post all teed up for turkey season, but apparently the turkey had other plans. They made that point clear with a couple emphatic lowlights for me. I don’t pretend to be a skilled hunter per se (or a skilled anything, for that matter), so I’ll go ahead and briefly share these two stories for your reading enjoyment… and, well, to clear my conscience. Feel free to not even read this post.
1. Samantha and I took a week vacation about two weeks into the six week spring turkey season. In theory, we planned to hunt 4 days of that week, but in the back of my mind I was hoping we could bag a turkey earlier and then relax a little. Ha. We actually called a couple gobblers in close and had them strutting at about 20 – 30 yards the first day. The woods were absolutely going off with gobbles that morning, but the boys we were working stayed just out of eyesight and I couldn’t get them to close that gap. In truth, I probably got desperate and over-called to them. We were set up along a sandy firebreak so we could definitively see track where they had been strutting on our way back to the truck.
Anyway, we worked the same general area (and probably birds) the next two mornings, but to no avail. The last day we set up at a spot where the road met the firebreak, figuring that we had the tom in this area’s daily pattern more or less down. I set up the decoys about 15 yards passed us – slightly beyond where the two roads met – and we cozied up under an oak tree right at the corner, where the paths intersected. Samantha had a flight that evening leaving from FLL, which is about a 5.5 hour drive from where I hunt. Keep that in mind. Around 9:30, we both got a little antsy and I started feeling the pressure was on. I couldn’t believe that we’d had 4 days together – my big chance to get her excited about turkey hunting – and it had been a shutout thus far. (Not to mention, I still have not bagged a turkey of my own.) Earlier we’d heard some gobbling behind us to our right, so I thought we could quietly work counter-clockwise (to our left) along the firebreak and then circle around behind the birds and work them. We left the decoys and started stalking our way around and about 3/4 of the way around the loop, we heard a tom start hammering gobbles. Then we saw drag marks from his wing tips in the road. I called to him a little and he was hot but it sounded like he was still moving away. We tiptoed a little further, jumped into the brush and called to him. As soon as I stopped, I heard him gobble but at this point we were about 7/8 of the way back to our decoys. I thought it was a little weird that he’d be this keyed in to my hen yelps without coming in our direction, but figured it was because he was all henned up and the ladies didn’t want to change course. It then dawned on me, shit, from where he was he could definitely see our decoys in the road. We sneaked out and peaked around the bend but no turkey to be seen so we slinked back to our decoys. Tracks from a nice tom led me straight to the jake decoy first, which he had apparently taken some swipes at and nearly knocked over. Then he’d gone for the hen. You could see the sand on what would have been her butt if she were real… I couldn’t believe it. That tom had snuck in and banged our decoy. Normally, that would be ideal but I guess the point is that we weren’t there to watch (sounds pretty creepy, eh?) and put a shell in him for doing so. We tracked him a little further down the path and attempted to call him in. At this point, it was about 10:15 and I knew we needed to get on the road in the next 15 minutes or there was a good chance she’d miss her flight. Despite his run-in with the decoys, he was still raring to go. He was cutting me off in the middle of each of my yelps, and he was just on the other side of a stand of palmettos. I could hear him pacing back and forth as he gobbled but again wouldn’t or maybe couldn’t get in eyesight. As a last ditch effort, I tried to run around the palmettos and surprise him but he was long gone when I got there. With that, we tucked tail (a little too late for the lady decoy’s liking) and Samantha went home empty-handed.
2. Not wanting to let that tom go, I got back out there and tried to hunt him another time but didn’t get another good opportunity. Late in the season when I’d finally given up on that general area, I decided to head to another spot where I’d seen a lot of turkey activity throughout the year. This time my buddy, Cameron, was with me. The spot we went to is a well-canopied oak hammock that opens into a big field that had been clear cut not too long ago. It’s pretty ideal for these savvy turkeys as they don’t tend to like big open terrain (which is not plentiful in that area anyhow) but this spot has just enough to give the toms a nice zone for strutting will still giving them the safety of the woods nearby. There is a bottleneck that funnels animals from the canopied woods into the clearing, and at either side of the opening there was a pile of cut logs stacked about 3 feet high. I decided to set up at the far end of the log pile looking into the field and then have Cam setup perpendicular to me against a tree to monitor that bottleneck… Or at least, that was the intent. I then set the decoys about 15 yards beyond my and Cam’s spot so that any gobbler working the decoys would be in my line of sight from either direction (and well into Cam’s). The sun rose to my soft purrs, clucks and eventual cuts but the serenity was abruptly shaken by a nearby gobbler freshly off the roost. Just as I’d hoped. He was in the woods but I could hear him picking his way toward us. As I continued to pique his interest, my adrenalin started to pump so much so that I had the pre-shot jitters. I had that sense of anticipation that at any second the crackling leaves would give way to a fat, old tom in plain sight. Instead, the woods just fell silent. After a half hour of silent hope-turned-agony, I heard a gobble but this time it was well in the distance in the opposite direction of where I’d heard the tom. My heart sank. I finally whispered to Cam a few feet away, “What the hell happened?” He shrugged back to me and said, “I don’t know. Couldn’t see anything.” We sat for about another hour but I was too disappointed to keep hunting. When we got up and went over, the deep strut marks were clear as day in the sugar sand and not 10 yards from our line of sight and 25 yards from the decoys (probably equidistant from us). We could see he’d been pirouetting for the ladies, presumably doing his best one-man, interpretative dance to my calls.
Sometimes, I think it’s the challenge of hunting that keeps me excited. Then again, sometimes I also think I just tell myself that because there’s nothing else to be excited about at those moments. Probably an element of both exists but neither answer satisfies my belly… Or my pride. Next year will be the revenge turkey tour and ensuing feast.