The month of April is without a doubt one of the favored months of the year for the majority of our nations’ turkey hunters. In the South, the dogwoods bloom and the grass turns green, and for the most part, the turkeys gobble.
April 13th marked the opening day of the North Carolina spring turkey season and it was a day that was long anticipated. We had been seeing birds at the farm and in local fields for weeks.
Hunting the farm for turkeys, was something Forrest had never done. “They’re like my kids, I have watched them grow into longbeards and have given them somewhere to call home.” Talking about the birds like they were his ‘kin’, he was anticipating the first turkey hunt on the property. After seeing trail camera pictures of gobblers in full strut, our excitement had soared.
The week prior to the opening of the NC season had been filled with emotions. Forrest’s grandfather had been placed in hospice care earlier in the week and Forrest spent that time bedside with his Grandpa Breedlove. Throughout the week, I learned this: Grandpa loved three things, his horses, Forrest and the farm. Through the night of April 11th, Forrest’s grandfather passed away.
Although opening day was near, we had decided that hunting wasn’t a priority and had plans on postponing our first hunt. The night of Friday the 12th, Forrest decided that in the blind is where we should be. With a last-minute decision, we plugged all the battery packs in and organized all of the camera equipment along with our gear, then hit the hay.
The alarm went off and without hesitation we gathered our belongings and walked to the back of the property. After setting up the decoys, cameras and blind, we settled in our chairs to watch the woods come alive. In the distance, we heard the silence break. The first gobble of the morning echoed from ‘the bottom’ at the back of the farm.
A short time later, the gobbler erupted again, this time-closer. He was on the ground and headed our way. The bird had worked his way to the front of the property, frequently letting us know his location. By the time the sun had filled the sky, Tom was [what I like to call] ‘comin in hot’! After a sequence of calls with the Road Kill Split V, the bird gobbled and gobbled and gobbled and gobbled [you get the hint], all from the same spot. He wasn’t coming any closer. In fact, he was leaving! Still gobbling, but still leaving. Another gobble echoed in the distance. “Well… shoot.”
Come to realize this bird had hit the culvert in between our setup and his location. He didn’t want to come, but we knew in actuality that he DID want to come. For the next few hours we listened to the stubborn tom make his way back and forth across the hollow, coming towards us then walking away. “He wants to come in.” Forrest said with certainty.
Giving him time to ponder, we decided to play hard-to-get with this gobbler. We put the calls down and waited. Not long after, a blasting gobble startled us. “He’s coming, get ready.” Forrest whispered with excitement.
I grabbed my bow and scanned the woods, anticipating the bopping head of the tom. There he was! Without blinking, I stared at the longbeard coming towards us through the woods. His steady pace assured me of his destiny. As the camera scrolled and focused on the tom, the steady stroll became… not so steady. The bird stretched his neck and eyed the setup from 40 yards away. The direction of his steps switched. After standing in the woods for a few seconds analyzing the spread on the other side of the field, this bird decided that… “He’s leaving,” Forrest whispered.
Mentally begging ol’ tom not to go, I watched as his beady head went out of sight. Forrest was right, he was leaving. As I lost sight of him through the woods, the pounding in my chest subsided. In the distance, the bird gobbled again, and again and later… again.What happened? We got him across the gully, we got him to do something he didn’t want to do… then he left!?
Welcome to turkey hunting!
As we sat and analyzed what had just happened, we could still hear the tom in the distance. “He didn’t like something,” Forrest shrugged.We packed up and headed back to the house around 1:00, we had family affairs to attend for Grandpa Breedlove.
Although there was no bird bagged, my first longbeard experience was nothing short of thrilling. Working the mature bird and watching it come in was something I’d attempted, but hadn’t experienced.
Saturday night, after contemplating where we wanted to go and after a few ideas tossed around, we decided on a property that Forrest hadn’t hunted much nor have we scouted. As we looked at an aerial of the property, I exclaimed, “Let’s give it a shot!”
Sunday morning came with a flash. With our belly’s growling, we decided to swing by Bojangles’ for some pre-hunt fuel. To our astounding eyes, they were closed! Deciding to wait till later to eat, we kept on our way.
After parking, we unloaded the truck and strapped on our backpacks+decoys+chairs+camera bag+bows… we began our hike. When we hit the field edge a half mile later, the sweat was beginning to form on my head.
We made our way across the field and decided on a spot to set up. After popping up the blind and putting the decoy spread out, Forrest set up GoPros in the field as I packed our belongings into the blind.
6:20 am, we were ready. With my bow leaned against the blind, I slouched down in my chair and crossed my feet. Minutes later we heard silence break with a gobble in the far distance. “He’s roosted down in the bottom behind us, pretty far off,” Forrest explained. “He could possibly make his way up here at some point today.”
Well, for no scouting.. I was already feeling pretty good about our property selection.
Making small talk, Forrest and I began sharing scenarios of the days outcome and stories of past hunts.
“STRUTTER!” as Forrest glances out the right side of the blind, he taps my leg and draws my attention to his visual. “Move slow,” he directed. With my eyes locked on the huge tom, I slowly reached to the left for my bow. With no arrow nocked, I focused my attention on silently getting an arrow on my string. Constantly making eye contact with the tom. “This bird came out of nowhere!!,” I thought to myself.
“The camera isn’t working!” Forrest frustratingly whispered. My mind flashed back to the truck earlier that morning, while unloading the gear Forrest had placed his tripod/camera on the ground, to which it had fallen and hit.
My movement had frozen. I was now prepared to draw, but was watching Forrest attempt to slowly rummage through his backpack to dig out a different camera.
With the bird 10 yards in front of my face, I sat in awe of its movements. Blown up in full strut, this tom was pushing the DSD jake decoy around in semi circles. Once beating on the jake, the gobbler had his way with the decoy.
What seemed like eternity, Forrest’s had gotten his second camera in his hands and now recording, he gave me the go-ahead. As I cautiously drew back, I maintained eye contact with the tom, making sure I wouldn’t get caught. With the tom using his chest to push the jake around, he began to circle back towards the submissive hen on the ground. Anchored and waiting for my shot, I watched the bird turn broadside. With my pin on my mark, I squeezed the trigger.
As the arrow flew with the Firenock lit, POP! In awe, I watched as the bird jumped and flipped and tumbled to a mere 15 yards away. What seemed to be slow motion had actually happened in a flash! That is where he stopped, stone dead.
In that instant, exhilaration and excitement had overwhelmed me! As the thrill of the kill came over me, a celebration began in the blind. Forrest and I were high-fiving, hugging, laughing and enjoying the success. “Go get your bird!” as he high-fived me again.
As I crawled out of the blind, my heart is still pounding from what had just transpired. I bent down to pat the ol’ tom for providing me the opportunity, “Hold it up!” I hear from the blind. I grabbed the two legs, looking at the spurs of my first longbeard and held it up (prouder than a peacock). Smiling from ear to ear, I dance my way back towards the blind.
“He didn’t even gobble!” I laughed with astonishment, now examining the bird back at the blind. “He knew where he wanted to be,” Forrest explained, “He wanted to be in this field.”
As I kneel next to the gobbler, petting its feathers with pride, I am taken back by the happenings of the week and am beyond grateful for the opportunity the gobbler presented. My first North Carolina bird, my first gobbler, the first bird I experienced up-close in full strut and to top it off, my first turkey bow kill. A memory that will stay with me forever.
Like two kids in a candy store, Forrest and I spent the rest of morning sitting in the blind grinning like opossums.
We replay the camera falling that morning, it not functioning when the gobbler came in, the turkey not gobbling to warn us he was coming… still all lead to success (and a very happy girl).