It was hot. Maybe too hot for good turkey hunting, but, admittedly, I’m not sure about how heat effects turkey. All I know is that with thermometer reading 33 * Celsius, it was too hot for this turkey hunter trudging up the steep hill towards a small secluded field behind Chip Woodman’s place. Carrying shotgun, decoy, and comfy little seat. Reaching a spot near the field, I spied a big blow down I had successfully called in bird in previous years. As sweat poured off me, I decided that was as good as spot as any.
I hit the call and was immediately rewarded with a gobble. Before I could answer back, three more loud gobbles were bouncing around the woods. I ducked in and replied with my best lonesome hen. More gobbles…this time closer.
Being a rookie caller, I decided to call infrequently or not at all if the bird kept coming. And come he did. Despite hearing his progress through gobbles, I was startled when I seen him hop up on a long and glare right at me. I was caught kind of flat footed so to speak (although I was flat on my butt), but my one hope was there being no way he could have spotted movement from his approach. And indeed, movement is what gets a hunter 99% of the time when hunting these keen-eyed birds.
The bird would pace back and fourth on the log. The bright red head told me he was suspicious of something. After what felt like several lifetimes, he finally looked past me and spied the lone hen decoy. To an eager gobbler, when everything works, a lone hen is like finding the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. And this dude wanted some of that gold. He hopped off the log and worked his way around from behind me to my side and eventually to in front of me. I slid the shotgun forward on a convenient rest. The bird hit a half strut. He was 15 yards away and in a world of trouble.
The issue was with the quick half strut, I couldn’t tell if it was a Jake or a Tom. I’m sure a more experienced turkey hunter would have been able to, but I was unsure. At one point, I thought, frig it, take the Jake. A bird in hand…all that stuff.
As I snicked of the Remington’s safety an audible click sounded like a gun shot to me. The bird didn’t seem to mind. Then it hit me, the law says any legal bird must have a visible beard. I pushed the button back to safe and waited for the bird to turn so I could see a beard.
I honestly thought the only question would be if it was a Jake or Tom. I had my finger on the safety ready to push it to fire, while covering the birds neck with the front bead. Minutes ticked by before he turned.
Must be a Jake I remember thinking as I didn’t see the telltale paintbrush beard of a 2 year or older bird. I wrestled with the idea of taking the Jake. Had I been carrying my bow…I would try for it in a flash but with the shotgun, I wasn’t sure.
Meanwhile I kept looking. And you know what? There was no visible beard on that bird. From 13-15 yards, there’s no way I’d miss a beard, even a cigar stub of a Jake’s. I watched and waited for a beard to appear, and despite 10 minutes of it circling the decoy at every angle imaginable, no beard was to be seen.
Once I realized it must have had beard rot or ripped it off somehow, I thanked my lucky stars I held off, following the rules to the letter, as in seeing a visible beard before firing despite it being a male. The rules say a legal bird must have a beard and this one didn’t.
Twenty years ago, that beardless bird may have bothered me, and I would have cursed my bad luck. These days, I just smiled and realized I will remember this encounter more in this way then I would have if I simply would have killed it.
Walking down off the hill later in the afternoon…I knew I’d be banging out this crazy meeting on the keyboard. I was good with that.