Spring Gobbler Hunting At A Historic Virginia Venue

by Chris McCotter


At dawn, a gobbler sounds off at nine o’clock about 150 yards out and that triggers gobblers to answer the challenge at 10:30, 12, 5 and 7 o’clock.  For reference, imagine I’m sitting in the middle of a clock and the birds at five and seven are far off and not on the farm; but I am surrounded by at least six and perhaps as many as eight, vocal gobblers.  

   It simply does not get any better than this.  So, I pick up my close in slate and scratch a tree call trying to sound like a sleepy hen either scolding the loud ones or perhaps saying, “Hey I’m here and I’d like to get to know you”.  It works as each of the birds gobble and one even double gobbles.  Wow!

   I’m on Mt. Airy Farm just outside Warsaw, Virginia hunting a spot I was sent to before daylight by Mr. Tayloe Emery, chief guide and owner of Mt. Airy and a very good close friend.  Mt. Airy has quite a history going back to pre-Revolutionary days.  Being alongside a marsh and river with uplands and a lake, the plantation is a sportsman’s paradise.  

   Using my normal routine, I then go quiet and imagine the birds in their respective trees stretching their necks in my direction, looking at each other and saying “Did you hear that?  I didn’t know she was there.”  

   With their normal lack of patience, they wait no more than five minutes and each gobbles.  Afraid to let the others get an advantage, they start competing and I still don’t answer.  Maybe 15 minutes later, close to fly down time, I give another tree call followed by a louder but still soft series of melodic (hopefully) yelps.  They explode with gobbles; I may have to shoot a bird in self-defense.  These birds are HOT!

   Maybe 10 minutes after that, I see the first one fly down almost straight to the ground, which triggers two others to do the same.  “Can’t let the other birds get ahead of me,” each one apparently thinks.  I am smiling broadly but that makes calling with my diaphragm call pretty difficult.  I have to stay serious.  Then, dog gone it, I hear the dreaded yelps of several hens (turns out to be three) and see them fly down.  They are with the two birds and immediately, I hear the assembly yelping of the dominant hen.  Of course, the two together go straight to her and the lone bird starts in that direction.  I know, for I see heads above the grasses and fluttering wings as they stretch periodically.

   They feed across the field with the hens leading them not away from but certainly not closer to me ,so I fight fire with fire.  I also issue an assembly series of yelps followed by some purring and clucks.  Each series of that draws a response, so I know I am calling all right but hey, they are thinking “I’ve got three birds in sight, I’m not going to that other bird, but she sure sounds sweet”.  Every time I call, the gobblers stretch their necks and look in my direction.  They are still about 150 yards out moving left to right, so they do not come closer but do not go further away.

   The hens clear the tall grasses and I can see them plainly.  They also look when I call but they have the gobblers in tow, so they are rather softly yelping and purring.  They are headed across the field, are almost to the woods edge and are definitely not coming to me.

   I think “I can’t go wrong for if I don’t do something aggressive, the gobblers will follow them out of sight” but then, immediately behind me a hen starts yelping.  She is within 50 yards but I can’t see for the trees and besides, she is off the farm.  If she had a gobbler in tow, I still could not shoot.  

   The gobblers now are clearing the tall grasses and when they hear her, they stop, stretch their necks, and, of course, gobble.  I imagine their saying to each other “Now there are two hens over there, maybe we should?  No, our girls are still in sight, let’s stick with them”.  So, they start again across the field following the hens.

  I decide to try an aggressive trick that has about a 50/50 chance of working.  I cackle loudly and aggressively.  When I stop, they gobble and I cut their gobble off with another cackle, etc.  This goes on maybe 30 seconds and they say “OK, let’s go get her”.  Much like guys I went to college with, they then start to compete with each other. One runs towards me about 30 yards which turns on the other two and they run 40 yards in my direction, etc. all the way to my decoy.  The same bird consistently goes into strut when they stop, so he must be the dominant turkey.  This continues until I can see their lusty eyeballs at about 25 yards.  They are all long beards so I will take any of them, but they bunch into a tight group making a shot impossible.

   So, I wait.  The dominant bird breaks strut, folds and drops down.  Uh oh, he may be running off but then he sticks his head up to look and is now separated from the others.  One shot from my old American side by side with a turkey choke and a three-inch load of Hevi-shot mix (5, 6, and 7) ends his strutting days.  The other two have no idea what just happened so they just look.  I expect to see them flog him as it is now their chance to get even (I’ve seen this several times), but they don’t.  They look at each other and start trotting in the direction of the three hens who now have drifted out of sight.  Again, like my old college buddies, they have one thing on their minds and it’s not fighting.

   Dwain Bland (a famous ole Oklahoma turkey hunter) taught me to not get up and run at the bird.  Keep your shotgun on him and if he lifts his head off the ground, shoot again.  If not, wait until the other gobblers are out of sight.  If you run at him like some TV guys do, Dwain felt you are educating the other birds.  I follow his advice and savor the moment.  I just called three mature gobblers from three hens and had them almost in my pocket.  Life is great.

  The beautiful gobbler had a 12-inch beard, 1 ¼-inch spurs and weighed in at 22 pounds.  You know, I am just as proud of lesser birds as they all give their lives to feed me and my family/friends.  I put my hand on him, said a prayer and gave him a tasty looking green for his last meal (there were no bugs around as it is early season and quite cool).

   I’m 75 folks and have been doing this for many years.  I absolutely love turkey hunting and if I’m lucky, I’ll die at about 100 still doing it.  Get out there and chase those birds.

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