Chris Ellis: A turkey hunt that will be remembered
I am saddened to say, it’s over. Another West Virginia spring gobbler season has slipped away.
I can’t complain, I had a wonderful season. I had a gift turkey walk right in to my calls and I had a successful hunt calling for a dear friend of mine that was much overdue. There were lots of fun days afield in between the first day of season and the last.
I love the last week of the season for several reasons, but the main reason is my high success rate of luck over the years. This year was no exception. Here is the story.
A call to my farm neighbor revealed a simple fact he had a gobbler located. “Perfect,” I thought. It is always good to have step one checked off your list. But then he revealed, “I’ve hunted this turkey the past several years and he is hard to get to and even harder to kill.” The cards were on the table and I was looking at a straight draw at best when the last card was dealt.
In the turkey-hunting world, I was presented a classic case of a hand-off or give-away turkey. When a turkey frustrates a hunter to the point he offers the chance at him to other hunters, you know it’s a long shot. Having said that, I had my last-week-of-season magic in my back pocket.
After walking a black-diamond ski slope of a mountain hillside, he gobbled in the dark. With my lungs aching for air and my legs burning, we sat down to listen to the morning wake up. He gobbled at first light and in fact, his gobbling caused a reaction of two more to gobble. At fly down time, we heard hens cackling and yelping as their feet hit the ground. Not a good scenario at all. It was time to march to the much-discussed battlefield with a location determined by us and not the turkeys.
We made our first set up high above them on a narrow spine ridge. They gobbled at our calls, at themselves, and the crows, geese flying over and even went bonkers when a pack of coyotes yipped and howled in delight at their kill. The old gobbler was heard often but never seemed to be any closer. The two running together seemed to gain some ground toward us, but eventually everyone walked off.
Set up two was made in haste on a high point on the ridge when the two turkeys decided to yell back at my call. The old gobbler was heard once way around the mountain and we considered his gobble as a parting shot and a thank you for playing his game. After 30 minutes of answering every one of my calls, both good and the squeaky bad ones, they walked off.
One of the big mysteries in the late season woods is how a turkey can be so close and you can’t see them. These two boys were close, real close, but the foliage and terrain were horrible and eventually they got frustrated and split.
After three hours of pursuit, I was ready to give in and let these hand-off turkeys celebrate yet another victory in the warm, spring sunshine. My farmer neighbor was right, these are tricky turkeys and even trickier terrain.
They had us beaten, game over. I was ready to admit defeat to anyone who would listen over a plate of fried eggs and bacon down at the restaurant. And then the old, lone gobbler messed up. He gobbled at a barred owl’s hoot, once. I quickly sent the notes of a screaming-loud crow call followed by a series of fast cuts on my old wooden box call toward him.
He simply couldn’t keep his mouth shut. When the crows starting flying above the ridge calling back at me and with the hoot owl chiming in with his calls a few more times, the old gobbler couldn’t help himself but to gobble. And in doing so, allowed us enough time to quickly sit under a tree on the ridge looking down on a bench of hardwoods below.
I called to him quietly as I could. No answer. After a brief moment of silence, he strutted into our view from stage left and the monarch of the hardwoods gobbled. The report of a shotgun filled the warm air signaling the hunt was over.
It was a day in the spring hardwoods of West Virginia that I will not soon forget.
Chris Ellis of Fayetteville, W.Va., an outdoorsman and Marshall University graduate, is owner of Ellis Communications, a public relations agency serving the outdoor industry. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.