An eastern wild turkey is in the bag, and I'm halfway to the goal of a single-season grand slam of four of North America's wild turkey species. The Osceola fell last month in south Florida, and the eastern hit the dirt in southeast Kansas just after dawn Wednesday.
I even tagged a second eastern in Kansas on Friday morning just to round things out. World Pro Tips contributor Jack Morris and I just weren't satisfied with the video footage from the first morning's irregularities.
It all started as planned. In darkness, we quietly slipped into the buckbrush at the edge of a freshly planted cornfield and settled our backs against some tree trunks. Turkeys slept in their roost - up in some oaks, hedge trees and sycamores - across a creek and on the neighbor's property.
I was to do some tree-calls, a fly-down cackle and whatever else might be required to bring in a gobbler, with help from a single hen decoy on the cornfield.
One of the great joys in turkey hunting is taking part in the dawn conversation. Whip-poor-wills end their night songs as barred owls call through the transition from dark to light. Coyotes and crows chime in here and there. Cardinals, usually, are the first songbirds to stir, and shortly thereafter the tom turkeys begin to complain about the owls and coyotes. Hens begin to stir and softly yelp and cluck.
That's the time for the hunter to chime in, to talk along with the hens and try to gain the attention of those gobblers. The idea is to get their attention and then hit them with a fly-down cackle and some contented yelps just before they fly down from the roost.
But on Wednesday a hen flew from its roost in the dark, then another, then another. The toms gobbled as each girl rushed off but, mostly, all fell silent.
The problem revealed itself with a little more daylight. The neighbor was hunting the birds on this roost as well, and a pair of gunners sat directly under the birds about 50 yards behind us. They had busted the sleeping hens as they walked in.
The neighbor hit his box-call and the toms gobbled. It was too early, but I just wasn't sure what to do with that, so I just set into my routine and then tried to out-call him as if I was some boss hen not happy with his yelping. I eventually did my fly-down cackle and just hoped for the best.
One of the neighbors did shoot a bird as it walked past him just after sunrise, however - the guy who wasn't calling. Birds scattered everywhere and I watched a tom run behind us, along the bank on the opposite side of the creek.
The one thing I did right at that point was to think like a worried turkey. I made a few soft yelps and a couple of clucks and putts in his direction as if to say, "Hey, I'm over on this side of the creek. I'm upset, too!"
Morris said the 24-pound eastern hopped the creek and was "churning dirt" as it ran toward the decoy. The tom wasn't fooled for long though; I stopped him with a few cuts on my mouth call. He put on the brakes and I ended him.
It wasn't how I planned to kill an eastern turkey, and I even hesitated on the trigger because it was all so goofed up, but I looked at the bird's beard curling under its breast and thought, "that's a pretty good bird. Shoot, dummy!"
I told Morris, "his beard got him killed." The tom's "beard" actually turned out to be four beards measuring 5, 5 1/2, 7, and 10 inches in length for a total of 27 1/2 inches. That's the turkey hunter's equivalent of dropping a trophy non-typical white-tailed buck.
The sad part of the story is twofold. The bird was just a 2-year-old with spurs less than an inch long. Another year and he would have been truly huge. He wasn't going to live long though. When we dressed the bird we found the apex and the upper left quarter of the breast were green, smelly and puss-covered with gangrene. This bird's meat was not salvageable.
Although the bird looked healthy outwardly, it turns out I probably put that tom out of its misery. It was a sad end to a great wild turkey in a goofed-up hunt that, luckily, turned out for the best.
by Kelly Bostian