We chose to hunt at “Bad Chad’s Dad’s”: the corner where I shot my “delayed double” on Pennsylvania Jakes two years ago. After a week of cold and rain, the starry night sky felt like a good omen as I drove to the appointed rendezvous with Dr. Dirt, shooing deer out of the way enroute, old Tom Petty tunes (“quit jammin’ me”) screaming on the tinny old car stereo. I was filled with optimism. Even the trout fishing has been good this week.
This is an easy spot to get to—the corner of an old field down below the main house. A two minute walk through ankle high grass. Real manly stuff. None of the ‘branches slapping you in the face while trying to sneak through the crunchy woods’ nonsense. The most strenuous part of the journey is having to duck under a fence. There’s a nice seep out in front, big oaks to lean against, and a good gully draining off the hillside, where the birds “usually” roost, based on our extensive experience of hunting here, (total hours probably about 6). But hell, it worked that one time for the delayed double. We put all three dekes in the corner of the field, chose our oaks, and hoped we chose well.
The birds were really active: by 530 (shooting time 551), we had heard 3 separate Toms working: 2 up slope from us, reasonably close, and one downslope a ways off. The two upslope were lobbing mild insults back and forth at each other. The good Dr Dirt had the gobble call and his slate, while I had the diaphragm call. We needed some gobbling from our quarter, but Pete was uncharacteristically quiet (normally I damn near have to take the gobble call away from him to shut him up: he’ll gobble furiously when the rest of the woods is as quiet as a Quaker church service). But this time, we needed to rouse these lazy birds by telling them there was a new boy in town. Pete was only about 15 yards downslope from me, so I leaned around the tree and in my best stage whisper, hissed “caaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaallllll!”. Immediately some gorgeous gobbling issued forth from my partner in (attempted) crime. I hissed back “yeeeaaaahh”.
We took things to a new level: one of these birds was really hot, one of the yappiest Toms I have ever dealt with. Pete gave everything back in spades…the Tom would start gobbling and Pete would cut him off, gobble right over him. I helped keep these two big boys at it, alternating between some soft yelps of contentment, telling the boy up the hill what a man I was with, and some more seductive / excited (“but maybe you’re even MORE of a man, why don’t you c’mon down and see"). In creating this little drama I was able to draw extensively on years of observations of human behavior gleaned from teaching large freshman classes. This went on steadily for about a half hour (by now about 615 and getting pretty light). Then I saw him fly down the hill behind us. Pete didn’t see this. The bird was now on the ground about 75 yards away, but there was a big skunky brushpile (“skunky”? it had earlier emitted an actual skunk) between us, and we were between him and the decoys. I worried that he would hang up on the other side of the brushpile and knew he couldn’t see the decoys from his vantage point. But the menage-a trios continued, and he was coming in. He was so close you could heat his “spit-drum” and his gobble shook the earth. If he circled around the brushpile upslope, he would be my bird. Down slope, he’d be squarely in Pete’s sights.
Surely he wouldn’t come THROUGH the brushpile. But of course, finally, I saw his head…bobbing back and forth, making small concerned “putts” that we could feel as well as hear. He was coming through the brushpile and there was no way I could move—I was completely exposed from that direction. The best I could hope for was to get the drop on him if he ducked behind a tree. Turns out I could hope for more: I gave one more soft cluck, he raised his head, Pete’s Beretta boomed, and the good Dr. Dirt had his very first spring turkey. An absolute classic: this bird worked us hard for over an hour, and was within 50 yards for a good 15 minutes. Beautiful.