By Jill J Easton
Ever had one of those days turkey hunting? A day where every single turkey within miles refuses to even give you even a courtesy gobble? I have a lot of those days.
Even worse, when I met Jim back at the truck at midday, he was casually leaning against the hood where an awesome Merriam gobbler was artfully draped. A bad day in the Niobrara River breaks of northern Nebraska had just gotten worse. Much worse. I impatiently listened to the usual ration of trash talk.
We headed back to camp, Jim cleaned his bird, I whined, we ate lunch and slept for a couple of hours. Jim suggested visiting new ground and trying Sparky’s place in South Dakota.
Hope springs eternal in this turkey hunter’s heart, so across the border to South Dakota we went. My luck, all of it bad, continued throughout the afternoon. Jim managed to pull a couple of anemic gobbles, but they were far away and not much interested.
The sun was fading behind a nearby hill and we were about ready to head for the truck when I spotted eight hens followed by two of the biggest gobblers we had seen in the area. It was darkening rapidly, the gobblers were at least 300 yards away and there was that pile of hens. Even worse, there was a huge, freshly plowed field between the birds and our location.
When all else fails and there is no hope, Jim and I use a calling technique we lovingly refer to as frenzy or last chance calling. The science works like this. We both pull out our loudest box calls, I get my wing bone call and Jim puts in a mouth call. Then we commence making the noisiest, most gawk-awful series of turkey commotion you have ever heard. We lost called, kee-keed and yelped all at the same time, all of it at high volume. It sounds like the combination of a gobbler fight, a frantic lost hen and turkeys flattened under rusty bed springs.
If I was a self-respecting turkey, I would run the other way after hearing this cacophony. But needy gobblers, especially late in the afternoon, occasionally buy into the ruse.
The two gobblers forgot about their hens wandering towards a shelterbelt, turned and strained their wattled necks looking for these desperate, lovesick hens. Then, miracle of miracles, they started trotting across the plowed field. Sparky’s chuckwagon mules hung their heads over the fence, spectators enjoying something new, flopping their big ears as the noise continued and the birds closed the distance to our location.
We were well-hidden in some brush by the edge of the field and waited unbelieving as the lovelorn gobblers got closer and closer. I got my gun up and steady on my knee, still not believing that after the day I’d had, not one but two gobblers were coming to our calls.
“Stop calling,” Jim whispered. “Make them look for us. Your bad luck might be fixing to change.”
The two gobblers stopped, telescoping heads stuck up and swiveling in all directions. No feathered lovelies appeared for afternoon delight, but it was late and hope also springs eternal in the male turkey’s heart.
Both gobblers broke into strut, swiveling around, wing dragging at about 20 yards from our hideout. The buddies stayed so close together I couldn’t get a clear shot. The more dominant bird had a big lump on the side of his neck, but otherwise seemed in fine form and his gobbles, strutting and fanning indicated he still had hope. The slightly smaller bird was just happy to be invited to the party. He strutted behind the boss, trying to maintain position where the dominant bird wouldn’t notice him. The birds gobbled almost simultaneously and broke into full strut again, two heads clearly visible in my scope.
“Jim, what should I do?” I whispered. “They won’t get far enough apart so I can just shoot one.”
The two gobblers were beginning to be suspicious. Their heads were turning from white to red, and those tell-tale wings were coming up for a nervous reset that is the preamble for a gobbler’s exit from a suspicious situation.
“You have two tags and it’s legal to kill two at once in South Dakota,” he said.
Actually, he claims that he said, “It’s legal to kill t…” and my gun went boom. However, I was raised as a polite Southern girl, so I’m sure I let him finish the sentence.
Either way, milliseconds later, two beautiful Merriam turkeys were flopping at the field edge.
It was my first double and a grand way to end a day that had started with so much silence. As I waited for Jim to retrieve the truck and pick me up with my double prize, a pack of coyotes set up a howl in the distance. From a nearby creek bottom, a gobbler answered. Not a bad day after all, I thought.