The best part of that means I have had the blessed fortune to turkey hunt a lot and be guided by some of the best, but I really wish I could say I have learned from my mistakes. I just chalk up all the goofs to the nature of the game of turkey hunting.
One morning before the sun cracked over the earth's edge, I sat in a pickup truck being coached by a noted turkey guide. He knew right where a gobbler of note was roosted. We were going to creep in way before light with no light of our own. I was to hold onto the hem of his coat as we slipped into the woods. We would sit down and wait out his first gobble.
Our approach into the woods was without reproach. I never so much as stepped on a dry twig, and that was a first for me. We lifted each foot setting it down as though wearing slippers on carpet. When we reached the pre-positioned spot the guide had mentally calculated in the shadows, we eased to our bottoms in the dew damp leaves. This was good.
You know how the first rays of sunlight cast upon the woods? Any second I thought this ol' tom was going to belt out a high-decibel gobble. He did. And he was right over our heads. Not 50 yards out - in the tree we sat beside! We were messed up bad.
Hardly being able to whisper, the guide hand signaled to hold tight, put our heads down and pull our caps over our faces. Gobbling continued, and so did hen calls. This was not good.
For more than 30 minutes, we sat frozen trying to recalculate like a GPS after a wrong turn. Hens came down, milled around and began to saunter off into the deeper woods. In a short few minutes, the gobbler pitched out of his perch landing out of gun range behind a tree. We held until he faded away.
Then we waited another 15 minutes before we hightailed it for a green field the guide knew was only a couple hundred yards away. We just got ahead of the incoming hens intent on feeding on fresh sprigs and insects as we hid behind a big fallen log.
The gobbler followed the ladies into the field, and it was his last parade.
What was the learned strategy from this bust? If you screw up on a morning roost set up, the best thing to do is melt into the habitat and don't move until all the action is gone. Then make a smart run to intersect the tribe at another crossing, feeding area or gathering spot. It works.
The master of regrouping
I have to admit, some turkey hunters simply have a knack for making a quick figure out of anything going wrong in the turkey woods. Of all the gobbler guides I have worked with, Preston Pittman is the all-time master at this. I have witnessed it time and time again.
I saw him outsmart five jakes trying their best to get right up in the middle between our set up and a boss gobbler across the field.
I've seen him mimic a salty ol' hen to piss off another hen trying to steal away a gobbler we had coming to the gun. He once placed me right in the middle of a weedy cow trail in front of nature and everybody instead of hiding off to the side in the bushes after we stumbled upon a gobbler standing in an open cow pasture amidst the bovines. Luck shined that the gobbler did not spook, but with Pittman calling well behind me, the bird came on in. I would have never pulled off anything so bold.
"If you run turkeys as long as I have, you are going to mess up," he said. "Trust me on that. I don't care how good you are, there are gobblers out there that will humble you in a New York minute. This I know because I have dealt with a bunch of them.
"After all this time and all the gobblers I have called to my shotgun, and for those I have successfully guided, I have boiled it all down to a couple of things should you ever get busted while working a gobbler for any reason.
"First is to maintain your cool, calm down and be patient. The second is to formulate a Plan B.
"What I mean by that is if you bust a roosted bird, spook a hen into cackling out of the area or flying off suddenly, or make a wrong move at the last second before shooting, just fixate on that position and hold tight. Try hard to control your frustration. Sit tight, slowly lower your shotgun and recount the situation. Don't make it worse by standing up too soon or shifting around in your position too quickly. Take a few minutes to assess the next step.
"As you get a new grip on the circumstances, start to figure options for where that gobbler might be going next. Hopefully you know the area and terrain well enough to make the next move. Would he be moving to a green field, an open pasture, a good feeding area, or strutting zone? What lies ahead in the woods in the direction of his exit? Were hens a part of the mix? Once the scene is clear, you can make your next move and try again."
Turkey hunting is a challenge even for the experienced hunter. The trick is to bounce back as quickly as possible to get back on the busted bird or position to another opportunity. And remember no matter how hard you try, you will get busted eventually.