Don Marascalco moved stealthily in the pre-dawn darkness shortly before daylight last April. The veteran turkey hunter had spotted a mature gobbler and a large harem of 24 hens in a pasture on a previous scouting trip near Meridian.

Once the gobbler belted out a lusty mating call to any would-be suitors, Marascalco got a bead on his position and quietly moved in under the birds' radar screen to a near-perfect set up.

As the day dawned slowly with a pink sky rising to the east, the woods came alive with the sounds of hen turkeys all around.

"As the hens flew down all around me, I knew that this was the perfect set up and thought it was going to be easy," Marascalco said.

All he had to do was wait on the king to join his harem, or so he thought.

The tom gobbled a couple more times on the roost, and then did just the opposite of what Marascalco had hoped. The wise old bird flew down across the creek, and gobbled one time after he hit the ground.

"One by one, all of the hens flew across the creek to him," the hunter said. "And my hunt was over."

Older, wiser birds

Since Hurricane Katrina hit the Mississippi Gulf Coast, turkey hunting has been tough, and very difficult in many areas including eastern Mississippi. Due to the huge recovery effort as well as a large amount of downed timber, many turkeys escaped the following spring with little or no hunting pressure.

As a result, many of the turkeys that survived the natural disaster became a year or two older - and much wiser.

Along with a couple years of bad hatches, the majority of the birds that survived were three to five years old. The woods were no longer full of two-year-old youngsters eager to respond to calls. On the contrary, the older turkeys in the area were suddenly less vocal and much harder to find, let alone kill.

Add in large flocks of hen turkeys, and you have the makings for some tough hunting. This is exactly what Marascalco and other hunters were up against.

"I had been in the area a few times, but never heard the bird gobble," he said. "I did eventually spot him a field, but all I knew was that the bird was a mature gobbler. I had no idea how good of a turkey he was."

After tangling with him twice, Old Long Spur had proven to be a crafty and worthy opponent, and Marascalco made plans to try him again.

Long Spur's final stand

Two weeks later, on April 16, the crafty veteran of many turkey wars was back in the gobbler's home range and standing beside his truck before daybreak.

"Before I even left the truck, the bird gobbled," Marascalco said.

He promptly started in the direction of the old tom to find a good set-up location.

"You know, you sometimes question just how close to get, or how far to go in your set up," he said.

As a result, he stopped by a large pine tree before going any further. Many a turkey hunt has been ruined before it even began when the gobblers were busted off of the roost. And Marascalco wanted none of that. He had been there, done that.

As the eastern sky awakened, the woods began to arise from their slumber with the sounds of a new day dawning. Marascalco sent out a few light, seductive tree yelps that brought a lusty response from the wise old bird, as he responded with a thunderous gobble. The bird was close, about 80 to 90 yards away.

Though Marascalco thought he had stopped well back, the bird was actually much closer than he had anticipated.

Almost as soon as Old Long Spur finished his gobble, he left the roost tree, flew within 40 yards of Marascalco's position and landed in another tree.

"I thought it was all over, that he would surely see me now," related Marascalco.

Moment of truth

With nowhere to go for fear of being seen, Marascalco just sat on the ground with his back propped against the tree.

"I slid down to the ground, laid my gun down, put my head net on, got out my calls and got ready," he said. "There was nothing else I could do. I think what saved me was a big beech tree that was between me and the gobbler."

The turkey gobbled again, and it was still so dark Marascalco couldn't tell if the bird was on the ground or still in the tree.

"I pulled out my slate and made two yelps, and the gobbler flew out of the tree and landed 20 yards to my left," he said. "I picked up my gun, aimed and fired in one motion, since my shotgun was already pointed in that direction."

The coal-black monarch had survived many hard winters and hunting seasons, but had finally met his match.

"All of his hens had gone to the nest," Marascalco said.

And the bird that was to be dubbed Old Long Spur had finally met his match.

As the veteran hunter stood over the trophy gobbler, he was astonished at what lay before his eyes. The gobbler had a set of spurs unlike any he had ever seen. The longest was an incredible 1 15/16 inches. The gobbler was certified as having the longest spur ever recorded in the state.

In the words of another expert outdoorsman J.P. Nolen, "You've got to go regular and be in the right place at the right time."

And that's just what happened to Don Marascalco. When the moment of truth came, he was able to pull a steady bead and harvest a state-record turkey in the process. It just doesn't get much better than that.

Cardiac monster

J.D. Doerner is a lifelong outdoorsman from Collinsville who has harvested his fair share of trophy deer and game. His No. 1 passion these days is hunting turkeys, though. In particular, he enjoys the challenge of matching wits with an old, battle-weary, call-shy gobbler.

For the last 30 or so years, he has consistently spent his spring days chasing and killing birds all over the country, but particularly in Mississippi and Alabama. In the process, Doerner has become very proficient at calling up trophy birds both for himself and others.

While many hunters prefer to hunt gobbling turkeys in the mornings only, Doerner actually prefers hunting in the afternoon.

"If I can find a gobbling turkey, then I'll usually hunt him in the afternoon," Doerner said. "Most of the time, the hens will be feeding or nesting and leave the gobblers alone in the afternoon."

And that is exactly the time they are most vulnerable, advised the crafty hunter.

Locating gobblers

Early one spring morning in 2007, Doerner was hunting gobblers on Cardiac Mountain near Meridian. The mountain was so dubbed Cardiac Mountain by Doerner because of the steep, rocky and rough terrain.

He located a gobbler, and surprisingly called up a whole flock of wild turkeys in the process.

There was a slight problem, however. There were two gobblers vying for control of the flock, and they couldn't decide which one was going to be king of the local harem of hens.

And as toms usually do, they decided to fight it out.

When the old monarchs approached Doerner's position, they commenced to fighting, and the hens got pretty torn up and excited, and left the country. In a split second, one of the gobblers tucked tail and ran off, with the other in hot pursuit.

Doerner saw neither hide nor hair of them again the rest of the day, but he already had a plan in mind for a late-afternoon hunt.

Now these were no ordinary birds, mind you. They were mature gobblers on top of their game and at the top of the pecking order. Doerner was determined to call the king of the hill back up for a return engagement.

Wednesday afternoon, the veteran hunter was back in the Meridian area for another crack at the wise old birds.

Slowly making his way up the side of the mountain around 3:30 p.m., Doerner knew that the high winds might hamper his pursuit of the gobbler. However, just as he was approaching the crest of a ridge, a crow flew by and began to cut up. About that time, the old gobbler cut loose a thunderous gobble.

Sounding off

"Gobble, obble, obble," belted out the old bird in reply to the crow's call. Doerner knew the old monarch was hot as a firecracker, and most likely didn't have a hen in sight.

"If you can get a gobbler to gobble in the afternoon, there's a good chance you'll kill him," Doerner said.

The chances of killing a gobbler in the afternoon greatly increase if you can find a gobbling turkey and get them really fired up.

Doerner quickly found a good set-up point and prepared for battle. Pulling out an Albert Paul box call, he began to talk to the wise old bird with some sweet talk.

The king responded at a mere 100 yards.

The game was on, and the battle had begun. The gobbler had responded to Doerner's come-hither call, and the lovesick tom took the bait - hook, line and sinker. The grand old monarch must have been running the 100-yard dash in fear that a competitor might get to the sweet hen first, as he closed the distance in nothing flat.

Doerner had scarcely gotten ready when the coal-black monster ran into sight and almost ran over him. With the bird barreling down on him like an enraged bull, Doerner squeezed the trigger of the Benelli shotgun, and a 3 1/2-inch load of No. 4s sent the gobbler to the Promised Land.

Quick work

In less than 15 minutes from the time he left the truck, Doerner had completed one of the most fantastic turkey hunts of his life. The old love-struck gobbler had literally sprinted to the hunter and met his match less than two minutes after his first and only call.

Perhaps the most amazing thing was that the Cardiac Mountain gobbler was the best that Doerner had ever killed. The limbhanger had spurs 1 3/4 inches long, sported a 10-inch beard and weighed more than 17 pounds. Not many turkeys live long enough to have spurs that long, and not many hunters ever harvest a bird that good either.

The mountain-top gobbler had obviously lost a lot of weight while courting hens and fighting off other suitors, as indicated by his low weight. The true trophy gobblers that have some age on them will very seldom weigh over 20 pounds. Most will lose weight during the season as they spend their time courting hens and fighting other gobblers for dominance and breeding rights.

Old Chester

One day after Doerner harvested the Cardiac Mountain bird, he was back in the vicinity and hoping for another crack at Chester. This gobbler was dubbed Chester after the character of the same name on Gunsmoke because he walked with a limp.

Furthermore, Doerner had flat-out missed the bird earlier in the season, and the gobbler had grown in stature each time he whipped the master turkey hunter. The easy birds are usually forgotten in nothing flat, but the bad boys are the ones stuck in a turkey hunter's memory forever.

"Chester was the most cautious turkey I ever dealt with," Doerner said. "He would never take more than four or five steps at a time, and then he might stay in one spot for an eternity. And each time Chester came in to me, it was always from my backside and always from a different angle."

During this afternoon hunt, Chester started gobbling, and Doerner switched calls on him. The bird liked what he heard, and began to respond, and once again approached from the rear. With two hens out front of him, Doerner was pinned down with nowhere to move.

The wise old bird came within 10 steps of Doerner as he made his now familiar circle. In fact, he was so close that Doerner had to close his eyes while the gobbler strutted and drummed right in front of him.

Once the bird got by far enough for Doerner to raise his gun, he centered the bead on the gobbler's neck and squeezed the trigger. The bird collapsed in a heap.

Chester had a 10-inch beard and 1½-inch spurs. In the span of two days, Doerner had harvested two trophy gobblers with spurs in excess of 1½ inches, something that is almost unheard of in this day and time.