It was nearly dark when the black ghost finally materialized around from the back of a big oak. We had been working that gobbler one of many ways since early afternoon.
He was first spotted when we drove into the field to park. He and his brother were coasting along the far edge of the field, strutting a little, teasing and probably laughing.
They surely saw the jeep.
These are gobbler behaviors that seasoned turkey guide Ronnie Foy of Canton takes very seriously, almost personally. Now, Ronnie never really gets mad at a turkey, but some have created a reputation for themselves that he would like to terminate.
These two were on his list. He’d seen them before and called to them previously, but neither had made the roaster pan, yet.
I doubt seriously that “gobblelator” is a real word, but Foy coined it when he was making and selling turkey calls to go along with polishing his persuasive talents in the fields of Madison County.
You can learn a lot from a turkey guide who works at it for a living.
“When I was a rural mail man in Madison County for years, it gave me the perfect chance to survey the areas around my home hunting territory to keep an eye on the turkeys,” Foy said. “We had our own farming lands to hunt gobblers, but delivering the mail allowed me to get permission to hunt many other parcels of prime gobbler properties.
“The best part was that I really did not have to scout for turkeys at all: I drove by them in the fields most every day just doing my job. I knew right where their favorite hangouts were long before the season ever opened.”
In fact, he said over-scouting can be a real negative.
“One among many of the worst things a turkey hunter can do too early is to fool with his birds ahead of the season,” Foy said. “Leave them alone. Sure, you can watch them through binoculars at the end of a field road, but don’t walk into the woods and for darn sure do not call to turkeys before the season opener.
“All you do is alert them and spook them out of the area.”
There is a long list of turkey hunting best-practice virtues, and Foy knows them all. High on his list is woodsmanship are habitat familiarity, calling quietly, patience, persistence and determination not to let a particular gobbler beat you down.
These are skills every turkey hunter needs to hone.
To that list, I add plain old luck.
Know your birds
“It is not enough to know where birds are hanging out,” Foy said. “They may be there tomorrow morning or they may not be. In every case, you had best know the landscape exceedingly well before you venture out there. Know where every field is and how they are shaped. Know thick areas and the thin. Where is there water on the property? Don’t be slipping up on a gobbler trying to close the range and walk up on a creek too deep to cross.
“Perhaps it is easier for me to hunt where I do simply because I know every aspect of the terrain. I know the high spots, low spots, where it floods, where turkeys like to feed, sun, strut, troll for hens and roost for the evening. But, then when I go out of state to hunt or guide, I apply the same principles there — because they work.”
Wherever you turkey hunt, it is essential if not downright critical to assess and mentally map the landscape.
If you scout for roost trees or bump into them, know the likely escape routes once the birds hit the ground.
Know where they are likely to go. Is there a green field nearby full of juicy insects or a dirt road perfect for dusting and strutting?
Know these things for setups later in the morning or afternoons.
Pour it on ’em
After chasing those two gobblers’ dusty tracks for several hours, Ronnie decided it was time for the “OK Corral.”
We had been getting return gobbles from the brothers off and on all afternoon, but now it was time to close the deal.
Every time I go turkey hunting I learn something new. Foy has taught me many things, but that day I put another tool in the box.
“I figured we had maybe one more chance to fool one of them birds,” he explained. “They knew where we were, but all I knew was that they were in the same section of woods with us somewhere.”
He set me up 20 yards in front of him in a little pop-up blind.
“He was in a spot with some remaining light,” Foy said of my setup. “I got back into the darkest shadows I could find and started some real quiet hen calling.”
When I glanced down at my watch for the last time it was almost 7 p.m. When I looked up, that shadow in front of me moved.
The bird said nothing as he came in. He was a dumb mute and all alone.
Two more steps and the 11-87 roared. It was dark enough to see the red-orange burning powder flames shoot out of the barrel.
Foy ran past me like a 100-yard sprinter to the bird. I think he was happier than I was.
A week later he took the brother down, too.